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  • Irony and Humour in the Rambler
  • A. T. Elder (bio)
A. T. Elder

Associate Professor of English, University of Alberta


1. Samuel Johnson, “English Men of Letters” series (London, 1925), 40.

2. Six Essays on Johnson (Oxford, 1927), 14.

3. Jane H. Jack, “The Periodical Essayists,” Pelican Guide to English Literature: IV, From Dryden to Johnson (Harmondsworth, 1957), 227.

4. W. K. Wimsatt, Philosophic Words (New Haven, 1948), 115–21.

5. All quotations from the Rambler are taken from The Works of Samuel Johnson LL.D. (London, 1824), IV, V, VI.

6. The same method is followed in no. 161 on the history of a garret. Not until the end of the third paragraph does the writer disclose his subject.

7. Wimsatt, Philosophic Words, 119–21.

8. This young lady is a victim of irony. In her letter she complains that her guardians, her mother and two aunts, have been misleading her about the perfidy of men, of whom she writes: “I have not, since my entrance into the world, found one who does not profess himself ready to live or die as I shall command him. They are so far from intending to hurt me, that their only contention is who shall be allowed most closely to attend, and most frequently to treat me.”

9. This letter, like the second in no. 107, is not by Johnson.

10. Here, too, we find another example of Johnson’s self-mockery, which was to be repeated in the definition of “lexicographer” in the Dictionary.

11. A genuine wit is subjected to ironic attack in no. 157 as Verecundulus returns home from the university “covered with academical laurels and fraught with criticism and philosophy” to find that his attainments do not guarantee social success.

12. The irony of disappointed hopes appears as well in the Rambler’s discussions of this subject, in the letters of Euphelia in nos. 42 and 46, complaining that where she expected to find “the seats of innocence and tranquillity” she has found malice and hatred which have lasted for generations, and in the letter of Cornelia, in no. 51, who went expecting to find leisure and encountered instead the indefatigable Lady Bustle, who filled her days with “conserving, reserving, and preserving.” Other ironic aspects of society’s summer migration are considered in Rambler no. 135 in which Johnson wonders why these migrants waste their summers in pursuits they could follow equally well in the city and “with no change of objects but what a remove to any new street in London might have given them.”

13. Rambler no. 208.



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