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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Johnson's Mojor Works
Johnson is best known from Boswell's excellent biography, but I've come to like reading Johnson as much. Boswell's Johnson and Johnson's own writing give very different pleasures. In Boswell Johnson is always speaking, and so his opinions -- of which he was stuffed -- come over with colloquial force and humour. As Boswell himself noted, Johnson's writings aren't often...
Published on 18 Oct 2001

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6 of 54 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Heavy....very, very heavy.
I bought this book because it is a set work for the Open University Enlightenment based course I am doing. It is thorough, well presented and authoritarian. However, I doubt I will ever see anyone reading it on the train and do yourself a favour - don't pack it for a holiday read. It's heavy, very, very heavy!! And I don't mean the weight!!!
Published on 3 April 2003 by MR DAVID WATERMAN


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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Johnson's Mojor Works, 18 Oct 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
Johnson is best known from Boswell's excellent biography, but I've come to like reading Johnson as much. Boswell's Johnson and Johnson's own writing give very different pleasures. In Boswell Johnson is always speaking, and so his opinions -- of which he was stuffed -- come over with colloquial force and humour. As Boswell himself noted, Johnson's writings aren't often very funny.
That said, it's not true that there's no humour in Johnson. His poems, for example, are mainly what could be called light verse; and there are the two imitations of Juvenal's satires, which although not funny, or witty, in the way Pope is, are comedic -- worldly and cynical -- in outlook. The Lives of the Poets have a similar outlook; and are written with a style that is much clearer and, for me, more palatable than some of Johnson's earlier prose.
Johnson's not very widely read at the moment, which is a pity -- he's not a writer merely for "students of literature"; although at the same time, it must be confessed, not a writer who is likely to become immensely popular. There are more entertaining writers (and as entertainment Boswell's biography is justly more widely read than Johnson's own works): Johnson offers what, perhaps, will become more valued -- surety, rootedness and freedom from all types of trick. He's the opposite of spin and showiness.
There's so much in this book to read. (Which is, much to OUP's credit, a few quid cheaper than the previous edition.) There are extracts from articles, essays, poems, diaries, meditations, letters, the Lives of the Poets, the dictionary, a few pages reprinted from Johnson's edition of Shakespeare to show what that looked like, and from Johnson's account of his and Boswell's trip to Scotland. Rasselas (which *is* entertaining) is in full; all the major poems are included. There's too much in it to read at once; but it's very enjoyable. Johnson, like Coleridge, is a writer who is best represented by a fat volume of complete and selected works: like Coleridge he had a large understanding that sought to encompass all the life of his time.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pay a Visit to the Good Doctor, 30 Nov 2002
By 
Bruce Kendall "BEK" (Southern Pines, NC) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
Samuel Johnson was in his era what E.F. Hutton was in his. When the Doctor spoke, people listened. His sidekick and amanuensis, James Boswell, of course immortalized his utterances in one of the grandest biographies ever written. What this volume (and similar collections) indicates is that Johnson was equally irrepressible in print.
Johnson was nothing if not opinionated. Yet, coming from him, they are never merely opinions. There is always a great degree of heft and weight supporting them (no pun intended, as he was an immense man physically as well as intellectually)). Though he received only an honorary degree from Oxford (he was too poor to remain at school), he was one of the most learned men of any era. The range and breadth of his reading is unsurpassed by any other major literary figure, with the possible exception of Milton. Yet Johnson never comes across as overblown, nor does he ever trumpet his learning. His writing is informed be a sense of humility and compassion, that no doubt were among the attributes that endeared him to so many of the leading lights of his generation. And of course, he also had a marvelous sense of humor, which also comes through in this collection. Unfortunately for him, his good moods were often followed by serious bouts of depression, which is reflected in his most famous poem, "The Vanity of Human Wishes." By today's standards, he would be diagnosed most probably as a manic-depressive. There were many days when he found it difficult to summon the resolve to get out of bed and face the day. What saved him was his naturally gregarious nature. He thoroughly enjoyed the company he found in London's taverns.
His compassion for others is legendary. He thought that the character of a country was determined by the degree to which it ministered to the poor. He was an ardent foe, as exhibited in one of his "Idler" articles, of so-called scientific experimentation on animals. He viscerally describes the cruel and inhumane use that dogs were subjected to by anatomy researchers in his era. It is one of the most compellingly moving diatribes against this still-controversial subject that one is likely to encounter. One of the marks of great authors is that they say things we sometimes think of ourselves in such an adroit and pithy manner that we think they could not be better expressed. Take this Johnson quote on "idleness," for example: "As pride sometimes is hid under humility, idleness is often covered by turbulence and hurry. He that neglects his own duty and real employment, naturally endeavors to crowd his mind with something that may bar out the remembrance of his own folly, and does anything but what he ought to do with eager diligence, that he may keep himself in his own favor."
Dr. Johnson was also one of the foremost literary critics in history. Though one may not always agree with his assessments, one has to acknowledge the force of his arguments. In his encomiums to such writers as Shakespeare, Milton and Pope, he intermittently sprinkles censure. For those of us who don't like to see our icons brought down to earth, this is sometimes painful. What Johnson is really doing, however, is showing us that our own judgments are often unbalanced, and we fail to see what are real flaws in the great edifices. Johnson is never interested in pure panegyrics. His task is to examine the entire picture and to report as accurately as possible the grandeur, as well as the shortcomings of a work, whether it is Pope's Iliad, Shakespeare's Hamlet, or Milton's Paradise Lost. If there is a last word that could be said to have been delivered on these monumental works, it may well be Johnson's.
If you haven't visited the Doctor recently, do yourself some good and remedy the situation.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Food for thought and manna for the soul, 13 Oct 2011
By 
Didier (Ghent, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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Just days ago Samuel Johnson was to me little more than a sort of literary giant of whom I knew virtually nothing: 'the author of the Dictionary of the English Language', and the subject of James Boswell's biography, that about sums it up. To my mind he was not so much an author himself but rather a lexicographer, and a critic writing about other authors. I had neither read anything by Johnson himself, nor Boswell's biography. And then, on a whim, I decided this would not do, so I purchased the Oxford World's Classics edition of 'The Major Works'.

To my astonishment, and great delight, Johnson turned out to be as prolific and diversified a writer as few others. This book contains an overwhelming range of literary output: poetry (and good poetry it often is too), criticism (and not just literary), essays, biography, travel writing, fiction. Even better, in his writings Johnson comes across as an astonishing talent and a fascinating man. A true 'uomo universalis', writing - often with great verve and sound judgement - on the most diverse topics: marriage, sorrow, political partisanship, how to become a critic, capital punishment, epitaphs, .... And whatever the subject, Samuel Johnson has a style completely his own: at times dense, always learned and astute, and often full of irony and wit.

I've read less than half this massive book (792 pages, not counting the introduction and notes) as I'm writing this, but I simply could not restrain myself from extolling Johnson's praise. I personally found this not so much a book to read from cover to cover (my deepest respects to those who do), rather to keep on my bedside table, and from time to time take in hand and read a small bit (as I do with Montaigne's The Complete Essays (Penguin Classics)). Each time I do, I come away with some new insight, looking at something familiar from a completely new angle, and a confirmation of Johnson's eminently sound judgement. Just to whet your appetite, consider how he characterizes Mr Richard Savage, whose biography he wrote: 'It was his peculiar happiness that he scarcely ever found a stranger whom he did not leave a friend; but it must likewise be added that he had not often a friend long without obliging him to become a stranger.'

This is the sort of book (and author) that becomes a lifelong friend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sam's the Man, 26 Sep 2013
HOW TO BECOME A CRITIC; The Idler, Saturday, June 9, 1759: "Criticism is a study by which men grow important and formidable at very small expense. The power of invention has been conferred by nature upon few... But every man can exert such judgement as he has upon the works of others; and he whom nature has made weak, and idleness keeps ignorant, may yet support his vanity by the name of a critic." Er, yeah, thanks, Samuel. Not a lot to say, then, other than this is a superlative compilation of one of the most intelligent scribes who ever lived and certainly one of the best writers of English. And, yes, he can be hilarious, as evinced in his description and demolition of the boastful fools he meets on a long stage coach journey - I've met exactly the same people on intercity rail trips. Let's just direct a few plaudits in the direction of Oxford editor Donald Greene for a job brilliantly accomplished and clear off sharpish before I find more words that describe (and so accurately mock) what I'm doing here. ADDENDUM: DECEMBER 2013. Top four writers of English are (this is like Strictly) 1)W Shakespeare. 2) Samuel Johnson. 3) George Orwell. 4) Philip Roth. Now you know.
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13 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Steroids for the Use of the English Language, 7 July 2007
By 
Captain Cook (Leeward to the Sandwich Islands) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
When I dropped out of high school at the tender age of 14, ostensibly for a career of glue-sniffing and joy-riding with my peers round the graffiti-sprayed council estates of my native Irvine, I was the equivalent to the 'seven-stone weakling' in terms of using the English language.

Brought up on an unhealthy 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 miraculous 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, each time I managed to survive and found myself on dry land, confused and wet, but nevertheless alive and raring to have another go.

In the months that followed, THE 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 massive, potent and expressive tool.
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6 of 54 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Heavy....very, very heavy., 3 April 2003
By 
MR DAVID WATERMAN (Ashtead, Surrey United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
I bought this book because it is a set work for the Open University Enlightenment based course I am doing. It is thorough, well presented and authoritarian. However, I doubt I will ever see anyone reading it on the train and do yourself a favour - don't pack it for a holiday read. It's heavy, very, very heavy!! And I don't mean the weight!!!
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The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics) by Samuel Johnson (Paperback - 6 July 2000)
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