Table of Contents
Samuel Johnson, often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was born on September 18, 1709, in Lichfield, Staffordshire. The son of a bookseller, Johnson’s early life was marked by challenges, including health issues (he likely had tuberculosis) and financial constraints. Nonetheless, these adversities didn’t deter him from his passion for reading and learning.
Johnson attended Pembroke College, Oxford, in 1728. Although he left without a degree due to financial difficulties, his time at Oxford had a profound influence on his intellectual development.
Career Beginnings and Marriage
He began his career as a teacher and later tried his hand at starting a school, though it wasn’t successful. In 1735, Johnson married Elizabeth “Tetty” Porter, who was 20 years his senior. Their relationship, while marked by affection, also faced challenges, particularly due to Tetty’s health issues.
“A Dictionary of the English Language”
One of Johnson’s most monumental works, the dictionary, published in 1755, took nine years to complete. Unlike other dictionaries of the time, it was exhaustive and illustrated with quotations from the widest range of sources. While not the first English dictionary, its breadth, methodology, and style made it the most authoritative and set a standard for future lexicographers.
Beyond the dictionary, Johnson was a poet, essayist, critic, and biographer.
The Johnsonian Circle
Johnson was a central figure in the London literary scene. His home became a hub for a circle of writers, intellectuals, and artists, including Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, and Oliver Goldsmith. His friendship with James Boswell, a Scottish diarist, led to one of the most famous biographies ever written: “The Life of Samuel Johnson” (1791).
Later Life and Legacy
Johnson faced several health issues in his later years, including a stroke in 1783. He passed away on December 13, 1784.
His legacy is profound. He was more than a lexicographer; he was a moralist, critic, and raconteur whose work shaped English literature and thought. The Samuel Johnson Prize, one of the most prestigious non-fiction awards, is a testament to his enduring impact on the literary world.
Samuel Johnson’s influence on English literature, lexicography, and criticism cannot be overstated. His wit, wisdom, and insights into human nature continue to resonate, making him one of the most celebrated figures in English literary history.