For this Sunday, we continue with Bertrand Bronson, circa 1952:
* * * The assumption that men are basically alike in all times and places, and that the sum total of scientific information already available or yet to be discovered is unlikely to make any radical alteration in human nature, obviously puts a premium on the way in which the old truths are restated. This is not...to reduce the importance of the old truths, which are old because they are fundamental and therefore discovered early, and which, only because they are familiar, are likely to be rejected unless continually re-presented in fresh and agreeable forms.
Accepting their importance...the men of Johnson's day gave their highest praise, not to novelty, but to "what oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed." Since the content was of universal human concern, the ideal was to convey it in such a manner that it would immediately strike home to the widest possible audience with the pleasing shock of recognition. It is no accident that Pope, who probably embodies this ideal more completely than any other author (always excepting Shakespeare) remains one of the most frequently quoted poets in our language.
It has been the business, partly deliberate, partly unconscious, of the next two centuries to undermine and then abolish this ideal. The enormous and accelerated accumulation of scientific information, and the concomitant ebbing of general religious belief and agreement as to the destiny of man, have robbed us of the assurance of general assent and the power of confident generalization, and induced a febrile self-consciousness, an insecure but absorbing egocentricity of which autobiography, direct or oblique, is the natural and inevitable mode of expression. Our focus of attention has shifted from the general to the particular, of which latter alone we feel relatively sure. Suspecting our personal insignificance, we strive to aggrandize our own importance as individuals by emphasizing our differences as claims to special consideration. We pursue and record novel excesses of experience and emotion, and invent semiarticulate verbal patterns in the vague hope of suggesting the incommunicable or unique. We are embarrassed by conventional truths, and prefer to be caught naked (if indeed we do not seek it) rather than to be caught in a cliché.
No doubt all this is the result of tides and currents beyond our power to control or even to analyze. But having been driven so far, there are signs lately appearing among us of an impulse to regain a common ground, to consolidate our position in a hostile universe around some basic core of elements in our common nature that may make for the reintegration of a society. After voyaging in strange seas of thought, alone, we long for the comfort of companionship and the strength of funded experience. One of the evidences of such a temper is the reawakening of curiosity, and even of respect, in and for the eighteenth century figures, especially for Johnson himself, who spoke with impressive power and wrote with balanced and commanding eloquence out of convictions deeply rooted in our common humanity. For the possession of these qualities and for this kind of assurance, we find it natural to admire and envy him, and for his large humanity, to offer him our love. * * *
From the introduction to Samuel Johnson: Rasselas, Poems and Selected Prose