Rhetorical dimensions of Samuel Johnson's Rambler.

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Woodard, Branson
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Middle Tennessee State University
The second self or implied authorial voice in Samuel Johnson's writing receives little critical attention. The historical and biographical Johnson (primarily Boswell's) diverts scholars from Johnson's works. Traditional criticism of Johnson's writing focuses on ethical motives and textual history, and in the process Johnson's persuasive designs are ignored. This problem is most acute in reference to the periodicals essays, particularly the Rambler--Johnson's most extensive and accessible discussion of common human weaknesses as impediments to happiness, a discussion that depends for its effect on the development of Johnson's second self.
This study identifies the Rambler's Johnson and evaluates his assessment of the periodical as the "pure wine" of his literary career. Emphasizing the work's functions more than its forms, I examine the rhetorical strategies Johnson uses to balance the authorities of reason and of experience.
The first chapter, using Boswell, argues that Johnson's propensity to oral communication undergirds his compositional process and influences his decisions as a critic. Boswell's conversationalist Johnson does not inevitably obscure our view of Johnson as a writer.
Chapter II reveals the Rambler as one of Johnson's many autonomous voices in the periodical. Ramblers 1 through 22 introduce the Rambler through his own essays, in a manner different from the traditional, Addisonian biographical sketch. There is reason to suspect the sincerity of Johnson's early attempt to conceal his authorship.
Johnson's sympathies with the middle class, the point of Chapter III, show in his use of letters to the editor. Their narrative mode reveals insights gained from their writers' experiences, in contrast to the argumentative pattern of the Rambler's philosophical essays. The result is a dialogue between Experience and Reason. Here Johnson exploits his experience as parliamentary "reporter" and biographer.
The oriental tales, according to Chapter IV, contribute variety and diversion and show the Rambler as storyteller. The sage-novice dialogue is important--however illusoire. Johnson also adapts the dialogical mode of Irene.
The final chapter concludes that the Rambler was written not so much for individual readers as for a community of readers. His studied attempts to make the world better for his ordinary readers, the new audience in the mid-century, reveals a Johnson quite different from the antagonistic polemicist of Boswell's Life; and the Rambler's Johnson is much more attractive figure.