Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784)
Moralist, essayist, and lexicographer, son of a bookseller at Lichfield,
received his early education at his native town, and went in 1728 to Oxford, but
had, owing to poverty, to leave without taking a degree.
For a short time he was usher in a school at Market Bosworth, but found the
position so irksome that he threw it up, and gained a meagre livelihood by
working for a publisher in Birmingham. In 1735, being then 26, he married Mrs.
Porter, a widow of over 40, who brought him £800, and to whom he was sincerely
attached. He started an academy at Ediol, near Lichfield, which, however, had no
success, only three boys, one of whom was David Garrick (q.v.), attending it.
Accordingly, this venture was given up, and Johnson in 1737 went to London
accompanied by Garrick.
Here he had a hard struggle with poverty, humiliation, and every kind of evil,
always, however, quitting himself like the true man he was. In 1738 appeared
London, a satire imitated from Juvenal which, published anonymously,
attracted immediate attention, and the notice of Pope.
In 1747 he began his great English Dictionary. Another satire, The
Vanity of Human Wishes, appeared in 1749, and in the same year Irene,
a tragedy. His next venture was the starting of the Rambler, a paper somewhat on
the lines of the Spectator; but, sententious and grave, it had none of the
lightness and grace of its model, and likewise lacked its popularity. It was
almost solely the work of Johnson himself, and was carried on twice a week for
In 1752 his wife, "his dear Tetty" died, and was sincerely mourned; and in 1755
his Dictionary appeared. In 1763 he made the acquaintance, so important
for posterity, of James Boswell; and it was probably in the same year that he
founded his famous "literary club." In 1764 he was introduced to Mr. Thrale, a
wealthy brewer, and for many years spent much of his time, an honoured guest, in
his family. The kindness and attentions of Mrs. T., described by Carlyle as "a
bright papilionaceous creature, whom the elephant loved to play with, and wave
to and fro upon his trunk," were a refreshment and solace to him.
In 1765 his edition of Shakespeare came out, and his last great work was the
Lives of the Poets, in 10 vols. (1779-81). He had in 1775 published his
Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland, an account of a tour made in the
company of Boswell. His last years were darkened by the loss of friends such as
Goldsmith and Thrale, and by an estrangement from Mrs. T., on her marriage with
Piozzi, an Italian musician. Notwithstanding a lifelong and morbid fear of
death, his last illness was borne with fortitude and calmness, soothed by the
pious attentions of Reynolds and Burke, and he died peacefully on December 13,
1784. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, and a monument in St. Paul's was
erected by the "club." Statues of him were also erected in Lichfield and
Uttoxeter. He had received from Oxford and Dublin the degree of LL.D.
From Biographical Dictionary of English Literature - the Everyman Edition