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A Poetical Review of the Literary and Moral Charac

THE AUGUSTAN REPRINT SOCIETY

John Courtenay

A POETICAL REVIEW OF THE LITERARY AND MORAL CHARACTER OF THE LATE _SAMUEL JOHNSON_

(1786)

_Introduction by_ ROBERT E. KELLEY

PUBLICATION NUMBER 133

WILLIAM ANDREWS CLARK MEMORIAL LIBRARY UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES

1969

GENERAL EDITORS William E. Conway, _William Andrews Clark Memorial Library_ George Robert Guffey, _University of California, Los Angeles_ Maximillian E. Novak, _University of California, Los Angeles_

ASSOCIATE EDITOR David S. Rodes, _University of California, Los Angeles_

ADVISORY EDITORS Richard C. Boys, _University of Michigan_ James L. Clifford, _Columbia University_ Ralph Cohen, _University of Virginia_ Vinton A. Dearing, _University of California, Los Angeles_ Arthur Friedman, _University of Chicago_ Louis A. Landa, _Princeton University_ Earl Miner, _University of California, Los Angeles_ Samuel H. Monk, _University of Minnesota_ Everett T. Moore, _University of California, Los Angeles_ Lawrence Clark Powell, _William Andrews Clark Memorial Library_ James Sutherland, _University College, London_ H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., _University of California, Los Angeles_ Robert Vosper, _William Andrews Clark Memorial Library_

CORRESPONDING SECRETARY Edna C. Davis, _William Andrews Clark Memorial Library_

EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Mary Kerbret, _William Andrews Clark Memorial Library_

INTRODUCTION

The eighteenth century was an age addicted to gossiping about its literary figures. This addiction was nowhere better demonstrated than by the countless reflections, sermons, poems, pamphlets, biographical sketches, and biographies about Samuel Johnson. The most productive phase of this activity commenced almost immediately after Johnson's death in December, 1784, and continued into the next century.

One item of Johnsoniana which seems to have been neglected, perhaps because Birkbeck Hill did not include it in his _Johnsonian Miscellanies_, is _A Poetical Review of the Literary and Moral Character of the Late Samuel Johnson, L.L.D., with Notes_. This poem of three hundred and four lines was written by John Courtenay (1741-1816). First published in the spring of 1786 by Charles Dilly, the poem went through three editions in the same year. Its popularity was determined less by Courtenay's poetic talent than by public interest in the Johnsoniana that flooded the market. Courtenay's literary output, though scanty, was diverse; he wrote light verse, character sketches, and essays, including two controversial pieces in support of the French Revolution.[1] It is apparent, however, that for him writing was hardly more than an avocation.

Despite his notoriety as a controversial member of Parliament, as a first-rate wit, and as an intimate friend of Boswell, Courtenay remains a shadowy figure. References to him occur often in the last volumes of Boswell's journal, but few of them are particularly revealing. Courtenay evidently never met Johnson; indeed, the anonymous author of _A Poetical Epistle from the Ghost of Dr. Johnson to His Four Friends: The Rev. Mr. Strahan. James Boswell, Esq. Mrs. Piozzi. J. Courtenay, Esq. M.P._ (1786) censures Courtenay for writing about a man whom he did not know. Although a member of the Literary Club, Courtenay did not join this group until four years after Johnson died. He was proposed on 9 December 1788, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (Boswell seconded), and elected two weeks later, on 23 December, during the same meeting at which it was decided to erect a monument to Dr. Johnson in Westminster Abbey.[2]


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