"A fine rhetorical study."
"Admirably lucid, unpretentious, free of jargon."
"The illumination that is afforded by a stylistic analysis set in the context of the philosophical debates and preoccupations of the Enlightenment makes this a rewarding and scholarly work."
—Modern Language Review
"Exhibits an energetic mind on an engaging aspect of eighteenth-century intellectual history."
"A significant contribution to our understanding of Johnson and also to our knowledge of how he helped shape biography."
—Paul Alkon, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900
"To be commended is its lucid, modest, polite and concise style."
—Papers on Language and Literature
"As an analysis of epistemology and genre, it suggests methods and ideas that could (and should) be applied more broadly to the study of biography in the eighteenth and other centuries."
Examining the psychological and philosophical doubt that lay at the heart of Johnson's character and intellect, Martin Maner reveals in the biographical studies of Savage, Swift, Milton, and Pope an ingrained pattern of dialectical argument and a skeptical attitude toward evidence--a method that involves the reader in judgments about the poets as it conveys Johnson's own understanding of truth. In the Life of Savage, Johnson moves from thesis to antithesis, generating out of opposing emotional responses--irony and sympathy, ridicule and pathos-an understanding of the man. Dialectically undercutting the conclusions of previous biographers of Swift and Milton, Johnson fashions a new, somewhat acidic estimation of Swift and a portrait of Milton that engages contemporary questions of the probable and the marvelous. The Life of Pope, Johnson's greatest dialectical achievement, alternates between blame and praise, public and private realms, weaving tone, context, and analogy into great, contrasting patterns of inquiry and judgment.
Establishing the centrality of a dialectical method in the Lives of the Poets, Martin Maner links the rise of biography as well as Johnson's interest in the form to the shift in epistemology brought about by empiricism. In the new patterns of thought of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, biography--the estimation of a life through sifting of historical events and evidence--was the most philosophical of endeavors, and Johnson its greatest practitioner.
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