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Poetry of Opposition and RevolutionDryden to Wordsworth$
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Howard Erskine-Hill

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780198121770

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198121770.001.0001

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The Vanity of Human Wishes in Context

The Vanity of Human Wishes in Context

(p.139) 5 The Vanity of Human Wishes in Context
Poetry of Opposition and Revolution

Howard Erskine-Hill

Oxford University Press

The Vanity of Human Wishes is a highly political poem showing a deep concern with the processes of history. It explores two ways in which a state might suddenly change or be changed: the fall of a Favourite or a revolution brought about by military invasion. Johnson employs the literary mode of oblique allusion, practised by Dryden and Pope, to reflect on the British experience of the 1740s. The Vanity of Human Wishes is not a poem of generality in the sense that it excluded recent historical events, but is comprehensive in assimilating them to famous examples of the past. The long view thus constructed displays not least the vanity of human wishes as the tragedy of political hope. It is a vision of the world from which one may turn either to Stoic or Christian doctrine to find a faith with which to live. Johnson's text turns to the Christian religion, though he has at least in common with Juvenal the rejection of chance and the advocacy of virtue.

Keywords:   Samuel Johnson, Jacobite, Walpole, The Vanity of Human Wishes, political poem, oblique allusion

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