Wednesday October 28th, 2009

Samuel Johnson’s Grief

I recently posted something about Samuel Johnson’s only work of fiction. Now comes a brief, touching look at the circumstances under which it was written:

Even professed Johnsonians are quite likely never to have read Rasselas, by which omission they are missing a valuable piece of great literature. We know from Boswell’s Life, and from Johnson’s own letters, the circumstances in which Rasselas came to be written. . . . Through studies of Johnson’s relationship with Mrs Thrale, who later wrote his life, we are more aware than we used to be, of the depth of Johnson’s fear of insanity. Like George III he may have been padlocked as a medical treatment for his mental condition. Rasselas was written in a period of intense reaction following the loss of his mother, and it expresses his anxieties. “Disorders of intellect happen much more often than superficial observers will easily believe. Perhaps if we speak with rigorous exactness, no human mind is in its right state.”