The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749) and Two Rambler papers (1750) eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 33 pages of information about The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749) and Two Rambler papers (1750).
eighteenth century and undervalued by the nineteenth.  The first half of the twentieth has shown a marked impulse to restore them, as a series, to a place of honor second only to the work of Addison and Steele in the same form.  Raleigh, in 1907, paid discriminating tribute to their humanity.  If read, he observed, against a knowledge of their author’s life, “the pages of The Rambler are aglow with the earnestness of dear-bought conviction, and rich in conclusions gathered not from books but from life and suffering.”  And later:  “We come to closer quarters with Johnson in the best pages of The Rambler than in the most brilliant of the conversations recalled by Boswell.  The hero of a hundred fights puts off his armour, and becomes a wise and tender confessor.”  Latterly, the style of Johnson’s essays has been subjected to a closer scrutiny than ever before.  What Taine found as inflexible and inert as a pudding-mold is now seen to be charged with life and movement, vibrant with light and shadow and color.  More particularly, Wimsatt has shown how intimately connected is the vocabulary of The Rambler with Johnson’s reading for the Dictionary, and how, having mastered the words of the experimental scientists of the previous century, Johnson proceeded to put them to original uses, generating with them new stylistic overtones in contexts now humorously precise, now philosophically metaphorical, employing them now for purposes of irony and satire, and again for striking directly home to the roots of morality and religion.  In a playful mood, he is never more characteristic than when he is his own mimic, propounding with mock seriousness some preposterous theory like that of the intellectual advantages of living in a garret: 

I have discovered ... that the tenuity of a defecated air at a proper distance from the surface of the earth accelerates the fancy, and sets at liberty those intellectual powers which were before shackled by too strong attraction, and unable to expand themselves under the pressure of a gross atmosphere.  I have found dullness to quicken into sentiment in a thin ether, as water, though not very hot, boils in a receiver partly exhausted; and heads, in appearance empty, have teemed with notions upon rising ground, as the flaccid sides of a football would have swelled out into stiffness and extension.

This is one side of his genius; but another, and profounder, appears in the eloquent simplicity of such a passage as the following, against our fears of lessening ourselves in the eyes of others: 

The most useful medicines are often unpleasing to the taste.  Those who are oppressed by their own reputation will, perhaps, not be comforted by hearing that their cares are unnecessary.  But the truth is that no man is much regarded by the rest of the world.  He that considers how little he dwells upon the condition of others, will learn how little the attention of others is attracted
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The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749) and Two Rambler papers (1750) from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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