Mentoring Relationships in the Life and Writings of Samuel Johnson. A Study in the Dynamics of Eighteenth-Century Literary Mentoring

Author: Lee, Anthony W.
Explores the phenomenon of literary mentoring and the role that it played in Samuel Johnson’s literary and personal life. Synthesizing this model with Levinsonian psychosocial theories of adult development, it explores Johnson’s relationships with Cornelius Ford, Richard Savage, Oliver Goldsmith, Hester Thrale, Frances Burney, and James Boswell, tracing how each relationship interweaves with stages in Johnson’s psychological development. It also examines mentoring themes in Johnson’s early poetry.


“The common understanding of Samuel Johnson is that like his contemporary Ben Franklin, he invented himself, submitting to the market and prospering because he was brilliant, dogged, a man of simple tastes. … What Dr. Lee has done in this work is to remind us that Johnson was not as self-made as we have come to believe, and that other people played an astonishing role in his professional and personal development. Dr. Lee’s book is an act of recovery. It recreates the web of relationships that included Johnson, and that influenced how he wrote about relationships in such works as Rasselas. … Dr. Lee analyzes the nature of Johnson’s intense connections through a matrix of scholarship devoted to mentoring, in particular with regard to how mentors at various times are stand-ins for mothers and fathers. Mentors allow us to re-enact our parental relations, and to find through such re-enactment the parents we wish we had had. While the idea may seem obvious, Dr. Lee pursues it with extraordinary sensitivity both to the scholarship and to the stages of Johnson’s life. We could not understand the nature of his mentors or the role that his parents played in his journey towards popular acclaim without seeing both in tandem. Dr. Lee’s insights in this regard are brilliant, and they play out in different keys at different stages of Johnson’s personal and professional development. I had never understood, until reading this text, how the role of the mentor changes over time, how a mentor can be a father- or mother-figure at various stages of our development but still play very different parts in how we mature. Thus even when Johnson is a mature man, Hester Thrale provides a type of mothering that, when he was younger, Johnson could not have appreciated. Dr. Lee’s assimilation of technical psychological theory, and his application of it to Johnson with such particularity, complicates but also clarifies the way that we read Johnson. Now we have to know when Johnson produced a text—we have to know to whom he was attached—in order to see that text in all of its dimensions. … I was also fascinated by how intensely Johnson mentored others, and by how some relationships worked in both directions. … The point that Dr. Lee makes clear, is that as we change in context of a mentoring relationship, the relationship itself changes, issuing in loss, gain, and even reversal of roles. Between the “solitary” author in the letter to Chesterfield and the bustling world of eighteenth-century letters, there was another path: that of deep engagement for purposes of growth, change, and adaptation. By focusing on one (albeit awesome) figure—Samuel Johnson— this work brings to life the nature of this engagement. It provides a paradigm for other studies, and for new ways of reading work by other authors. It is not just a contribution to Johnson studies, but to literary studies.” (from the Commendatory Preface) Sandra Sherman, Professor of British Literature, University of Arkansas

“This is a splendid resource not only for students of 18th Century literature, but also for all who are interested in the evolution of writers, readers, and texts. Part of the special appeal of this volume is the deftly woven blend of psychological theory, biographical detail, and literary analysis in which Lee grounds his reflections on mentoring in the career of his subject, Samuel Johnson. The volume attests to the potential and the pitfalls of the mentoring process and emphasizes the ways in which the mentoring relationship overlaps with both parent-child and peer relationships. Applying developmental psychology and mentoring theory to Johnson’s emergence as the pre-eminent literary mentor of his age, Lee’s book explores numerous key texts written by and about Johnson … An important contribution by Lee is the contextualization of Johnson’s primary themes, and their evolution, within the framework of his affective and mentoring relationships. Lee clarifies the ways in which these relationships shaped Johnson’s evolving vision as a writer and maturation as an individual … Vigorous, probing, and erudite, Lee illuminates the nature of literary mentorship, and persuasively presents Johnson as the guiding, though flawed, figure to an illustrious “family” of writers. In his own writing, Lee demonstrates the value of the mentor who guides us to a deeper understanding and experience of human relationships and artistic achievement.” – Thomas J. Lynn, Assistant Professor of English, Penn State Berks-Lehigh Valley College

Table of Contents

Preface by Dr. Sandra Sherman
Short Titles
1. A Theory of mentoring
2. “Painting for a Name”: Cornelius Ford, “Non usitata,” and the Ambitions of Authorship
3. Richard Savage, Life of Savage, and Johnson’s Mature Philosophical Vision
4. “A guide, a father, and a friend”: Oliver Goldsmith, Rasselas, and Johnson’s Mentoring at Mid-life
5. The “affection of a parent and the reverence of a son”: The Collision of Mentoring and Mothering in Piozzi’z Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson
6. Boswell, Burney, and Johnson’s Mentoring Legacy