Melancholy and the body in the eighteenth century: the example of Samuel Johnson


  • Robert DeMaria Vassar College



Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the great lexicographer and essayist, suffered from melancholy all his life. He believed that the disorder was congenital and that it afflicted his mind. To some degree, he saw the problem as arising in his abnormally large and partially disabled body. Locating the source of melancholy in his body, gave Johnson a way to deal with it, and it partially relieved him of the guilt and shame he felt concerning the disease. Johnson’s greatest fear concerning his condition was that it touched not only his mind but also his soul. In the form of scruples and spiritual torpor, melancholy weighed Johnson down and stimulated his fears of death and damnation. As a physical body, Johnson was perhaps deformed, but he was courageous. No physical danger frightened him, but he trembled for the life of his soul, and his melancholy, even if it was psycho-somatic (avant la lettre), was his greatest threat.

Biografia autore

Robert DeMaria, Vassar College

Robert DeMaria, Jr. is the Henry Noble MacCracken Professor of English Literature at Vassar College where he has taught since 1975. He is the author of three monographs on Samuel Johnson and the general editor of the Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, in which he has co-edited three volumes. Beyond Johnson, DeMaria has edited Gulliver's Travels in the Penguin Classics series, and several collections for Wiley/Blackwell: British Literature 1640-1789 (4th ed., 2016); (with Robert Brown) Classical Literature and Its Reception (2007); and (with Heesok Chang and Samantha Zacher), The Blackwell Guide to British Literature (4 vols., 2016).  His dictionary of important eighteenth-century words, British Literature 1640-1789: Keywords, will be published in 2018.


Robert De Maria, Jr. è Henry Noble MacCracken Professor di letteratura inglese al Vassar College, dove insegna dal 1975. È l’autore di tre monografie su Samuel Johnson e il curatore unico della Yale Edition delle opere di questo autore, di cui ha co-curato tre volumi. Oltre a Johnson, De Maria ha curato Gulliver's Travels nella collana Penguin Classici e molte altre pubblicazioni per Wiley/Blackwell: British Literature 1640-1789 (IV ed., 2016); Classical Literature and Its Reception (2007) con Robert Brown; The Blackwell Guide to British Literature (4 voll., 2016) con Heesok Chang e Samantha Zacher. Il suo dizionario delle parole importanti del XVIII secolo, British Literature 1640-1789: Keywords, sarà edito nel 2018.






Representing the Body in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture