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Chapter 2 - Johnson and the Essay

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2022

Greg Clingham
Affiliation:
Bucknell University, Pennsylvania
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Summary

This discussion of “Johnson and the essay” analyzes Johnson’s relationship with the essay – both his own idea of the essay and as compared with others’ practice in the form. After showing that the spirit of the essay is pervasive within Johnson’s writings and not confined to his major periodicals, the argument focuses on the special case of the periodical essay and draws attention to the moral and philosophical pertinence of The Rambler (Johnson’s “pure wine”), taking examples from his serious and comic modes. The account concludes by examining the experience of Johnson’s singular style and the fit between individual essays and the shape and meaning of the succession of papers overall. If Johnson’s essays do not resemble those of Michel de Montaigne in temper or structure, they are, in the case of The Rambler, a single-handed intellectual project of a similar order and a comparable endeavor in the art of self-founding.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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