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Samuel Johnson (1) (1709–1784)

Author of Rasselas

For other authors named Samuel Johnson, see the disambiguation page.

520+ Works 8,038 Members 102 Reviews 42 Favorited

About the Author

Samuel Johnson was born in 1709, in Lichfield, England. The son of a bookseller, Johnson briefly attended Pembroke College, Oxford, taught school, worked for a printer, and opened a boarding academy with his wife's money before that failed. Moving to London in 1737, Johnson scratched out a living show more from writing. He regularly contributed articles and moral essays to journals, including the Gentleman's Magazine, the Adventurer, and the Idler, and became known for his poems and satires in imitation of Juvenal. Between 1750 and 1752, he produced the Rambler almost single-handedly. In 1755 Johnson published Dictionary of the English Language, which secured his place in contemporary literary circles. Johnson wrote Rasselas in a week in 1759, trying to earn money to visit his dying mother. He also wrote a widely-read edition of Shakespeare's plays, as well as Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland and Lives of the Poets. Johnson's writing was so thoughtful, powerful, and influential that he was considered a singular authority on all things literary. His stature attracted the attention of James Boswell, whose biography, Life of Johnson, provides much of what we know about its subject. Johnson died in 1784. (Bowker Author Biography) show less


Works by Samuel Johnson

Rasselas (1759) 1,736 copies
Lives of the English poets (1779) 293 copies
The Complete English Poems (1971) 81 copies
A Johnson Reader (1964) 77 copies
Preface to Shakespeare (1969) 50 copies
Dr Johnson's Dictionary (2005) 45 copies
Johnson on Shakespeare (1908) 38 copies
The Idler (2000) 38 copies
Prayers and meditations (1796) 35 copies
Prose and poetry (1951) 32 copies
The Poems of Samuel Johnson (1941) 15 copies
The false alarm 8 copies
Ensayos literarios (2015) 7 copies
The vulture (1970) 7 copies
Two satires 3 copies
Classic tales 2 copies
The Adventurer 2 copies
Know thyself (1992) 2 copies
Arte de la biografía — Contributor — 2 copies
Rasselas and Essays (1967) 2 copies
Works (8 vols.) 2 copies
Works (2 vols.) (1854) 1 copy
L-Z 1 copy
Il viandante (2019) 1 copy
Life of Pope 1 copy
Essays 1 copy
Prefaci a Shakespeare (2004) 1 copy
Sententies 1 copy

Associated Works

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (1589) — Editor, some editions; Contributor, some editions — 31,519 copies
Paradise Lost [Norton Critical Edition] (1667) — Contributor, some editions — 2,187 copies
The Art of the Personal Essay (1994) — Contributor — 1,371 copies
The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms (2000) — Contributor — 1,253 copies
Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama (1995) — Contributor, some editions — 914 copies
The Complete Works of Horace (1901) — Translator, some editions — 815 copies
Prefaces and Prologues to Famous Books (1909) — Contributor — 515 copies
English Poetry, Volume II: From Collins to Fitzgerald (1910) — Contributor — 491 copies
English Essays: From Sir Philip Sidney to Macaulay (1909) — Contributor — 479 copies
Critical Theory Since Plato (1971) — Contributor, some editions — 397 copies
The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: A Poetry Anthology (1992) — Contributor — 388 copies
The Poems of Alexander Pope (1856) — Editor, some editions — 258 copies
Criticism: Major Statements (1964) — Contributor — 220 copies
Eighteenth-Century English Literature (1969) — Author — 186 copies
Major British Writers, Volumes I and II (1954) — Contributor — 122 copies
The Norton Book of Travel (1987) — Contributor — 110 copies
The Norton Book of Friendship (1991) — Contributor — 94 copies
Shorter novels of the eighteenth century (1930) — Contributor — 90 copies
The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare (1835) — Editor, some editions — 67 copies
Eighteenth Century Plays (1928) — Contributor — 62 copies
The plays of William Shakespeare (1813) — Editor, some editions — 61 copies
Shakespeare: Othello (1971) — Contributor — 37 copies
Spring: A Spiritual Biography of the Season (2006) — Contributor — 33 copies
Classic Essays in English (1961) — Contributor — 22 copies
Masters of British Literature, Volume A (2007) — Contributor — 20 copies
Oxford and Oxfordshire in Verse (1982) — Contributor — 11 copies
Englische Essays aus drei Jahrhunderten (1980) — Contributor — 10 copies
Words, words, and words about dictionaries (1963) — Contributor — 8 copies
Love & Marriage — Contributor — 2 copies


16th century (296) 17th century (356) 18th century (469) anthology (1,076) biography (252) British (387) British literature (444) classic (923) classic literature (196) classics (1,223) collection (320) comedy (210) drama (2,567) Elizabethan (170) England (243) English (457) English literature (966) essays (718) fiction (2,071) hardcover (256) Harvard Classics (228) history (283) literary criticism (309) literature (2,227) non-fiction (564) own (199) play (467) plays (1,852) poetry (3,924) read (175) reference (408) Renaissance (204) Samuel Johnson (278) sonnets (160) theatre (857) to-read (802) tragedy (200) travel (218) unread (184) William Shakespeare (2,835)

Common Knowledge



How do I catalogue a book which contains 2 works in Talk about LibraryThing (July 2011)


This novella is ostensibly a tale about an Ethiopian prince, Rasselas, who, chafing under the boredom of the life of luxury he leads in the Happy Valley, contrives to escape with two companions, his sister Nekayeh, and a man named Imlac. In fact this is a vehicle for Johnson's exploring various philosophical ideas, in particular around the sources of and how to seek happiness in life, including who in society has or might achieve happiness and how, whether through living a good life or not, and what that means. There are some interesting pithy aphorisms arising from their conversations with each other and with other characters, including with a philosopher-astronomer who believes he has the personal power to move the sun and planets. Quite amusing and interesting.… (more)
john257hopper | 28 other reviews | Feb 23, 2024 |
I am VERY SLOWLY reading all of the works of Samuel Johnson (I am surprised to find I've been reading this particular volume for two years), and once again really can't recommend the guy enough if you are a fan of British literature, pithy aphorisms, or cultural criticism. Volume nine consists of his Lives of the English Poets, originally written as introductions to printed collections of their works. This includes men I have heard of (Cowley, Milton, Dryden) and many that I had not (sorry British literature!). In each, Johnson includes biographical information, an overview of contemporary critical reception, a chronological look at their work (often including extensive quotations), and sprinkles throughout his own opinions on all the above. Johnson is truly the king of loving all over certain parts of a writer's style and work and then undercutting that with a sick burn. Like pretty much all criticism, the snarky negative stuff is a lot more fun to read, particularly if you don't know much about the 17th century writer in question. Johnson can also get quite heated in a very modern feeling way, like in this section from his piece on 17th century poet John Philips who had one of his poems published without his consent:

This poem was written for his own diversion, without any design of publication. It was communicated but to me; but soon spread and fell into the hands of pirates. It was put out, vilely mangled, by Ben Bragge; and impudently said to be corrected by the author. This grievance is now grown more epidemical; and no man now has a right to his own thoughts, or a title to his own writings. Xenophon answered the Persian, who demanded his arms: 'We have nothing now left but our arms and our valour: if we surrender the one, how shall we make use of the other?' Poets have nothing but their wits and their writings; and if they are plundered of the latter, I don't see what good the former can do them. To pirate, and publickly own it, to prefix their names to the works they steal, to own and avow the theft, I believe, was never yet heard of but in England. It will sound oddly to posterity, that, in a polite nation, in an enlightened age, under the direction of the most wise, most learned, and most generous encouragers of knowledge in the world, the property of a mechanick should be better secured than that of a scholar! that the poorest manual operations should be more valued than the noblest products of the brain! that it should be felony to rob a cobbler of a pair of shoes, and no crime to deprive the best author of his whole subsistence! that nothing should make a man a sure title to his own writings but the stupidity of them! that the works of Dryden should meet with less encouragement than those of his own Flecknoe, or Blackmore! that Tillotson and St. George, Tom Thumb and Temple, should be set on an equal foot! This is the reason why this very paper has been so long delayed; and, while the most impudent and scandalous libels are publickly vended by the pirates, this innocent work is forced to steal abroad as if it were a libel.

Can't wait to dig VERY SLOWLY into volume 10!
… (more)
kristykay22 | 2 other reviews | Aug 12, 2023 |
Johnson’s Bildungsroman is the tale of a bored young Ethiopian prince imprisoned in a “happy valley,” an artificial Eden reserved for progeny of the emperor and their servants and companions.

"The valley, wide and fruitful, supplied its inhabitants with the necessities of life, and all delights and superfluities were added at the annual visit which the emperor paid his children, when the iron gate was opened to the sound of music; and, during eight days, everyone that desired resided in the valley was required to propose whatever might contribute to make seclusion pleasant, to fill up the vacancies of attentions and lessen the tediousness of time. Every desire was immediately granted." (page 8)

Yet Prince Rasselas is bored. He longs for a purpose in life. When told that he is being spared the miseries of the outside world, he yearns to experience them. When he meets Imlac, a poet and world traveler, he begs him to help him escape and be his guide to the outside world so that he can see how others live and
decide on a choice of life. Reluctantly Imlac agrees, and with Rasselas’s sister Nekayah and a small group of attendants they discover a path over the surrounding mountains and out into the world.

They travel north following the course of the Nile to the great metropolis of Cairo. There they meet the active young and the disillusioned old. Rasselas meets a successful man whose happiness is ruined by the death of his daughter, encounters hermits, monks, scholars, and a delusional astronomer. He and his sister try the pastoral life, debate the pros and cons of domesticity and marriage, visit the rich and the great, and explore the pyramids.

During their time inside a pyramid, a band of marauding Arabs kidnap Nekayah’s lady-in-waiting, and favorite Pekuah, and hold her for ransom. When the ransom is paid Pekuah reveals that she had been well treated and reports on life in the castle of the rogue with genteel manners. She finds life among the womenfolk to be lacking in good conversation.

But Rasselas and Nekayah are unable to discover any of these outsiders that have found true happiness, or a way of life that they want to adopt as their own. So having experienced all the outside world has to offer, they decide to return home.

With the precision of language characteristic of the lexicographer, Johnson returns—this time in prose—to the theme of his earlier poem “The Vanity of Human Wishes” to make the point that happiness is not to be found in earthly existence.
… (more)
MaowangVater | 28 other reviews | May 30, 2023 |
A selection from the oeuvre of Samuel Johnson that provides an introduction to his work. Included with the entries are sources, suggested readings, and an index.
jwhenderson | Feb 21, 2023 |



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James Boswell Author, Contributor
J.P. Hardy Editor
Joseph Butler Contributor
François Quesnai Contributor
George Whitefield Contributor
Voltaire Contributor
Adam Smith Contributor
David Hume Contributor
Edward Gibbon Contributor
John Toland Contributor
Henry Fielding Contributor
Plutarch Contributor
Diogenes Laërtius Contributor
Marcel Schwob Contributor
Lytton Strachey Contributor
John Wain Editor
W. J. Bate Editor
Peter Levi Editor
William Daniell Illustrator
Arthur Waugh Introduction
Fritz Kredel Cover designer
Mrs. Piozzi Contributor
Fanny Burney Contributor
Henry Morley Introduction
R. T. Davies Contributor


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