In his essay Adventurer 84, Johnson feigns a hiatus from writing, publishing a fictional letter to the editor in the place of his usual essay. The author, Viator, counters the observation that “England affords a greater variety of characters than the rest of the world” by relating his experience traveling. In attempting to project better images of themselves, the strangers he meets reveal their natural flaws. The reader smiles as Viator shares awkward encounters with his haughty, self-conscious companions and laughs when he reveals their true identities as common folk. As Viator reflects on his trip, readers quickly identify with his first-person “,I” thinking themselves superior to the travelers, but in doing so exhibit the behavior they scoffed. When Viator directly appeals to the readers, Johnson turns the joke on them.

But, Mr. Adventurer, let not those who laugh at me and my companions, think this folly confined to a stage-coach. Every man in the journey of life takes the same advantage of the ignorance of his fellow travellers, disguises himself in counterfeited merit, and hears those praises with complacency which his conscience reproaches him for accepting. Every man deceives himself while he thinks he is deceiving others; and forgets that the time is at hand when every illusion shall cease, when fictitious excellence shall be torn away, and ALL must be shown to ALL in their real state.

I am, Sir, your humble servant,
Viator

With this sobering conclusion, Johnson brings the readers to his perspective, no longer relying on the fictional story to prove his point because the readers themselves are the evidence. What started as a light and humorous narrative ends in a forced examination of conscience, exempting none, and revealing fault in all.

Questions

1. Johnson creates the character Viator to write an essay that criticizes “assuming a character,” and warns that “the time is at hand when every illusion shall cease, when fictitious excellence shall be torn away, and ALL must be shown to ALL in their real state.” Why does he present the reader with this contradiction? Or is it meant to be read as a contradiction?

2. Viator’s letter reflects the parables and fictional sources Johnson mentions in his essays Rambler 182 and Adventurer 108. Do Johnson’s imagined scenarios effectively achieve his purpose? Does Johnson lose credibility by creating his own support?

3. Both Johnson and Montaigne invent narrators who criticize their contemporaries. Why do the authors not write as themselves? Can a fictional narrator accomplish more?

4. Montaigne’s narrator in “Of Cannibals” comments on the self-conscious, “better-breed sort of men,” criticizing how “they cannot forbear a little to alter the story; they never represent things to you simply as they are, but rather as they appeared to them, or as they would have them appear to you, and to gain the reputation of men of judgment, and the better to induce your faith, are willing to help out the business with something more than is really true, of their own invention.” Viator, in Johnson’s Adventurer 84, denounces the same behavior, but applies it to “every man” instead of limiting it to the “better-breed sort of men.” Which method is more persuasive? Is the reader offended by Viator’s assertion that no one is above “practicing fraud”?


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Last modified 9 February 2011

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