In Adventurer No. 84, Samuel Johnson argues that the urge to deceive through the adoption of false, and usually falsely superior, identities is a universal phenomenon. As proof, he relates a long anecdote of a stagecoach ride in which his fellow travelers deceive one another by adopting different characters for themselves. In the following passage, a butler uses his own anecdote to display an intimate, and exaggerated connection with nobility.

At last, what every one had called for was got, or declared impossible to be got at that time, and we were persuaded to sit round the same table; when the gentleman in the red surtout looked again upon his watch, told us that we had half an hour to spare, but he was sorry to see so little merriment among us; that all fellow travelers were for the time upon the level, and that it was always his way to make himself one of the company. "I remember," says he, "it was on just such a morning as this, that I and my Lord Mumble and the Duke of Tenterden were out upon a ramble; we called at a little house as it might be this; and my landlady, I warrant you, not suspecting to whom she was talking, was so jocular and facetious, and made so many merry answers to our questions, that we were all ready to burst with laughter. At last the good woman happened to overhear me whisper the duke and call him by his title, was so surprised and confounded, that we could scarcely get a word from her; and the duke never met me from that day to this, but he talks of the little house, and quarrels with me for terrifying the landlady."

Questions

Why does Johnson use multiple layers of anecdotes here, when in other essays he does not use any at all? What does this technique do for his argument?

Johnson is a passenger in the stagecoach as well, but he is not featured in his own story. Why? What is his role in the essay?

There are multiple layers of deception here: the man in the red surtout deceives his fellow travelers with a tale in which he deceives a landlady and ultimately, according to Johnson, deceives himself. With all this talk of deception, what does Johnson do to make sure that his reader believes him?


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16 February 2005