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The Critic’s Critic

November 9, 2009

by Harold Bloom
from The New York Times

drjohnsonIt has been three centuries since Dr. Johnson was born, on Sept. 7, 1709. He died on Dec. 13, 1784, still struggling for the mixed blessing of more life. His Falstaffian vitalism is always my first thought when I reread, teach again or continue brooding upon the canonical critic of Western literature.

Johnson loved literary biography and practiced it superbly in his wonderful “Lives of the Poets” (1779-81). It is appropriate that he continues to be the subject of valuable literary biographies, of which the masterwork will always be his friend James Boswell’s “Life of Samuel Johnson” (1791). Boswell’s “Life” is so strong a book that common readers may wonder why more biographies of Johnson proliferate, to which the answer is the spiritual complexity and intellectual splendor of the most eminent of all literary critics. “Reflection” was one of Johnson’s favorite terms, and we need as many accurate reflections of and upon him that we can get. more

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