Samuel Johnson: a promoter of social improvement

Ritchie, Stefka (2014). Samuel Johnson: a promoter of social improvement. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis explores what remains an under-studied aspect of Samuel Johnson’s profile as a person and writer – his attitude to social improvement. Confronting past and current critical opinion and adhering closely to Johnson’s various writings, the thesis aims to establish the reasons for the failure to identify Johnson’s relationship to social concerns during his lifetime. The study also considers the influence of particular moral philosophies on Johnson’s approach to social improvement, such as those of Hugo Grotius, Richard Cumberland, Francis Bacon and John Locke. A range of sources include Johnson’s essays in the Rambler, Idler and Adventurer, his various reviews in the Literary Magazine and the Gentleman’s Magazine, his Diary of his travels in the Midlands and the Tour of the Highlands with Boswell, as well as various texts he wrote for others who were also concerned with social improvement. When Johnson protests against the institutions of his day he seeks to alleviate a tangible evil, such as the wretchedness of prostitutes, the agonies of imprisoned debtors and the destitution suffered by their families and the terrors of those condemned to death, often for some trivial offence. The profiles of Robert Dossie, Robert Chambers, William Chambers and John Gwynne together with those of Saunders Welch and William Dodd are discussed in the context of their interests in agriculture, architecture and the law, respectively. Placing those eighteenth-century figures at the centre of historical enquiry furnishes a richer dimension to the analysis of Johnson’s mode of thinking which allows us to respond to his works in a multi-faceted way. The interpretive framework of the thesis is cross-disciplinary and applies ii perspectives from social and cultural history, legal history, architectural history and, of course, English literature. This allows Johnson’s writings to be read against the peculiarities of their historical milieu and reveal Johnson in a new light – as an advocate of social improvement for human betterment.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PR English literature


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