Dr. Johnson’s Friends and Contemporaries: Goldsmith, Boswell and Gibbon


Johnson ; Goldsmith ; Burke ; Boswell ; Junius ; Hume ; Robertson ; Gibbon

1735. Johnson's translation of Lobo's "Voyage to Abyssinia."

1 738. Hurrre's " Treatise of Human Nature."

1738. Johnson's" London."

1742. Hume's "Essays."

1744. Johnson's" Life of Savage."

1749. Johnson's "Vanity of Human Wishes."

1749. Johnson's "Irene."

1750-52. Johnson's" Rambler."

1752. Hume's "Political Discourses."

1754-61. Hume's "History England."

1755. Johnson's Dictionary. English writer and lexicographer Samuel Johnson publishes his Dictionary of the English Language. Standardized spelling of English words is one of the benefits that result.

1756. Burke on the "Sublime and Beautiful."

1758-60. Johnson's "Idler."

1758. Robertson's "History of Scotland."

I 759- Johnson's" Russelas."

1759. Goldsmith's "Enquiry into the State of Literature."

1764. Goldsmith's "Traveller."

1766. Goldsmith's "Vicar of Wakefield."

1768. Goldsmith's " Good-Natured Man."

1769. Robertson's "Charles V."

1769-72. "Letters of Junius."

1770. Goldsmith's "Deserted Village."

1770. Burke's "Thoughts on Present Discontents."

1773. Goldsmith's "She Stoops to Conquer."

1775. Johnson's "Tour to the Western Isles."

1776. Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations."

1776. Campbell's "Philosophy of Rhetoric."

1776-88. Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." British historian Edward Gibbon publishes the first book of his three-volume The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. This work, considered a masterpiece of historical writing, is admired for its eloquence and flashes of wit.

1777. Robertson's "History of America."

1779-81. Johnson's" Lives of the Poets."

1785. Burke's speech on the " Nabob of Arcot's Debts."

1786. Burke's speech on the Impeachment of Warren Hastings.

1790. Burke's " Reflections on the French Revolution."

1 791 . Robertson's ' 'Disquisition on Ancient India.'

1791. Boswell's “Life of Johnson."

While we are talking about Dr. Johnson’s friends and contemporaries, Goldsmith, Boswell and Gibbon names come to our mind. They are brilliant in all lines of activity and ever alive. Their writings show Manners and foibles of the age, amusements, literary characteristics, and will aid in visualizing one of the most interesting epochs in English life.

Boswell: James Boswell (1740-1795), Scottish writer, became a close friend and biographer of the writer Samuel Johnson. One of the queerest friendships in all literary history is that between the mighty Dr. Johnson and the little James Boswell. Yet, queer as that friendship was, it resulted in a work which has brought undying glory to both men. Boswell lives through his labor in writing the life of Johnson; Johnson lives through the faithful espionage and transcriptions of his follower, Boswell. The Life of Johnson, by Boswell, is acknowledged to be the finest biography in our literature.   Read More Neo-classical Age The methods pursued by the Scotchman, unpleasantly dog-like as they were at the time, resulted in a faithful pen-picture of a great life, a life great not so much for its achievements in the field of literature, and these were mountainous, but a life great in the intrinsic worth of actual manhood. Even though Boswell was admitted to both the Scottish and English bars and practiced law but devoted himself primarily to the pursuit of a literary career. His most important early work was An Account of Corsica (1768), a sympathetic study of the struggle for independence of that island, written after an extended tour of Europe. 

In 1763 Boswell met the writer Samuel Johnson, and from 1772 until Johnson's death in 1784 the two men were closely associated. In 1773 Boswell was admitted to Johnson's Literary Club, which included the statesman Edmund Burke, the writer Oliver Goldsmith, the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, and the actor David Garrick. Thereafter, Boswell devoted much of his time to compiling detailed records of Johnson's activities and conversation. Boswell's accounts covered periods of daily association with Johnson in London and also described a trip that the two friends made through Scotland to the Hebrides in 1773.  Read More Transitional Period After the death of Johnson, Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785) and Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) were published. Boswell is best known for the latter work, which is generally considered a masterpiece of biography could be classed along with Famous biographies   Irving's Life of Goldsmith, Lockhart's Scott, Trevelyan's Life and Letters of Macaulay, Southey's Life of Nelson, and Nicolay and Hay's Life of Lincoln.

Gibbon: Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), the greatest English historian of his time and author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788). Despite the availability of new factual data and a recognition of Gibbon's Western bias, which placed moral judgments on the material decadence of Roman times, Decline and Fall is still read and enjoyed. The first volume of Decline and Fall appeared in 1776. Gibbon was praised for the skill and beauty of his writing. He ignored outcries against his religious skepticism (he had dealt rather coolly with early Christianity), but he stoutly defended all attacks on his facts. The next two volumes, which bring to an end the period of the Western Empire (to about ad480), came out in 1781. The final 1000 years of the empire in the East unfold in his last three volumes, completed in Lausanne in 1787 and published in 1788.  Read More Neo-classical Age History is based on fact. In the sense in which it is most used, it deals with a nation's growth and traces out cause and effect through a series of events. It reflects the life and character of the nation. In proportion as it is faithful to fact and acute in the search of cause and effect, it is accounted great. Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire can be well classed with Carlyle's French Revolution, Motley's Rise of the Dutch Republic, Green's History of the English People, Fiske's American Revolution, and other great works of history that have furnished the background for many a historical novel.


(A) The Poet: Goldsmith, the contemporary of Dr Johnson, as Thomson was that of Pope, was as essentially a conservative in literary theory as Dr Johnson, of whose “Club” he was an eminent member. His two important poems, The Traveller (1964) and the Deserted Village (1770) and both are in heroic couplets. 

(B) The Novelist: Oliver Goldsmith became a novelist only by chance and necessity. The publication of The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) is believed to have been hastily arranged by Johnson in order to save Goldsmith from going to jail for debt.  The Vicar of Wakefield is a delightful novel.   Read More Transitional Period It is strong in the story-interest. The novelist has adopted the direct method of narration through the principal character, the plot is coherent and well-knit, and the story is gripping in its interest. The only fault that can be found with its plot is the way in which the final resolution has been hastily huddled up at the close. In 1770, Goldsmith published the poem The Deserted Village, distinguished for its pastoral atmosphere and felicity of phrasing; it marked the transition in English literature from neoclassicism to romanticism. Goldsmith also produced dramatic works at this time. 

 (C)The Dramatist: Oliver Goldsmith first took up the cudgels against the sentimental drama in The Good-natured Man (1768) that cannot be regarded as a truly successful play; the plot moves creakingly, much of the dialogue is stilted, and there are scenes which show that the author has not grasped fully stage-requirements. All these defects, however, are remedied in She Stoops to Conquer or The Mistakes of a Night (1773). This comedy, of richly deserved fame, presents a peculiar and interesting fusion of different forces. In effect, the conception of Hard castle, Tony Lumpkin, Diggory, and the lovers, exhibits, not a witty intellectual approach, but the exercise of humour. Here are the sly smiles, the subtle sallies, the humane sensitiveness characteristic of that mood. Basically, Tony Lumpkin is born of Falstaff’s company; he is a fool and yet a wit; for his follies we laugh at him and at the same time we recognize that often the laugh is turned back upon ourselves.  Read More Neo-classical Age

(D) The Essayist: Oliver Goldsmith contributed largely to The Bee and his series of essays is entitled the Chinese Letters later reprinted as A Citizen of the World (1762). These essays were later collected and published in book form under the title The Citizen of the World. His character sketches are remarkable for their simplicity, grace and kindly humour. The characters of “Beau Tibbs” and “Man In Black” are as great classics as “Sir Roger De Coverley”. The comments on English society which we get in his essays are both simple and shrewd. They have the charm of his personality. His humour is all pervading, typical and artless. In grace, charm and a mumble good humour, he is one of the greatest essayists of England.