"Men Indeed Splendidly Wicked"

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Last Updated on February 9, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 198

Context: Johnson's Rambler essays were published from March 20, 1750, until March 14, 1752, appearing on Tuesdays and Saturdays for a total of 208 numbers. The essays made up the sole contents of a six-page, single-column paper, and usually dealt with a serious moral, philosophical, or literary topic. In No. 4 Johnson praises the currently popular realistic novels of such writers as Richardson and Fielding as being, for the young, excellent guides to good conduct and sound morality. Since novelists are free to select from reality the details and "to cull from the mass of mankind those individuals upon which the attention ought most to be employed," they are also obligated so to balance a character's good and evil characteristics as not to make him appear admirable. We should not "lose the abhorrence of their faults . . . or, perhaps, regard them with some kindness for being united with so much merit." Of such characters, Johnson says,

There have been men indeed splendidly wicked, whose endowments threw a brightness on their crimes, and whom scarce any villany made perfectly detestable, because they never could be wholly divested of their excellences; but . . . their resemblance ought no more to be preserved than the art of murdering without pain.

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