Samuel Johnson was born in Staffordshire, on 18 September 1709. His father was a bookseller. He was educated at Lichfield Grammar School and spent a brief period at Oxford University, but was forced to leave due to lack of money. Unable to find teaching work, he drifted into a writing career. In 1737, Johnson moved to London where he struggled to support himself through journalism, writing on a huge variety of subjects. He gradually acquired a literary reputation and in 1747 a syndicate of printers commissioned him to compile his 'Dictionary of the English Language'. The dictionary was published on 15 April 1755. It was not the first such dictionary, but was certainly the most important at that time. In Johnson's lifetime five further editions were published, and a sixth came out when he died. Johnson was by now the leader of the London literary world, he died in 1784 and he is buried at Westminster Abbey.
His only novel is Rasselas and it was written in the remarkable span of a single week in 1759 prior to the death of his mother. It deals with the theme of the human search for nonetheless ends with the affirmation that the “choice of eternity” is for more important. Rasselas is openly didactic, seeking to provide moral instruction to the reader and promoting a Christian view of life.
The main characters of the novel are Rasselas, who is dissatisfied with his life and goes on a journey to seek answers and meanings in life; Imlac, a poet who entertains Rasselas; Nekayah, a princess and sister of Rasselas and she accompanies him on his escape from the Happy Valley; Pekuah, who is the maidservant of Nekayah.
Rasselas is a journey in pursuit of happiness, and the result is a fantastic brand of adventure and philosophical enquiry. It is also an extraordinary novel due to the basic human issues it addresses and the simple appeal of its story. Johnson uses Rasselas’s quest for happiness as a way of bringing up moral and philosophical concerns, almost all of which he had addressed earlier in his writing. The Abyssian and the Egyptian setting of Rasselas were also familiar territory for Johnson. A would-be traveller frustrated by poverty, he had made his own contributions to what was a vibrant contemporary culture of travel writing in the 18th century. Finally, the books of travelling are very important and we have examples in books read in class.