11 September 2012

Dr Johnson's House: London #22

B. 1709.
D. 1784.'
17 Gough Square, near Fleet Street, was Johnson's home from 1748 to 1759, and was where he wrote A Dictionary of the English Language.
The view from the stairs on the ground floor.
The parlour on the ground floor.
Francis Barber (c. 1735–1801), Johnson's servant (later assistant) from 1752 until Johnson's death. He was the main beneficiary of Johnson's will, and following his wishes, on his death went to live in Lichfield, Staffordshire, which was Johnson's birthplace.
Johnson's letter case, onto which a sketch of him and an example of his handwriting were later attached.
A 20th century souvenir brass door knocker with Lichfield Cathedral at the top, and beneath is a representation of Boswell first meeting Johnson in Tom Davies's bookshop in 1763. On lifting the knocker, a representation of Johnson's cat Hodge appears.
A Royal Doulton spirit flask originally produced in 1909 to commemorate the bi-centenary of Johnson's birth. Copies of it were once sold in the pub Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
On the landing up the first flight of stairs is what is perhaps the most well-known feature of the house: Sparrow's 19th century stained glass portrait of Johnson, with Lichfield Cathedral to our left and Johnson's The Vanity of Human Wishes above.
Johnson had several bluestocking friends – a term said by Boswell to stem from the legware of writer Benjamin Stillfleet, who was much admired by these proto-feminists.  For more than 30 years Anna Williams was a friend of Johnson's, and the room on the right of the landing is named after her. This was probably her room: she was to stay with Johnson and his wife Elizabeth (or Tetty) while recovering from a cararact operation, although Tetty died before, the operation failed, and she still stayed in the house; but her temper was appalling. The painting is by Frances, the sister of Sir Joshua Reynolds.
The painting of the classicist Elizabeth Carter (1717–1806), who wrote many hours in a day and took snuff to keep herself awake. She became a friend of Johnson through the Gentleman's Magazine. Carter's friend Elizabeth Montagu paid for the painting by Katharine Read.
A jasperware Wedgwood brooch of Elizabeth Montagu.
Johnson married the widow Tetty, who was twenty years his senior, in 1935. She died before the publication of the Dictionary.
A whatnot, or portable stand for diplaying small ornaments, which belonged to Elizabeth Carter.
At the top of the next floor is a brick from the Great Wall of China: Johnson was fascinated by the wall. This was a donation to the museum.
To the right of the stairs, the Withdrawing Room: it was used by women after meals, and also for entertaining friends. There are many portraits around the room of people associated with Johnson.
The Reverend Hugh Blair argued with Johnson over the genuineness of the Ossian poems: Blair thought they were, Johnson thought otherwise.
Pasquale Paoli was a Corsican freedom fighter supported by Boswell and introduced to Johnson's circle when exiled in Britain.
The Reverend Samuel Parr was a great admirer of Johnson's and published a book of his aphorisms shortly after his death.
This comes from the Cock Tavern in Fleet Street, where it was known as Dr Johnson's dining chair, and was presented to the Johnson Club by co-founder T. Fisher Unwin. His widow remembered him by putting the plaque on it in 1939.
The room to the left of the stairs, now called the Will Room for obvious reasons, was a bedroom in Johnson's day, possibly used by the unqualified and poor physician 'Dr' Robert Levitt who had attended medical lectures in Paris. In London his patients were the poor who often paid him with cheap alcohol, meaning he returned drunk. And I photographed myself again,
A painting of Johnson, Boswell and Flora MacDonald by an unknown artist. Johnson and Boswell met MacDonald, noted for the part she played in helping Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape, in the Hebrides.
On the top floor is the Garret, where Johnson worked on his Dictionary. He originally thought that he could complete it in three years, but it in fact took him nine – a huge achievement for what is a major, groundbreaking work. As well as the expected Dictionary facsimiles, there are some interesting items in the Garret: above, for instance, is a pot lid modelled on an E. M. Ward painting depicting Johnson waiting for his patron Lord Chesterfield.
In World War II the house allowed the Auxiliary Fire Service (later to be the National Fire Service) to use it as a social centre. As a gesture of their appreciation, the National Fire Service presented this.
In the basement (once the kitchen area) is this bust of Johnson.
Dr Johnson's House is now a partner of the National Trust, which of course is not an organization noted for its sense of humour. However, in the lavatories there's an nice touch: synonyms of the word 'lavatory' (apparently) taken from Johnson's Dictionary.
Across the square from Dr Johnson's House sits a his pet cat Hodge.
And there oysters at his feet: Johnson used to feed Hodge a seafood that may be quite an expensive delicacy now, but was then cheap.
And nearby is Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, which Johnson inevitably used to drink in.
Below are links to two other posts I've made on Johnson.
Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84) and Lichfield, Staffordshire

Dr Johnson, The Strand: London #31

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