In "The History of Leviculus, the fortune-hunter" (Rambler No. 182) Johnson delivers an obvious lesson that he who wants affluence without labor will come to no good. In order to convey this message, he introduces his "old friend Leviculus, whom [he has] never known for thirty years without some matrimonial project of advantage" (p.1). Johnson cites five attempts of Leviculus to marry rich ladies to increase his fortune, all of which lead to failure. The first one dies, the second marries someone else, the third deceives him, the fourth is indebted, and the fifth falls in love with someone else. In a delightful and unsympathetic manner, Johnson chronicles the downfall of his friend in order to instruct and educate readers a moral lesson.
In these, and a thousand intermediate adventures, has Leviculus spent his time, till he is now grown grey with age, fatigue, and disappointment. He begins at last to find that success is not to be expected, and being unfit for any employment that might improve his fortune, and unfurnished with any arts that might amuse his leisure, is condemned to wear out a tasteless life in narratives which few will hear, and complaints which none will pity. [p. 3]
1. Leviculus is most probably a fictional figure since his encounters are too comedic to be real. Does it matter that Johnson evokes unreal characters to support his moral lessons?
2. If Johnson's readers were children, perhaps an exaggerated story would work effectively, but Johnson's readers were adults. Would they buy Johnson's moral lesson based on this tale, or is his piece more delighting than pedantic?
3. Let's suppose that Leviculus is a real character and is indeed Johnson's old friend. Is it fair to extract his life story in order to fulfill the author's goal? Tom Wolfe also draws life stories from his characters and then derides them. Is Johnson's usage of a real or fictional friend as betraying and merciless as Wolfe's switch of sympathy?
16 February 2005