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Samuel Johnson goes abroad

Claude Rawson, 29 August 1991

A Voyage to Abyssinia 
by Samuel Johnson, edited by Joel Gold.
Yale, 350 pp., £39.50, July 1985, 0 300 03003 7
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Rasselas, and Other Tales 
by Samuel Johnson, edited by Gwin Kolb.
Yale, 290 pp., £24.50, March 1991, 0 300 04451 8
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A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) 
by Samuel Johnson.
Longman, 1160 pp., £195, September 1990, 0 582 07380 4
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The Making of Johnson’s Dictionary, 1746-1773 
by Allen Reddick.
Cambridge, 249 pp., £30, October 1990, 0 521 36160 5
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Samuel Johnson’s Attitude to the Arts 
by Morris Brownell.
Oxford, 195 pp., £30, March 1989, 0 19 812956 4
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Johnson’s Shakespeare 
by G.F. Parker.
Oxford, 204 pp., £25, April 1989, 0 19 812974 2
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... subaltern, without the bland solvent of self-righteous statesmanship. In fact, they’re from Samuel Johnson’s first book, A Voyage to Abyssinia (1735), an excellent and little-noticed edition of which, by Joel Gold, appeared in 1985. They come at the conclusion of a distressing episode in which an ‘old Mahometan troublemaker, ‘the master of ...

Holy Padlock

Pat Rogers, 6 October 1983

The Religious Life of Samuel Johnson 
by Charles Pierce.
Athlone, 184 pp., £12.50, March 1983, 0 485 30010 9
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... life about him – ‘the continuous traffic of piety’. One of the most striking things about Samuel Johnson is the depth of his urge towards piety: not spirituality at every moment, but what we might today call ‘mere’ piety. His private diaries are written in the margin of the Christian year: feasts and fast-days provide a grid for his moral ...

Diary

A.J.P. Taylor: From Nuclear Bombs to Samuel Johnson, 18 November 1982

... a topic on which I ran out of ideas twenty years ago. What I had in mind was to write about Dr Johnson, simply because I had promised myself to read Boswell’s Life of Johnson at least once a decade and on checking my reading-list found I had not done so. But how am I to get from nuclear bombs to ...

Human Wishes

Irvin Ehrenpreis, 20 December 1984

Samuel Johnson 
by Walter Jackson Bate.
Hogarth, 646 pp., £6.95, July 1984, 0 7012 0562 8
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A Preliminary Handlist of Copies of Books Associated with Dr Samuel Johnson 
by J.D. Fleeman.
Oxford Bibliographical Society, 101 pp., £5, March 1984, 0 901420 41 7
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Samuel Johnson 1709-84: A Bicentenary Exhibition 
edited by K.K. Yung.
Arts Council/Herbert Press, 144 pp., £9.95, July 1984, 9780906969458
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Samuel Johnson 
by Donald Greene.
Oxford, 872 pp., £15, June 1984, 9780192541796
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... decades that Boswell makes an unreliable guide to the mind of his mentor. They say that one tastes Johnson’s profundity not in his conversation but in his writing, and above all in the essays on morality. In those works, says W.J. Bate, ‘we have the essence of Johnson.’ A careful reader of the life by Boswell must ...

Much to be endured

D.J. Enright, 27 June 1991

Samuel Johnson in the Medical World: The Doctor and the Patient 
by John Wiltshire.
Cambridge, 293 pp., £30, March 1991, 0 521 38326 9
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... I want to draw some connections between Samuel Johnson, the amateur doctor and enthusiast for medicine, and the Doctor Johnson who figures so largely in the cultural imagination ... If we focus on the figure of Samuel Johnson, the unco-ordinated, discontinuous events of 18th-century medicine will seem momentarily at least to converge ...

Taking Sides

John Mullan: On the high road with Bonnie Prince Charlie, 22 January 2004

The ’45: Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Untold Story of the Jacobite Rising 
by Christopher Duffy.
Cassell, 639 pp., £20, March 2003, 0 304 35525 9
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Samuel Johnson in Historical Context 
edited by J.C.D. Clark and Howard Erskine-Hill.
Palgrave, 336 pp., £55, December 2001, 0 333 80447 3
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... Certain literary figures have attracted special scrutiny, in recent years none more so than Samuel Johnson. Samuel Johnson in Historical Context is a collection of essays pursuing a sometimes acrimonious debate which has taken place in academic books and journals over the last decade. To innocent student ...

Was Swift a monster?

Denis Donoghue, 5 June 1986

Jonathan Swift: A Hypocrite Reversed 
by David Nokes.
Oxford, 427 pp., £14.95, October 1985, 0 19 812834 7
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... to Edward Young’s Conjectures on Original Composition (1759). In short, was Swift a monster, as Samuel Johnson nearly said: ‘The greatest difficulty that occurs, in analysing his character, is to discover by what depravity of intellect he took delight in revolving ideas from which almost every other mind shrinks with disgust.’ Sixty years after ...

Pay me for it

Helen Deutsch: Summoning Dr Johnson, 9 February 2012

Samuel JohnsonA Life 
by David Nokes.
Faber, 415 pp., £9.99, August 2010, 978 0 571 22636 8
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Selected Writings 
by Samuel Johnson, edited by Peter Martin.
Harvard, 503 pp., £16.95, May 2011, 978 0 674 06034 0
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The Brothers Boswell: A Novel 
by Philip Baruth.
Corvus, 336 pp., £7.99, January 2011, 978 1 84887 446 6
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The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. 
by John Hawkins, edited by O.M. Brack.
Georgia, 554 pp., £53.50, August 2010, 978 0 8203 2995 6
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... On Saturday, July 30, Dr Johnson and I took a sculler at the Temple-stairs, and set out for Greenwich. I asked him if he really thought a knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages an essential requisite to a good education. JOHNSON. ‘Most certainly, sir; for those who know them have a very great advantage over those who do not ...

Boswell’s Bowels

Neal Ascherson, 20 December 1984

James Boswell: The Later Years 1769-1795 
by Frank Brady.
Heinemann, 609 pp., £20, November 1984, 0 434 08530 8
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... James Boswell created the ‘Age of Johnson’, rescuing the late 18th century, above all, for the Victorians. The Boswell industry at Yale University has given an ‘Age of Boswell’ to the 20th century. This second volume of the grand Frederick Pottle-Frank Brady biography marks the climax of that long achievement ...

‘I’m coming, my Tetsie!’

Freya Johnston: Samuel Johnson’s Shoes, 9 May 2019

Samuel Johnson 
edited by David Womersley.
Oxford, 1344 pp., £95, May 2018, 978 0 19 960951 2
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... The first time​ Tetty Porter met her future husband, Samuel Johnson, she told her daughter, Lucy, that she had never encountered a more ‘sensible’ man. Most readers assume she was praising Johnson’s sober, rational side; Leslie Stephen, writing in 1878, went so far as to commend Tetty’s penetrative ‘good sense’ for discerning the same quality in Johnson, despite his ‘grotesque appearance ...

Two Poems

John Burnside, 7 October 2010

... will predominate in every mind, till it has been suppressed by frequent disappointments. Samuel Johnson I turn left out of the rain at Kippo junction, the windshield clearing to sky and a skim of swallows over the road like the last few pages of a 50s story book where someone is walking home to the everafter, touched with the smell of the ...

Dear Miss Boothby

Margaret Anne Doody, 5 November 1992

The Letters of Samuel JohnsonVol. I: 1731-1772, Vol. II: 1773-1776, Vol. III: 1777-1781 
edited by Bruce Redford.
Oxford, 431 pp., £25, February 1992, 0 19 811287 4
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... human beings tend to undergo, even those of reasonable health who are destined to make old bones. Johnson has all the 18th-century’s bluntness on matters of health. ‘The old flatulence distressed me again last night,’ he tells Hester Thrale in 1775, adding with comic intent: ‘The world is full of ups and downs, as I think I once told you before.’ In ...

Leaf, Button, Dog

Susan Eilenberg: The Sins of Hester Thrale, 1 November 2001

According to Queeney 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Little, Brown, 242 pp., £16.99, September 2001, 0 316 85867 6
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... when he told of a Brother. Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi, marginal annotation to Boswell’s Life of Johnson Here is a museum. Visitors may see in it Nero’s couch, a statue of Cerberus and a skeleton of an Ethiopian, the bones stuck with porcupine quills. Here is a cabinet of curiosities. In it are a ribbon pretending to have belonged to Frances Thrale (dead ...

Johnson’s Business

Keith Walker, 7 August 1980

A Dictionary of the English Language 
by Samuel Johnson.
Times, 2558 pp., £45, June 1980, 0 7230 0228 2
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Dictionary JohnsonSamuel Johnson’s Middle Years 
by James Clifford.
Heinemann, 372 pp., £10, February 1980, 0 434 13805 3
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... dictionaries is dull work.’ But they are fun to read, and it’s good to welcome this reprint of Johnson’s first edition (1755). No dictionary before Webster’s Third International has caused so much comment and controversy, none has been the cause of so many anecdotes and myths, as Johnson’s. Few dictionaries have ...

Self-Hugging

Andrew O’Hagan: A Paean to Boswell, 5 October 2000

Boswell's Presumptuous Task 
by Adam Sisman.
Hamish Hamilton, 352 pp., £17.99, November 2000, 0 241 13637 7
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James Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’: Research Edition: Vol. II 
edited by Bruce Redford and Elizabeth Goldring.
Edinburgh, 303 pp., £50, February 2000, 0 7486 0606 8
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Samuel JohnsonThe Life of an Author 
by Lawrence Lipking.
Harvard, 372 pp., £11.50, March 2000, 0 674 00198 2
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Dr Johnson's London 
by Liza Picard.
Weidenfeld, 362 pp., £20, July 2000, 0 297 84218 8
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... when the single-minded Becky Sharp, high in a coach bound for Russell Square, flings a copy of Johnson’s Dictionary out of the window to land on the grass at the feet of her former teacher, a sworn disciple of the Great Lexicographer. ‘So much for the Dictionary,’ says Becky Sharp as the carriage pulls away, ‘and, thank God, I’m out of ...

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