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Samuel Johnson and the romance of chivalry.
thesisposted on 2015-11-19, 09:00 authored by Eithne Henson
Johnson attributed to his "immoderate fondness" for reading romances of chivalry ?that unsettled turn of mind which prevented his ever fixing in any profession'. I have given evidence for his acquaintance with ?all our English romances?, with Iberian romances like Amadis de Gaule and Palmerin of England, and with a wide range of romance-linked literature, including the heroic romances of Tasso, Ariosto, and Spenser. This reading influenced Johnson both biographically and in his writing and criticism. He saw himself as a "general challenger", one of the "heroes of literature". Much of his metaphor is drawn from romance: the Dictionary illustrations show; an interesting proportion of romance associations, and the definitions give networks of meaning connecting significant words, I have illustrated, the most influential elements of construction and vocabulary from the romances Johnson read. The mock-romantic Quixote pattern of enthusiasm followed by reversal dominates The Vanity of Human Wishes, Rasselas, and many Essays, but Johnson's sympathy is nearly always for youth and temerity, as against "frigorifick wisdom". Quixote, the Astronomer and Johnson are closely and sympathetically linked. All men are victims of "the dance of airy images" conjured up by errant imagination. Johnson was drawn to romantic excess in literature, the "illustrious depravity" of Dryden's heroic drama. Pope's gothic Eloisa to Abelard, and especially to ?the power of the marvellous' and the 'licentious variety' of Shakespeare, to the 'enchantresses of of the soul' which 'enchain the heart' 'in defiance of criticism.' The Scottish and Welsh journeys gave evidence that 'the fictions of the gothick romances had for their basis the real manners of of feudal times', and allowed Johnson to enact the role of adventurer, among ruined abbeys, castles, wild landscapes, with supporters of the 'romantic' Stuarts.
Date of award1983-01-01
Awarding institutionUniversity of Leicester