Biography of Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson was an eighteenth century writer famous for compiling the English Dictionary.

When and Where was he Born?

18th September 1709, Lichfield, Staffordshire, England.

Family Background:

Samuel Johnson was the son of Michael Johson a bookseller. His mother Sarah was descended from wealthy landowners.

Samuel Johnson birthplace
Samuel Johnson’s Birthplace in 
Breadmarket Street, Lichfield (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Education:

Lichfield Grammar School. Stourbridge Grammar School. Pembroke College, Oxford University. (Left without a degree due to lack of money and depression).

Timeline of Samuel Johnson:

1731: Johnson was unsuccessful finding teaching posts but finally finds one at Market Bosworth Grammar school in Leicestershire. Finally settles in Birmingham where he meets his future wife Elizabeth Porter.

1735: He sets up a school at Edial Hall, Burntwood near Lichfield, which was not a success. On 9th June he marries Elizabeth Porter, a widow 20 years older than himself at St. Werburgh’s Church, Derby.

1737: He goes to London with a former pupil David Garrick. His early writings were published in the “Gentleman’s Magazine” particularly parliamentary debates. as well as poetry, biographies and some translation work.

1744: Johnson completes a life of his friend Richard Savage.

1746: He signed the contract to begin preparation of the Dictionary of the English Language, a project which would take eight years to complete. Lived at Gough Square, near Fleet Street. Relations with his wife began to become strained and Elizabeth lived for much of the time in the north of London.

1749: David Garrick now an Actor Manager produced his only play “Irene”.

1750: Johnson begins the publication of his own periodical called “The Rambler” which continued until 1752.

1752: Death of Samuel Johnson’s wife.

Johnson House
House where Johnson lived in London. Now a museum (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1755: Publication of “A Dictionary of the English Language”. He becomes famous but not wealthy, although he did turn down patronage from Lord Chesterfield. He decides to work on an edition of Shakespeare’s plays as his next major project. He is awarded an honorary Degree at Oxford University. Writes for the “Literary Magazine” and “The Universal Chronicle”.

1759: Death of his mother. He wrote a short novel, “Rasselas” to cover the funeral expenses.

1760: On the accession of King George the Third Samuel Johnson was given a government pension of £300 per year, which meant that he did not have to work on so many literary projects to survive.

1763: He met James Boswell the son of a high Court judge from Edinburgh. He had also become friends with Samuel Richardson, Oliver Goldsmith and Fanney Burney due to his reputation in London literary circles. He began to live with another friend in Southwark, Henry Thrale a wealthy brewer and his wife Hester.

1764: Johnson founded the Literary Club in London. Many distinguished people became members of the group including Edmund Burke, Charles James Fox and Joshua Reynolds.

1765: He published his critical edition of Shakespeare’s plays in eight volumes.

1773: Samuel Johnson journeys with Boswell through the Scottish Highlands. His written account made him take up his pen again in earnest.

1779: Death of Henry Thrale. He begins work on his monumental ten volume “Most Eminent English Poets”.

1781: Marriage of Hester Thrale to Gabriel Piozzi an Italian music master upset Johnson so much that his friendship with Hester was soured.

1784: Johnson became totally estranged from Hester and went to his death dejected.

When and Where did he Die?

13th December 1784, London, England.

Age at Death:

75.

Statue of Samuel Johnson
Statue of Samuel Johnson outside 
St Clement Dane’s Church, London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Written Works:

1745: “Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth”.
1749: “The Vanity of Human Wishes.” “Irene” (Play).
1755: Publication of the Dictionary of the English Language.
1759: “Rasselas, the Prince of Abyssinia”.
1765: Johnson’s Edition of Shakespeare completed.
1777: “The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets.”

Marriage:

9th June 1735 To Elizabeth Porter a widow 20 years older than himself at St. Werburgh’s Church, Derby. (died 1752).

Site of Grave:

Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, London, England.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey, London
(copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:

DERBYSHIRE:

Boswell and Johnson drank at the Green Man Public House, Ashbourne.

LONDON:

British Library.
Dr Johnson Museum. House in Adam Street.

NORFOLK:

Felbrigg Hall, Norwich, NR4 8PH. (Has copies of personal books). (National Trust).

STAFFORDSHIRE:

Johnson Birthplace Museum, Breadmarket Street, Lichfield.

Statue of Samuel Johnson
Statue of Samuel Johnson in Lichfield (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Further Information:

Johnson Society of Lichfield, Mr John Dudley, 15 Lomax Close, Lichfield, WS13 76Y.