The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page


The Parliamentary Debates
Extracts from The Gentleman's Magazine,
as written by Samuel Johnson


Background | Debates | Editorial Notes


Box to click if you
want to read more about Johnson's political opinionsSamuel Johnson's retellings of the debates in Parliament are an early example of his vivid imagination. Because it was against the law to print transcriptions of the proceedings, The Gentleman's Magazine hired someone to hide in the shadows and jot down skeletal notes, which Johnson transformed into Debates in the Senate of Lilliput. The sparse nature of the notes meant that Johnson had to imagine what the speakers actually said, and drape the notes with the rhetoric which politicians might use. Johnson's imagination came into play through his efforts to give each speaker a unique voice.

Because it was illegal to reprint the Debates as if they came from Parliament, they were hidden in the fictive legislature of Lilliput, with names which the average Englishman could decode into their British counterparts. The series was successful, and considerably boosted the magazine's circulation. Johnson ended his involvement when he realized that readers mistook his imagined speeches for the real McCoy: Johnson wanted no part of an imposture.


A debate regarding a petition to the King for the removal of Sir Robert Walpole, Britain's first "Prime Minister":

  • Part I: Walpole has amassed great power in the Administration due to his closeness to the king and control over who is awarded places. Lord Carteret charges that there have been miscarriages in foreign affairs and war due to positions being held by favorites rather than qualified officials, and the nation and people have suffered as a result. Walpole is defended: the charges amount to nothing, because the what the opposition sees as a crime is merely the impact of unforeseen conditions, and history is being recalled inaccurately; the opposition is more interested in power than the health of the nation. From the July, 1741 Gentleman's Magazine.
  • Part II Further arguments on the justification of the motion against Walpole. Finally, a motion is proposed, to censure those recommending the King reconsider taking further advice from Walpole. This motion is considered an insult by some, but is debated and voted on nonetheless. From the August, 1741 Gentleman's Magazine.

Editorial Notes:

  • I have tried to retain the 18th century feel, while not hewing too closely to 18th century standards. I've modernized the capitalization (all nouns began with upper case characters in the original), and I've changed "long f's" in words like "dreffed" to s's, reading "dressed." Where printers used an apostrophe merely to save space in a line (adventur'd) I have replaced the apostrophe with an 'e'. Other 18th century spellings and use of italics have been maintained.
  • My brief notes (and decoding of the fictional countries and persons) are in square brackets.
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