Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Richard Harp

Second Committee Member

Timothy Erwin

Third Committee Member

Donald Revell

Fourth Committee Member

Christopher Decker

Fifth Committee Member

Margaret Harp

Number of Pages



This study traces the role of conversation in the epistemology of Samuel Johnson. Exploring the transitions of epistemology and pedagogy occurring during the Renaissance, I argue that Johnson pushes against epistemologies that overly stressed the role of reading. For Johnson, knowledge growth occurs through a means of reading, writing, and conversation: one reads broadly and deeply for information, one writes to make thoughts more concise, one converses to exercise, or test, those thoughts with others who bring various perspectives. This dissertation examines these ideas in Johnson’s epistolary essays in his periodical The Rambler, showing how Johnson’s ideas of conversation are inter-linked with his notions of friendship and marriage. This chapter thus focuses on the fruitfulness of conversation – how ideas start small but through conversation expand and develop in new and interesting ways. Chapter 3 examines conversation in terms of prayer and looks at how Johnson’s Easter meditations expand prayer-conversation into the everyday occurrences of life. Observing Johnson’s Easter meditations demonstrates how his prayer-life progressively grew more intimate and conversational as he grew older and provides an illuminating understanding of how time, memory, and the subconscious are active elements in conversation. Chapter 4 transitions the discussion by focusing on the sacramentality of conversation: how specifically friendship, laughter, and food shape conversational settings. In this I also explore the role of metaphorical language and examine how both physicality and metaphorical language shape relationships, notably observed in Johnson’s transformation with the notorious John Wilkes. I complete this study with a chapter on Johnson’s associations with female members of the Bluestocking Society—notably Hester Thrale Piozzi, Frances Burney, and Hannah More. This chapter closely examines More’s poem The Bas Bleu, or Conversation, observing how it aptly reflects many of Johnson’s own ideas of conversation.


Conversation; Epistemology; Hannah More; James Boswell; Prayer; Samuel Johnson


English Language and Literature

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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