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He took in reformed prostitutes and half a dozen others. He spent half his money on derelicts and drop-outs.

Samuel Johnson

He showed a goodness that is rarely practised on this scale. When Johnson was still young and poor in London he got to know Richard Savage who was also poor. Savage claimed to be the illegitimate son of a countess. Johnson and Savage wandered the streets, slept out in the open and set the world to rights, as one does at that age!

Savage had indeed committed a murder, of James Sinclair in a drunken brawl, and he was convicted and sentenced to death, but was reprieved after the intercession of the Countess of Hertford in It was a strange alliance, that of a dissolute, drunken and murderous poet and the upright Christian Samuel Johnson. Well, I suppose Savage was Christian too, but just not very good at it. Holmes does a sort of Sherlock Holmes account of their friendship. The friendship is only a mystery to those who live by stereotypes. Macaulay, of course, ignored the fact that Johnson was an early campaigner against slavery and an open supporter of women.


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They were not, of course, all of the same ilk politically. Greene describes Johnson as he was. He shows him as an attractive, humane and gentle chap. British politics has a tradition of seeing the right as caricatured reactionaries, hard-hearted and callous, but Johnson was a self-proclaimed Tory and Greene shows him as he was — not the caricature at all. Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books or even just what you say about them please email us at editor fivebooks.

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Julia Lovell on The Opium War. Nick Clegg on Favourite Books. John Morrill on Oliver Cromwell Books. Still casting about for a way to make a living, Johnson opened a boarding school. He had only three pupils, one of them being David Garrick— eventually to become the greatest actor of his day.

In Johnson went to London to make a career as a man of letters. Parliament did not then permit stenographic reports of its debates, and Cave published a column called "Debates in the Senate of Lilliput"—the name is taken, of course, from the first book of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels —for which Johnson, among others, wrote re-creations of actual parliamentary speeches.

Johnson worked at a variety of other literary tasks. He published two "imitations" of the Roman satirist Juvenal, London, a Poem and The Vanity of Human Wishes , transposing the language and situations of the classical originals into those of his own day. In Johnson published a biography of his friend Richard Savage.

A neurotic liar and sponger and a failed writer, Savage had been one of Johnson's friends when they were both down and out, and to such early friends Johnson was always loyal. The Life of Savage is a sympathetic study of a complex and initially unsympathetic man. In the early s Johnson, writing usually at the rate of two essays a week, published two series of periodical essays— The Rambler and The Adventurer The essays take various forms—allegories, sketches of representative human types, literary criticism, lay sermons.

Johnson constantly lived in the presence of the literature of the past, and his essays refer to the classics as if they were the work of his contemporaries. He has a satirist's eye for discrepancies and contradictions in human life, yet he is always in search of the central and universal, for whatever is unchanging in man's experience. His prose is elaborate and richly orchestrated, and he seems to have tried to enlarge the language of moral philosophy by using scientific and technical terms.

Johnson's interest in specialized vocabularies can be easily explained. In he had, with the help of six assistants, begun work on a dictionary of the English language. The project was finally completed in Johnson had originally tried to interest Lord Chesterfield in becoming patron for this vast project, but he did little to help Johnson until help was no longer needed. Johnson wrote Chesterfield a public letter in which he declared the author's independence of noble patronage.

Johnson's Dictionary is probably the most personal work of its kind that will ever be compiled; though Johnson received help from others, it was not the work of a committee. His own definition of lexicographer was a "writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge," yet the work bears his personal stamp: it is notable for the precision of its definitions, for its appreciation of the paramount importance of metaphor in use of language, and for its examples, which draw on Johnson's reading in years of English literature.

Johnson's Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia appeared in , the year of the publication of Voltaire's Candide, a work which it somewhat resembles. Both are moral fables concerned with an innocent young man's search for the secret of happiness. The young Prince Rasselas, accompanied by his sister and the philosopher Imlac, leaves his home in the Happy Valley and interviews men of different kinds in the hope of discovering how life may best be lived.

Samuel Johnson: Both Author and Subject of Innovative Biography

Disillusioned at last, Rasselas returns to his old home. Though Johnson was given to fits of idleness, he could at other times work with great facility; he wrote Rasselasin the evenings of one week to pay for the expenses of his mother's funeral. The work was immediately successful; six editions appeared during Johnson's lifetime and also a number of translations.

A year later he met James Boswell, the year-old son of a Scottish judge. Boswell became Johnson's devoted companion; he observed him closely, made notes on his conversation, and eventually wrote the great biography of his hero. Boswell's Johnson is a formidable and yet endearing figure: bulky, personally untidy, given to many eccentricities and compulsions, in conversation often contentious and even pugnacious, a man of great kindness who delighted in society but was also the victim of frequent black moods and periods of religious disquiet.

In Boswell persuaded Johnson, who pretended a stronger dislike of the Scots than he actually felt, to join him in a tour of Scotland, and there are records of the trip made by both men— Johnson's A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and Boswell's journal. In Johnson and the painter Joshua Reynolds founded a club whose members eventually numbered some of the most eminent men of the time; they included the writer Oliver Goldsmith, Johnson's old pupil David Garrick, the economist Adam Smith, the historian Edward Gibbon, and the politicians Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox.

Samuel Johnson Biography

In Johnson met Mr. Henry Thrale. He was a well-to-do brewer, and in the Thrales' home Johnson found a refuge from the solitude which had oppressed him since his wife's death in In Johnson published an eight-volume edition of the works of Shakespeare; in his "Preface" Johnson praises Shakespeare for his fidelity to nature and defends him against the charge that his failure to observe the three classical unities was a limitation on his achievement.

Johnson's last great literary enterprise, a work in 10 volumes, was completed in his seventy-second year; it is the Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, to the Works of the English Poets, better known as the Lives of the Poets. Itisa series of biographical and critical studies of 52 English poets, the earliest being Abraham Cowley; it is a magisterial revaluation of the course of English poetry from the early 17th century until his own time by a man whose taste had been formed by the poetry of John Dryden and Alexander Pope and who was thus in varying degrees out of sympathy with the metaphysicals and John Milton, as he was with the more "advanced" writers of his own time.

Biographies: Samuel Johnson

Even when he deals with writers whom he does not much like, Johnson shows his genius for precise definition and for laying down fairly the terms of a critical argument. Johnson's last years were saddened by the death of his old friend Dr. Robert Levett to whom he addressed a beautiful short elegy , by the death of Thrale, and by a quarrel with Mrs.

Thrale, who had remarried with what seemed to Johnson indecorous haste. In his last illness Johnson, always an amateur physician, made notes on the progress of his own disease. He died on Dec. McAdam, Jr. The Letters of Samuel Johnson was edited by R. Chapman 3 vols.