An Introduction to The Rambler by Samuel Johnson
David Cody, Associate Professor of English, Hartwick College
In 1750, still living in poverty, and already at work on his dictionary, Johnson began anonymously to write the essays which appeared in
Frequently they embody Johnson's comments on his own experience of universal human anxieties and frustrations: The Rambler is a sage and a moralist, but he is also constitutionally indolent. No. 134, for example, (composed by Johnson extempore while the copy-boy waited) is a brilliant study of the tendencies toward idleness and procrastination which Johnson struggled against all of his life, tendencies which all of usd, to one degree or another, share with him. No.183 [text], also typically, concerns itself with the destructiveness of envy: how, we might ask, is Johnson's treatment of the theme characteristic of his work, both stylistically and psychologically? What sort of implicit relationship exists between the Rambler and his audience? Why does Johnson call himself a Rambler, and what does this indicate about the essays themselves? How are the
Taken together the essays embody Johnson's belief that the author as moralist has a duty to improve the world: they have little to do with contemporary political, social, or literary events, but the Rambler's comments on his society and on the human condition are characteristically ponderous, shrewd, ironic, compassionate, wise, and enormously perceptive (and, from a psychological point of view, uncannily anticipatory of Freud).
Last modified 3 December 2006