Museum #8 Dr Johnson’s House

Second museum of the weekend, and second friend bullied into visiting it with me.

Tobin and I took a stroll through Farringdon on Saturday to visit Dr Johnson’s House.

Despite Tobin continually referring to him as Samuel. ‘L.’ Johnson, this museum was a delight.

Dr Samuel Johnson was a hugely influential writer in the eighteenth century – most famously penning ‘A Dictionary of the English Language.’ Although not the first English dictionary, it was deemed the most comprehensive and became the standard tome for the next 150 years.

How comprehensive does a dictionary have to be? Well the previous dictionary of choice defined ‘Black’ as ‘A colour’ and a ‘Dog’ as ‘An animal well known.’

Johnson wrote over 70 biographies, numerous essays and contributed to lots of periodicals including The Rambler, The Idler and The Adventurer.

The details of his life have been meticulously shared, thanks to his biography (written by friend, Boswell), numerous letters and diaries.

Imagine sending so many letters you had to carry a letter case…

Johnson struggled with money throughout his life, even when he was living at Gough Street.

At one time, Johnson owed so much money for milk that the milkman tried to have him arrested. Johnson barricaded his front door with his bed, shouting that he would “defend his citadel to the utmost.”

Amazingly – you can look up at the height of the house through the staircases of all four floors.

 Johnson feared that too much solitude would allow his imagination to take over his reason and send him made, so he’d deliberately surround himself with people. The house would be filled with a miscellany of lodgers including family, friends, casual acquaintances and total strangers. Personalities would often clash – and many a quarrel was heard in Gough Square.
He was quite unusual of the time, in that he held a high opinion of the intellectual possibilities of women – counting several of the ‘Bluestockings’ – a well known group of female thinkers and writers – amongst his friends.

The bureau below belonged to Elizabeth Carter, longstanding friend of Johnson and hugely successful classicist.

They met whilst both writing for ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine.’
Carter used to get up around 4am to write and work late into the night, taking snuff to keep herself awake.

This strange looking chair, said to have come from the Cock Tavern was on display in the Withdrawing room. No one is exactly sure how you’re meant to sit on it – but I’m pretty sure it involves straddling it…

Tobin seemed to enjoy the dressing up most of all.

Johnson was a huge lover of literature, owning an awful lot of books.

But whilst he loved literature, the same courtesy didn’t extend to the books themselves.
His books were scrawled upon and thumbed indelicately – regardless of value. Johnson stated that he only ever marked in pencil and any scribbles could be easily rubbed out using breadcrumbs.

His friends, however, had differing opinions, reporting his books as ‘so defaced as to be scarce worth owning.’

When Johnson set out to write the Dictionary, he had ambitious goals for the English language, describing it as a weedy garden that needed order.

He was fantastically thorough. One verb, ‘To Put’ was listed with over 100 variations for use.

Another neat trick from Johnson was to use quotations to show each word in context. In all, he used 110,000 quotations in his dictionary.

Every so often though, he’d allow his personal opinion and sense of humour to influence his definitions.
One such example is –
Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.

#1. Dr. Johnson wrote an entire novel, Rasselas, in a single week to pay for his mother’s funeral.

#2. Johnson is allegedly the second most quotes Englishman after Shakespeare due to his spoken and written word.

#3. Elizabeth Carter used to get up around 4am to write and work late into the night, taking snuff to keep herself awake.

#4. Johnson owned over 3000 books when he died in 1784.

#5. The pockets of Johnson’s coat were said to be big enough to hold the folio volumes of his Dictionary.

Here’s his dictionary, with a 50p placed upon it.

1. Cartoon Museum 

2. Churchill War Rooms 
3. Cinema Museum 
4. Dennis Sever’s House 
5. Dr Johnson’s house 
6. Design Museum 
7. Down House 
8. The Geffrye Museum 
9. London Film Museum 
10. London Transport Museum 
11. Mansion House 
12. Brunel Museum 
13. Museum of the Order of St John 
14. Musical Museum 
15. Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret
16. Pollock’s Toy Museum 
17. Rose Theatre exhibition 
18. Fashion and Textile Museum 
19. Royal College of Music Archives and Museum of Instruments 
20. Sherlock Holmes Museum 
21. Twinings Museum 
22. V&A Museum of Childhood 
23. Bank of England museum 
24. The Stephens Museum 

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