The Rambler was a twopenny* sheet issued twice weekly in London between 1750 and 1752, each issue was a single anonymous essay. 208 periodical essays appeared, all but four written by Samuel Johnson. Dr. Johnson’s incentive in contributing Rambler essays was to pay the bills (“No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money”) while he was at work on his great Dictionary. He was paid two guineas (£) for each essay in the paper. The Rambler did not sell well as a periodical, but the essays sold well later when reissued, revised and collected into book form.
We picked up an original issue (#25) in periodical form and it is now framed and hanging in the office. The epigraph, “Possunt quia posse videntur,” means, “they are able because they seem to be able,” meaning If you believe you can do a thing, you can (and conversely, if you believe you cannot do a thing, you cannot). It was likely not the only time that Johnson pondered this aphorism while laboring on his monumental dictionary.
Much of the printed ephemera that we love is purely typographic in nature. This piece though, not only reminds us that William Caslon’s eponymous typeface was already in widespread use by the mid-eighteenth century, but also that ideas matter and that they can survive even when they are first propagated via a cheap, disposable medium.
Thanks to the late John Louis Worden Jr. Ph.D, who retired from California State University, Chico, in 1983, for preserving this rare specimen.
*In Britain, the old symbol for the penny, as seen in the image, was ‘d,’ from the Latin denarius.