Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 17th and 18th Centuries)
Article abstract: Johnson not only wrote some of the finest poetry, fiction, and essays of his time but also edited the works of William Shakespeare and compiled the first dictionary of the English language.
Samuel Johnson was born on September 18, 1709, in Lichfield; his father, Michael Johnson, was an unsuccessful bookseller. As an infant, Johnson contracted tuberculosis from a wet nurse and lost sight in one eye and hearing in one ear. His physical appearance was not appealing; one of Johnson’s aunt’s declared that she “would not have picked such a poor creature up in the street.” Johnson’s ill health and frightening appearance did not, however, prevent him from educating himself in the back room of his father’s bookshop. He did very well in his studies at Lichfield Grammar School, and after a year at Stourbridge Grammar School as both student and teacher, he entered Pembroke College, Oxford. He was described by one of the dons there as “the best prepared pupil to have come up to Oxford.” The small legacy from his mother was not enough to keep Johnson at Oxford, however, and he had to leave without a degree in 1731.
His prospects were very uncertain, but he did manage to get a job as an undermaster at Market Bosworth School. Johnson...
(The entire section is 2233 words.)
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Many writers have suffered, and many more have pretended to suffer, for their art. Samuel Johnson’s own suffering in fact made his art necessary. He was born on September 18, 1709 to Michael Johnson, a bookseller, and Sarah (née Ford), who was then forty years old. The labor had been difficult, and Johnson was, by his own account, born nearly dead. While he was a child, he contracted scrofula and smallpox; he was horribly scarred by the diseases and became deaf in one ear and partially blind in one eye. Although his father was a respectable citizen and even gained a small degree of prominence in 1709 as sheriff of Lichfield, Johnson’s ancestors were of humble background. His parents were unhappy with each other, and their mild mutual hostility contributed to the miseries of their son’s life.
In spite of his ugliness, poor background, and unhappy family life, Johnson became a leader among his schoolmates. He was not an ideal student; he would neglect his studies, then in great bursts of energy apply himself to learning. He wrote much as he had studied; for example, Life of Richard Savage was written in as little as thirty-six hours, and it has been claimed that Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia was completed in a week. He aspired to be almost anything but a writer. With a small savings, he paid for more than a year at Oxford, from October, 1728, to December, 1729, but lack of money forced him to leave. After his father’s death in...
(The entire section is 1034 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
The son of a bookseller in Lichfield, Samuel Johnson failed as a school teacher and settled in London, where for years he barely survived as a hack writer. The first work published in his name was The Vanity of Human Wishes: The Tenth Satire of Juvenal Imitated in 1749. The same year witnessed the production of his tragedy, Irene, by his friend and former student David Garrick; but his The Rambler essays first brought him general public notice, and his massive A Dictionary of the English Language made him the preeminent man of letters of his age. This work was followed by his 104 The Idler essays, Rasselas, his edition of The Plays of William Shakespeare, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), and The Lives of the Poets (1779-1781). Johnson was physically a huge and uncouth man, with tics and personal eccentricities which amused some and frightened others. He was profoundly melancholy, fully aware of his extraordinary intellectual gifts, and terrified of the damnation he could expect from God if he did not use his talents well. He was indolent, tending to procrastinate until his work could be put off no longer and then writing with incredible rapidity. He was a social man in a very social age, the greatest conversationalist of an age of brilliant conversation, but despite his international reputation and his royal pension of three hundred pounds a year, he was constantly beleaguered...
(The entire section is 305 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Born on September 18, 1709, in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England—the son of Michael and Sarah Ford Johnson—Samuel Johnson spent his formative years devouring the volumes in his father’s bookshop. Although his acquisition of knowledge came about in haphazard fashion, the boy’s tenacious memory allowed him to retain for years what he had read at a young age. Almost from birth, he evidenced those body lesions associated with scrofula; the malady affected his vision, and in 1710 or 1711, his parents took him to an oculist. Searches for cures even extended to a visit to London in 1712, where the child received the “royal touch” (from Queen Anne) to rid him of the disease. The illness, however, had no serious effect on Johnson’s growth; he became a large man with enormous physical strength and, given the hazards of life during the eighteenth century, endured for a relatively long period of time.
Johnson’s early education was at Lichfield and Stourbridge grammar schools, followed by his entrance to Pembroke College, Oxford, in 1728. Unfortunately, he remained at the university for only one year, as lack of funds forced him to withdraw. He then occupied a number of tutoring posts in Lichfield and Birmingham before his marriage, in 1735, to Mrs. Elizabeth Jervis Porter, a widow twenty years his senior to whom he referred as “Tetty.” The following year, he attempted to establish a school at Edial, three miles to the southwest of Lichfield;...
(The entire section is 986 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Samuel Johnson was born to a fifty-two-year-old bookseller, Michael Johnson, and his forty-year-old wife, Sarah Johnson, on September 18, 1709, in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England. He was a precocious child who soon spent much time reading widely in his father’s shop. After a typical classical education at Lichfield Grammar School, Johnson entered Pembroke College, Oxford, in the fall of 1728. When his funds ran out in December of the next year, however, he returned to Lichfield to work in his father’s bookshop. Johnson’s first published work, a translation into Latin of Alexander Pope’s “The Messiah,” appeared in 1731, the year of his father’s death. Johnson was soon occupied briefly as a schoolmaster in a small town in Leicestershire and afterward in Birmingham as a translator.
At the age of twenty-four he met and married a widow, Elizabeth (Jervis) Porter, called “Tetty,” twenty years his senior. Tetty reportedly described the tall, rawboned, awkward Johnson as “the most sensible man that I ever saw in my life.” This astonishing marriage, which was childless, lasted until Tetty’s death in 1752.
After the failure of a school that Johnson opened near Lichfield, he resolved to seek his fortune as a writer in London. Leaving Tetty behind, he set off in 1737 nearly penniless on the 120-mile trek by horse and on foot...
(The entire section is 1215 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
No longer considered as a man notable merely because of his eccentric personal mannerisms and interesting talks, Samuel Johnson at last has come into his own as one of the greatest English writers of the eighteenth century. His range is broad. He is a large-souled poet, an incisive essayist, a careful and energetic editor, a pioneer in the art of biography, and a profound moralist. His achievements also include the first A Dictionary of the English Language based on scientific principles and a body of literary criticism, which later critics ignore at their peril.
Johnson’s special appeal lies in his psychological depth, his integrity, and his love and pity for humankind, These qualities continue to speak to the minds and hearts of readers.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Samuel Johnson was born at Lichfield, Staffordshire, on September 18, 1709. His father, Michael, was a provincial bookseller, and it was through browsing in his father’s shop that the boy acquired much of his remarkable knowledge. Physically handicapped, with bad eyesight and facial disfigurements, he later developed a pronounced tic. Showing early emotional instability, he was ever afterward subject to long fits of lassitude and depression.
In the grammar schools of Lichfield and Stourbridge, and for some thirteen months at Oxford University, Johnson was well grounded in the classics, but because of financial difficulties he left the university in 1729 without a degree. During the next few years all attempts to find a permanent post as a teacher failed; then, in 1735, he married Elizabeth Porter, a widow more than twenty years his senior, with whose small fortune he set up his own school. When this, too, proved unsuccessful, he and his wife moved to London late in 1737. There followed a decade of poverty and distress in the city, as Johnson eked out a meager livelihood as translator and writer. He aided Edward Cave in editing the Gentleman’s Magazine, providing fictionalized accounts of the proceedings in Parliament as well as short biographies, essays, and poems. Independently he was involved in other large projects, and con amore...
(The entire section is 1109 words.)