Johnson Samuel 1709 - 1784 (75)

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.”


The Vanity of

Human Wishes

Samuel Johnson (1708-1784) was an English poet, journalist, essayist, distinguished critic, an important figure in 18th century English letters. He is the author of the English Dictionary, a reference point of the language for more than 100 years, until the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. He was born on September 18, 1709, his father was a bookseller; he was such a sick baby that they did not expect him to survive. By the age of two he had lost hearing in one ear, had lost vision in one eye, had a kind of tuberculosis in the lymph nodes and many tics. Modern doctors studying his biography believe that he also had Tourett's syndrome. In 1716 he started school with a very brutal principal who beat the students saying that he was saving them from the gallows. Samuel himself later admitted that because of this director, he learned well Latin and Greek and began to write poetry. In 1726 he left school and went to work in his father's bookstore where there was not much work, but there were many books and he spent 2 years reading classic works. In 1728, with a small unexpected inheritance from his mother, he enrolled at Pembroke College, Oxford, but did not have enough money for food, clothes and books, and after a year left his studies without a degree. He returned to Birmingham and tried to find a stable position as a professor, without success as he did not have a degree. It was during this period that he began to write poems. He went through difficult years without a job and without money until 1732, when he found a position in a school; the following year he translated a travel book and received his first money from writing. In 1735 at the age of 25 he married the widow Elizabeth Porter who was 46 and had some money. With taht money, Samel opened a private school. The school did not go well, he had to close it after two years, during which the entire dowry disappeared.

In 1738 they moved to London in search of better economic conditions but lived for years in absolute poverty. He began writing articles for Gentleman's magazine and published the poem "London". In 1744, when his friend the eccentric poet Savage died in a Bristol prison, Samuel wrote his biography which was published and brought to him some revenue. In 1745 he concludes a deal that will change his life. He undertook to create the first English dictionary. With this job his financial situation improves, he moves to a beautiful house, he has 6 assistants and he works on the dictionary while at the same time he writes poetry, essays and reviews. His wife died in 1752 while in 1755 Samuel finished the dictionary. In 1762 he was granted a royal pension, for which he was ashamed and hesitant but eventually accepted it, in 1763 he traveled to Scotland and wrote a travel guide. During his last years he created a collection of biographies of the most prominent poets of the 17th and 18th centuries; at the same time he never stop writing poems, reviews and essays. He had many health problems throughout his life, in 1783 he had a stroke that left him unable to speak, he finally died the following year.