There is a particular challenge in trying to pin down, quantify and assess the literary achievement of a dictionary-maker who has spent years searching for the elusive, chameleon-like meanings of even the most mundane of words. Samuel Johnson, though, offers his own validation for such an enterprise in the preface to his great Dictionary of 1755, in which he confesses that he set out to codify the language only to realize before he was even halfway through that no such thing is possible. Instead of giving up, Johnson persisted, even while recognizing the futility of his ambition, and understanding too well that “one enquiry only gave occasion to another, that book referred to book, that to search was not always to find, and to find was not always to be informed; and that thus to pursue perfection, was, like the first inhabitants of Arcadia, to chase the sun, which, when they had reached the hill where it seemed to rest, was still beheld at the same distance from them”.
The critic William Hazlitt, in his essay “On the Periodical Essayists”, disapproved of Johnson's prose style not so much for its inconclusiveness but because his circumlocutions, his fondness for antithesis, are stultifying and restrictive. The structure of his sentences, Hazlitt complained, is monotonous, and “produces an apparent monotony of ideas”. Johnson's powers of articulation, though, were a different matter. When “he threw aside his pen”, Hazlitt wrote, “he became not only learned and thoughtful, but acute, witty, humorous, natural, honest”.
But it is precisely in those tortuous sentences and “curious disjunctions” so decried by Hazlitt that Johnson's admirers find the reasons for their enthusiasm. “The pleasure of reading him”, argues Isobel Grundy, “is the pleasure of tracking his thought sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph through twists and turns and victories over internal opposition.” The effort this requires creates an “exhilarating” collaboration between writer and reader. Satisfaction and enrichment are derived from trying to keep up with “the questing, the surging forward, the doubling back, with which Johnson's mind moves in its pursuit of complex and sometimes inconsistent truth”.
Philip Davis takes Grundy's assertion further by declaring, “if one had to put into the hands of someone on the knife-edge of serious mental trouble the unselected writings of any one author, then it is the work of Johnson one might risk”. Johnson's struggle to make unlikely and often uncomfortable connections, his willingness to explore “in-between states of predicament, fallen uncertainty, and ambivalence”, through the balancing of alternative propositions in a single sentence, is a pathway to sanity, argues Davis, and not to muddle, confusion and disordered nerves. For these scholars, Johnson's stylized syntax, his love of antithesis, is “much more than a literary device”; it is rather, as Jane Steen avers, an accurate reflection of life itself, the image of the balancing pendulum exactly, and satisfyingly, describing “the back and forth of lived existence”.
Hazlitt's critique focused on Johnson's development of a literary style in which “the close of the period follows as mechanically as the oscillation of a pendulum, the sense is balanced with the sound; each sentence, revolving round its centre of gravity, is contained within itself like a couplet, and each paragraph forms itself into a stanza”. Movement is circumscribed, ideas are confined within the relentless regularity of that balanced movement, to and fro. Yet, as the editors remind us in their introduction, Johnson's definitions of “pendulum” and “swing” in the Dictionary are illustrated by quotations which suggest that the pendulum does not swing with precise regularity and equality, and that “balance” also implies __________________.
21.In the passage, the author is primarily concerned with
a)rescuing Johnson from caricature.
b)presenting evaluations of Johnson's literary style.
c)reinstating critical opinion in Johnson's favour.
d)summarizing the findings of a critical investigation.
22.Considering the context of the passage, which of the following would best complete the last sentence of the last paragraph in the passage?
a)satisfaction and completeness.
b)coherence and wisdom.
c)hesitation and fluctuation.
d)irregularity and insanity.
23.How many of the following statements are supported by the passage?
(a) Davis credits Johnson's syntax with cognitive potential.
(b) Steen argues that Johnson's literary style is a very apt metaphor for life.
(c) Hazlitt asserts that Johnson's syntax moved on predictable lines.
(d) Johnson's works display periphrasis, disseverment and incertitude.
a)3 b)1 c)2 d)4