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Johnson himself wrote in 1782: I know not that I have written any thing more generally commended than the Lives of the Poets. Always recognized as a major biographical and critical achievement, Samuel Johnson's last literary project is also one of his most readable and entertaining, written with characteristic eloquence and conviction, and at times with combative trenchancy.
Johnson's fifty-two biographies constitute a detailed survey of English poetry from the early seventeenth century down to his own time, with extended discussions of Cowley, Milton, Waller, Dryden, Addison, Prior, Swift, Pope, and Gray. The Lives
also include Johnson's memorable biography of the enigmatic Richard Savage (1744), the friend of his own early years in London.
Roger Lonsdale's Introduction describes the origins, composition, and textual history of the Lives
, and assesses Johnson's assumptions and aims as biographer and critic. The commentary provides a detailed literary and historical context, investigating Johnson's sources, relating the Lives
to his own earlier writings and conversation, and to the critical opinions of his contemporaries, as well as illustrating their early reception. This is the first scholarly edition since George Birkbeck Hill's three-volume Oxford edition (1905).
This is volume one of four.
Emeritus Fellow of Balliol and former Professor of English at the University of Oxford, Roger Lonsdale is the editor of The New Oxford Book of Eighteenth-Century Verse (1987).