Six-Year Gap

If you look at even just a stripped-down listing of Samuel Johnson’s publications when he was in his early 30’s, it might seem as though he were fallow, with no books or translations or even single poems coming out. The fact is that the period from 1738 to 1745 he was extraordinarily busy, basically writing and editing for a living, but virtually all of it anonymous. He was working for the Gentleman’s Magazine, a general monthly with highly varied content, that had been established by the savvy Edward Cave in 1731. It was well established by the time Johnson came to work there.

One of the useful things the magazine provided was reports on the goings-on in government. Technically, it was illegal at the time to write directly about the proceedings in the House of Commons, and so Cave’s method of getting around that restriction was instead to publish “Debates in the Senate of Magna Lilliputia,” with a nod to the kingdom of Lilliput in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. The names of the real parliamentarians were barely disguised in the reports from the fictional Lilliputia (for example, Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole was Sir Rub. Walelop or Sir Retrob Walelop). At first, Johnson’s job was to simply edit the debates as written by the current editor, William Guthrie, but over time Johnson’s skill was recognized, and in the summer of 1741 Cave made him the sole editor of the debates. (Nikki Hessell has written a book about parliamentary reporters over the years, Literary Authors, Parliamentary Reporters, where she discusses not only Johnson, but also Coleridge, Hazlitt, and Dickens.)

This was a period when Johnson established himself in London, having given up his dream of being a school headmaster, and concentrating on being a working writer.

(Source: Hathi Trust)
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