In 1750, still living in poverty, and already at work on his dictionary, Johnson began anonymously to write the essays which appeared in The Rambler, a twopenny sheet which appeared twice weekly for two years, whether Johnson was well or ill, idle or busy. They are at once moving, amusing, and didactic: many betray the haste with which they were composed, but most are remarkable for their quality, their clarity, their weight. Written in Johnson's rather abstract and Latinate style, they are concerned with practical rather than with theoretical morality. They concern themselves not with casual whims but with underlying causes and motivations: they attempt to show the reader how to cultivate a proper state of mind, how to employ his energies and time efficiently.

Frequently they embody Johnson's comments on his own experience of universal human anxieties and frustrations: The Rambler is a sage and a moralist, but he is also constitutionally indolent. No. 134, for example, (composed by Johnson extempore while the copy-boy waited) is a brilliant study of the tendencies toward idleness and procrastination which Johnson struggled against all of his life, tendencies which all of usd, to one degree or another, share with him. No.183 [text], also typically, concerns itself with the destructiveness of envy: how, we might ask, is Johnson's treatment of the theme characteristic of his work, both stylistically and psychologically? What sort of implicit relationship exists between the Rambler and his audience? Why does Johnson call himself a Rambler, and what does this indicate about the essays themselves? How are the Rambler essays characteristically Neoclassical?

Taken together the essays embody Johnson's belief that the author as moralist has a duty to improve the world: they have little to do with contemporary political, social, or literary events, but the Rambler's comments on his society and on the human condition are characteristically ponderous, shrewd, ironic, compassionate, wise, and enormously perceptive (and, from a psychological point of view, uncannily anticipatory of Freud).

Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000