The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Rambler, The

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RAMBLER, The. Though no longer read with the enthusiastic admiration formerly accorded it, Johnson's ‘Rambler’ has at least retained the respect of the thoughtful student of the history of English literature. The essays were distinctly of their day and, like all Johnson's writings, distinctly of their author. They followed the fashion of the periodical literature established by Addison and Steele in ranging over as wide a field of social and moral conduct as the fancy or ingenuity of the author led him. Temperamentally Johnson was not so well fitted to write the familiar essay as he was for more serious discourse. ‘The Rambler’ consequently suffers in comparison with the essays of Addison and Steele. A certain dramatic element in characterization appears in ‘The Spectator’ which is very little present in ‘The Rambler.’ Johnson created no such personages as Sir Roger de Coverley or Beau Tibbs. The essays are lacking also in variety. One ‘Rambler’ seems very much like another, and though it is scarcely a fair test of them to sit down and read them as a volume, since they appeared periodically and were intended to be read one at a time at intervals, this disadvantage is one that must be faced by all literature of a journalistic character. One may at least expect that certain portions of such writing shall stand out with sufficient significance to carry the rest along with it. Then again Johnson's didacticism is presented with a simple directness that seems to have been enjoyed in an age when men suffered moral instruction more patiently than they do to-day. Johnson never sought for ingenious cases of conscience to form the foundation upon which his reflections were based. His didacticism reminds one of the obvious teaching of the sermon, a characteristic which led some one to propose, facetiously, the influence of Dr. Johnson's ‘Rambler’ upon the high school graduation essay, as a subject for scholarly research. With all these qualifications, however, there still remains enough in ‘The Rambler’ to justify the student in giving to it respectful and serious consideration. If the essays never rise to great heights of imagination, they are never cheap or trivial. Throughout they are characterized by good sense, often by genuinely elevated thought and feeling. Their evenness of tone, from one point of view tending to monotony, is also not without its virtue. The essays appeared twice a week over a period of two years, and in the end they present if not a systematic code of conduct, something which is perhaps a good deal better, the detailed picture of a mind conscious of itself and of its riches, and sure of the position it wants to take in any situation in which it may be placed. One may be inclined to criticise some of Dr. Johnson's literary ideals, but the mastery of technique with which they were put into effect calls for no apologies. Granted the aim and the method. Dr. Johnson's prose is among the best in the English language, and ‘The Rambler’ will repay the careful study of any one who wishes to see how a serious mind realizes itself in appropriate and effective expression.

George Philip Krapp,
Professor of English, Columbia University.