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Samuel Johnson

Dr. Samuel Johnson (September 18, 1709 - December 13, 1784), often referred to simply as Dr. Johnson, was one of England's greatest literary figures, whose witty asides are still frequently quoted in print today. He was also a lexicographer.

Although best remembered as the compiler of the first comprehensive English dictionary, Dr. Johnson was more than a scholar. Born at Lichfield and educated at Lichfield Grammar School and Pembroke College, Oxford, he moved to London in 1737 with his wife, Tetty, who was twenty years his senior, and began to earn a living as a journalist and critic, whilst working on plays, poetry and biographies. Johnson began A Dictionary of the English Language in 1747, but did not complete it until 1755. It made his name, but not his fortune. Another of his major works, the satire Rasselas (1759), was written specifically to raise money to pay for his mother's funeral.

Johnson was at the centre of a literary circle which included such figures as Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke and David Garrick, and founded the Literary Club. In 1763, a young Scottish writer, James Boswell, introduced himself to Johnson. Together they toured the Western Isles of Scotland in 1773, a journey which Johnson immortalised in print. As a conservative, he was also a fierce critic of the American Revolution. In Taxation No Tyranny, he asked, "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"

Dr. Johnson's last great work was the ten-volume Lives of the English Poets, published between 1779 and 1781. He died in 1784 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

As well as to his output, Johnson owes his reputation to his biographer, James Boswell, who presents us with a picture of a very pious man of Tory common sense, and kindly heart, beneath a sometimes unkempt and gruff exterior. Another of Johnson's great friends were Henry Thrale and Hester Thrale. The latter's diaries and correspondence are a major source of information about Johnson.

His time in Birmingham is remembered by a frieze in the city's Old Square, an area much changed from when he lived there. Birmingham Central Library has a Johnson Collection. It has around 2000 volumes of works by him, and books and periodicals about him. It includes many of his first editions.

External Links

e-texts of some biographies of Samuel Johnson: