Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) has been exceptionally influential not only because he was a distinguished writer of poems, essays, criticism, and biographies, but also because he was the first true historian of English literature, the first who sought to define its “tradition.” We will read Johnson’s own works and Boswell’s Life of Johnson to discover Johnson’s talents, tastes, and standards as an artist, as a moral and literary critic, and as a man. We next will use Johnson’s Preface to Shakespeare and Lives of the Poets to examine how this great intelligence assessed writers from the Renaissance through the eighteenth century. While reading his commentary on Shakespeare and his critical biographies of Milton, Dryden, Pope, Swift, and Gray, we will analyze selected works by these writers so as to evaluate Johnson’s views and sharpen our understanding of the relationship between his standards and values, and the ones we hold today–both individually and collectively.
The Class: Type: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: midterm and final papers (15-20 pages total), and a take-home final exam
Prerequisites: a 100-level ENGL course, or a score of 5 on the AP English Literature exam, or a score of 6 or 7 on the Higher Level IB English exam
Enrollment Preference: English majors
Distributions: Division I;
Attributes: ENGL Criticism Courses; ENGL Literary Histories A