21 April 2010

Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84) and Lichfield, Staffordshire

Dr Samuel Johnson sits in pensive pose in the Market Place in the center of Lichfield, Staffordshire, where he was born.

On the pedestal to the east side, an inscription reads: 'This statue was presented to the citizens of Lichfield by James Thos. Law Chancellor of the diocese August 1838.' It was sculpted by Richard Cockle Lucas.

Three panels, influenced by Donatello Schiacciato's relief, represent a part of Johnson's life. In 'Listening to Dr. Sacherevel preaching', on the south side, Johnson is shown as a young boy.

'Thus he was borne from school', on the west side. An example of the deference shown by his schoolfriends.

The inscription 'His penance in Uttoxeter market', on the north side, relates to an incident that happened many years before the scene depicted. Johnson had refused to help his father in his bookstall in Uttoxter market, and decided to pay penance for it 50 years later by standing in the square in Uttoxeter all day in the rain.

An old watercolor of the Johnson birthplace.

And several photos of the exterior of the birthplace as it is now.


Michael Johnson, Samuel's father, ran a rather unsuccessful bookselling business on the ground floor of Samuel's birthplace, of which this is a reconstruction.

Lichfield Grammar School, by Paul Braddon, c 1890, which Johnson attended, but of which he retained bad memories.

Johnson married Elizabeth 'Tetty' Porter in 1735, a woman twenty years his senior, and much loved by him.

Johnson had attended Pembroke College, Oxford, for only a brief time due to very poor financial circumstances, and it was difficult for him to find a teaching post without a degree. He and his wife established the private Edial School near Lichfield, which was not a success and had only three pupils, one of whom was David Garrick, with whom he left Lichfield for London in 1737. Tetty followed later.

Johnson published An Account of the Life of Richard Savage in 1744. He had met Savage, who claimed to be the bastard son of Lady Macclesfield, when they had both worked on the Gentleman's Magazine. They used to walk around London together talking about politics, and Johnson only knew him for a year as he had to escape debtors and fled to Wales. He died in Bristol Gaol.

Johnson's famous A Dictionary of the English Language was not the first, but certainly the first of its kind in that Johnson - who spent almost ten years on the task - painstakingly gave examples of the words from works of literature.

Irene: A Tragedy was written at Edial in 1736 and was Johnson's only play, and not performed until 1747, when his friend David Garrick became co-manager of the Drury Lane Theatre. It was published in 1749 and is the story of an enslaved Greek woman who was executed by the Sultan.

'Samuel Johnson Reading the Manuscript of Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield'. Goldsmith met Johnson in 1761, and his success in getting the book published freed Goldsmith from debt. The painting is by Edward Ward and shows Johnson at Goldsmith's house, where he has been urgently called to read the manuscript. With him is Goldsmith's landlady, who had summoned the bailiffs because of her tenant's large debt.

17 Gough Street, London, where Johnson lived from 1748-59. Hetty was not to see the publicaton of the Dictionary, as she died in 1952.

8 Bolt Court, London, where Johnson lived from 1776 until his death in 1784.

Bust of Johnson made in 1777 by Joseph Nollekins.

James Boswell (1740-95) published The Life of Samuel Johnson LlD in 1791. The biography was innovative in that it included complete quotations.

The Boswell statue stands on the opposite (east) side of the Market Square, and is by Percy Fitzgerald, Boswell's biographer and also the editor of Boswell's Johnson. Boswell's face is from a Sir Joshua Reyolds portrait, the rest from a sketch by his friend Langton.

Five other friends of Boswell's are represented in medallions on the top of the pedestal: Edmund Burke, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, Hester Thrale, and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Three of these appear on the north side of the pedestal: Goldsmith, Garrick, and Burke.

A close-up of the Sir Joshua Reynolds medallion on the east side.

A close-up of the Mrs Hester Thrale medallion on the west side.

Below the medallions are three scenes from episodes in Boswell and Johnson's companionship, the first here on the south side being from their visit to the Hebrides.

This scene shows Boswell introducing Johnson to the Literary Club of London, England.

And the final scene on the west side takes place at The Three Crowns, Lichfield, with the pair perhaps a little worse for wear.

At the bottom of the pedestal on the east side is Boswell's coat of arms - a hawk, with the motto 'Vraie Foy', or 'True Faith'.


Below is are links to two posts I've made on Johnson.

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Dr Johnson's House: London #22
Dr Johnson, The Strand: London #31

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