Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, on this day 18th September in 1709, he was often called Dr Johnson and was an English writer who made lasting contributions as a poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, critic, biographer, and editor. Johnson’s father was a bookseller, he was a frail baby, plagued by disease. He contracted a tubercular infection of the lymph glands, which left him almost blind in one eye, deaf in one ear, and scarred on his face and neck from the disease itself and from an operation for it. He also was infected with smallpox. These early and traumatic illnesses marked the continuing discomfort and ill health that would mark his entire life. However, Johnson’s major advantage was his mind, for the intellectual powers that were to astonish his associates throughout his life appeared early. He excelled at the Lichfield Grammar School, which he attended until he was 15.
Johnson spent a brief period at Oxford University, but was forced to leave due to lack of money. He drifted into a writing career, in 1735, he married Elizabeth Porter, a widow more than 20 years his senior and in 1737, Johnson moved to London. He gradually acquired a literary reputation and in 1747 a syndicate of printers commissioned him to compile his ‘Dictionary of the English Language’. The task took eight years, and Johnson employed six assistants, all of them working in his house off Fleet Street.
The dictionary was published on 15 April 1755, it was a large book, its pages were nearly 18 inches tall, and the book was 20 inches wide when opened; it contained 42,773 entries, to which only a few more were added in subsequent editions, and it sold for the extravagant price of £4:10s, the rough equivalent of £350 today. It was certainly the most important at that time, in Johnson’s lifetime five further editions were published, and a sixth came out when he died. Johnson’s wife died in 1752 and shortly afterwards Francis Barber, a former slave from Jamaica, joined Johnson’s household as a servant. He lived with Johnson for more than 30 years, as did his wife and children, and became Johnson’s heir when Johnson died on 13 December 1784 he is buried at Westminster Abbey.
Besides working on the Dictionary, Johnson also wrote numerous essays, sermons, and verse, below is one of his more humorous poems ‘One and Twenty’: