Samuel Johnson Additional Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

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 1731, he tried teaching. He was temperamentally unsuited for teaching; he gesticulated wildly when lecturing, and his bizarre antics confused his students. David Garrick, the actor, was among his pupils, and later helped Johnson have the verse play Irene: A Tragedy produced in 1749. He married Elizabeth Jervis, the widow of Harry Porter, in 1735. She was nineteen years his senior, but provided him with love, a home, and companionship that helped to stabilize his passionate and explosive personality.

Johnson’s next ambition was to become a lawyer, but his poverty and physical infirmities inhibited his studies and his ability to pursue strenuous professions. He turned to writing to support himself and his wife. Acutely aware of his responsibilities as a husband, Johnson took work where he could find it. He moved to London and persuaded the publisher of The Gentleman’s Magazine, Edward Cave, to allow him to write for the periodical. During this period of his life, he wrote and sold the poem London and tried to interest theater...

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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 by debt. His relationship with the Scotsman James Boswell has long intrigued biographers: They have depended greatly on Boswell’s record of Johnson amid his circle of friends in an age known for its interest in conversation. His appetite for food, company, knowledge, and ideas was as voracious as his fear of death and judgment for the work he left undone. He died in 1784 at the age of seventy-five.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201559-Johnson_S.jpg Samuel Johnson Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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...

(The entire section is 1213 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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...

(The entire section is 1107 words.)