After reading the following passage from Samuel Johnson's Rambler, No. 6, compare this passage with contemporary American prose by authors such as Didion and Wolfe. How does Johnson's Neoclassical style differ from twentieth-century attitudes to specificity?
The general remedy of those, who are uneasy without knowing the cause, is change of place; they are willing to imagine that their pain is the consequence of some local inconvenience, and endeavor to fly from it, as children from their shadows; always hoping for more satisfactory delight from every new scene, and always returning home with disappointment and complaints.
Who can look upon this kind of infatuation, without reflecting on those that suffer under the dreadful symptom of canine madness, termed by physicians the hydrophobia, or "dread of water"? These miserable wretches, unable to drink, though burning with thirst, are sometimes known to try various contortions, or inclinations of the body, flattering themselves that they can swallow in one posture that liquor, which they find in another to repel their lips.
Yet such folly is not peculiar to the thoughtless or ignorant, but sometimes seizes those minds which seem most exempted from it, by the variety of attainments, quickness of penetration, or severity of judgement; and, indeed, the pride of wit and knowledge is often mortified by finding, that they confer no security against the common errors, which mislead the weakest and meanest of mankind.
These reflexions arose in my mind upon the remembrance of a passage in Cowley's preface to his poems, where, however exalted by genius, and enlarged by study, he informs us of a scheme of happiness to which the imagination of a girl, upon the loss of her first lover, could have scarcely given way; but which he seems to have indulged till he had totally forgotten its absurdity, and would probably have put in execution, had he been hindered only by his reason.
"My desire," says he, "has been for some years past, though the execution has been accidentally diverted, and does still vehemently continue, to retire myself to some of our American plantations, not to seek for gold, or enrich myself with the traffic of those parts, which is the end of most men that travel thither; but to forsake this world forever, with all the vanitites and vexations of it, and to bury myself there in some obscure retreat, but not without the consolation of letters and philosophy."
Such was the chimerical provision which Cowley had made, in his own mind, for the quiet of his remaining life, and which he seems to recommend to posterity, since there is no other reason for disclosing it. Surely no stronger instance can be given of a persuasion that content was the inhabitant of particular regions, and that a man might set sail with a fair wind, and leave behind him all his cares, incumbrances, and calamities.
How does Johnson's attitude toward detail relate to his belief in the accessibility of general truths.
What does this have to do with his tone, his assumptions about his audience, and what he believes to be the pleasures one receives from reading prose?
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