Samuel Johnson on “Great Labour”

“Yet  great labour, directed by great abilities, is never wholly lost; if they frequently threw away their wit upon false conceits, they likewise sometimes struck out unexpected truth: if their conceits were far-fetched, they were often worth the carriage. To write on their plan, it was at least necessary to read and think. No man could be born a metaphysical poet, nor assume the dignity of a writer, by descriptions copied from descriptions, by imitations borrowed from imitations, by traditional imagery, and hereditary similes, by readiness of rhyme, and volubility of syllables.

In perusing the works of this race of authors, the mind is exercised either by recollection or inquiry; something already learned is to be retrieved, or something new is to be examined. If their greatness seldom elevates, their acuteness often surprises; if the imagination is not always gratified, at least the powers of reflection and comparison are employed; and in the mass of materials which ingenious absurdity has thrown together, genuine wit and useful knowledge may be sometimes found buried perhaps in grossness of expression, but useful to those who know their value; and such as, when they are expanded to perspicuity, and polished to elegance, may give lustre to works which have more propriety though less copiousness of sentiment.”

—Samuel Johnson, Life of Cowley (1779)

Quoted from The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism by T.S. Eliot

About the Author: Abigail Browning

aba-city-lights-poet-picAbigail Browning, Founder and Managing Editor, a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, received her MFA in Poetry at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Abigail has poems either published or forthcoming in the Yemassee Journal OnlineThe Greensboro Review, Linebreakand RHINO Poetry. In addition, she was honored to receive the Amon Liner Poetry Award, the Noel Callow/Academy of American Poets’ Prize, and was a finalist for the Linda Flowers NC Arts Prize. She also has a passion for jazz music and dance, and teaches swing-era dances in her free time: www.abigailbrowning.com. Currently, she is studying Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media as a PhD at NC State in Raleigh, NC.

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