Date of Award


Degree Type

Master's Essay - Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Books of morality are daily written, yet its influence is still little in the world: so the ground is annually ploughed, and yet multitudes are in want of bread. But, surely neither the labours of the moralist nor of the husbandman are vain: let them for a.while neglect their tasks, and their usefulness will be known;....

As this passage from the Adventurer suggests, Samuel Johnson considered literature to be the common food or bread of the moral life. He did not view literature as autotelic, and, consequently, has no real theory of literature as art. For Johnson, literature is life: it originates in the life of the writer, imitates men in action, and is intended to better the moral life of the reader. In scholastic terms, Johnson concerned himself more with the efficient and final causes of literature than with the formal and material causes. Rather than a consistent theory of literature as art, then, Johnson's literary criticism reveals a blend of sensibility and moral principles, or as Paul Fussell demonstrates in Samuel Johnson and the Life of Writing, several senses of literature. Johnson's criticism is sometimes a priori rational, sometimes empirical, and always moralistic. He reacts when his sense of life is affirmed or violated, not when his critical principles are affirmed or violated. In other words, he brings to literature the same tools that he brings to conversation or the daily affairs of men, because, for him, literature is not simple an objet d'art.