David F Venturo

Samuel Johnson's London (1738) and The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749) are both late manifestations of the genre of the poetic imitation, which flourished for approximately a century from 1650 to 1750. The imitation was related to translation, but its poetics were looser and more flexible. The poet would take a classical (or occasionally a contemporary foreign) poem, and, instead of adhering closely to the language of the original, update it with modern, local parallels. As John Oldham explained in the "Advertisement" to his imitation of Horace's Ars Poetica, published in 1681, he had striven to put his poet into "a more modern dress, . . . by making him speak, as if he were living, and writing now. I therefore resolv'd to alter the Scene from Rome to London, and to make use of English names of Men, Places, and Customs, where the Parallel would decently permit" (Oldham 1987: 87). The poetic imitation was first attempted in English in the 1650s and 1660s by Abraham Cowley and Sir John Denham, who were following trends in contemporary French literature. In the 1670s and 1680s, the imitation was refined and popularized in England by such poets as John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, and the above-mentioned Oldham. In 1680 John Dryden memorably described imitation as a "libertine" form of translation, counterbalanced by metaphrase, strict word-for-word rendering, at the opposite extreme, with paraphrase, "Translation with Latitude," occupying the middle ground between the other two (Dryden 1961: vol. 1, 117, 114). As a poet, Dryden claimed to prefer the moderate paraphrase, although as a playwright, his imitations of Shakespeare and Sophocles significantly diverge from the original plays, and many of his paraphrastic poetic translations — especially those written after he was stripped of his laureateship in 1689, in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution — border on imitation. The extended historical conceit or parallel remained the central feature of the genre from Cowley and Denham through Pope, and Johnson's reservations about such conceits or parallels helped spell the end of such imitations. [See ch. 33, "The Classical Inheritance."]

The two poems under discussion, Samuel Johnson's imitations of Juvenal's Third and Tenth Satires, were written in what would prove to be the closing years of the genre's hundred-year lifespan. Yet at the time Johnson wrote London, in the late 1730s, few would have predicted that the imitation would have run its course little more than a decade later. Indeed, in the 1730s the poetic imitation enjoyed its greatest popularity and critical acclaim, thanks to Alexander Pope, who produced nine imitations of selected satires and epistles by the Roman poet Horace. Pope brilliantly exploited historical parallels between Augustan Rome and his own London to create ironic contrasts between the political and cultural achievements of the classical past and the political corruption and cultural decadence of the world of King George II and his Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, as part of a coordinated attack on the Court and administration.

Johnson's London is very much a political poem, conceived in the spirit of Pope's brilliant Imitations of Horace and John Dryden's great translations of Juvenal and Persius (1692), which offered veiled, ventriloquized criticism of the Whiggish, Wil-liamite world of the 1690s. London captures much of the spirit of its classical original, Juvenal's Third Satire, but with a twist. Juvenal aims his satire primarily at social and cultural targets. The main speaker in that poem, a figure named Umbricius, fulminates against the breakdown of traditional social and economic bonds between wealthy Roman patrons and their dependants, sometimes called clients, which makes it impossible for a Roman citizen of modest means to continue to live in the great city. Instead, Umbricius complains, he is compelled to flee to the countryside, while Rome is flooded by Greek sycophants and crass nouveaux riches who enjoy the doles and perquisites that once were given by patrons to men, such as himself, of old Roman stock. Johnson transforms Juvenal's cultural critique into a poem that is primarily a political satire, focusing on the corruption of the court of King George II and the administration of Sir Robert Walpole, with only ancillary attention to the dangers and indignities of city life.

Johnson's poem relies on the discourse, and is informed by the political agenda, of the "Patriot" opposition to Sir Robert Walpole, which reached its peak in the late 1730s and early 1740s [see ch. 1, "Poetry, Politics, and the Rise of Party"]. The chief organ for the opposition was the newspaper The Craftsman, the eminence grise behind which was Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke (1677—1751), friend of Pope and Swift and northern secretary of state under Queen Anne. Having been attainted by the Whig majority in Parliament in 1714 and ejected from the House of Lords, Bolingbroke fled England and became adviser and secretary to the pretender to the British throne, James Stuart. Partially pardoned in 1723, Bolingbroke returned to England in 1725 and attempted to forge a new "Country" party designed to transcend traditional Whig—Tory divisions by appealing to both moderate Whigs and moderate Tories through its criticism of the corruption of the Walpole administration (Kramnick 1968). As political leader of the "Court" party, Walpole was guilty, in Bolingbroke's opinion, of using patronage to destroy the traditional balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of British government. In particular, according to Bolingbroke and other Country adherents, Walpole had damaged the so-called Ancient Constitution of Britain by undermining what they regarded as the traditional role of Parliament as supervisor of the executive. Since the 1690s, they contended, the rise of new commercial interests had put enormous wealth at the disposal of the central government through new institutions such as the Bank of England. Bolingbroke and his supporters feared that this wealth, in the hands of the executive, subjected Parliament, as never before, to the influence of the Crown and its administration. Bolingbroke regarded this influence as corruption, exercised through the distribution of pensions, places, and other forms of patronage that could be used to purchase cooperation with the policies of the king and his chief minister. As J. G. A. Pocock has remarked, such influence was used to create support for "measures — standing armies, national debts, excise schemes — whereby the activities of administration gr[e]w beyond Parliament's control" (Pocock 1989: 125). Such corruption, Boling-broke and his allies charged, encouraged dependency and undermined the traditional British love of liberty. It could be countered by adopting legislation and pursuing policies and practices — such as regular, frequent, free elections and the expulsion of placemen from Parliament — that would keep members of Parliament from falling under the sway of the administration. Country politicians recognized the legitimacy of administration as a governmental activity, but they regarded the power accrued by administration as dangerous because it could easily encroach on personal freedom. Hence, according to Country supporters, the parliamentary duty to supervise administration and to preserve the independence of persons and property took precedence over the administrative power to govern (Pocock 1989: 124—5).

Just how powerfully London embodied Bolingbroke's Country agenda and rhetoric is reflected in comments written by Sir John Hawkins, Johnson's friend and biographer, who supported Walpole and the Court party in the 1730s:

The topics of [London], so far as it respects this country, or the time when it was written, are evidently drawn from those weekly publications, which, to answer the view of a malevolent faction, first created, and for some years supported, a distinction between the interests of the government and the people, under the several denominations of the court and the country parties: these publications were carried on under the direction of men, professing themselves to be [Opposition] [W]higs and friends of the people, in a paper intitled, "The Country Journal or the Craftsman." (Hawkins 1787: 60)

The political nature and agenda of the poem are borne out by the timing of its publication, by Robert Dodsley, on Wednesday, May 10, 1738, just three days before he published Alexander Pope's opposition satire, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty-Eight, Dialogue One. A skillful businessman and opposition supporter, Dodsley probably hoped that these poems would boost each other's sales and further the Country party goal of turning public opinion against Walpole.

The structure of London is built on a series of stark contrasts derived from Juvenal's Third Satire, but reinforced and modified by the political concerns and rhetoric of the Country party: city versus country, wealth versus poverty, danger versus safety, servitude versus freedom, corruption versus honesty, present versus past. In particular, the poem is constructed around recurring temporal and spatial contrasts that reflect the Country ideology and agenda to which Johnson passionately subscribed in the 1730s and early 1740s.

The poem, written in lively, end-stopped heroic couplets, begins with a 34-line proem spoken by a young, unnamed friend of the poem's chief character, Thales, who is about to leave London for self-imposed exile in the Welsh countryside. The two friends stand on the banks of the Thames, in Greenwich, awaiting the "Wherry" (l. 19) that will carry Thales and the "small Remains" of his "dissipated Wealth" (l. 20) on his journey. Both men are noticeably upset: the friend refers to his own mixed emotions of "Grief and Fondness" (l. 1) at the impending departure, and he characterizes Thales as "Indignant" (l. 34) and "contemptuous" (l. 33). As the friend approvingly explains, Thales is "Resolv'd at length, from Vice and London far, / To breathe in distant Fields a purer Air" (ll. 5—6). As the hendiadys in line 5 makes clear, for Thales and his friend, "Vice" and London have become synonymous, and thus no refuge is possible for a virtuous man within the city limits. Suddenly, in the midst of this turmoil, the friends experience a brief but powerful interlude, prompted by a recollection that Greenwich is the birthplace of Queen Elizabeth I. They perform an act of reverence that leads to a quasi-religious, visionary moment during which they kneel, and kiss the consecrated Earth; In pleasing Dreams the blissful Age renew, And call Britannia's Glories back to view; Behold her Cross triumphant on the Main, The Guard of Commerce, and the Dread of Spain, Ere Masquerades debauch'd, Excise oppress'd, Or English Honour grew a standing Jest. A transient Calm the happy Scenes bestow, And for a Moment lull the Sense of Woe.

The interlude epitomizes themes, motifs, and rhetorical strategies that characterize the 263 lines of the poem: fierce anger at England's present-day moral, military, and political weakness and corruption; nostalgia for the military and political glory of the British past, encapsulated in the reference to Elizabeth (and to references later in the poem to Henry V, Edward III, and Alfred the Great); and an assertion that England once had been singled out for God's blessing and is now an object of divine wrath. These things are, of course, also part of the shared discourse of the opposition to Walpole. The allusion to Queen Elizabeth and the blue-water policies of the Elizabethan navy as a means of ridiculing Robert Walpole's diplomatic efforts to avoid war with France and Spain would have been familiar to readers of The Craftsman and other opposition papers. Complaints about cultural decadence imported from France and Italy — "Masquerades" — and anger over Walpole's tax proposals — "Excise" (both l. 29) — were also familiar elements of the opposition agenda. In addition, the focus in the proem on Wales, as Thales's destination, also reflects Johnson's political agenda, since Wales was the home of Elizabeth's Tudor family and a nation that traditionally enjoyed a reputation for being fiercely independent.

The remainder of the poem, lines 35—263, consists of a lengthy, rhetorically sophisticated speech by Thales elaborating the reasons for his decision to leave London. His rhetoric relies heavily on the language and conventions of seventeenth-century jeremiad: he describes the walls of London as "curst" and the city as "devote" — i.e. damned or doomed — to "Vice and Gain" (l. 37). Like a harried ascetic, Thales prays for sanctuary from this corruption: "Grant me, kind Heaven, to find some happier Place, / Where Honesty and Sense are no Disgrace . . . / Some secret Cell, ye Pow'rs, indulgent give" (ll. 43—4, 49). He also implies that the current outbreak of public corruption is providentially sanctioned, an act of heavenly retribution for English misdeeds: "To such, a groaning Nation's spoils are giv'n, / When publick Crimes inflame the Wrath of Heav'n" (ll. 65—6).

Throughout his diatribe, Thales hammers home the theme of commercial corruption in contemporary London. Indeed, in line 37 he goes so far as to equate "Vice and Gain," as though it has become impossible to earn an honest living in the city. "Worth" (l. 35) and "Virtue" (ll. 63, 145) are no longer synonymous there, the moral signification of "Worth" having been obliterated by a commercial code that sanctions deception, betrayal, "Perjury" (l. 68), and "Theft" (l. 68). Most tellingly, Thales complains that the moral bonds between patrons and clients have become meaningless in Walpole's world. Now, the wealthy patronize only those whose testimony could impeach them: "For what but social Guilt the Friend endears? / Who shares Orgilios Crimes, his Fortune shares" (ll. 83—4). London has become a city of moral inversion and perversion, a theme reinforced by the elaborate balances and antitheses of Johnson's heroic couplets. Thus, as Thales explains in his opening remarks (ll. 35—60), Walpolian "Pensions" (l. 51) have corrupted members of Parliament so far as to vote a "Patriot," such as the attainted Bolingbroke, "black," and a "Courtier white" (l. 52). Similarly, they have undermined British heroism and love of freedom by encouraging pacifism in the face of military insults and piratic depredations by the French and Spanish. If traditional British sea power is a victim of Walpole's polices, so is traditional British culture: effeminate opera — "warbling Eunuchs" (l. 59) — has usurped the cultural place of English theater, which no longer enjoys free expression, but instead is restricted — "licens'd" — (l. 59) by the government. Opera, in turn, according to Thales, serves Walpole's agenda by promoting mindless "Servitude" (l. 60) among its audiences.

In the longest section of his speech, lines 91—157, Thales xenophobically bemoans the threat from French émigrés. Based on Juvenal's lengthy attack on Greek émigrés in the Third Satire, Johnson, in alternating verse paragraphs, contrasts the truth-bending hypocrisy of the "supple Gaul" (l. 124) with the inflexible rectitude of the "true Briton' (l. 8), congenitally incapable of lying. Thales's complaints against French émigrés were, of course, greatly exaggerated. London in the 1720s and 1730s was less of a magnet for immigrants than imperial Rome in the late first century ce. Indeed, the most notable French migration — of Protestant Huguenots — had taken place several decades earlier, following Louis XIV's persecution of Protestants after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, and these artisans were hardly the insidious flatterers described by Thales. Nevertheless, Johnson's attack on French immigrants provided him with a publicly and politically acceptable means of criticizing Walpole and George II for their decision to ally the nation during the 1730s with the French Bourbons rather than its traditional Austrian Habsburg allies. It also provided a symbol and a scapegoat for what Johnson and his Country allies regarded as the moral corruption of English culture under Walpole and George.

To illustrate the perversion of patronage, Thales recounts, in lines 194—209, the story of Orgilio, whose name in French means proud, and who is almost certainly an allegorical representation of Sir Robert Walpole. The episode is based on a similar one in lines 212—22 of Juvenal's Third Satire. When Orgilio's "Palace" (l. 195) burns to the ground, his clients, who owe their powerful and lucrative positions in church and state to bribes they paid their great patron, "Refund the Plunder of the begger'd Land" (l. 201) by redirecting some of their wealth to help finance the rebuilding. By contrast, Thales complains, when a poor man's lodgings burn, "all neglect, and most insult [his] Woes" (l. 193). Like Johnson's attack on French émigrés, this section of the poem was historically inaccurate, as its author would admit later in life. "This was by [Charles] Hitch a bookseller" — one of the publishers of Voyage to Abyssinia and the Plan of a Dictionary — "justly remarked to be no picture of modern manners, though it might be true of Rome," Johnson noted in the margins of a personal copy of the poem (Johnson 1982: 199). But in 1738 Johnson was less interested in the accuracy of his historical parallels than in making a point about the dangers of political corruption.

As London builds to its close, Johnson takes on his most imposing subject of all, as Thales attacks the morals of George II (ll. 242—7), criticizing the King for his annual spring voyages to Hanover to renew his adulterous liaison with Sophie von Wallmoden, and glancing at George's preference — which did not go down well in England — for his Hanoverian principality over his British kingdom. In recent years, this criticism of George has been construed by some critics and historians as a sign that Johnson had Jacobite sympathies; but because opposition and Jacobite discourse overlapped in so many ways, including a willingness sharply to criticize the King personally, it is impossible to determine from his published works to what extent Johnson might have harbored Jacobitical sentiments and what role they might have played in the shaping of the poem (Erskine-Hill 1996; Gerrard 1994: 232).

The Vanity of Human Wishes, Johnson's most powerful and important poem, and his first work to appear with his name on the title-page, was published eleven years after London, on Monday, January 9, 1749. This imitation of Juvenal is very different from Johnson's first, the angry rhetoric and political propaganda of London replaced by a more sober rhetoric and serious philosophical purpose. These differences reflect changes in Johnson's circumstances and outlook between 1738 and 1749, but also the very different rhetoric and purpose of Juvenal's Third and Tenth Satires. In the Tenth Satire, Juvenal abandoned the angry invective of his earlier poems for a rhetorically more elevated form of philosophical satire which he uses to explore the irony of the relation of human happiness to human desires. Because our passions dominate our reason, he argues, we rarely understand what is good for us. Indeed, in the opening lines of the poem, he wryly claims that the gods, to punish us, grant our wishes. After surveying the five chief categories of wishes — for political power, rhetorical eloquence, military glory, long life, and physical beauty — Juvenal offers a solution to this problem: If you must pray, ask for a sound mind in a healthy body; for indifference to death; and, most important of all, for freedom from the turmoil of passion. Consistent with classical Stoic doctrine, Juvenal's narrator concludes by urging human beings to rely on themselves, not the gods, for their happiness. It is human beings, themselves, he charges, who, by failing to exercise emotional self-control, foolishly surrender their autonomy to the pseudo-divinity, Fortune.

In length and structure, The Vanity of Human Wishes closely follows Juvenal's Tenth Satire. At 368 lines, The Vanity is only two longer than Juvenal's Tenth, a remarkable achievement considering the density of Juvenal's Latin. (By contrast, Dryden's translation of Juvenal's Tenth is 561 lines long.) In its structure, The Vanity is virtually identical to Juvenal's poem: a brief introduction on the dangers of improvident wishing is followed by a long series of exempla divided into the same five categories that Juvenal used and presented so as to suggest comprehensiveness. In its informing philosophical/religious perspective, however, The Vanity of Human Wishes could hardly be more different from Juvenal's Tenth. Indeed, in this imitation Johnson wrote such a vigorous rejoinder to Juvenal's classical argument for philosophical detachment and self-sufficiency that it practically spelled the end of the poetic imitation as a viable genre.

Juvenal's poem, especially its conclusion, is informed by the virtues of the two great classical philosophical schools, Stoicism and Epicureanism. Although these two schools were obviously quite distinct, they shared, as Isobel Grundy has thoughtfully explained, one important feature: both put a premium on the importance of emotional detachment and human self-sufficiency as central to a virtuous life (Grundy 1986: 165). By contrast, Johnson drew on Pauline, Christian tradition, believing that those very passions that Juvenal sought to eradicate in the service of reason could be educated and put to use, along with reason, in the service of faith. This tradition, which profoundly shaped both Johnson's religious perspective and his literary imagination, can be described as fideist.

Fideism, as Blanford Parker defines it, "exists whenever God is perceived as an absence. This is not to say that God is perceived as not existing, but rather that His empirical (and sometimes moral) absence from the world seems to be strong proof of His presence in another" (Parker 1998: 190). This is the religious perspective that informs a number ofJohnson's favorite books: the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes and St. Paul's Epistles; Boethius' Consolatio Philosophiae; John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress; and William Law's A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. In Ecclesiastes, for example, the argument for God's existence is premised on his conspicuous absence from events in the mundane world. Only after the narrator of Ecclesiastes has demonstrated the apparent lack of divine order in the world does he assert: "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man" (12: 13). Law's Serious Call, which, as Boswell famously noted, profoundly affected the development of Johnson's mature religious sensibility, is also fideist in its perspective. As Johnson explained to Boswell, he was a "lax talker against religion" as an Oxford undergraduate until he met his match in Law (Boswell 1934: vol. 1, 68). Law, like the narrator of Ecclesiastes, urges his readers to cultivate faith in a hidden God who lies behind the seeming randomness and meaninglessness of ordinary events. He assures his readers that the mundane world offers only "shadows of joy and happiness" in contrast to the joyous substance of the divine realm (Law 1906: 133).

Fideism also helps to give structure to The Vanity of Human Wishes — a structure it shares with Ecclesiastes and The Pilgrim's Progress, as well as Juvenal's Tenth Satire. In these texts, a narrator takes the reader on an extended survey of the world in order to demonstrate its theological emptiness. The survey culminates in a turn, leading to a brief, taut conclusion that provides to that emptiness an answer which lies outside the mundane order. Just when life appears to be most futile and empty, the divine presence rushes in to console the longing and faithful soul. From a historical perspective, fideism also provides an organizing principle. Just as the emptiness of the mundane world hides a loving God, so the apparent randomness of historical events masks the guiding hand of Providence. Thus, because our human perspective is limited, worldly events seem random and disordered; but from God's perspective outside of time, human history follows an intelligible plot. This point is central to the argument of another of Johnson's favorite fideist works, Boethius' Consolatio Philosophiae.

The opening paragraphs (ll. 1—72) of The Vanity of Human Wishes beautifully articulate the problem of human wishing. Because "Reason [rarely] guides the stubborn Choice" (l. 11) and "Hope and Fear, Desire and Hate, / O'erspread with Snares the clouded Maze of Fate" (ll. 5—6), human beings suffer from a severely limited and distorted perspective on themselves and the surrounding world that leads to self-inflicted anguish. By presenting the problem in this fashion, Johnson seems to ally himself with the philosophical rationalism of Juvenal's Tenth Satire and with the popular neo-Epicureanism of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester's A Satyr Against Reason and Mankind (1679) and Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man (1733—4), as well as the classical Epicureanism of Rochester's and Pope's great Roman source, Lucretius' philosophical poem De Rerum Natura. But Johnson establishes this alliance only so that he can shatter it spectacularly in his conclusion (ll. 343—68). Above the figure of purblind "wav'ring Man" stands "Observation" (l. 1), which enjoys an Olympian perspective that allows it to survey humanity "from China to Peru" (l. 2) — that is, as though looking from one end of a Mercator projection map to the other. Observation is seconded by the figure of "Hist'ry" (l. 29). Together, these two provide a comprehensive survey through space and time of the dangers of short-sighted wishing.

Johnson satirically surveys, following Juvenal, the speciousness of five kinds of wishes: for political power (ll. 73—134); achievements in learning (ll. 135—74); military glory (ll. 175—254); longevity (ll. 255—318); and physical beauty (ll. 319—42). Major exempla, most of them historical, of approximately 15 to 30 lines each, are supported by shorter exempla and brief historical references. For example, in satirizing those who pursue political power, Johnson buttresses the central exemplum of Cardinal Wolsey (ll. 99—128) with brief allusions to the unfortunate careers of George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham; Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford; Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford; and Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon (ll. 129—31). Johnson reserves his most powerful satire for the pursuers of military glory: Charles XII of Sweden, celebrated in many eighteenth-century circles for his bravery and piety, is grimly mocked for selectively bridling the emotions of "Love" and "Fear" (l. 195) while giving full rein to his ambition for military conquest (ll. 202—4). Such blinkered judgment, Johnson wryly notes, transformed the once feared king into Fortune's fool during his lifetime and reduced him after death into a mere theme for moralists and writers.

Johnson constructs his five surveys to make them seem as comprehensive as possible. For example, in satirizing military vainglory, Johnson's exempla range diachron-ically from the Persian general Xerxes, who lived in the fifth century bce, to Charles Albert, Elector of Bavaria, who died in 1745, less than four years before The Vanity was published. Other groups of exempla organized synchronically also suggest comprehensiveness. Under the vanity of wishing for achievements in learning, Johnson tellingly links Thomas Lydiat (l. 164), Galileo Galilei (l. 164), and Archbishop William Laud (ll. 165—74): historical contemporaries, all of whom died tragically in the 1640s. Lydiat, although eminent in mathematical circles, was virtually unknown outside them; Galileo, of course, was one of the most eminent scientists of the European Renaissance; and Laud rose to become Archbishop of Canterbury and a close adviser to King Charles I. Yet, despite their scholarly accomplishments, all died in anguished circumstances in the 1640s after being persecuted by political and religious enemies — the well-connected Laud and the renowned Galileo as well as the obscure and impoverished Lydiat. Indeed, in the case of Laud, his connections to monarchical power directly led to his judicial murder by Act of Parliament in 1645. Finally, Johnson emphasizes comprehensiveness by using gendered exempla, in contrast to Juvenal's purely masculine focus. Under military vainglory, Maria Theresa of Austria outwits, politically and militarily, Charles Albert, Elector of Bavaria (ll. 241—54). In addition, Johnson alters the gender from male to female of the exempla who ironically suffer the consequences of physical beauty (ll. 318—42). Indeed, by the time the reader reaches the end of the survey at line 342, he or she has been overwhelmed by a heartbreakingly exhaustive network of exempla.

Then, at line 343 of The Vanity, a remarkable turn occurs, as Johnson definitively parts company with his Juvenalian model. No sooner does the survey end with the implication that all wishes are unsafe, than an emotional voice demurs in a tumultuous six-line outburst:

Where then shall Hope and Fear their Objects find?

Must dull Suspence corrupt the stagnant Mind?

Must helpless Man, in Ignorance sedate,

Roll darkling down the Torrent of his Fate?

Must no Dislike alarm, no Wishes rise, No Cries invoke the Mercies of the Skies?

Must we surrender, the voice complains, to Juvenal's dismal ideal of emotional resignation, paradoxically both torpid and torrential? The very fervor with which this voice speaks mocks the possibility ofJuvenal's rational escape from desire. Immediately, this voice is answered by the consoling words of a second: "Enquirer, cease, Petitions yet remain, / Which Heav'n may hear, nor deem Religion vain" (ll. 349-50). Religion offers the potential of a safe harbor from vain wishing, although the voice makes no guarantees ("which Heav'n may hear"). The consoling voice urges humanity: "Still raise for Good the supplicating Voice, / But leave to Heav'n the Measure and the Choice" (ll. 351-2). Because hope and fear are ineradicably part of the human psyche, Johnson recognizes that these emotions must be tempered by education rather than repressed. Thus, the consoling voice advises:

when the Sense of sacred Presence fires, And strong Devotion to the Skies aspires, Pour forth thy Fervours for a healthful Mind, Obedient Passions, and a Will resign'd.

That is, when your passions dictate that you must pray for something, pray fervently for the capacity wisely to manage your fervent desires. This activity is brilliantly circular and transforms the objects sought from products into a process. The act of prayer is conceived by Johnson as something not cool and detached, but warm and fiery, and becomes its own end. In this way the narrator of the poem avoids the foolishness of the Stoics in Johnson's Rambler, no. 32, or Gulliver in the fourth part of his Travels, who strive to suppress, rather than educate, their passions, and therefore deny half their humanity. Johnson's "Goods" (ll. 365-6) to be prayed for - "Love" (l. 361), "Patience" (l. 362), and "Faith" (l. 363) - all "transmuted" (l. 362) one's perception of, and response to, the world; and therefore, although they do not eradicate life's ills, they make them easier to deal with. Finally, Johnson emphasizes in the closing lines of the poem the importance of cooperation between humanity and divinity. Juvenal declares, "I show you what you can give yourself." By contrast, Johnson stresses that Love, Patience, and Faith are "for Man" but "ordain[ed]" by "Heav'n" (l. 365). Thus, the human mind, in concert with divinity, avoids the fruitless pursuit of evanescent or changeable objects engaged in by the self-deceived exempla by, instead, "mak[ing] the Happiness [one] does not find" (l. 368).

The Vanity of Human Wishes occupies a distinctive place in literary history as the imitation to end all imitations, because its argument is constructed pointedly to prove the fallaciousness of the argument of the poem it imitates. Indeed, "irreconcilable dissimilitude[s]" between the classical world of ancient Rome and the early modern world of eighteenth-century England pervade both of Johnson's Juvenalian imitations and helped prompt him, I suspect, after the publication of The Vanity in 1749, consciously to abandon further attempts at the genre ( Johnson 1905: vol. 3, 247).

As Johnson grew older, he took notice of incongruities that undermine the historical analogies between London and Juvenal's Third Satire, such as Charles Hitch's remark, noted earlier, on the Orgilio episode. In addition, The Vanity of Human Wishes is premised on a fundamental philosophical difference with Juvenal's Tenth Satire that takes The Vanity as far in the direction of originality as the poetic imitation can go. It is well known, on Johnson's own testimony to Boswell, that he had all of Juvenal's satires "in his head," ready to translate, but that he never did so (Boswell 1934: vol. 1, 193). While this failure to write them out may, in part, be chalked up to Johnson's habitual indolence, it tells only a portion of the story. A more satisfying explanation may be found in Johnson's criticism of Pope's Imitations of Horace in the "Life of Pope." According to Johnson, imitation became a favorite employment of Pope by its facility; the plan was ready to his hand, and nothing was required but to accommodate as he could the sentiments of an old author to recent facts or familiar images; but what is easy is seldom excellent: such imitations cannot give pleasure to common readers. The man of learning may be sometimes surprised and delighted by an unexpected parallel; but the comparison requires knowledge of the original, which will likewise often detect strained applications. Between Roman images and English manners there will be an irreconcilable dissimilitude, and the work will be generally uncouth and party-coloured; neither original nor translated, neither ancient nor modern. (Johnson 1905: vol. 3, 246-7)

The failure to reflect life accurately; the derivative and exclusionary qualities of imitation, accessible only to the classically trained; the ease with which such poems could be cobbled together out of earlier poems - all these reasons help account for Johnson's decision not to write more imitations. In addition, Johnson found himself confronting the same historiographical paradox that humanist scholars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries constantly faced. They "aimed at resurrecting the ancient world in order to copy and imitate it, but the more thoroughly and accurately the process of resurrection was carried out, the more evident it became that copying and imitation were impossible - or could never be anything more than copying and imitation" (Pocock 1987: 4).

Beyond these intellectual reasons, Johnson seems to have experienced an almost visceral impatience with the imitation, as though his well-known love of argument got the better of him when he sat down to write. Virtually all other successful writers of poetic imitations enjoyed playing by the rules of the genre, especially in pursuing the ingenious historical parallels that lie at the heart of these poems. Dryden delighted in ventriloquizing, interpolation, and glancing allusions in his paraphrastic translations as clever devices for attacking his enemies while professing to be doing nothing of the sort. Pope luxuriated in the artistic process of creating a literary persona and constructing literary artifacts based on extended historical conceits that allowed him to create satiric ironies clothed in words of praise, as in the brilliant "Epistle to Augustus." Oldham enjoyed extending historical conceits as far as they could go without breaking, as in his translations/imitations of Horace's Ars Poetica and Juvenal's Third Satire. But Johnson always seems impatient and somewhat contemptuous of the artistic process. For him, the aesthetic game is much less important than truth. In London, Johnson visibly forces his parallels in the service of ideological conviction; in The Vanity of Human Wishes, he violently disrupts them in the service of theological truth.

Ultimately, Johnson's dissatisfaction with imitation helped lay the groundwork for the new emphasis on originality that was developing by the mid-eighteenth century. When Johnson learned of Edward Young's Conjectures on Original Composition (1759), with its enthusiastic endorsement of originality, he readily agreed with Young, only adding that he was "surprized to find Young receive as novelties, what [Johnson] thought very common maxims" (Boswell 1964: vol. 5, 269). By 1759, Johnson and the wise Imlac in Rasselas both agreed that "no man was ever great by imitation" (Johnson 1990: 41).

See also chs. 1, "Poetry, Politics, and the Rise of Party; 4, "Poetry and Religion"; 32, "Whig and Tory Poetics"; 33, "The Classical Inheritance."

References and Further Reading

Bate, W. J. (1977). Samuel Johnson. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Boswell, James (1934-50; 1964). Life of Johnson, ed. G. Birkbeck Hill (1887, 6 vols.), rev. and enlarged L. F. Powell (vols. 1-4 1934; vols. 5-6 1950, 2nd edn. 1964). Oxford: Clarendon.

Clifford, James (1955). Young Samuel Johnson: A Biography. London: Heinemann.

DeMaria, Robert, Jr. (1993). The Life of Samuel Johnson: A Critical Biography. London: Blackwell.

Dryden, John (1961). The Works of John Dryden, 20 vols., vol. 1: Poems 1649-1680, ed. E. N. Hooker and H. T. Swedenberg, Jr. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Erskine-Hill, Howard (1996). The Poetry of Opposition and Revolution: Dryden to Wordsworth. Oxford: Clarendon.

Fussell, Paul (1971). Samuel Johnson and the Life of Writing. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Gerrard, Christine (1994). The Patriot Opposition to Walpole: Politics, Poetry, and National Myth, 1725-1742. Oxford: Clarendon.

Grundy, Isobel (1986). Samuel Johnson and the Scale of Greatness. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Hawkins, John (1787). The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. London: J. Buckland, &c.

Johnson, Samuel (1905). Lives of the English Poets, 3 vols., ed. G. B. Hill. Oxford: Clarendon.

Johnson, Samuel (1982). The Complete English Poems, ed. J. D. Fleeman. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Johnson, Samuel (1990). Rasselas and Other Tales, ed. Gwyn J. Kolb. Vol. 16 of The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Kaminski, Thomas (1987). The Early Career of Samuel Johnson. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kramnick, Isaac (1968). Bolingbroke and His Circle: The Politics of Nostalgia in the Age of Walpole. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Law, William (1906). A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, ed. Ernest Rhys. London: J. M. Dent & Sons.

Lipking, Lawrence (1976). "Learning to Read Johnson: 'The Vision of Theodore' and The Vanity of Human Wishes." ELH 43, 517-37.

Oldham, John (1987). The Poems of John Oldham, ed.

H. F. Brooks and Raman Seiden. Oxford: Clarendon.

Parker, Blanford C. (1998). The Triumph of Augustan Poetics: English Literary Culture from Butler toJohnson. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Pocock, J. G. A. (1987). The Ancient Constitution and the FeudalLaw: AStudy in English HistoricalThought in the Seventeenth Century. A Reissue with a Retrospect. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Pocock, J. G. A. (1989). Politics, Language, and Time: Essays on Political Thought and History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Venturo, David F. (1999). Johnson the Poet: The Poetic Career of Samuel Johnson. Newark: University of Delaware Press.

Weinbrot, Howard D. (1969). The Formal Strain: Studies in Augustan Imitation and Satire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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