The Rambler: ‘those that aspire to the name of authors’

  • T. F. Wharton


In The Vanity of Human Wishes, the man of learning was selected as one of the many obvious areas of vain or destructive wish. When Johnson came to write The Rambler — the literary work which is most centrally placed in his achievement, running parallel as it does to his greatest scholarly work, and forming his most sustained creative endeavour — the dream of literary greatness came almost inevitably to dominate. In the poem itself, Johnson had handled the wish for authorship more in terms of the obstructions which impede a legitimate wish than of the folly of the wish itself. In The Rambler too this thought tends to predominate. Johnson is far more tolerant of the phantoms of hope in an author than in perhaps any other area of existence. Not surprisingly, since the series coincides with the Dictionary, authorship is frequently treated defensively: exposing the low arts by which talent is dashed; and exhorting the author to brace himself, despite all opposition, for the task he must embrace. There is a strong drive away from the idea of mere fantasy, and towards the enactment of ambitions.


Private Tutor Series Proceeds Creative Endeavour Moral Advice Authorial Pride 
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  1. 2.
    John Wain, Samuel Johnson (London, 1974), see especially Chapter 7.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Austin Dobson (ed.), Diaries and Letters of Madame D’Arblay (London, 1904) vol. I, p. 69.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    W. K. Wimsatt, Jr, Philosophic Words: A Study of Style and Meaning in ‘The Rambler’ and Dictionary’ of Samuel Johnson (New Haven, Conn., 1948) p. 54.Google Scholar

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© T. F. Wharton 1984

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  • T. F. Wharton

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