Samuel Johnson, who has been described as England's first complete man of letters, was a popular and influential biographer and theorist of biography. In a career that spanned most of the second half of the 18th century, he wrote over 60 biographies. His fascination with biography extended well beyond an interest merely in the genre - he believed that it was a key to the operations of the critical and creative intelligence. Although his work as biographer and the characteristics of his style of writing and thinking have been the subjects of much important work, this study aims to go further in proposing a genealogy of the way Johnson used his biographical stance to think toward solutions to the major moral and epistemological problems that concerned him throughout his career. The author offers new readings of Johnson's major prose writings, familiar and otherwise. Through an inquiry into the centrality of biography in his thinking, she examines his ideas about education, portrays his habits of mind and explores his creative temperament.
Catherine N. Parke is Professor of English and Women's Studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She has written on a variety of eighteenth-century authors, Burney, Boswell, Gibbon, and Austen among them, and on the theory and practice of biography.