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The Major Works [Paperback]

Samuel Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 11 2009 0199538336 978-0199538331 Reissue
This authoritative edition was formerly published in the acclaimed Oxford Authors series under the general editorship of Frank Kermode. It brings together a unique combination of Johnson's poetry and prose - all the major poems, complemented by essays, criticism, and fiction - to give the essence of his work and thinking. Samuel Johnson's literary reputation rests on such a varied output that he defies easy description: poet, critic, lexicographer, travel writer, essayist, editor, and, thanks to his good friend Boswell, the subject of one of the most famous English biographies. This volume celebrates Johnson's astonishing talent by selecting widely across the full range of his work. It includes 'London' and 'The Vanity of Human Wishes' among other poems, and many of his essays for the Rambler and Idler. The prefaces to his edition of Shakespeare and his famous Dictionary, together with samples from the texts, are given, as well as selections from A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, the Lives of the Poets, and Rasselas in its entirety. There is also a substantial representation of lesser-known prose, and of his poetry, letters, and journals.

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About the Author

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, novelist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. The late Donald Greene was a Professor Emeritus of English, University of Southern California.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get THIS anthology, not the Penguin. Sept. 8 2000
Format:Paperback
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It's a bit of a misnomer to call this anthology "The Major Works," because the principle guiding the original selection (under a different title) was to provide a diverse sampling of what he'd written -- and included items which would never be considered "major works" (such as a Latin school exercise and letters). They are worth reading, but not "major works." That having been said, as an *anthology* of Johnson's writings, this is the one to get.
.
Oxford's anthology of Samuel Johnson's writings is superior to Penguin's because it is more comprehensive, and displays more of his variety, as well as more of what he is known for. In comparison to the Penguin anthology, this collection includes all of Johnson's short fiction "Rasselas" (an excellent book -- read my review of it in the Penguin edition of Rasselas): Penguin will ask you to buy a separate copy of Rasselas on top of their anthology. In addition, Oxford's anthology offers extracts of "Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland" (Penguin has a separate volume of that, although there it is complete and coupled with Boswell's companion piece).
.
The Oxford anthology offers 40 periodic essays (Ramblers, Adventurers, & Idlers), a form for which he is well known; plus his prefaces to Shakespeare and the Dictionary; the major poems (chief among them "London" and "The Vanity of Human Wishes"); a sermon; an extract of a Parliamentarian debate; his Life of Boerhaave; his review of Soame Jenyn's "A Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil," his political pamphlet "The Patriot," an extract from a law lecture, extracts from "The Lives of The Poets", some letters... At over 800 pages, this is very comprehensive.
.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We need more Dr. Johnson April 7 2004
Format:Paperback
The recently published selections from Samuel Johnson's Dictionary, edited by Jack Lynch, and the Penguin Classics selection of Dr. Johnson's Rambler, Adventurer, and Idler essays are good to have. So is this Oxford World's Classics edition of Dr. Johnson's "Major Works."
Major? Well, _Rasselas_ is here, and most of the poems, and some selections from the "Lives of the Poets" (I applaud the editor's decision to include the entire life of Pope, which I feel is the best, though the life of Dryden is nearly its equal).
However, I myself do not care for the "little of this, little of that" approach to Samuel Johnson with which, at this time, we must be contented. Is it asking too much that *all* of his Rambler essays be made available (too few are included in this edition) and his *entire* dictionary also appear as something other than an expensive collector's item? And while we're at it, how about reissuing the complete "Lives of the Poets"? These works are so essential, and so enjoyable, I see no reason to keep them from the general reading public for so long.
Still, I've decided to wait it out with this thick paperback on my shelf, for it does represent a wide range of Dr. Johnson's legacy. I could wish for a better font and system of footnotes (endnotes, that is), but these are, undeniably, the words of Dr. Johnson.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Johnson in His Own Write April 22 2002
Format:Paperback
This is undeniably the best anthology of Johnson currently available -- or for that matter that has ever been available under one cover. It outshines Penguin's much too abbreviated version and contains all the major items: a fine selection of the essays, several biographical pieces including the essential Soame Jenyns and Life of Savage, the prefaces to the Dictionary and to Shakespeare, a selection of prayers, some wonderful letters, etc.
Penguin had promised a selection of the Lives of the Poets (or Prefaces Biographical and Critical to be more accurate), but has yet to formally announce publication. There is but a small sampling of these wonderful and important essays in the Oxford edition here.
For the journey to Scotland (only excerpted here), I much prefer Penguin's complete edition of the Journey, which includes Boswell's Journal (but has the most eccentric annotation one might imagine -- more the product of a dyspeptic travel writer than a Johnsonian scholar). Reading Boswell and Johnson together is an utter delight -- moving from the formality, grace and power of Johnson to the smaller, more intimate pleasures of Boswell gives one the feeling of having captured, in the adventurous peregrinations of these two inimitable characters, the very breadth and depth of eighteenth century English writing.
To love and admire Johnson, but not appreciate the brilliant, even if much different, stylistic inventions of Boswell seems to me somewhat perverse. Certainly Boswell had his shortcomings, but half the joy of reading and 'knowing' Johnson and his circle comes from appreciating the little peccadilloes and foibles that each displayed in his turn--not the least the Great Cham, Johnson, himself.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Read Him For His Sentence Structure Jan. 31 2005
By M. Hori - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I read Johnson in the same way that I read Jane Austen, for the pure joy--and the celebration--of their beautifully balanced sentences. Indeed, it's almost like playing Bach to perform these sentences as they mount into paragraphs. One walks away feeling that one's thinking apparatus has been lovingly oiled, buffed, spun and polished. In addition, there's the incredible range of this man's thinking to applaud as well. However, the problem for some people might be that the book in question, with its generous selection and its easy-on-the eye type size, is roughly the same dimensions as Johnson's brain, and probably a tad heavier, which mitigates against taking it out for a stroll stuffed into the back pocket for an occasional dip. Instead it should be installed in the bedroom or the bathroom or any room where it can be consulted in an on-again, off-again manner. I read the Rambler selections, the dictionary and the poetry in this way. What's good about Johnson is that his prose is like poetry--it can't be read through just once, but demands re-reading, and each time offers yet another prize for the effort. Funny that it all came from a grotesque hypocrite and snob who enjoyed bullying others and was none too clean about his shirt and linen. Finally, brilliant as he was, I have to disagree with Johnson when he says, at the beginning of his Rambler Essay "The Need for General Knowledge" "That wonder is the effect of ignorance has been often observed....Wonder is a pause of reason, a sudden cessation of the mental progress, which lasts only while the understanding is fixed upon some single idea, and is at an end when it recovers force enough to divide the subject into its parts, or mark the intermediate gradations from the first agent to the last consequence...." (pg. 222 this book). The more I understand Johnson and his times, his parts and his divisions, the more I am struck with wonder.
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beef Up Your English June 16 2007
By Captain Cook - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
OK, I'll admit it... When I dropped out of high school at the tender age of 14 for a career of glue-sniffing and joy-riding round the graffiti-sprayed council estates of my native Irvine, I was a 'seven-stone weakling' in terms of using the English language.

Brought up on a diet of comic books, tabloid newspapers, and football magazines (Shoot, Match Weekly, etc) and 'educated' in a Socialist-inspired 'comprehensive' school, I wasn't really equipped for my future career as an international journalist. But then something very strange and bewitching happened - I discovered 'THE DOCTOR,' as we acolytes refer to him, and started mentally working out on his long, finely wrought sentences.

At first, each seemingly interminable sentence was like trying to swim the English Channel - I thought I would drown before reaching the other end - but, somehow, I survived and found myself on dry land, confused and wet, but nevertheless alive and raring to have another go.

In the months that followed, the good doctor's erudite style became Mother's milk to me as I progressively beefed up my English. This enabled me to grab a place at the prestigious university of Thames Polytechnic and, then, on graduation, to a career writing for a wide range of excellent publications, including Riff Raff, Tokyo Notice Board, and the Wall Street Journal.

The great thing about THE DOCTOR's prose is that he uses a disproportionate number of abstract nouns, which means you have to mentally provide your own examples. At first this can be extremely challenging, but if you stick with it, your brain will become, as mine has, a potent and expressive tool.
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get THIS anthology, not the Penguin. Sept. 8 2000
By Frank Lynch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
.
It's a bit of a misnomer to call this anthology "The Major Works," because the principle guiding the original selection (under a different title) was to provide a diverse sampling of what he'd written -- and included items which would never be considered "major works" (such as a Latin school exercise and letters). They are worth reading, but not "major works." That having been said, as an *anthology* of Johnson's writings, this is the one to get.
.
Oxford's anthology of Samuel Johnson's writings is superior to Penguin's because it is more comprehensive, and displays more of his variety, as well as more of what he is known for. In comparison to the Penguin anthology, this collection includes all of Johnson's short fiction "Rasselas" (an excellent book -- read my review of it in the Penguin edition of Rasselas): Penguin will ask you to buy a separate copy of Rasselas on top of their anthology. In addition, Oxford's anthology offers extracts of "Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland" (Penguin has a separate volume of that, although there it is complete and coupled with Boswell's companion piece).
.
The Oxford anthology offers 40 periodic essays (Ramblers, Adventurers, & Idlers), a form for which he is well known; plus his prefaces to Shakespeare and the Dictionary; the major poems (chief among them "London" and "The Vanity of Human Wishes"); a sermon; an extract of a Parliamentarian debate; his Life of Boerhaave; his review of Soame Jenyn's "A Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil," his political pamphlet "The Patriot," an extract from a law lecture, extracts from "The Lives of The Poets", some letters... At over 800 pages, this is very comprehensive.
.
The late Donald Greene provided an excellent introduction and set of notes.
.
Note, however, that this is essentially the same anthology Oxford has had in print for years (my first copy is 15 years old, and this is the third cover under which it's been published). The copyright indicates there have been some revisions to this 2000 edition, but they are not apparent. Very great wine in a brand new bottle.
.
I still wish, however, that the content were re-thought with the new title. Including letters and odd bits was fine under old titles, but it seems to me that there are "major works" which are missing, at the expense of stray items. Too few of the biographies from "The Lives of the Poets" are complete, and "Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland" deserves more space than its extract receives under a title "The Major Works." Perhaps an additional sermon or two is called for. These are quibbles: the content is fine, it's the title that's off.
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Johnson in His Own Write April 22 2002
By Mark David Dietz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is undeniably the best anthology of Johnson currently available -- or for that matter that has ever been available under one cover. It outshines Penguin's much too abbreviated version and contains all the major items: a fine selection of the essays, several biographical pieces including the essential Soame Jenyns and Life of Savage, the prefaces to the Dictionary and to Shakespeare, a selection of prayers, some wonderful letters, etc.
Penguin had promised a selection of the Lives of the Poets (or Prefaces Biographical and Critical to be more accurate), but has yet to formally announce publication. There is but a small sampling of these wonderful and important essays in the Oxford edition here.
For the journey to Scotland (only excerpted here), I much prefer Penguin's complete edition of the Journey, which includes Boswell's Journal (but has the most eccentric annotation one might imagine -- more the product of a dyspeptic travel writer than a Johnsonian scholar). Reading Boswell and Johnson together is an utter delight -- moving from the formality, grace and power of Johnson to the smaller, more intimate pleasures of Boswell gives one the feeling of having captured, in the adventurous peregrinations of these two inimitable characters, the very breadth and depth of eighteenth century English writing.
To love and admire Johnson, but not appreciate the brilliant, even if much different, stylistic inventions of Boswell seems to me somewhat perverse. Certainly Boswell had his shortcomings, but half the joy of reading and 'knowing' Johnson and his circle comes from appreciating the little peccadilloes and foibles that each displayed in his turn--not the least the Great Cham, Johnson, himself. I cannot think of either of these two men that I don't see Thomas Rowlandson's wonderful caricature of the two walking arm in arm--the older man a head taller, wagging his finger and pontificating casually and brilliantly on some weighty matter, and the other rolling along beside him smiling with sweet admiration and pride of association. To read Johnson and bypass Boswell, is to find one great treasure and forsake another.
As Frank Lynch points out in the review below this edition is identical to the blue cover edition offered elsewhere on this site. (Although the lovely new Hogarth cover is a delightful addition, I bought a second copy thinking this was a new book with new content... I suppose I should also add that as the book is not new, neither is this review which you may find in its earlier incarnation under the listing for the blue cover edition.)
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Joy of Reading Johnson July 5 2007
By Bati - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The case of Dr. Johnson is a strange one. On the one hand, the extent of his achievements, the magnetism of his personality, and the sheer strength of his genius has forever secured him a place among the literary giants of all ages. On the other hand, Time seems to have both granted him fame and deprived him of readers. Nowadays, when people want Dr. Johnson, they go straight to James Boswell. The man has sadly overshadowed the author; and Samuel Johnson is not as much read as he is quoted, nor as closely appreciated as he is admired from afar. Indeed, his works fit Mark Twain's definition of a classic: "A book which people praise and don't read".

And that is a shame, since, as this book amply proves, Samuel Johnson is one of the best and most delightful writers the world has ever seen. He is deep in meaning, and felicitous in expression; never dull, always memorable. As the man himself, his prose has a fascinating quality to it: his architecturally built sentences expand for what sometimes feels like forever, linking up ideas and images, until a sudden burst of energy condenses the whole paragraph into a brilliant aphorism. Each phrase is balanced to perfection. Whenever obscure, Johnson usually illustrates his words with exact allusions, metaphors and similes; he particularly relishes in three-folded tropes: "To a community, sedition is a fever, corruption a gangrene, and idleness an atrophy" (pg 285); "In the bottle discontent seeks for comfort, cowardice for courage, and bashfulness for confidence" (pg 664). His acute and eminently quotable observations, whether about learned matters ("Notes are often necessary, but a necessary evil") or about human nature in general ("Many complain of neglect who never tried to attract regard ") are to be found throughout his whole oeuvre.

However, as painstakingly constructed as his writings might appear to be, the incredible truth is that he wrote many of them as he went along, without even reading them over, prodded by deadlines and debts. Johnson admitted having sometimes written half an essay on the spot, sent it to the presses, and finished the second half as the first half was being printed. He wrote his only novel, Rasselas, in the evenings of a week, and the first 48 pages of his wonderful Life of Savage in a sitting. ("But then again, I sat all night".) That nervous energy can be felt even in his calmer passages, lurking in between the lines, waiting for the inevitable outburst of indignation or angry disapproval to be released.

Regarding this edition, it is by far the best one-volume anthology of Johnson's works now available. It's biggest defect, in fact, consists merely in its inappropriate title: the very prologue happily admits the book is a wide-ranging sampling of Johnson's output and not just his "Major Works". Oxford just decided to re-name the anthology without touching the content, which explains why it still proudly includes Latin School exercises, extemporary verses, pieces "printed in full for the first time" and "lesser-known works". While I would have preferred having fewer, yet more complete pieces, the selection at least feels fresh and does not leave out any of Johnson's must-haves: his poetry (which, although often overlooked, has been praised by authors such as TS Eliot and Bloom), his timeless essays and remarkable biographies, the Preface to his Dictionary (of which some facsimile pages are included), the Preface to his edition of Shakespeare's plays (surely one of the best-written and most lucid examples of literary criticism ever published), Rasselas unabridged, and a few of his Lives of the Poets - which are, of course, quintessential Johnson. In other words, this book is a perfect introduction to those who are new to the author, and even the most avid Johnsonian will find in it something he has never read before, or an excuse to reread something he already knows by heart.

Samuel Johnson is someone towards whom one can feel many things, but not indifference. Hazlitt detested him and decried the "periodical revolution of his style", that search for equilibrium which often made Johnson turn from high praise to stern criticism in the blink of an eye; Carlyle crowned him "the Hero of the Man of Letters". It seems that people must either love the Doctor's elegance, or hate his pompous use of polysyllabic and Latinate words; either exalt his discernment, or deplore his intolerance. I am no exception to the rule. Simply put, I think reading Johnson means enjoying most of the pleasures Literature can give. That is why I consider he deserves more than our mere admiration: he deserves to be read. Certainly Samuel Johnson's achievements alone would make him remembered, but it's his writings that make him unforgettable.
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