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Lives of the Poets: Waller, Milton, Cowley

by Samuel Johnson

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Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), often referred to simply as Dr Johnson, was one of England's greatest literary figures: a poet, essayist, biographer, lexicographer and a critic of English literature. He was also a great wit and prose stylist, well known for his aphorisms. Between 1745 and 1755, Johnson wrote perhaps his best-known work, A Dictionary of the English Language. During the decade he worked on the Dictionary, Johnson, needing to augment his precarious income, also wrote a series of semi-weekly essays under the title The Rambler. These essays, often on moral and religious topics, tended to be more grave than the title of the series would suggest. They ran until 1752. Initially they were not popular, but once collected as a volume they found a large audience. Johnson's final major work was his Lives of the Poets (1781), comprising short biographies of about 50 English poets, most of whom were alive in the eighteenth century. Amongst his other works are The Idler (1758-1760), Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia (1759) and The Patriot (1774).

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Gay is represented as a man easily incited to hope, and deeply depressed when his hopes were disappointed. This is not the character of a hero, but it may naturally imply something more generally welcome, a soft and civil companion. Whoever is apt to hope good from others is diligent to please them; but he that believes his powers strong enough to force their own way, commonly tries only to please himself.



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