Samuel Johnson (usually known as Dr. Johnson) (18 September 1709– 13 December 1784) was an English author, poet, moralist and literary critic. One of Dr. Johnson’s greatest contributions was publishing, in 1747, The Dictionary of the English Language.
Johnson was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire into a family of booksellers.
He was educated at Lichfield Grammar School before going to Pembroke College, Oxford. However, due to a lack of funds he left after a year – never completing his degree. After Oxford, he worked as a teacher in Market Bosworth and Birmingham. In 1735 he married Elizabeth Porter, a widow 20 years older than him. Together they opened a school at Edial near Lichfield, but it later closed due to a lack of money. The Johnson’s then left for London, where he began spending more time working as a writer.
He made a living writing for the Gentleman’s Magazine – a report on Parliament. He also wrote a tragedy, Irene, and his first attempts at poetry.
He also was employed to catalogue the great library of Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford. This gave Johnson the opportunity to indulge his great love of reading and the English language. He was inspired to start working on a comprehensive dictionary of the English language. It would take him eight years, but was considered to be his finest achievement. Though other dictionaries were in existence, the Johnson Dictionary of the English language was a huge step forward in its comprehensiveness and quality.
Johnson was a prolific writer. For two years he almost single-handedly wrote a journal – The Rambler full of moral essays.
In 1752, his wife ‘Tetty’ died plunging him into depression, which proved difficult to escape for the rest of his life.
After the publication of his dictionary in 1755, he began to be more appreciated by literary society. He was awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University, and in 1760 was given a pension of £300 a year from George III.
In 1764, he met the young Scot, James Boswell who would become his celebrated biographer. Together they toured the Hebrides, which Johnson wrote about in ‘A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland, 1775) James Boswell wrote about Johnson in great detail, including information on Johnson’s unusual mannerisms, such as odd gestures and tics (which may have been a form of Tourette’s syndrome)
He also embarked on an ambitious project – Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (10 vols) and an influential edition of Shakespeare’s plays.
After a series of illnesses, he died in 1784, resentful after his housemaid and friend Hester Thrale, had left him and married an Italian musician.
After his death, his contributions to English literature were increasingly admired. He had left a great body of work, and was credited with being England’s finest literary critic of his time.