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Vanity of Human Wishes

Professor emeritus offers new insight into Johnson's great poem

Research | Books at Memorial

A literary imitation is an adaptation of another writer’s text.

It is not a standalone poem that can be fully understood in isolation from its source.

Themes and subjects

There is a grandparent poem behind it, specifying the themes and subjects to be dealt with, and even influencing the amount of space to be given to each.

Why did Samuel Johnson choose this form to write in? What specific benefit did imitating Juvenal’s Satire X offer him? What opportunities did it present? What obstacles? What did he evade, what embrace, and why?

Such are the questions Dr. Patrick O’Flaherty, professor emeritus at Memorial, touches on in A Reading of Samuel Johnson’s The Vanity of Human Wishes. The Tenth Satire of Juvenal, Imitated (1749).

Poet at work

Johnson indicated which sections of Satire X he used as the basis of the separate parts of his own poem.

In this essay each adaptation is examined in turn, taking the reader, as it were, inside the poet’s study to watch him working.

The reading offers new insights into the artistry and purposes of this great poem.

A Reading of Samuel Johnson’s The Vanity of Human Wishes. The Tenth Satire of Juvenal, Imitated (1749) is published by Long Beach Press.