PRE′FACE. n.s. [preface, Fr. præfatio, Lat.] Something spoken introductory to the main design; introduction; something proemial.
This superficial tale
Is but a preface to her worthy praise. Shakesp.
Perhaps no English author gains more from being set in context than Samuel Johnson. “The Age of Johnson” – the phrase has been used since at least 1834 – suggests that he stands at the center of “his” age in a way few writers do. Studies of Johnson, therefore, almost always turn into studies of his age: it is impossible to discuss him without also discussing his intellectual, literary, and cultural contexts. His uniquely encyclopedic mind somehow stands for his entire world. Finding one’s way through that world, though, can be daunting, because the volume of accumulated scholarship on the subject is vast. Samuel Johnson in Context therefore serves as a kind of vade-mecum to eighteenth-century British culture. The contributions from forty-seven leading experts in the field explore the state of the art in recent thinking about eighteenth-century British life.
The collection is divided into three parts. The first, “Life and works,” focuses on Johnson himself: his biography and his most important biographers, the works he wrote for publication, and the letters he wrote for private consumption. The second part, “Critical fortunes,” gives a broad overview of the way Johnson has been discussed, analyzed, studied, and mythologized during his lifetime and since: the collected editions of his works, the translations of his writings into other languages, the critical reception of his works from his death to the present, the portraits and caricatures that appeared during and shortly after his lifetime, and his transformation into the legendary character “Dr. Johnson.”