Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford: Ch. 1 Annotation – Rasselas, the Rambler, & Just a few notes on Dr. Johnson

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

“Fetch me ‘Rasselas,’ my dear, out of the bookroom.”
“When I brought it to her, she turned to Captain Brown:
“Now allow me to read you a scene, and then the present company can judge between your favourite, Mr. Boz, and Dr. Johnson.”

She read one of the conversations between Rasselas and Imlac, in a high-pitched majestic voice; and when she had ended, she said, “I  imagine l am now justified in my preference of Dr. Johnson, as a writer of fiction.” The Captain screwed his lips up, and drummed on the table, but he did not speak. She thought she would give a finishing blow or two.

“I consider it vulgar, and below the dignity of literature, to publish in numbers.”
“How was the ‘Rambler’ published, ma’am?” asked Captain Brown, in a low voice; which I think Miss Jenkyns could not have heard.

A first edition of Rasselas

Rasselas by: Dr. Johnson

Often shortened as Rasselas the full title is The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia.

The main characters are the Prince, Rasselas, his sister Nekayah, and a philosopher named Imlac.They travel searching for the secret to a happy life. Filled with many observations it’s sermon-like style, which you’ll be able to see in ‘The Rambler’ excerpt, is probably what attracted Mr. Jenkyn’s to his writing.

Deborah, who truly wanted to be admired by her father took Dr. Johnson as a model not only for letter writing but also in being a Johnson-like figure within the Cranford community; her strong opinions and observations are said so assuredly they are taken as fact.

Dr. Johnson’s Rambler

Miss Jenkyn’s makes a contradictory statement when she tries to put down Mr. Boz by saying that

“I consider it vulgar, and below the dignity of literature, to publish in numbers.”

“How was the ‘Rambler’ published, ma’am?” asked Captain Brown, in a low voice; which I think Miss Jenkyns could not have heard.

I imagine if she had, her response would have been something along the lines of ‘Johnson’s number are informative essays, not mere stories’. The Rambler began publishing anonymously in 1750 every Tuesday and Saturday and went on for two years. It didn’t meet with very much success.

Excerpt of Issue 2
March 24 1750
…Censure is willingly indulged because it always always implies some superiority; men please themselves with imagining that they have made a deeper search, or wider survey, than others, and detected faults and follies, which escaped vulgar observation. And the pleasure of wantoning in common topicks is so tempting to a writer, that he cannot easily resign it; a train of sentiments generally received enables him to shine without labour, and to conquer without a contest.
It is so easy to laugh at the folly of him who lives only in idea, resuses immediate ease or distant pleasures, and, instead of enjoying the blessings of lise, lets lise glide away in preparations to enjoy them ; it affords such opportunities of triumphant exultations, to exemplify the uncertainty of human state, to rouse mortals from their dream, and inform them of the silent celerity of time, that we may reasonably believe most authors willing rather to transmit than examine so advantageous a principle, and more inclined to pursue a track so smooth and so flowery, than attentively to consider whether it leads to truth.

Just a Few Notes on Dr. Johnson

Portrait Engraving of Samuel Johnson
  • Prolific literary contributions including poetry, novels, essays, literary criticism, and Johnson’s Dictionary of English Language, which took nine years to create and was not rivaled until 150 years later by Oxford’s.
  • (Please forgive me Miss Jenkyns) He was born into a poor family, his father was a bookseller perhaps it was this early connection with reading that turned his mind to writing.
  • Later befriended painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds and fellow author Samuel Richardson, who you can read more about on Lynn Shephard’s guest post at Austenprose.
  • Based on records of his mannerisms, it’s believed he had Tourette syndrome


Cousin, John William. A short biographical dictionary of English literature, . London: J.M. Dent ;, 1910. Print.

“Samuel Johnson – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Johnson&gt;.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. I have not read Samuel Johnson yet (forgive me Jane Austen) and did not know who wrote Rasselas. Looked it up at Wikipedia. You might append your post to clarify for the sadly unenlightened such as myself. 😉 But the big questions for me is who is Boz and why does Captain Brown prefer him to Johnson? Where is Lynn Shepherd when one needs a 18th-century lit scholar?

    Laurel Ann who is Lost in literary references.

    1. I haven’t read Dr. Johnson yet either. Only the first few Rambler articles. Sorry that wasn’t clear, I’ll go back and fix it.

      Boz is Charles Dickens’ pen-name. I have a post coming up with some of my thoughts as to why Captain Brown preferred him to Johnson and with a little bit on Chapter 37 of Pickwick Papers, which is what he reads aloud to the ladies.

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