The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 29. His literary growth, and advance in ease of style
His long career had been uniform in its aim and methods, and the distinctions between his earlier and later writings are those which come from experience and confidence. The author of the preface to A Voyage to Abyssinia is unmistakably the author of The Rambler and The Lives of the Poets, with the same tastes and habits of thought, but younger, with a shorter reach and less precision in his skill. There had been no discipleship, and no time of searching where his strength lay; and no new influences had modified his purpose. The changes to be found in his work of forty-five years are those of a natural and undisturbed development, so steady that its stages cannot be minutely marked by us, and were probably imperceptible to himself. As he grew older, he related all art more and more to life. Though careful to give his thoughts their best expression, and severe on improprieties in others, he became impatient of mere proficiency in technique; and, though a scholar, he recognised the insufficiency of scholarship and the barrenness of academic pursuits. He had the “purposes of life” ever and increasingly before him, and his criticisms of the English poets are the richest of his works in worldly wisdom.