Johnson's Chaucer: Searching for the Medieval in ”A Dictionary of the English Language."

Author/Editor
Leff, Amanda M.

Title
Johnson's Chaucer: Searching for the Medieval in ”A Dictionary of the English Language."

Published
Leff, Amanda M. Johnson's Chaucer: Searching for the Medieval in ”A Dictionary of the English Language." Age of Johnson: A Scholarly Annual 21 (2011): 1-20. ISSN 0884-5916.

Review
Leff documents the strong presence of Chaucer in Samuel Johnson's "Dictionary of the English Language" and explores Johnson's views on Chaucer's language. Although he considers Middle English outdated, Johnson quotes and/or refers to Chaucer works a number of times as identified by previous scholars. Leff reviews this scholarship and, enjoying the benefits of digital research, adds significantly to the data of her predecessors, correcting a few errors and misconceptions along the way, and reporting hundreds of previously unremarked instances where Johnson quotes or refers to Chaucer's works in John Dryden's modernizations. Along the way, and of particular interest to Gowerians, Leff discusses Johnson's recurrent effort in his critical writings to "deflate Chaucer’s reputation and boost Gower's" (13). Johnson praises Gower's "smooth numbers and easy rhymes," Leff tells us, calls Gower, not Chaucer, "the father of English poetry," and presents him as Chaucer's teacher, the latter notion seemingly based on Johnson's misreading of Venus's praise of Chaucer in the first recension of CA, perhaps reinforced (or inspired) by the lexicographer's familiarity with John Skelton's "Garland of Laurel" which privileges Gower over Chaucer. Leff observes that in the body of his "Dictionary" Johnson cites Gower only twice, in effect undercutting his praise of him elsewhere. [MA. Copyright. John Gower Society 37.1].

Date
2011

Gower Subjects
Influence and Later Allusion
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Language and Word Studies