|Samuel Johnson aka Dr Johnson or 'Dictionary Johnson'|
portrait by his close friend and co-founder with Johnson of 'The Club' Sir Joshua Reynolds
Grand Tour and in his quest to collect 'Great Men' had recently met both Rousseau and Voltaire who were impressed with the eldest son of Lord Auchinleck but now he sought the ultimate prize...an acquaintanceship with Dr. Johnson. Johnson was well known to have a prejudice against Scots and, being in a foul mood, gave Boswell a rather rough reception which wounded the young upstart. The proprietor Davies later smoothed things over so that Dr Johnson and his 'Bozzy' soon became great friends and decades later Boswell bequeathed to posterity what is still considered the greatest biography of all time: The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D
|In the Red Lion, on permanent loan, is an entire shelf on Johnson including "The Life..." in 3 leather bound volumes- gilt edged and moire endsheeted on acid free paper from the GSL private library|
To briefly summarize, Johnson came from humble, if fortuitous, origins as the son of an unsuccessful book merchant in the town of Litchfield and suffered from scrofula and what many modern scholars now assume to be Tourette's Syndrome. He grew to be quite tall-over 6 feet, thick set, and gangily long of limb; he was considered nearly a giant in those days. Johnson was from an early age considered ugly in appearance and of fearsome temperament. Johnson's prodigious intellect allowed him to excel at Oxford though he ran out of money after two years and had to leave without a degree (he was later awarded an honorary degree hence 'Dr Johnson'). After leaving Oxford, he came home to Litchfield and started a school which failed after a short time. Among his students was David Garrick who would later make his way to London and become the greatest theatrical figure of the age.
|Celebrated actor David Garrick. Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough|
Garrick, like Johnson, was from Litchfield and a student at Johnson's school for boys.
|James Boswell aka "Bozzie"about the time he first met Johnson.|
portrait by George Willson 1765
What is too often overlooked about Johnson was his championing the great women intellectuals of the day. The original Bluestockings loved having Dr Johnson in attendance at these gatherings of men of affairs and women of fashion and learning. The venerable Elizabeth Montagu was often the hostess with the formidable Elizabeth Carter urging the younger set "not to dare welcome in that foe to uplifting conversation....whist". Johnson often urged these women to speak on issues he knew they could distinguish themselves and provide enlightenment to others. Of Ms Carter, Johnson said she was the greatest Greek scholar in the land (and Johnson himself was quite formidable in Greek and Latin) which she must have greatly appreciated since women weren't then able to get a formal degree that announced their expertise. Women such as Hannah More, Fanny Burney, Charlotte Lennox, and others Johnson praised to the skies wherever he went including to the men at his famous Club.
Dr Johnson was an ornament to any drawing room and always much in demand for the latter part of his life. Men of Title and Influence and Women of Fashion and Refinement desired his company but let's go back to that fateful day, May 16, 1763, to what is often overlooked or not even known...that first encounter between Dr Johnson and "his Boswell". Did you know what prompted the great Dr Johnson being out and about and stopping at Davies' Book Shop in such ill temper? Johnson was en route to see his old friend from Litchfield, David Garrick; the now very wealthy, fashionably married, and the most celebrated figure of the London stage. It seems that Johnson had forwarded a play, written by that poor old blind spinster living under his protection, Ms. Anna Williams, to Garrick who couldn't be bothered to give it a fair hearing. Johnson wanted to have a word with his former pupil. That is one interview I wish Boswell had witnessed.