Samuel Johnson, born in 1709, was a renowned English writer, lexicographer, and critic. He created the influential ‘A Dictionary of the English Language’ in 1755.

Samuel Johnson, often referred to as Dr. Johnson, left an indelible mark on English literature not only through his dictionary but also via essays, poetry, and his famous biography written by James Boswell. As a leading figure of the 18th-century literary scene, his wit and insights gained him both respect and admiration from contemporaries.

His works grappled with moral and philosophical questions, reflecting his profound intellect and conversational prowess. Johnson’s literary contributions go beyond his dictionary; his essays in “The Rambler,” “The Adventurer,” and “The Idler” offer timeless wisdom, while “Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets” provided valuable critiques on his peers. His legacy remains significant, cementing his status as a towering figure in the canon of English literature.

Early Life And Education

Samuel Johnson, a towering figure in English literature, began life in a modest setting. His early years shaped his character and intellect. Let’s delve into his initial journey from birth through university.

Birth And Family Background

On September 18, 1709, Lichfield, England welcomed Samuel into the world. His father, Michael Johnson, was a bookseller. Sarah Ford, his mother, came from a local family. Samuel’s birth brought immense joy to the Johnson family. His childhood had its challenges, including overcoming illness and financial hardship. But young Samuel found solace in his father’s books.

School Days And Academic Pursuits

  • Schooling: Samuel attended Lichfield Grammar School.
  • Love for Language: He loved Latin and excelled.
  • Critical Thinking: Books stirred his curiosity and analysis skills.

University Experience At Oxford

At 19, Samuel entered Oxford’s Pembroke College. Despite his brilliance, funds ran dry. After 13 months, he left without a degree. This setback did not quell his intellectual hunger. His Oxford experience remained a pivotal chapter in his scholarly life.

Struggles And Early Career

The early years of Samuel Johnson’s life were a mixture of intellectual promise and personal challenges. Born in 1709, Johnson faced obstacles that shaped his character and career. Let’s explore the trials and his beginnings in the literary world.

Financial Hardships

Few faced hardship like Samuel Johnson.

  • Despite his intellect, poverty loomed over his family.
  • His father’s bookshop struggled financially.
  • Johnson battled to continue education due to costs.

These hardships tested his resolve and steeled his character.

Initial Literary Works

Johnson’s passion for words blossomed early.

He crafted translations and poems with skill.

  1. A Voyage to Abyssinia showcased his translating prowess.
  2. Poems like London reflected his classical education.

These works laid the foundation for his future contributions.

Life As A Schoolmaster

Teaching was a step in Johnson’s career.

He led a school in Lichfield, though it was short-lived.

Period Focus Outcome
1735-1736 Education Barely thrived
1736 Marriage and ambition Move to London

This experience fueled his ambition to aim higher.

Move To London And Journalism

The Move to London and Journalism marks a pivotal moment in Samuel Johnson’s life. This period showcases his indomitable spirit and talent in the face of adversity. Plunging into London’s burgeoning literary scene, Johnson’s contributions in journalism shaped his legacy.

The Journey To The Capital

In 1737, Samuel Johnson embarked on a significant journey. He left his hometown, Lichfield, with his former pupil David Garrick. They arrived in London, a city teeming with both opportunity and challenge for a writer.

Contributions To The Gentleman’s Magazine

  • Impactful Writing: Samuel Johnson began his London writing career with works for the Gentleman’s Magazine.
  • Diverse Content: From poetry to parliamentary debates, Johnson’s work covered a wide array of topics.
  • Elite Audience: His compelling writings captured the attention of London’s learned circles.

Creating Rambler And Idler Essays

Johnson’s Rambler essays emerged in 1750. They delved into moral and philosophical issues. In 1758, the Idler series followed. These essays were known for their wit and practical wisdom. Both series bolstered Johnson’s standing in the literary world.

Literary Achievements

The name Samuel Johnson stands as a towering figure in literature. His works left an indelible mark on English letters. Let’s delve into the milestones that define his exceptional career.

Publishing The Dictionary Of The English Language

In 1755, Samuel Johnson achieved a monumental task. He published his ‘Dictionary of the English Language’. This was no ordinary dictionary. It was the cornerstone of modern English lexicons. The dictionary contained over 40,000 words. Each word came with its definition, usage, and history. Johnson’s work illustrated a masterful understanding of the language. It shaped the way English is spoken and written today.

Famous Poems And Plays

Johnson’s command of verse also shines through in his poetry. Poems such as ‘London’ and ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’ portray his deep insights into society and human nature. His play ‘Irene’ showcased his dramatic skills. Despite facing criticism, it stands testament to Johnson’s breadth of talent.

Rasselas: The Ethical Narrative

The tale of ‘Rasselas’ holds a special place among Johnson’s literary creations. This narrative explores the human quest for happiness. Published in 1759, it presents profound philosophical questions. The story is gripping. It’s a journey through the lens of ethical contemplation. Rasselas remains a cherished work in the canon of English literature.

The Literary Club And Social Circle

The Literary Club and Social Circle of Samuel Johnson stood at the heart of 18th-century intellectual society. This exclusive realm was where the era’s leading thinkers converged. The literary club, initiated by Johnson, became an intellectual hub. It could be termed the epicenter of discussions that shaped modern thought.

Founding The Influential Gathering

Samuel Johnson’s influence extended beyond his writings. His keen intellect sparked the creation of the Literary Club in 1764. Johnson and his close friend Joshua Reynolds, the renowned painter, initiated the club. They sought to gather the brightest minds for stimulating talks.

  • Weekly Meetings: Members met every Monday evening.
  • Select Membership: Limited to the most eminent personalities.
  • Inclusive Topics: Discussions ranged from literature to science and politics.

Friendships With Eminent Figures

Johnson’s circle included figures like Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, and Charles Burney. These individuals were giants in their fields. The club boasted leaders in politics, arts, and literature. It was a melting pot of genius.

Member Profession
Edmund Burke Politician, Writer
Oliver Goldsmith Writer, Poet
Charles Burney Music Historian, Composer

Shared Ideals: Their friendship was rooted in mutual respect and a passion for knowledge.

Johnson’s Role As A Mentor

Samuel Johnson not only founded the Literary Club but also served as a mentor. He guided the next generation of writers and thinkers, leaving an indelible impact. Johnson’s mentorship created a legacy.

  1. Encouraged Debate: He fostered an environment where challenging ideas was expected.
  2. Nurtured Talent: Young members found support in Johnson’s vast experience.
  3. Set Standards: He exemplified the intellectual rigor that the club embodied.

Network of Geniuses: Johnson’s protégés went on to shape the future of literature.

Biography of Samuel Johnson


Personal Life And Relationships

The personal life and relationships of Samuel Johnson, one of the most eminent literary figures of the 18th century, were as complex and profound as his intellectual pursuits. Behind the robust facade of a lexicographer, Johnson navigated through the joys and sorrows of human connections, anchoring his existence in the emotional tumults and the affinity he found in others. This section delves into the intimate aspects of Johnson’s life which defined his humanity and fortified his character.

Marriage To Elizabeth Porter

In 1735, Samuel Johnson made a defining choice when he married Elizabeth Porter, a widow twenty-one years his senior. Their marriage, a blend of affection and pragmatism, faced scrutiny due to the age difference. Yet, Johnson fondly called her Tetty, and their union bore the testament of deep, albeit complex, affection.

Bouts With Depression

The shadows of melancholy often loomed over Johnson’s spirit. Throughout his life, he grappled with episodes of what now would be termed depression. Nonetheless, his resilience shone through as he continued to engage in his intellectual pursuits, creating works that would endure through centuries.

Enduring Friendships And Bonds

  • Johnson’s circle of friends was a testament to his magnetic persona.
  • He shared strong bonds with figures like James Boswell, who documented Johnson’s life in precise detail.
  • Whether in debates at the Royal Society of Arts or informal gatherings at local taverns, his friendships offered solace and inspiration.

Later Years And Final Works

The period known as Samuel Johnson’s later years brims with enduring literary contributions. This chapter of his life highlights remarkable achievements and personal challenges.

The Advent Of The Lives Of The Poets

The ‘Lives of the Poets’, one of Johnson’s crowning works, began as a humble preface compilation. It evolved into robust biographies of notable English poets. Johnson’s keen insights painted each subject with a masterful blend of critique and biography. This series solidified his reputation as an astute literary historian.

  • Impact on Literary Criticism: The series set new benchmarks for evaluating poetry and poets.
  • Detail-Oriented Approach: Johnson examined not just the works but the lives of poets, highlighting the interplay between the two.

Declining Health

As his work on the ‘Lives of the Poets’ continued, Johnson fought an uphill battle with health. His robust frame concealed a multitude of ailments. These did little to dampen his prolific output but did impose physical constraints.

Key Challenges:

Year Health Issue
1783 Stroke that affected his speech.
1784 Increasing breathlessness and dropsy.

Reflections On Legacy And Religion

Throughout his declination, Johnson’s mind remained preoccupied with his legacy and faith. His works often delved into moral and spiritual themes, reflections of his strong Anglican beliefs.

Significant Musings: His letters and prayers from this era convey his deep contemplation of mortality and the divine.

  1. Introspection on human frailty and the soul’s journey.
  2. Consistent engagement with religious texts and spiritual discourse.
Biography of Samuel Johnson


Impact And Legacy

The life of Samuel Johnson was one filled with intellectual might and literary power. His impact on the English literary canon spans beyond his own era, etching his name in the annals of time. Johnson’s contributions have not only shaped the field of literature but his influence continues to echo through the corridors of modern literary thought.

Reverence In Literary History

Samuel Johnson holds a towering position in literary history. His works stand bold among classics. His “A Dictionary of the English Language” is hailed as a cornerstone in lexicography. Johnson’s eloquent prose and keen insights solidified his reputation as a scholar of great distinction. His biographies and essays set standards for literary criticism and remain subjects of study and admiration.

Memorials And Tributes

  • Statues and plaques honor Johnson in various locations across England.
  • Literary societies like The Johnson Society celebrate his legacy.
  • Annual events commemorate his life and works.

Johnson’s birthplace, in Lichfield, now serves as a museum, nurturing the memory of his contributions. These memorials and tributes across the globe stand as testaments to his enduring legacy.

Continued Influence On Modern Literature

Samuel Johnson’s literary genius still inspires authors, poets, and thinkers. The depth of his writing provokes exploration and emulation among modern writers. His style, rich in clarity and wit, serves as a benchmark for effective communication. Johnson’s moral and philosophical musings encourage contemporary discussions about society and the human condition. His legacy stretches into today’s literary world, ensuring his voice is heard across centuries.

Biography of Samuel Johnson



Samuel Johnson, a man of letters, left an indelible mark on English literature. His legacy endures through his writings and the famous Johnson Dictionary. We reflect on his life story with admiration, inspired by his wisdom and wit. Let his journey motivate scholars and readers alike for generations to come.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *