Lives of the English Poets
Atlantic Publishers & Distributors (P) Limited, 1991 - 516 pages
Dr. Samuel Johnson'S Magnum Opus, Lives Of The English Poets, Is Such A Work As Posterity Will Not Willingly Let Die. Though Written More Than 200 Years Ago (1777-81), The Lives Has Lost Neither Its Charm For The General Reader Of The Present Age Nor Its Relevance To Modern Criti¬Cism. The Narratives, The Biographical Part Of The Lives, Pleasantly Written In A Conversational Style, Full Of Anec¬Dotes, Wise Observations, And Life-Like Portraits Of Characters, Are A Peren¬Nial Source Of Delight To The Reader. As Short Biographies, They Are Unrivalled.If The Biographical Section Attracts The General Reader, The Critical Section Draws The Attention Of The Students Of Literary History And Criticism. To The Student Of Literary History, The Lives Gives An Authentic Account Of 18Th-Century Literature And Culture, Or Rather Of The Neo-Classical Age, Of The Period Of A Hundred Years Or So That Followed The Restoration Of Monarchy In 1660. It Deals With The Budding, Blooming And Decay Of Neo-Classicism. It Begins With The Life Of Cowley Containing Johnson S Famous Denunciation Of Metaphysical Poetry Which Serves As A Background Against Which He Projects The Achieve¬Ment Of The Neo-Classical Age. It Is Indispensable For Understanding The Critical Standards Of The 18Th Century In General And Johnson In Particular, For He Wrote No Formal Critical Treatise But Only A Few Periodical Essays Discussing His Theoretical Position. Johnson S Critical Theory, Therefore, Has To Be Developed From His Critical Dicta Scattered Over The Pages Of His Works Of Practical Criticism, Such As The Preface To Shakespear And The Lives.It Would Be An Incomplete Assess¬Ment To Say That Johnson Lived In A Different World And Consequently, Applied Very Different Critical Stan¬Dards To Literary Works, Because His Writings, Particularly The Lives, Possess An Additional Dimension : It Is, As Pointed Out By John Wain, The Humanity, The Learning, The Generosity Which Irradiate Them. These Ele¬Ments Combined With The Force And Freshness Of Expression, Make Johnson'S Writings Interesting And Significant To The Modern Age.The Fact That Johnson'S Ideas In The Lives Are Not Fossilized Or Mummified Has Been Emphasized By The Modern Critics Again And Again. Animating, Perennially Delightful And Thought-Provoking, Johnson S Criti¬Cism Is Living Literature , A Distinc¬Tion Which Even Dryden'S Criticism Cannot Claim. It Is In Such A Eulogistic Vein As This That F.R. Leavis S Essay On Johnson Begins. He Feels That Johnson S Criticism... Can Be Read Afresh Every Year With Unaffected Pleasure And New Stimulus. It Is Alive And Life-Giving. And The Greatest Critic Of Our Time, T.S. Eliot, Declares, I Consider Johnson One Of The Three Greatest Critics Of Poetry In English Literature : The Other Two Being Dryden And Coleridge. In Johnson, Eliot Finds A Critic Of His Own Type , A Fact He Alludes To In His Lecture On Milton (1947).
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