'If a man is to write A Panegyrick, he may keep vices out of sight; but if he professes to write A Life, he must represent it really as it was.'
In the last of his major writings, Samuel Johnson looked back over the previous two centuries of English Literature in order to describe the personalities as well as the achievements of the leading English poets. The major Lives - of Milton, Dryden, Swift, and Pope - are memorable cameos of the life of writing in which Johnson is as attentive to human frailty as to literary prowess. The shorter Lives preserve some of Johnson's most piercing, critical judgements.
Unsentimental, opinionated, and quotable, The Lives of the Poets continues to influence the reputations of the writers concerned. It is one of the greatest works of English criticism, but also one of the most humanly diverting.
This selection of the Lives of ten of the most important poets draws its text from Roger Lonsdale's authoritative complete edition.
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Roger Lonsdale was formerly Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford. His publications include The New Oxford Book of Eighteenth-Century Verse and Eighteenth-Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology John Mullan teaches at University College London. He is a broadcaster and literary journalist, with a weekly column on fiction for the Guardian newspaper. He has edited Defoe's Roxana for OWC, and is the author of How Novels Work (OUP, 2006) and Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature (Faber, 2007).
Cowley ; Milton ; Rochester ; Dryden ; Congreve ; Gay ; Savage ; Swift ; Pope ; Gray