Biography of Samuel Johnson


SAMUEL JOHNSON, son of Michael Johnson, was born at Lichfield, on the 18th of September, 1709. He received his early education in his native town, from a man named Hunter, of whom he recorded that "he beat me well;" adding, "without that I should have done nothing." In 1728, he went to Pembroke College, Oxford, having been engaged for the two previous years of his life in learning his father's business of bookseller. In 1731, his father died insolvent. In the same year he went to Bosworth as usher of a school. Finding the drudgery of this situation unbearable, he soon gave it up, gaining a meagre livelihood by working for booksellers in Birmingham. In 1736, he married Mrs. Porter, a widow; she brought him 800. He then set a going a school, which having no success, he repaired to London in the company of his celebrated pupil, David Garrick. Here he formed a connection with Cave, the editor of the Gentleman's Magazine, to which periodical he became a contributor. In the following year he published "London," a poem in imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal, which was very favorably received; Pope in particular, being warm in its praise. But for many years he was miserably remunerated for his work, and had great difficulty in keeping the wolf of hunger from his door. Little is known respecting Johnson's life from this period till he turned fifty. In 1744, he published his interesting Life of Richard Savage; in 1749, his best poem, The Vanity of Human Wishes, an imitation of the Tenth Satire of Juvenal; and in 1750 commenced the Rambler, a periodical which he conducted for two years, and the contents of which were almost wholly his own composition. His Dictionary, a noble piece of work, entitling its author to being considered the founder of English lexicography, appeared in 1755, after eight years of solid labor. The Idler, another periodical, was begun by Johnson, in 1758, and carried on for two years also; and in 1759 occurred one of the most touching episodes of his life, the writing of "Rasselas" to pay the expenses of his mother's funeral. It was written, he tells us, "in the evenings of a week." At last he emerged from obscurity. In 1762, a pension of 300 a year was conferred on him by Lord Bute, and in the following year occurred an event, apparently of little moment, but which has had a lasting influence upon his fame; this was his introduction to James Boswell, whose "Life of Dr. Johnson" is probably more imperishable than any of the Doctor's own writings. In 1781, appeared his Lives of the Poets, his last literary work of any importance. He died on the 13th of December, 1784. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, close by the grave of Garrick.

Strength, or at least force of mind, a certain sage solemnity in the treatment of moral themes, a sharp eye for the observation of character as it manifests itself in society, and a great power of caustic wit, are the chief qualties noticeable in Johnson. His written style is very sonorous, inflated, and antithetic; the language is frequently grander than the thought, but his conversational style, as reported by Boswell, is terse, robust, and felicitous in the highest degree.