Adam Rounce, Fame and Failure, 1720-1800: The Unfulfilled Literary Life.

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    Can a writer be a successful failure? How might we piece together a scale of literary success or failure, whether in material or metaphysical terms? Does one author’s success (or failure) impact upon, and thereby alter, that of his or her peers? If an author garners acclaim for work in one genre, mode or style but not in others, is he or she a qualified success? Is literary fame an admirable, even enviable, substitute for personal disappointments? What, above all, is failed authorship? Is it a real-time designation or one open to posthumous correction? In the Age of Johnson, of course, the eponymous Samuel Johnson’s endless labours on the Dictionary, the edition of Shakespeare, and the consortium-funded Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (1779–1781) best exemplified the life of achievement as one that overcomes years of adversity. Johnson’s projects inspired similar, if more humble (or quirky, uncanonical) endeavours, such as Percival Stockdale’s rather fascinating Lectures on the Truly Eminent English Poets (1807), a haughty riposte to Johnson’s Lives. Judged against Johnson, many writers of the period might be glibly dismissed as failures. After all, along with Sir Joshua Reynolds and other leading cultural bastions, Johnson contributed to the ideal of the toiling literary or artistic career when he bemoaned the rise of a generation of writers in the mid-century, who sought a shortcut to fame by latching onto the language of original genius. ‘The mental disease of the present generation’, Johnson writes in The Rambler (p. 154) …
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)751-753
    Number of pages3
    JournalReview of English Studies
    Issue number271
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014


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