Research Paper- English
A Critical Analysis of Dr. Johnson’s ‘London’ (1738)
and ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’ (1749)
* Asst. Prof. Harish Subhash Ghodekar
October , 2011
* Dept. of English, Shri P.D. Jain Arts Sr. College, Ansing. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was the dominant literary figure of his age. Dr. Johnson was the greatest man of letters between Pope and Wordsworth,
born in Lichfield in 1709, “Poet, critic, essayist, journalist, editor, and great literary personality, Johnson was one of the professional men of letters in England”.1
It was in 1737, Johnson went to London and
settled there. He faced financial problems, but never
said a word about it in his later life. His literary career in London began with miscellaneous writing for Edward
Cave, the publisher of “The Gentleman’s Magazine”.
“Meanwhile he was occupied for eight years
(1747-1755) by an immense task - ‘A Dictionary of the
English Language’, in which he undertook not only to
define, but also to illustrate his definitions by quotation taken from the whole range of English Literature”.2 His early translations, miscellaneous poetry,
criticism, essays, editorship of ‘The Rambler’ and after all his ‘Dictionary’ all he contributed to the English
Literature have made to regard him as a literary dictator of the age. ‘London’ belongs to the preceeding generation. It is didactic and remarkable for its closed couplet. It is best known for its rhetorical style and soon became popular and found a large number of readers.
Johnson’s poem ‘London’ shows a power and a control in the couplet that had not been seen since Pope, though the verse is essentially different from Pope.
The use of blank verse greatly increased during the age of Johnson. Both Johnson and Goldsmith were strong conservatives in literary theory. Talking
about Jonnson’s affilition to Pope, Hugh Walker says,
“of Johnson’s affilition to Pope there was no doubt.
Not only his measure was the heroic couplet, but it
was handled in a manner obviously based upon Pope’s
. Further, ‘London’ was , like Pope’s contemporary poem, and like many other poems of Pope that had preceded
it, an imitation”.3
“The chief criticism to be urged against
Johnson’s poem that it does not show Pope’s art in
escaping from its model. He was timed enough to wish
to show himself scholar as well as poet”.4
‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’, written in imitation of Juvenal’s “Tenth Satire” and published with Johnson’s name in January, 1749. Johnson states examples of the variety of human wishes from different periods in history.
Johnson’s thoughts, feelings, sentiments and
somber view of life is revealed through his
‘Vanity’.Johnson’s ‘London’ does not express the real feelings as compared to his ‘Vanity’.
Hugh Walker in his book on “English Satire
and Satirists”explains this view saying that, “Johnson
was not yet mature”.5
There is a remarkable use of anthesis, bitterness of hard experience and personification with great skill and tact.Johnson’s ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’
is a discourse without plot. He had made a survey of
“Pope’s intention was to survey human life
and make sense of it. Johnson does not aim at
Johnson has a kind of affinity with Juvenal.
His ‘Vanity’, though based on Juvenal’s ‘Tenth Satire’ has its own characteristics. Johnson’s ‘The Vanity of
Human Wishes’ is a didactic poem and the poet like a
preacher has been ready to teach or preach a moral.
The similarity between Juvenal’s ‘Tenth Satire’ and Johnson’s ‘Vanity’ is not only that of ethical but also that impressed Johnson very much is that of
Johnson was impressed by Juvenal’s rhetoric theory. “In the work of many poets there is same characteristic of style which became most evident