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  Johnson’s Edition of Shakespeare: value of its Text and Notes A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

VIII. Johnson and Boswell.

§ 23. Political Pamphlets.


Hereafter, Johnson did not, on his own initiative, undertake any other large work. “Composition is, for the most part,” he said, “an effort of slow diligence and steady perseverance, to which the mind is dragged by neccessity or resolution.” His pension had removed the necessity, and, for the next twelve years, his best work lay in talk. In 1763, he met Boswell; in 1764, he founded with Reynolds “The Club”—not known till long after as “The Literary Club”; in 1765, he gained the friendship of the Thrales. Companionship and elegant comforts provided the relief that was still needed to his recurring depressions. He wrote little, but he engaged in personal kindnesses, and talked his best, and exerted an influence which spread far beyond the circle of his conversation. He was still, as at all times, ready to contribute to the publications of his friends, and even dictated the arguments in some of Boswell’s law cases; but he did not undertake any writing that required resolution or has added to his fame. His four political tracts—The False Alarm (1770), Falkland’s Islands (1771), The Patriot (1774) and Taxation no Tyranny (1775)—are known, so far as they are known, because he was their author. Since his early work on the debates in The Gentleman’s Magazine, he had always taken a keen interest in politics. Most of his essays in The Literary Magazine had been on political topics. Towards the end of 1765, he had undertaken to supply “single-speech” Hamilton with his views on questions that were being discussed in parliament and had written for him, in November, 1766, Considerations on the Corn Laws. 25  But now, he wrote as a pamphleteer. The most judicious of the four tracts is Falkland’s Islands, which makes a just defence of the policy towards Spain and is notable for its picture of the horrors of war and for its reference to Junius. The best thing in The False Alarm, his thoughts on the present discontents, is the satirical picture of the progress of a petition. In Taxation no Tyranny, his “answer to the Resolutions and Address of the American Congress,” he asks “how is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”   37

Note 25. This was first published by Malone as an appendix to his edition of Hamilton’s Parliamentary Logick (1808). Malone points out Boswell’s error in deducing from the prayer entitled “Engaging in Politicks with H—n” that Johnson was “seized with a temporary fit of ambition” and thought of “becoming a politician.” See, also, Boswell, ed. Hill, G. B., vol. I, pp. 518–20. [ back ]

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  Johnson’s Edition of Shakespeare: value of its Text and Notes A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland  
 
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