104 Facts About Samuel Johnson


Samuel Johnson, often called Dr Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions as a poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, critic, biographer, editor, and lexicographer.


In 1763 he befriended James Boswell, with whom he travelled to Scotland, as Samuel Johnson described in A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland.


Samuel Johnson was a devout Anglican, and a committed Tory.


Samuel Johnson's Dictionary had far-reaching effects on Modern English, and was pre-eminent until the arrival of the Oxford English Dictionary 150 years later.


James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson was selected by Johnson biographer Walter Jackson Bate as "the most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature".


Samuel Johnson's mother was 40 when she gave birth to Johnson in the family home above his father's bookshop in Lichfield, Staffordshire.


The infant Samuel Johnson did not cry, and there were concerns for his health.


Samuel Johnson's aunt exclaimed that "she would not have picked such a poor creature up in the street".


Samuel Johnson's health improved and he was put to wet-nurse with Joan Marklew.


Samuel Johnson displayed signs of great intelligence as a child, and his parents, to his later disgust, would show off his "newly acquired accomplishments".


Samuel Johnson's education began at the age of three, and was provided by his mother, who had him memorise and recite passages from the Book of Common Prayer.


When Samuel Johnson turned four, he was sent to a nearby school, and, at the age of six he was sent to a retired shoemaker to continue his education.


Samuel Johnson excelled at his studies and was promoted to the upper school at the age of nine.


At the age of 16, Samuel Johnson stayed with his cousins, the Fords, at Pedmore, Worcestershire.


Samuel Johnson's tutor asked him to produce a Latin translation of Alexander Pope's Messiah as a Christmas exercise.


Samuel Johnson completed half of the translation in one afternoon and the rest the following morning.


Samuel Johnson spent the rest of his time studying, even during the Christmas holiday.


Samuel Johnson drafted a "plan of study" called "Adversaria", which he left unfinished, and used his time to learn French while working on his Greek.


Samuel Johnson left behind many books that he had borrowed from his father because he could not afford to transport them, and because he hoped to return.


Samuel Johnson was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1765 by Trinity College Dublin and in 1775 by the University of Oxford.


Samuel Johnson experienced bouts of mental anguish and physical pain during years of illness; his tics and gesticulations associated with Tourette syndrome became more noticeable and were often commented upon.


Samuel Johnson stood for a "considerable time bareheaded in the rain" in the spot his father's stall used to be.


Samuel Johnson eventually found employment as undermaster at a school in Market Bosworth, run by Sir Wolstan Dixie, who allowed Samuel Johnson to teach without a degree.


Samuel Johnson was treated as a servant, and considered teaching boring, but nonetheless found pleasure in it.


Samuel Johnson continued to look for a position at a Lichfield school.


Samuel Johnson read Abbe Joachim Le Grand's French translations, and thought that a shorter version might be "useful and profitable".


The Porter family did not approve of the match, partly because of the difference in their ages: Samuel Johnson was 25 and Elizabeth was 46.


Samuel Johnson had only three pupils: Lawrence Offley, George Garrick, and the 18-year-old David Garrick, who later became one of the most famous actors of his day.


Samuel Johnson was penniless and pessimistic about their travel, but fortunately for them, Garrick had connections in London, and the two were able to stay with his distant relative, Richard Norris.


Samuel Johnson soon moved to Greenwich near the Golden Hart Tavern to finish Irene.


Gower petitioned Oxford for an honorary degree to be awarded to Samuel Johnson, but was told that it was "too much to be asked".


Samuel Johnson was committed to debtors' prison and died in 1743.


Samuel Johnson claimed that he could finish the project in three years.


Samuel Johnson had to employ a number of assistants for the copying and mechanical work, which filled the house with incessant noise and clutter.


Samuel Johnson was always busy, and kept hundreds of books around him.


Samuel Johnson was distracted by Tetty's poor health as she began to show signs of a terminal illness.


In preparation, Samuel Johnson had written a Plan for the Dictionary.


Seven years after first meeting Samuel Johnson to go over the work, Chesterfield wrote two anonymous essays in The World recommending the Dictionary.


Samuel Johnson complained that the English language lacked structure and argued in support of the dictionary.


Samuel Johnson did not like the tone of the essays, and he felt that Chesterfield had not fulfilled his obligations as the work's patron.


Samuel Johnson's dictionary was not the first, nor was it unique.


Samuel Johnson wrote numerous essays, sermons, and poems during his years working on the dictionary.


Writer and printer Samuel Richardson, enjoying the essays greatly, questioned the publisher as to who wrote the works; only he and a few of Johnson's friends were told of Johnson's authorship.


In particular, Samuel Johnson emphasises "the helpless vulnerability of the individual before the social context" and the "inevitable self-deception by which human beings are led astray".


Tetty Samuel Johnson was ill during most of her time in London, and in 1752 she decided to return to the countryside while Samuel Johnson was busy working on his Dictionary.


Samuel Johnson wrote a sermon in her honour, to be read at her funeral, but Taylor refused to read it, for reasons which are unknown.


Samuel Johnson felt guilty about the poverty in which he believed he had forced Tetty to live, and blamed himself for neglecting her.


Samuel Johnson became outwardly discontented, and his diary was filled with prayers and laments over her death which continued until his own.


Samuel Johnson was his primary motivation, and her death hindered his ability to complete his work.


Richardson, who had previously lent Samuel Johnson money, sent him six guineas to show his good will, and the two became friends.


Reynolds's younger sister Frances observed during their time together "that men, women and children gathered around him [Samuel Johnson]", laughing at his gestures and gesticulations.


Langton was a scholar and an admirer of Samuel Johnson who persuaded his way into a meeting with Samuel Johnson which led to a long friendship.


Samuel Johnson met Murphy during the summer of 1754 after Murphy came to Samuel Johnson about the accidental republishing of the Rambler No 190, and the two became friends.


Samuel Johnson was a minor poet who was poor and becoming blind, two conditions that Johnson attempted to change by providing room for her and paying for a failed cataract surgery.


Philosophical disagreements erupted over the purpose of the publication when the Seven Years' War began and Samuel Johnson started to write polemical essays attacking the war.


Samuel Johnson later attempted to produce a new edition of her works, but even with his support they were unable to find enough interest to follow through with its publication.


The debt was repaid by Jacob Tonson, who had contracted Samuel Johnson to publish Shakespeare, and this encouraged Samuel Johnson to finish his edition to repay the favour.


The "little story book", as Samuel Johnson described it, describes the life of Prince Rasselas and Nekayah, his sister, who are kept in a place called the Happy Valley in the land of Abyssinia.


When Samuel Johnson questioned if the pension would force him to promote a political agenda or support various officials, he was told by Bute that the pension "is not given you for anything you are to do, but for what you have done".


Around the spring of 1763, Samuel Johnson formed "The Club", a social group that included his friends Reynolds, Burke, Garrick, Goldsmith and others.


The plays themselves were in a version that Samuel Johnson felt was closest to the original, based on his analysis of the manuscript editions.


Years later, Edmond Malone, an important Shakespearean scholar and friend of Samuel Johnson's, stated that Samuel Johnson's "vigorous and comprehensive understanding threw more light on his authour than all his predecessors had done".


Samuel Johnson opposed "self-professed Patriots" in general, but valued what he considered "true" patriotism.


Samuel Johnson argued that in emigrating to America, colonists had "voluntarily resigned the power of voting", but they still retained "virtual representation" in Parliament.


Samuel Johnson denounced English supporters of American separatists as "traitors to this country", and hoped that the matter would be settled without bloodshed, but he felt confident that it would end with "English superiority and American obedience".


Years before, Samuel Johnson had stated that the French and Indian War was a conflict between "two robbers" of Native American lands, and that neither deserved to live there.


Tom Davies, William Strahan and Thomas Cadell had asked Samuel Johnson to create this final major work, the Lives of the English Poets, for which he asked 200 guineas, an amount significantly less than the price he could have demanded.


Samuel Johnson was shocked by the death of Levet, who had resided at Samuel Johnson's London home since 1762.


Shortly afterwards Samuel Johnson caught a cold that developed into bronchitis and lasted for several months.


Samuel Johnson's health was further complicated by "feeling forlorn and lonely" over Levet's death, and by the deaths of his friend Thomas Lawrence and his housekeeper Williams.


Hester Thrale did not completely abandon Samuel Johnson, and asked him to accompany the family on a trip to Brighton.


Two doctors were brought in to aid Samuel Johnson; he regained his ability to speak two days later.


Samuel Johnson had surgery for gout, and his remaining friends, including novelist Fanny Burney, came to keep him company.


Samuel Johnson believed that the best poetry relied on contemporary language, and he disliked the use of decorative or purposely archaic language.


Samuel Johnson was suspicious of the poetic language used by Milton, whose blank verse he believed would inspire many bad imitations.


Also, Samuel Johnson opposed the poetic language of his contemporary Thomas Gray.


In London, his first imitation of Juvenal, Samuel Johnson uses the poetic form to express his political opinion and approaches the topic in a playful and almost joyous manner.


In particular, Samuel Johnson emphasises God's infinite love and argues that happiness can be attained through virtuous action.


When it came to biography, Samuel Johnson disagreed with Plutarch's use of biography to praise and to teach morality.


Furthermore, Samuel Johnson believed that biography should not be limited to the most famous and that the lives of lesser individuals, too, were significant; thus in his Lives of the Poets he chose both great and lesser poets.


Samuel Johnson considered the genre of autobiography and diaries, including his own, as one having the most significance; in Idler 84 he writes that a writer of an autobiography would be the least likely to distort his own life.


Samuel Johnson's works were dominated with his intent to use them for literary criticism.


Samuel Johnson did not attempt to create schools of theories to analyse the aesthetics of literature.


When it came to Shakespeare's plays, Samuel Johnson emphasised the role of the reader in understanding language: "If Shakespeare has difficulties above other writers, it is to be imputed to the nature of his work, which required the use of common colloquial language, and consequently admitted many phrases allusive, elliptical, and proverbial, such as we speak and hear every hour without observing them".


However, Samuel Johnson did not only defend Shakespeare; he discussed Shakespeare's faults, including what he saw as lack of morality, vulgarity, carelessness in crafting plots, and occasional inattentiveness when choosing words or word order.


Samuel Johnson believed that an editor should not alter the text in such a way.


Beyond appearance, Adam Smith claimed that "Samuel Johnson knew more books than any man alive", while Edmund Burke thought that if Samuel Johnson were to join Parliament, he "certainly would have been the greatest speaker that ever was there".


Samuel Johnson was a devout, conservative Anglican and a compassionate man who supported a number of poor friends under his own roof, even when unable to fully provide for himself.


Samuel Johnson did not let his own faith prejudice him against others, and had respect for those of other denominations who demonstrated a commitment to Christian beliefs.


Samuel Johnson was an opponent of slavery on moral grounds, and once proposed a toast to the "next rebellion of the Negroes in the West Indies".


Beside his beliefs concerning humanity, Samuel Johnson is known for his love of cats, especially his own two cats, Hodge and Lily.


Samuel Johnson was known as a staunch Tory; he admitted to sympathies for the Jacobite cause during his younger years but, by the reign of George III, he came to accept the Hanoverian Succession.


Samuel Johnson had several health problems, including childhood tuberculous scrofula resulting in deep facial scarring, deafness in one ear and blindness in one eye, gout, testicular cancer, and a stroke in his final year that left him unable to speak; his autopsy indicated that he had pulmonary fibrosis along with cardiac failure probably due to hypertension, a condition then unknown.


Samuel Johnson displayed signs consistent with several diagnoses, including depression and Tourette syndrome.


Boswell claimed that Samuel Johnson "felt himself overwhelmed with an horrible melancholia, with perpetual irritation, fretfulness, and impatience; and with a dejection, gloom, and despair, which made existence misery".


Early on, when Samuel Johnson was unable to pay off his debts, he began to work with professional writers and identified his own situation with theirs.


Hester Thrale Piozzi claimed, in a discussion on Smart's mental state, that Samuel Johnson was her "friend who feared an apple should intoxicate him".


Samuel Johnson was, in the words of Steven Lynn, "more than a well-known writer and scholar"; he was a celebrity, for the activities and the state of his health in his later years were constantly reported in various journals and newspapers, and when there was nothing to report, something was invented.


Above all, Boswell's portrayal of Samuel Johnson is the work best known to general readers.


In criticism, Samuel Johnson had a lasting influence, although not everyone viewed him favourably.


Later, Samuel Johnson's works came into favour, and Matthew Arnold, in his Six Chief Lives from Samuel Johnson's "Lives of the Poets", considered the Lives of Milton, Dryden, Pope, Addison, Swift, and Gray as "points which stand as so many natural centres, and by returning to which we can always find our way again".


Bate in the finest insight on Samuel Johnson I know, emphasised that no other writer is so obsessed by the realisation that the mind is an activity, one that will turn to destructiveness of the self or of others unless it is directed to labour.


Half of Johnson's surviving correspondence, together with some of his manuscripts, editions of his books, paintings and other items associated with him are in the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr Samuel Johnson, housed at Houghton Library at Harvard University since 2003.


In 2009, Samuel Johnson was among the ten people selected by the Royal Mail for their "Eminent Britons" commemorative postage stamp issue.