The Rambler was a periodical (strictly, a series of short papers) by Samuel Johnson.
The Rambler was published on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 1750 to 1752 and totals 208 articles. It was Johnson's most consistent and sustained work in the English language. Though similar in name to preceding publications such as The Spectator and The Tatler, Johnson made his periodical unique by using a style of prose which differed from that of the time period. The most popular publications of the day were written in the common or colloquial language of the people whereas The Rambler was written in elevated prose. As was then common for the type of publication, the subject matter was confined only to the imagination of the author (and the sale of the publication); typically, however, The Rambler discussed subjects such as morality, literature, society, politics, and religion. Johnson included quotes and ideas in his publication from Renaissance humanists such as Erasmus and Descartes. His writings in The Rambler are considered to be neoclassical.
The Rambler was written primarily for the newfound, rising middle-class of the 18th century, who sought social fluency within aristocratic social circles. It was especially targeted to the middle-class audience that were increasingly marrying into aristocratic families in order to create socio-economic alliances, but did not possess the social and intellectual tools to integrate into those higher social circles which required great understanding of subjects, as listed above in the Description. Copies of The Rambler were written in essay form and were made cheaply available to the middle-class. In his fourth section of The Rambler (31 March 1750), Johnson points out that he would like to "Join both profit and delight in one" in the prelude; that is, provide intellectual profit and literary delight to those who read his work. This desire to "join both profit and delight" streams throughout the publications, and is particularly resonant of Classical literary design. The majority of the subject matter in The Rambler focused more on moral than social issues. In this sense, Johnson's writings were didactic, although he maintains an explorative attitude rather than a strictly instructive voice.
Comparison with The Spectator
As its author lamented in its final essay, "I have never been much a favourite to the publick," the publication was not an immediate success. Perhaps this was due to Johnson's departure from The Spectator, which could be considered his precedent. The latter was a periodical from 1711 to 1712 by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, popular for its light treatment of elevated subjects by "enliven[ing] morality with wit." In tone and subject matter, The Rambler was both lengthier and more serious than its popular ancestor in the genre. It also had a strong element of didacticism. A certain dramatic element in characterization appears in The Spectator which is very little present in The Rambler. Johnson created no such personages as Sir Roger de Coverley or Beau Tibbs. He presented, if not a systematic code of conduct, something which is perhaps a good deal better, the detailed picture of a mind conscious of itself and of its riches, and sure of the position it wants to take in any situation in which it may be placed.
There were many however who religiously read and appreciated the publication. One contemporary author thought so highly of The Rambler to say, "May the publick favours crown his merits, and may not the English, under the auspicious reign of George the Second, neglect a man, who, had he lived in the first century, would have been one of the greatest favourites of Augustus." The Rambler was widely respected for the quality and power of the writing and the masterful use of language and rhetoric.
- Literatis is based around the life of Dr. Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, The English Dictionary, and Lichfield, his place of birth.
- From the Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library:
- Samuel Johnson: literature, religion, and English cultural politics from the Restoration to Romanticism
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