莊信正在「文學風流」一書Samuel Johnson的名言：「只有笨蛋才不是為了賺錢而提筆。」 「No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.」
Samuel Johnson: Literature, Religion and English Cultural Politics from the Restoration to Romanticism
Cambridge University Press, Oct 27, 1994 - Biography & Autobiography - 270 pages
This book offers an analysis of the life and thought of Samuel Johnson from a historian's viewpoint, which reverses the orthodoxy that has dominated the subject for over thirty years. J.C.D. Clark presents here a Johnson strikingly different from the apolitical, pragmatic and eccentric figure who emerges from the pages of most students of English literature. Johnson's commitments and conflicts in religion and politics are reconstructed; his role in the literary dynamics of his age is revealed against a new context for English cultural politics between the Restoration and the age of Romanticism.
The Critic’s Critic
It has been three centuries since Dr. Johnson was born, on Sept. 7, 1709. He died on Dec. 13, 1784, still struggling for the mixed blessing of more life. His Falstaffian vitalism is always my first thought when I reread, teach again or continue brooding upon the canonical critic of Western literature.
Johnson loved literary biography and practiced it superbly in his wonderful “Lives of the Poets” (1779-81). It is appropriate that he continues to be the subject of valuable literary biographies, of which the masterwork will always be his friend James Boswell’s “Life of Samuel Johnson” (1791). Boswell’s “Life” is so strong a book that common readers may wonder why more biographies of Johnson proliferate, to which the answer is the spiritual complexity and intellectual splendor of the most eminent of all literary critics. “Reflection” was one of Johnson’s favorite terms, and we need as many accurate reflections of and upon him that we can get.
Johnson’s personality was worthy of Shakespearean representation: sometimes I rub my eyes to dispel the illusion that Shakespeare wrote, not Johnson’s work, but the man himself into existence. It delighted Johnson to identify himself with Falstaff, whose deliberate merriment he loved, even as he expressed moral disapproval of Shakespeare’s “compound of sense and vice; of sense which may be admired but not esteemed, of vice which may be despised, but hardly detested.” Thinking of his own dangerous melancholy, Johnson observed that Falstaff made himself necessary to Prince Hal “by the most pleasing of all qualities, perpetual gaiety, by an unfailing power of exciting laughter.”
As a critic of Shakespeare, Johnson stressed the empirical persuasiveness of the dramatist’s portrayal of human nature. In that spirit, the reader learns to judge fresh biographers of Johnson himself for their skill in limning the great critic’s personality and character. By that standard “Samuel Johnson,” a workmanlike book by the British scholar David Nokes, joins itself to an admirable sequence that includes studies by Robert DeMaria, Walter Jackson Bate, Lawrence Lipking and Peter Martin. Each of these brought a particular warmth and individual insight to the reception of Johnson, and Nokes complements them by his sense of the critic as a Londoner, almost the archetypal citizen of that endless city.
Johnson, at 26, arrived in London without money and with only his more than considerable wit, learning, judgment and astonishing energy. He worked at literary odd jobs and only gradually raised himself out of Grub Street. Breakthrough commenced with “A Dictionary of the English Language” (1755), after which Johnson was famous enough to remain solvent, and sociable enough to keep himself from his terrible fear of solitude. He knew his balance to be perilous, and he feared madness.
Nokes is particularly moving and informative on Johnson’s relation to his Jamaican manservant, Frank Barber, a freedman who essentially became Johnson’s son, though without formal adoption. A childless widower, Johnson willed Barber his estate and effects, hoping that the young man could prosper without him.
I myself, as I age, go on reading Johnson, seeking the consolations of wisdom. Though an excellent poet and storyteller, aside from his critical power, Johnson now matters most as a wisdom writer. His test for literary criticism was its success at “improving opinion into knowledge,” and the knowledge he sought was wisdom. His own writing became increasingly aphoristic, in the mode of Ecclesiastes. My favorite Johnsonian aphorism is supremely subtle in its irony: “All censure of a man’s self is oblique praise. It is in order to show how much he can spare.”
Like all biographers of Johnson, Nokes is appreciatively wary of Boswell, who after all was a genius at self-advertisement. Lovers of Johnson can be forgiven for wanting him without Boswell, wherever possible, while knowing most readers will hear of Johnson only through Boswell. I myself qualify as a common reader of Johnson, not a Johnsonian scholar, and Nokes is now part of a select company to whom I am indebted.