John Wain, Samuel Johnson
(New York: Viking, 1975), chapter 11 (Alone
Solemn and majestic thoughts in solemn and majestic language: the emotions which a man relives in the silence of his own mind, over a greying fire at midnight, conveyed not as disjointed musings but as fully clothed, logically connected sentences: these are what Johnson offers. Our age, which prefers its writers to shriek, grunt and babble, will naturally turn away from such ordered writing. The loss is ours. 'We need art', writes a modern critic whose name I will not put down on the same page as Johnson's, 'that screams, roars, vomits, rages, goes mad, murders, rapes, commits every bloody and obscene act that it can to express only a shred of the human emotions that lie prisoner beneath the sanitary tiles here in adman's utopia.' There were emotions lying prisoner, if we want to put it that way, under the polished parquet of eighteenth-century rationality and courtesy. But its writers still managed to produce a literature intended for grown-up people.