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The Age of Johnson, often referred to as The Age of Sensibility, is the period in English

literature that ranged from the middle of the eighteenth century until 1798. Ending the Age
of Johnson, the Romantic Period arrived in 1798 with the publication of Lyrical Ballads by
poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), poet, critic, and author of fiction, is the namesake for this
period in literature. Johnson wielded considerable influence over this era with works that
focused on neoclassical aesthetics (the study of natural and artistic beauty with an eye
toward the great classical writers). Johnson and his fellow writers placed great emphasis on
the values of the Enlightenment which stressed the importance of using knowledge, not
faith and superstition, to enlighten others, and led to the expansion of many social,
economic, and cultural areas including astronomy, politics, and medicine.
Writers of the Age of Johnson focused on the qualities of intellect, reason, balance, and
order. Notable publications of the Age of Johnson include Burkes A Philosophical Inquiry
into the Origins of Our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), Johnsons The Rambler
(1750-52), and Goldsmiths The Vicar of Wakefield (1766).
One of Johnsons most lasting legacies is his Dictionary of the English Language (1755).
While this huge undertaking of Johnsons was neither the first dictionary in existence, nor
exceptionally unique, it was the most used and admired until the appearance of the Oxford
English Dictionary in 1928. One of Johnsons most fervently held beliefs was that the
language of the people should be used in literature, and that a writer should avoid using
grammar and vocabulary that did not appeal to the common reader.
While the Age of Johnson and the Age of Sensibility are terms often used interchangeably,
Johnsons age is considered to be the last of the neoclassical eras, while writers in the latter
period are famed with an anticipation of the Romantic Period with their focus on the
individual and imagination.
The Age of Sensibility is marked by works that focus more directly on anticlassical features
of old ballads and new bardic poetry. These writers began to embrace new forms of literary
expression formerly avoided by writers of the Age of Johnson such as medieval history and
folk literature. Classic prose fiction examples from the Age of Sensibility include Laurence
Sterns Tristram Shandy (1759) and Henry Mackenzies The Man of Feeling (1771). The
poetry of William Collins, William Cowper, Thomas Gray, and Christopher Smart are also
attributed to the Age of Sensibility.
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