• This is a study on the history of literary theory and on Samuel Johnson’s novel ‘The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia’ (1759). Johnson’s literary theory as formulated in the novel is examined in the light of the aesthetic thought of his age. Johnson’s relationships both with classicism and with empiricist pre-Romanticism must be interpreted taking into account the tension between the author’s lucidity and his desire. The paper reflects on the problem of levels of intentionality and its stylistic traces on the textual surface. Johnson’s text evinces two modes of textual coherence, as a result of ideological and emotional conflicts in the author’s mind.