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Lives of the Poets, Volume 1

Samuel Johnson

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Book Excerpt: 
. . . and exulting in what he had done to the destruction of man. Man next, and Eve, having by this time been seduced by the serpent, appears confusedly covered with leaves. Conscience, in a shape, accuses him; justice cites him to the place whither Jehovah called for him. In the mean while, the chorus entertains the stage, and is informed by some angel the manner of the fall. Here the chorus bewails Adam's fall; Adam then and Eve return; accuse one another; but especially Adam lays the blame to his wife; is stubborn in his offence. Justice appears, reasons with him, convinces him. The chorus admonisheth Adam, and bids him beware Lucifer's example of impenitence. The angel is sent to banish them out of Paradise; but before, causes to pass before his eyes, in shapes, a mask of all the evils of this life and world. He is humbled, relents, despairs; at last appears Mercy, comforts him, promises the Messiah; then calls in Faith, Hope, and Charity; instructs him; he repents, gives . . . Read More

Community Reviews

Though the book is interesting mainly on Donne (under the section on Cowley), Milton, Dryden and Addison, Johnson is a great critic and a pleasure to read in his own right. He is, to use an inexact word, weighty. For instance: "It appears, in all his [Milton's] writings, that he had the usual con...more

My edition features an introduction by Arthur Waugh (I assume Evelyn Waugh's publisher-father?) who makes the historically interesting observation that Johnson's Lives will continue to be read for pleasure so long as the author's name is known, whereas works such as Rasselas are now 'read by few...more

Though I'm no fan of Johnson, his account of Pope, and his "amus[ing] himself at the table with biscuits", may actually be the source of my love of the snide sniping of the eighteenth century (the potted lampreys just kill me):

His legs were so slender that he enlarged their bulk with three pair...more

I have the 2 volume 1826 Dove's English Classics edition, easily the oldest books I own and I did want to make a point of that. The text is tiny and many of the pages are set charmingly askew but compared to many used books in my library the binding is still flawless and the pages are in excellen...more

I think the main interest in this work is in the polished and pompous writing of Dr Johnson. How did he keep it up? And since so much of this is precis (or probably the reverse), why did he bother? I'm still struggling to find out what is so great about The Great Doctor.

Just began reading it after Frank McCourt name dropped it in his memoir 'Tis. More than a collection of biographies, it is a collection of his ideas on what makes good and bad poetry. Surprisingly relevant even if published in 1779.

9/15/14: Well, I seem to have begun a Project, for better or worse. I recently reread 84, Charing Cross Road, and was struck by Helen Hanff's love for not only the contents of the books she received from Marks & Co., but for the volumes themselves as beautiful objects. So I went to my shelves...more