Samuel Johnson 1709–84
Johnson suffered early from defective eyesight and from scrofula, for which he was ‘touched’ for a cure by Queen Anne. His unusual knowledge as the son of a Lichfield bookseller took him to Pembroke College, Oxford, which poverty forced him to leave. After unsuccessful schoolteaching in the Midlands and marriage in 1734 to a much older widow, he went with his pupil David Garrick (the future actor) to London, where he contributed a wide range of work, including his own versions of the parliamentary debates, to The Gentleman’s Magazine. In the Grub-Street world of hack-writers, he slowly became known as versatile, learned and independent: his poem London (1738) attracted Pope’s attention; another imitation of Juvenal The Vanity of Human Wishes, his first signed work, and his tragedy Irene appeared in 1749. Johnson’s periodical essay series The Rambler (1750–2) and The Idler (1758–60) established his reputation as literary critic and moralist, consolidated by his eastern tale Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia (1759). For some years he worked on his great English Dictionary, drawing on his wide reading: its publication in 1755 won public recognition and allowed him to repudiate the tardy patronage of Lord Chesterfield in a gesture symbolic of the professional writer’s independence.
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