09 February 2008

The Age of Johnson, vol. 18

When I started grad school in 1993, my dissertation director, Paul Korshin, asked me to come on board as editorial assistant to the journal he founded in 1987, The Age of Johnson: A Scholarly Annual. I spent most of my grad career taking care of the grunt-work of scholarly editing — scanning typescripts, translating word processing formats, copyediting, proofreading, printing camera-ready copy, all that fun stuff.

I finished my Ph.D. in 1998, and Paul was gracious enough to ask me to come on board as co-editor. He said he had considered calling a halt to the journal after ten volumes in 2007 — being essentially the entire staff on a 500-page annual can wear you down — but he thought that, if we shared the work, it would be easier for both of us. He said that he'd step down someday and hand it over to me, but we continued to work on it together for a few years.

In March 2005, though, Paul succumbed to lymphoma — which, quite aside from the shock of losing someone who'd been a mentor and good friend for just under twenty years, left me with all the work on The Age of Johnson. I finished vol. 16, for which he was reading page proof in his hospital bed, and I finished vol. 17, which we had begun together. (I also had the good sense to ask a pal, and a distinguished scholar in his own right, to serve as review editor. John Scanlan of Providence College has been handling the entire review section for the last few years, and has been keeping up the high standard set by Paul in the early years.)

Volume 18 has just appeared; it's one of our biggest volumes yet. (Vols. 12 and 13 have more pages, but they were in a smaller trim size. I haven't done the calculation, but I suspect vol. 18 contains more words.) It's also the first-ever special issue of the journal: apart from the review section, which John has managed as well as ever, it consists entirely of contributions from Paul Korshin's friends, colleagues, and former students. Most of the volume consists of scholarly essays on eighteenth-century topics, though it also contains a special section of more personal recollections.

Here's most of the text of the Preface, which offers more details on the volume. Anyone interested in a copy can get it from AMS Press, but call them and ask for the individual subscribers' price — it's much less than the $182.50 they list on their Web site, for institutional subscribers.

Volume 18 is the first special issue of The Age of Johnson, and bears the volume title Korshin Memorial Essays. The articles in this volume have been solicited from friends, colleagues, and former students of the founding editor of the journal, Paul J. Korshin, who died in March 2005.

Previous volumes have featured special sections and occasional solicited essays, but the bulk of every annual number has been devoted to refereed scholarly articles. It would not be wise to abandon the standard of peer-reviewed publication altogether, but the strength of the contributions to this volume justify the exception in this case. The articles show a degree of coherence that excuses a one-time departure from the professional norm.

Paul Korshin always valued broad and deep learning above all. I remember praising one critic’s writing, but Paul’s question was, “Yes, Jack, but does he know things?” It’s therefore appropriate that this volume should open with Robert Folkenflik, one of our most learned Johnsonians, who knows plenty. Here he turns his attention to the politics implicit in the Dictionary, offering new insights in an ongoing conversation on the nature of that endlessly rich book—one that Folkenflik describes as “an encyclopedia, an anthology, a commonplace book, a collection of aphorisms.” And Thomas M. Curley, whose knowledge of the Ossian affair has no rivals, documents Johnson’s friendship with William Shaw, one of the more prominent combatants in the debate over Macpherson’s putative translations.

In John Wilkes: The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty, Arthur H. Cash disavows any claims to having written the definitive biography of his subject, but anyone who has read the book will disagree with his modest self-assessment. In his contribution to this volume he provides further details on Wilkes and his relationship with Johnson—not only from their famous dinner at the Dilly brothers’ table (perhaps the most famous single scene in Boswell’s Life), but also the disagreements over political principles that made Boswell so keen to stage their meeting. Another kind of highly charged meeting is the subject of Howard D. Weinbrot’s article, the first account of a hitherto neglected genre—“meeting the monarch.” The form has even twenty-first-century exemplars, but Johnson offers one of the most important eighteenth-century royal encounters.

Paul’s career-long fascination with the difficulties of interpretation is evident in a series of contributions. Paul’s own scholarship was regarded as traditionally historicist, but he went out of his way to invite theoretically informed contributions to The Age of Johnson. It’s therefore fitting that Philip Smallwood’s article on Johnson’s place in global studies offers a consideration of a major figure from English literature in the wider field of world literature, as “world” is being redefined around us. James Cruise’s learned and wide-ranging meditation on hieroglyphics in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain is informed by Paul’s interest in secret languages. In “Novel or Fictional Memoir,” Maximilian Novak explores the publication history of Robinson Crusoe and its relationship to the line between truth and fiction. Truth and fiction are at the heart of my own contribution, on the problems of identifying forgery, which grew out of a series of discussions with Paul.

James Gray not only accounts for differences between the acting theories of Diderot and Garrick, but also offers to English readers extracts from Diderot’s often neglected Paradoxe sur le com├ędien. Lisa Berglund, sorting through a shelf of editions of Hester Thrale Piozzi’s Anecdotes, demonstrates in the process that “Piozzi’s reconstructive and critical editors have supplied new narrative contexts for Anecdotes, structures that discount her psychological insights and artistic preferences.” In “Truths Universally Acknowledged,” Mona Scheuermann gives an incisive reading of the place of social class in Austen’s Mansfield Park. George Justice revisits Paul’s fascination with the history of education in his commentary on John Gibson Lockhart’s early nineteenth-century novel, Reginald Dalton. Gloria Sybil Gross rounds out the essay section with the first systematic account of Stanley Kubrick’s interest in the eighteenth century.

After the essays comes a bibliography of Paul’s writings, which is followed by a special section. “No Writer nor Scholar Need Be Dull” collects personal reminiscences from a wide variety of friends, colleagues, and former students, who together offer a composite portrait of Paul Korshin the scholar, the teacher, the mentor, the colleague, the man, and above all the friend.


Anonymous said...

I had no idea Paul died... What a loss. I actually remember the places I've been when I was reading his stuff.


Jason Busch said...

I did not know he had died, either (he never would have used the word "passed" -- not direct enough). He was a great teacher and lecturer. Flamboyant and entertaining to the end.

-(who took his madness class in 1995 or 1996)