Dr. Johnson was engaged, according to Dr. Fussell's entertaining monograph, in savagely honest exercises in this world's significations and the obligations attendant on the next. Pragmatic, empirical, regarding literature as a "quasi-legal argument" involving the absolute mastery of techniques, Johnson was wholly of his age, but contributed less of a lordly overview than an aggressive, corrosive determination to "locate reality." Fussell explores the major works -- the Rambler selections, Rasselas, the Dictionary, Lives of the English Poets -- and there are gallivanting analyses of such bizarre items as letters on behalf of a condemned man, prayers, and early Grubb Street work. There are representations of various forms in Johnson's unique and powerful style, where elegance is reckoned as a "function of benevolence." Johnson's apparent terror of death and his resultant determination to let no talent lodge in him useless, was according to Fussell, a constant goad to write (which he hated to do), although this may be an over-emphasis. Fussell's finest moments come in his explication of the Lives, a happy confident leap amid a montage of Johnson's contradictions, and he exits in a buccaneer baroque fashion: "Johnson's species (sic) in the Lives is the writer as representative man. . . obliged to adhere to genres. . . he has not devised; tormented by the hunger of imagination. . . : and finally carried away by the very stream of time which it has been his ironic ambition to shape, and by shaping to arrest." A fair and fine tribute to a dark and aggravating presence.