Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.

Johnson Samuel

Johnson, Samuel, was born at Lichfield on September 18th (N.S.), 1709. His father was a bookseller in the place, who on market days opened a stall at Birmingham and other towns, each of which was then too small to support a regular shop. From him Johnson inherited the "vile melancholy" which clouded his spirits throughout his life, and, to the teaching which he received from him, may be traced the foundation of his belief in High Church and Tory doctrines. As a child he was touched by Queen Anne for the "king's evil," scrofula. As a boy he was educated first at a school in Lichfield, and then, probably in the capacity of pupil teacher, at Stourbridge. On leaving school he lived for two years at home, reading in a desultory manner, and, no doubt, acquiring the scholar's knack, for which he was afterwards famous, of going straight to the valuable points of a book, without waste of time upon the unnecessary padding. In 1728 he entered Pembroke College, Oxford, but spent a chequered life at the university. We have hints of his delight in vexing the tutors and fellows, and glimpses of him lounging at the College gate, and holding a group of friends entranced by his conversation, of an attack of hypochondria, of a deep religious impressionthrough the reading of Law's Serious Call, of a poverty so great that his feet peeped through his shoes, and of a pride so high that he flung away the pair of boots which a friend delicately placed at his door. He left without a degree, probably on account of his straitened circumstances, and was usher for a few months in a school at Market Bosworth, where he was harshly treated by Sir Wolstan Dixie, in whose house he acted as a kind of chaplain. He then settled for a time in Birmingham, where he published his first book, a translation from the French of Lobo's Voyage, to Abyssinia. In 1736 he married Mrs. Porter, the widow of a Birmingham mercer, twenty years older than himself, who had the sense to discern beneath his "tumultuous and awkward fondness "the qualities which made him great. He next opened a school at Edial, near Lichfield, where almost his only pupils were David Garrick and his brother. Renouncing the scholastic profession, he went to London in 1738, and there wrote part of Irene, a tragedy, which was not brought out until 1749, when Garrick placed it on the stage without any great success. The year 1738 was also marked by his publication of a most popular poem, "London," in imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal, and by his first contribution to The Gentleman's Magazine, for which, a little later, he composed more or less imaginary reports of the debates in Parliament, called, by a thin disguise, "The Senate of Lilliput," taking care, as he afterwards boasted, not to "let the Whig dogs have the best of it." These employments, however interesting, were not particularly well paid, and at times the poor author was obliged to roam the streets all night for lack of money with which to pay for a lodging. His companion on these occasions was Savage, whose life he wrote in 1744. It was not until 1747 that he obtained profitable work, when he undertook, for a payment of £1,575, to write "A Dictionary, with a Grammar and History of the English Language." The plan of the book was at once published, with a dedication to Lord Chesterfield, who accepted it graciously, but displayed no further interest in Johnson until 1755, when, on the eve of the appearance of the Dictionary, he wrote articles in praise of its author, who refused so tardy a help in a letter which gave a heavy blow to literary patronage. "Seven years, my lord," he said, "have now passed since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it, at last, to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before." Meanwhile, in 1749, Johnson had published another imitation of Juvenal, The Vanity of Human Wishes. Between 1750 and 1752 he brought out a periodical, The Rambler, which passed through two editions in London during his lifetime, and between 1758 and 1760 a similar production, The Idler. In 1752, to his deep and lasting regret, he lost his wife. Some years later, to defray the expenses of his mother's last illness, he wrote, in the evenings of a single week, one of his most popular books, Rasselas, the story of a prince who illustrated his favourite doctrine of the vanity of all things earthly. In 1762 he received a pension of £300 a year, the greater part of which he devoted to charity, turning his house into a home for several poor friends. He lived himself much with the Thrales, a brewer and his wife, at Streatham and Southwark, and, when in town, he spent his evenings in the company of Reynolds, Goldsmith, Burke, and other eminent men, at "The Literary Club," which was founded in -1764. He brought out an edition of Shakespeare in 1765, an account, ten years later, of his visit to the Hebrides with Boswell, and a few political pamphlets, of which one, Taxation no Tyranny, attempted to answer the claims of the colonists at the beginning of the American War. His last great work, The Lives of the English Poets, was published in 1781. He died on December 13th, 1784. His writings are now, perhaps, less read than they deserve to be, on account of the pompous style of much of his prose. He lives to the present generation, in the pages of Boswell's biography, as the literary dictator of his time. He comes before us, already an elderly man, with awkward gestures and slovenly habits, but with a great tenderness of heart and a ready, though rough, wit which makes his conversation as fresh as if just spoken. To know him in his home, at his club, in the Highlands, at Streatham, is to live again in the very life of eighteenth-century England.