At the time of his death in 1785, Samuel Johnson occupied an exemplary position as author and moralist. Johnson’s death initiated a wave of print which celebrated and commodified the writer and which included (in one biography) a facsimile of his handwriting. The public sense of Johnson’s character was disturbed the following year by the publication of his Prayers and Meditations. The autobiographical elements of this generically uncertain work showed Johnson’s struggles with manual writing and the labour of keeping a journal. Prayers and Meditations dismayed readers who felt it disgraced Johnson’s achievements as an author, though the work was also recognized as adding a chapter to the science of human nature. The text of Prayers and Meditations, and the authorial self behind the text, is constituted through painful acts of copying. The work powerfully represents a relationship between writing and absence.
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