DR. JOHNSON AND MR. SAVAGE

Holmes (Footsteps, 1985) once again brings his humane intelligence and imagination to bear in an exemplary and delightful piece of biographical detection. Working with what he admits are scarce documentary resources, Holmes unravels an enigma that has troubled admirers of Dr. Samuel Johnson from James Boswell forward—i.e., the moralist's two-year friendship with the notorious poet Richard Savage after Johnson's arrival in London in 1737 as a young man. Johnson became his friend's biographer and apologist after Savage's death in debtor's prison—the sorry end to a colorful, if reprobate, life. Savage titillated le tout London in the 1720s by claiming to be the illegitimate son of a countess and an earl; condemned to hang for murder after a coffee-house brawl, he obtained a royal pardon; and he was lionized and then vilified by London society. He was charming and violent, ingratiating and ungrateful, a poet and an extortionist. What drew the scholarly young Johnson to such a man? Closely reading Johnson's Life of Savage, Holmes learns as much about the biographer as about his subject, uncovering a surprising and moving portrait of Johnson as lonely literary aspirant and political radical, a man of intense, if tragically unsatisfied, erotic passion. As a down-and-out newcomer to an unwelcoming London, he roamed the city's streets at night with Savage, who was then shabby but proud and who railed against the society that had rejected him. To Johnson, he represented the poet as outcast—and in this image Holmes locates some unexpected seeds of Romanticism, as well as the model for Thales in Johnson's work London. While recognizing Savage's faults, Johnson remained faithful to his friend. Holmes concludes that for Johnson ``the moral meaning of Savage's existence...lay in the capacity of even a flawed man to struggle nobly against the misfortunes of life.'' A brilliant excursion in the company of three fascinating men- -Samuel Johnson, Richard Savage, and Richard Holmes.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-43585-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1994

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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