New Acquisitions


A Dialogue Between Dr. Johnson and Dr. Goldsmith, in the Shades, Relative to the Former’s Strictures on the English Poets, Particularly Pope, Milton, and Gray. London: Debrett, 1785. *2008-1096.


George Butt. A Dialogue Between the Earl of C----------d and Mr. Garrick, in the Elysian Shades. London: T. Cadell, 1785. *2008-1097.

These two rare pamphlets belong to a common eighteenth-century genre, dialogues of the dead, which has its origins in the works of the Greek writer Lucian. These dialogues take the form of a conversation between great deceased personages, who are thus unable to complain about how they are portrayed, and frequently comment satirically on the affairs of the living. Johnson regarded the form as obsolete and overused, and probably would have been appalled to find himself the subject of such a dialogue. He was not alone in that opinion; a 1785 review of the first work in Town and Country Magazine begins:

Dialogues in the Shades have become so hackneyed, that we wonder how the poor ghosts find spirits to keep up the conferences. In the present all Johnson's fire has evaporated, and nothing remains but the mere caput mortuum [worthless residue]—save quotations from his own works.