24 February 2014

Dr Johnson; Dictionary compiler, cat lover, Twitter enabler and traveller.

Dr Johnson was quite a man.  
Yvor Winters claimed that "A great critic is the rarest of all literary geniuses; perhaps the only critic in English who deserves that epithet is Samuel Johnson".
His best known work, Johnson's Dictionary, was the first comprehensive English dictionary taking over 9 years (it took 40 Frenchmen 40 years to compile theirs) was a definitive title for over 150 years. It "offered insights into the 18th century and 'a faithful record of the language people used'" unlike many of the day.

He had an astonishing personal life - taking in waifs and strays no matter his own personal finances, saddled with bodily tics, Tourettes and possible OCD, not to mention childhood tuberculous scrofula
He was a rather prolific author. In fact; [Johnson] also displayed many of the obsessional-compulsive traits and rituals which are associated with this syndrome ... It may be thought that without this illness Dr Johnson's remarkable literary achievements, the great dictionary, his philosophical deliberations and his conversations may never have happened; and Boswell, the author of the greatest of biographies would have been unknown. —JMS Pearce
He knew, entertained and argued with the glitterati of the London Literary world.
His home in Gough Square (one of many in London - they were all dependant on his finances at the time) is now a dedicated museum to the life and times of this fascinating man. 
Full of memorabilia, fantastic period door locks (worth a trip in itself), beautiful rooms and walls full of people influenced by this great man, I highly recommend it if you have a ken for history, and a spare afternoon.
 This is a brick from the Great Wall of China. They didn't have cars like we do, back then...
The house also features an architectural detail that has to be totally unique for the times - swinging walls (with doors inset) that allowed the conversion of an entire floor into 3 separate rooms.
Beside his beliefs concerning humanity, Johnson is also known for his love of cats, especially his own two cats, Hodge and Lily. Boswell wrote, "I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat."

The statue of Hodge overlooks Dr Johnsons beloved home...
Can you see him in the distance there?
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Borrowed from the lovely Best London Walks crew - cheers!
His dictionary really is astounding - thousands of pages of definitions, word classes and examples of use. Read the two below. 
This is the attic garret where much of the work was done by Dr Johnson, his manservant and their 5 Scottish helpers. If only the walls could talk...
I love that his humour shines through to this day:
LEXICO'GRAPHER. n. s. A writer of dictionaries ; a harmless drudge... 
This house is simply a time capsule, nestled anachronistically in amongst the glass and steel fronted capitalist greed of Fleet Street and the surrounding business district.
Any way, check out the Dr Johnson House/Museum. It's choice.


  1. I love this museum. Especially the room with the wigs and the period costumes!! ;-)

    1. We sadly didn't get a chance to try them on - next time!

  2. I imagine the 40 Frenchman were too busy engaging in "other activities" to devote the same amount of time and dedication to their dictionary. I mean, why be "a harmless drudge" when there are mistresses who need looking after? ;)

    1. Tee hee hee - must have been too busy drinking all the red wine!

  3. I'd heard of Dr Johnson's house before but never been interested in visiting. Now I really want to go - thanks so much for sharing.

    1. It was so sweet - you can wander through. We adored the copies of his dictionary in the upstairs garrett - though sadly he hadn't heard of Kiwis hehe.

  4. Well, this is neat! I hadn't heard of this museum before! This just further affirms my belief that I will NEVER run out of things to do in London...

  5. Fascinating. I had no idea he was such a cat lover - I like the man even more now! Vohn x

    1. I know right - he used to feed them oysters (really cheap in those days) and fetch them himself from the markets, because he felt it too below the servants.


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