Johnson personifies the wisdom speaker in his general assumption that the reader shares the basic underlying beliefs and moral values of his writing. Consider the sweeping phrases that begin the greater part of his essays; statements like "Nothing has been longer observed" or "It may have been observed by every reader," immediately preceding the exposition of the main topic. He clearly doubts that the reader will require much persuasion to accept the theses of his essays. In the following passage, taken from The Adventurer No. 108, he comments on the universal appeal of hearing familiar beliefs restated.
Many moral sentiments likewise are so adapted to our state, that they find approbation whenever they solicit it, and are seldom read without exciting a gentle emotion in the mind: such is the comparison of the life of man with the duration of a flower, a thought which perhaps every nation has heard warbled in its own language, from the inspired poets of the Hebrews to our own times; yet this comparison must always please, because every heart feels its justness and every hour confirms it by example.
Is Johnson, in his essays, simply reinforcing accepted moral beliefs in order to gratify his readers' desire to have these beliefs retold, or does he believe that there exists a greater value in his writing?
As one of the first writers to make a living by writing, to what extent might he be drawn to this style by the need to make a profit?
Who does Johnson imagine his audience to be? How does he view his own role in society?
16 September 2003