The Age of Johnson, the literature of the 18th century, reflects the conflict between the two essential factors in artistic creation, reason on the one aspect, emotion, and imagination on the order side. The Age of Johnson witnessed two main types of criticism, one representing the old and the other illustrative of the new outlook. A great deal of compromise characterizes Johnson’s time; the two prevalent influences usually overlap and interpenetrate.
The Age of Johnson is sometimes called The Age of Sensibility. Ending the Age of Johnson, the Romantic Period arrived in 1798 with the publication of Lyrical Ballads by poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), poet, critic, and author of fiction, is the namesake for this era in literature. Johnson eminently represents the persistence of classical dogma. Dr. Johnson is the spokesman of the classical school, he asserts its doctrines successfully, and therefore his classicism has been known as “Doctrinal Criticism.” Johnson and his fellow writers emphasized the values of the Enlightenment, which stressed the significance of using knowledge, not religion and superstition, to enlighten others, and led to the growth of many social, financial, and cultural areas, together with astronomy, politics, and medicine.
Writers of the Age of Johnson centered on the qualities of intellect, reason, balance, and order. Notable publications of the Age of Johnson embrace Burke’s A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), Johnson’s The Rambler (1750-52), and Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield (1766).
One of Johnson’s most lasting legacies is his Dictionary of the English Language (1755). While this vast endeavor of Johnson’s was neither the first dictionary in existence nor exceptionally unique, it was probably the most used. It was admired till the appearance of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1928. One of Johnson’s most fervently held beliefs was to make use of the language of the individuals in literature. Therefore, a writer should keep away from using grammar and vocabulary that didn’t attract the standard reader.
His prejudices and personal dogmatism usually marred Johnson’s criticism of poetry. His opinion of Lycidas is well-known: he found it “easy, vulgar, and therefore, disgusting.” Of the songs in Comus, he remarks: “they are harsh in their diction, and not very musical in their numbers.”
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He aimed to reintroduce sincerity into literature, make it actual and moving, and rid it of synthetic ornaments, conventions, and far-fetched themes. The poetry of the 18th century was encrusted with lifeless mythology, which Johnson opposed. Instead, he wished to wed poetry to life and to make use of it for moral instructing.
Critical Ideas of Samuel Johnson
Definition of Poetry
In his Life of Milton, he defines poetry as,
“The art of uniting pleasure with truth, by calling imagination to the help of reason.”
The poet is a creator by his creative and imaginative powers, and the proof of that artistic skill is to be discovered within the poem’s imagery.
Rejecting the Blank Verse and Defending the Rhyme
Johnson’s passion for sincerity and actuality explains his dislike for the blank verse he regarded as verse. Instead, he believed that poetry should express pure sentiments in a language dignified however not too distant from the speech of everyday life.
Poetry was to be most well-liked to prose just for the addition of enjoyment which comes from verse, the pleasure of melody and pattern. Johnson held rhyme to be essential for poetry, for it offers pleasure and imparts emphasis. He permits the usage of blank verse to poets,
“who would describe wild landscapes, or indulge in unfettered imagination, or express conceptions of superhuman majesty in unusual; and gorgeous language.”
The Age of Johnson as The Age of Sensibility
While the Age of Johnson and the Age of Sensibility are sometimes used interchangeably, Johnson’s age is considered the last of the neoclassical eras. At the same time, writers within the latter period are famed for an anticipation of the Romantic Period with their concentrate on the person and imagination.
The Age of Sensibility is marked by works focusing more on anticlassical features of old ballads and new bardic poetry. These writers started to embrace new types of literary expression formerly averted by writers of the Age of Johnson, corresponding to medieval history and folk literature. Classic prose fiction examples from the Age of Sensibility embrace Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy (1759) and Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling (1771). The poetry of William Collins, William Cowper, Thomas Gray, and Christopher Smart can be attributed to the Age of Sensibility
Merits of Johnson’s Criticism
He is classic and rational; however, his outlook isn’t narrow. On the contrary, he broadens the classic standpoint and consistently appeals to reality and expertise. He was not considering exterior nature, however in human nature, life and manners.
His Sound Scholarship
He was not so well-read within the classics; however, he had dived deep into English literature. He had a stone of sound scholarship which guided him and determined his judgment.
No critic was ever more unbiased from slavery to conventional rules than Dr. Johnson. His measure of literary merit is neutral; the claims of birth or authority fail to sway him.
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