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Samuel Johnson and the Life of Reading by Robert DeMaria

Samuel Johnson and the Life of Reading


Samuel Johnson and the Life of Reading by Robert DeMaria

If readers of the twentieth century feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of writing and information, they can find in Samuel Johnson a sympathetic companion. Johnson's career coincided with the rapid expansion of publishing in England-not only in English, but in Latin and Greek; not only in books, but in reviews, journals, broadsides, pamphlets, and books about books. In 1753 Johnson imagined a time when writers will, perhaps, be multiplied, till no readers will be found. Three years later, he wrote that England had become a nation of authors in which every man must be content to read his book to himself. In Samuel Johnson and the Life of Reading, Robert DeMaria considers the surprising influence of one of the greatest readers in English literature. Johnson's relationship to books not only reveals much about his life and times, DeMaria contends, but also provides a dramatic counterpoint to modern reading habits. As a superior practitioner of the craft, Johnson provides a compelling model for how to read-indeed, he provides different models for different kinds of reading. DeMaria shows how Johnson recognized early that not all reading was alike-some requiring intense concentration, some suited for cursory glances, some requiring silence, some best appreciated amid the chatter of a coffeehouse. Considering the remarkable range of Johnson's reading, DeMaria discovers in one extraordinary career a synoptic view of the subject of reading.


Enacts Johnson's celebrated variation on a theme from Horace-it does not merely delight and instruct, but rather instructs by delighting us... DeMaria proves himself a reader altogether worthy of his subject. * Times Literary Supplement * Fascinatingly perceptive both of Johnson's own reading habits and of their significance in the cultural history of reading. -- Allan Ingram * Modern Language Review * Both a scholarly and an imaginative achievement, combining detailed detective work, abstract categorization, and sympathetic understanding. The finished product re-creates the detailed fabric of Johnson's reading career while locating it in a cultural landscape of rapid publication and growing literacy... Eminently readable, learned, and thoughtful. -- Helen Deutsch * Modern Philology * An intellectual history of the writer and his age. -- Joseph Rosenblum * Magill's Literary Annual * DeMaria presents an imaginative re-creation of Johnson's library and suggests how his reading habits offered a model for preventing the disappearance of the reader. * Biblio *

About the Author

Robert DeMaria Jr. is the Henry Noble MacCracken Professor of English Literature at Vassar College. His books include The Life of Samuel Johnson, Johnson's Dictionary and the Language of Learning, and British Literature 1640-1789: An Anthology.

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Book Info

Publication date

28th April 2009


Robert DeMaria

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Johns Hopkins University Press


288 pages


Literary studies: fiction, novelists & prose writers
Literary studies: c 1500 to c 1800



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