Samuel Johnson was a journalist, essayist, critic, scholar, lexicographer, biographer, and satirist. Early in his career, he wrote reports on the debates in Parliament for The Gentleman’s Mazagine. Until 1762, when he received a pension from the British government, Johnson was a professional writer and wrote what publishers would buy. The most important results of his efforts, in addition to his poetry, were his A Dictionary of the English Language: To Which Are Prefixed, a History of the Language, and an English Grammar (1755), his essays in The Rambler (1750-1752) and The Idler (1758-1760), and Rasselas (1759).
A Dictionary of the English Language remains one of the outstanding achievements in the study of language. Johnson contracted in 1746 with a group of publishers to write the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language. Nine years later, with the help of only six assistants, he produced a work that is notable for its scholarship and wit. Although scholars fault its etymological notes, its definitions are generally apt and often colored by Johnson’s wit, biases, and sound understanding of English usage.
The Rambler and The Idler are composed of periodical essays, which, when combined with those that Johnson wrote for The Adventurer (1753-1754), number more than three hundred. The essays discuss literature, religion, politics, and society. They were much admired in Johnson’s day, but are...
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