Download Samuel Johnson and the Life of Reading by Robert DeMaria Jr. PDF

By Robert DeMaria Jr.

If readers of the 20th century think crushed via the proliferation of writing and knowledge, they could locate in Samuel Johnson a sympathetic spouse. Johnson's profession coincided with the swift enlargement of publishing in England--not merely in English, yet in Latin and Greek; not just in books, yet in experiences, journals, broadsides, pamphlets, and books approximately books. In 1753 Johnson imagined a time while "writers will, possibly, be extended, until eventually no readers could be found." 3 years later, he wrote that England had turn into "a kingdom of authors" during which "every guy has to be content material to learn his publication to himself."

In Samuel Johnson and the lifetime of studying, Robert DeMaria considers the dazzling impression of 1 of the best readers in English literature. Johnson's courting to books not just unearths a lot approximately his existence and occasions, DeMaria contends, but in addition presents a dramatic counterpoint to fashionable analyzing conduct. As a great practitioner of the craft, Johnson presents a compelling version for the way to read--indeed, he presents diversified versions for other kinds of interpreting. DeMaria indicates how Johnson famous early that no longer all analyzing used to be alike--some requiring extreme focus, a few fitted to cursory glances, a few requiring silence, a few top favored amid the chatter of a coffeehouse. contemplating the amazing variety of Johnson's interpreting, DeMaria discovers in a single striking profession a synoptic view of the topic of reading.

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8 Garrick's story sounds too entertaining to be true, but there is corroborating evidence of a sort in a note from George Steevens, Johnson's collaborator on his revised, variorum edition of the works of Shakespeare, to Isaac Reed. Steevens reveals to his friend his unscrupulous plan to improve his first folio of Shakespeare, which Johnson had marred, by buying another marred one from a Mr. Edwards of Pall Mall: "As soon as I have been cheated in my bargain (as I certainly shall be) I must think myself at liberty to cheat someone else in the purchase of my rejected volume.

18 The book served him as a kind of party mask, and he took advantage of its physical qualities as well as of its intellectual stimulation. The attention Johnson paid to such superficial elements of books as their backs and their bindings was not always for the intellectual reason that these would help him organize the field of knowledge, nor even for the social reason that they could excuse him from speaking. Sometimes his interests were unredeemably material. When he wrote to the bookseller Thomas Cadell, saying "I was bred a Bookseller, and have not forgotten my trade," Johnson was not simply being chummy with a colleague; he was complaining about the bindings that Cadell had put on some pieces that Johnson wished to give as presents.

The new, speedier, silent kind of reading was inimical in many ways to the old style of study, which was designed for classical languages. It is notoriously difficult to scan a work in Latin or Greek. But the speed of perusal is compatible with curious reading to a degree, and with a fourth kind of reading that emerged in the eighteenth century, largely conditioned by the growth of the periodical press. I call this kind "mere reading," following Johnson's description of the activity in Idler 30.

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