Samuel Johnson's Escape

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Samuel Johnson's Escape

Samuel Johnson, following in the footsteps of other great English critics, was a great poet. Johnson’s poetry was different from any other writer in the late eighteenth century. He used poetry as a tool for an escape from the reality of life. Johnson would also use poetry as a tool for expression of emotion and praise for accomplishment. When Johnson wrote a poem of praise or to express emotion he would still convey his message beyond reality. He would emphasize an event so immensely that it would seem unrealistic. If being real, or reality, is something sensable, then The Vanity of Human Wishes is the poem in which Johnson best display’s these tools of writing for the purpose of escape. With all of his undertakings, from politics to writing critiques, Johnson used writing poetry as his release from reality and the hardships in his life.

In 1780 Samuel Johnson wrote “A Short Song of Congratulation.” It is a poem of praise to the actions of the nephew of a friend of Johnson. In the poem Johnson depicts the the young man defying the authority of his wealthy family and squandering a substantial inheritance. He is writing about more than the escape of a friend’s nephew, he is writing about his escape from a less than flawless childhood. In the poem Johnson relays to his subject, “If the guardian or the mother / Tell the woes of willful waste, / Scorn their counsel and their pother, / You can hang or drown at last” (25-28). Johnson is using the life and actions of another to relay the struggles he went through as a child to become successful. Johnson’s subject had to separate himself from his prominent family in order to be his own man, or “hang or drown at last,” which symbolizes a freedom to l...

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...his friend’s death. It is difficult to follow Johnson’s manipulation of reality, because he does it so many ways. It is easier to understand why he did it. Everyone would love to escape reality sometime, do we have to write? Or can we just read Johnson? Could Johnson read his own work to escape, or did he have to write to leave reality?


Works Cited

Damrosch, David, ed. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. V. 1C. New York:

Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 1999.

Greene, Donald J. Samuel Johnson: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, New

Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965

Greene, Donald J. Samuel Johnson: Updated Edition. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989

Lustig, Irma S., ed. Boswell: Citizen of the World, Man of Letters. Lexington, Kentucky:

University Press of Kentucky, 1995
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