Samuel Johnson is, next only to William Shakespeare, perhaps the most quoted of English writers. The latter part of the 18th century is often (in English-speaking countries, of course) called, simply, the Age of Johnson.

He was born in September 1709 in Lichfield, England (near Birmingham), and died in December 1784 in London. He was the son of Michael Johnson, a bookseller in Lichfield.

In 1728 he went to Pembroke College, Oxford. His mother paid for the first year, but his other sources of financing fell through, so he had to drop out after just the one year.

In 1737 he went to London with his pupil, David Garrick, hoping to complete and sell his tragedy, Irene (pronounced eye-REE-nee) and make a living as a writer. He had no luck with it. Irene finally appeared, thanks to Garrick's help, in 1749. In the meantime, he took miscellaneous writing jobs: he wrote biographies (including the Life of Savage), political satires (Marmor Norfolciense), and a series of reports called Debates in Parliament for Gentleman's Magazine from 1741 to 1744. His first hit came in 1738 -- a poem called London, an imitation of a satire by the Latin poet Juvenal. (His other famous poem is The Vanity of Human Wishes from 1749.)

In 1745 he published Observations on Macbeth as a specimen of an edition of Shakespeare he was hoping to produce. In 1746, when that fell though, he settled on the plan of publishing a dictionary. A Dictionary of the English Language brought out in 1755 is often called the first English dictionary. It wasn't. It was, perhaps, the most important dictionary, and was certainly the dictionary until the Oxford English Dictionary appeared a century and a half later.

While working on the Dictionary, he published a series of periodical essays; something like a modern magazine or newspaper column. It was called The Rambler, and appeared twice a week from 1750 to 1752 and eventually amounted to 208 essays. He later contributed 29 papers to The Adventurer and wrote several pieces for The Idler.

In 1759 he wrote Rasselas, an oriental tale, a short work of fiction (about a hundred pages in most modern editions), but few scholars call it a novel. It was written to defray the costs of his Mother's funeral. Around this time he also kept himself busy writing some 40 sermons, mostly for his friend John Taylor, most of which would not see publication until 1788, at which time neither his name nor contribution was mentioned. He had managed to make a living from his writing, but was never what anyone would call rich. The ministry of George III gave him a pension of £300 a year in 1762.

James Boswell came to London in 1762, and he met his hero, Samuel Johnson, in May 1763. From then until Johnson's death in 1784, they spent only around 240 days together. In 1773 he finished the fourth edition of his Dictionary and went on a trip with Boswell through the Hebrides, which was described in his Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland in 1775 and Boswell discussed in his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson in 1785. In spite of the relatively few days spent together, Boswell collected the anecdotal material for his Life of Samuel Johnson in this period.

The edition of Shakespeare's works he first touched on in 1745 appeared in eight volumes in 1765. In the 1770s, he returned to miscellaneous and political writings, few of which would ever catch the attention of amateur readers. But between 1779 and 1781 came a series originally called Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, to the Works of the English Poets, better (but inaccurately) known today as The Lives of the Poets.

In 1784 Johnson died, and in 1791, James Boswell wrote what was, and is, the definitive biography of Johnson's life.

"All knowledge is of itself of some value. There is nothing so minute or inconsiderable that I would not rather know it than not."(Samuel Johnson)

Samuel Johnson (essayist, poet, scholar, playwright and lexicographer), in his own words, was born "almost dead". While young he contracted scrofula, or tuberculosis of the lymph glands, which perhaps caused his badly scarred face and neck, incredibly poor eyesight in his left eye and a facial tic. Samuel, at age two and a half, was taken to visit Queen Anne with the "golden touch" in London, where he was given a golden piece he carried on his person for the rest of his life. He did, however, grow up into a strong and healthy man, his strength proved when a heckler annoyed him during a theatre show; according to legend, Samuel picked up the man and threw him and his chair into the stage pit.

"A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing." (Samuel Johnson)

It is now known that Samuel was most likely affected by Tourette's Syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder, but he was then considered weird and semi-insane. He would often grimace, mutter and gesture wildly, and was known to reach down and pull the shoes off nearby women for no discernible reason. He would whistle and make odd noises, repeating words and sounds while talking to others. Samuel was also a very messy and enthusiastic eater; James Boswell, his biographer, said that Samuel ate like a wild animal, even when eating with royalty. He could not tell the time on a clock, no matter how hard he tried to learn. Samuel tried to teach students in his home to earn some money but was not too successful; only three pupils could stand the combination of facial tics and "crazy" behaviour.

Samuel's obsessive compulsive disorder was illustrated in a number of ways. He avoided many streets and avenues like the plague, devising elaborate plans to avoid them. While walking he had to touch every post, and if he missed one he had to stop his companions and go back to tap it. Samuel didn't step on any cracks, for fear of getting ill or dying. His biographer stated the he had "some superstitious habit" which caused "his anxious care to go out or in a door or passage, by a certain number of steps from a certain point, or at least so as that either his right or his left foot... should consistently make the first actual movement when he came close to the door or passage" (The Mammoth Book of Oddballs and Eccentrics, by Karl Shaw).

"A gentleman who had been very unhappy in marriage, married immediately after his wife died: Johnson said, it was the triumph of hope over experience."(www.uselessknowledge.com)

Samuel married at the age of 28. His wife was crude, loud, twice his age, vertically challenged and obese. They lived almost in poverty, Samuel once saying that he lived "a life radically wretched" but upon his death his will uncovered several thousand pounds which were then paid to creditors and friends. In spite of the poverty Samuel always kept his sense of humour, illustrated by his dictionary entry under the word 'fart': "Wind from behind. 'Love is the fart/Of every heart;/It pains a man when 'tis kept close;/and others doth offend, when 'tis let loose'".

There are many biographies about Samuel, the best known being The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D by James Boswell, as mentioned earlier. The book was also known as Boswell's Life of Johnson, Boswell's Life or just Boswell. Six versions have been released since the original in 1897. The final version is six volumes long and chronicals every aspect of the life and work of Samuel Johnson.

"All theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience for it."(Samuel Johnson)

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