False Alarm

Samuel JOHNSON

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Item#: 116178 price:$950.00

False Alarm
False Alarm

"THEY EITHER THOUGHT HIM INNOCENT, OR WERE NOT OFFENDED BY HIS GUILT": SAMUEL JOHNSON'S ANONYMOUSLY PUBLISHED POLITICAL TRACT THE FALSE ALARM, 1770

[JOHNSON, Samuel]. The False Alarm. London: T. Cadell, 1770. Slim octavo, period-style half brown calf gilt, red morocco spine label, marbled boards; pp. 53. $950.

First edition, second printing—one of 500 copies issued one month after the first—of Johnson's controversial tract on the scandalous John Wilkes, found guilty of libel and initially blocked by the House of Commons from taking the seat to which he had been elected over his rival Col. Luttrell.

"This, the first of Johnson's series of political pamphlets, all of which were anonymous, though their authorship was generally known, was composed at the request of the Ministry… It supported the action of the Ministerial majority in the House of Commons in assuming that the expulsion of a member of Parliament was equivalent to exclusion, and in asserting that Col. Luttrell (not John Wilkes, who had a great majority of votes) was the duly elected representative of Middlesex. The pamphlet, which was at once known to be by Johnson, was fiercely attacked, both in the newspapers and in separate productions" (Courtney & Smith, 114). "The decision to write these pamphlets was perhaps the most purely surprising of Johnson's life. For at least ten years he had been on a pedestal as the great lexicographer and moralist, the lawgiver on letters and on experience, above every conceivable battle. Now, suddenly, he descended into the arena and began laying about him… Quite probably a large part of the motivation was sheer enjoyment, the love of a free-for-all. Controversy, after all, is quite enjoyable, to write as well as to tread… Certainly, if the pamphlets of the 1770s had never been written, we should lack some of his most vigorous and exhilarating prose. The first of the four [The False Alarm] is a case in point… Johnson argues that the action of the House of Commons was constitutional, that Parliament has the right to make up its own mind and ought not to be influenced by shouting from the street. The pamphlet is interesting as marking the extreme point of Johnson's anti-populist feeling. His attitude is much the same as Shakespeare's; while allowing the inalienable human right to rise against a tyrant, he has no belief in the political wisdom of the populace… It is worth reading not only for its exuberant prose, but as a reminder that his deep humanitarianism did not spill over into democratic populism" (Wain, Samuel Johnson, 281-82). First edition, Fleeman's second printing: with "Second Edition" on title page. Fleeman 70.1.FA/1b. Courtney & Smith, 113-15. Early bookseller notation to rear blank: "Mr [John] Sewell No. 32 Cornhill."

A touch of offsetting to scarce half title, text clean, period-style binding handsome and fine.

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