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Andrew O’Hagan: A Paean to Boswell, 5 October 2000

Boswell's Presumptuous Task 
by Adam Sisman.
Hamish Hamilton, 352 pp., £17.99, November 2000, 0 241 13637 7
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James Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’: Research Edition: Vol. II 
edited by Bruce Redford and Elizabeth Goldring.
Edinburgh, 303 pp., £50, February 2000, 0 7486 0606 8
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Samuel JohnsonThe Life of an Author 
by Lawrence Lipking.
Harvard, 372 pp., £11.50, March 2000, 0 674 00198 2
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Dr Johnson's London 
by Liza Picard.
Weidenfeld, 362 pp., £20, July 2000, 0 297 84218 8
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... when the single-minded Becky Sharp, high in a coach bound for Russell Square, flings a copy of Johnson’s Dictionary out of the window to land on the grass at the feet of her former teacher, a sworn disciple of the Great Lexicographer. ‘So much for the Dictionary,’ says Becky Sharp as the carriage pulls away, ‘and, thank God, I’m out of ...

Spaced Out

Terry Eagleton, 24 April 1997

Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference 
by David Harvey.
Blackwell, 496 pp., £50, December 1996, 1 55786 680 5
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... open-ended. For a Modernist writer like Bertolt Brecht change in itself is a good, just as for Samuel Johnson change was in itself an evil. Bad things were reified products; good things were dynamically evolving processes. This piece of Romantic banality never went entirely unchallenged. If Pascal was still able to glimpse in space an unsettling ...

Leaf, Button, Dog

Susan Eilenberg: The Sins of Hester Thrale, 1 November 2001

According to Queeney 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Little, Brown, 242 pp., £16.99, September 2001, 0 316 85867 6
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... when he told of a Brother. Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi, marginal annotation to Boswell’s Life of Johnson Here is a museum. Visitors may see in it Nero’s couch, a statue of Cerberus and a skeleton of an Ethiopian, the bones stuck with porcupine quills. Here is a cabinet of curiosities. In it are a ribbon pretending to have belonged to Frances Thrale (dead ...

Let us breakfast in splendour

Charles Nicholl: Francis Barber, 16 July 2015

The Fortunes of Francis Barber: The True Story of the Jamaican Slave Who Became Samuel Johnson’s Heir 
by Michael Bundock.
Yale, 282 pp., £20, May 2015, 978 0 300 20710 1
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... cluttered with decanters and after-dinner debris. From left to right they are James Boswell, Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, Pasquale Paoli, Charles Burney, Thomas Warton and Oliver Goldsmith. Their names appear below the image, cursively engraved, appositely placed: one might almost be looking at a signed group ...

A Pickwick among Poets, Exiled in the Fatherland of Pickled Fish

Colin Burrow: British Latin verse, 19 August 1999

The English Horace: Anthony Alsop and the Traditions of British Latin Verse 
by D.K. Money.
Oxford, 406 pp., £38, December 1998, 0 19 726184 1
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... On 16 June 1783, Samuel Johnson was rendered speechless by a stroke. His first action was not to try croaking for a doctor, but to compose a prayer in Latin: ‘The lines were not very good, but I knew them not to be very good: I made them easily, and concluded myself to be unimpaired in my faculties.’ Johnson was relieved that he could still pray in Latin, but the greater part of his relief was that he was still enough of a critic to know that his verses were not much good ...

At least that was the idea

Thomas Keymer: Johnson and Boswell’s Club, 10 October 2019

The Club: Johnson, Boswell and the Friends who Shaped an Age 
by Leo Damrosch.
Yale, 488 pp., £20, April 2019, 978 0 300 21790 2
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... wrong house. At No. 9, a more accurately sited plaque marks where, in 1764, Joshua Reynolds and Samuel Johnson founded the Literary Club, or simply the Club, which met weekly to dine in an upstairs room at the Turk’s Head until the landlord died and the dinners moved elsewhere. The building now houses New Loon Moon, one of London’s best-known ...

A Skeleton My Cat

Norma Clarke: ‘Poor Goldsmith’, 21 February 2019

The Letters of Oliver Goldsmith 
edited by Michael Griffin and David O’Shaughnessy.
Cambridge, 232 pp., £64.99, July 2018, 978 1 107 09353 9
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... Goldsmith as ‘an awkward, improvident and slightly ridiculous Irishman … whose genius [Johnson] nevertheless acknowledged and championed’ – though in fact almost every reference to Goldsmith in the Life of Samuel Johnson itself belittles him. Boswell was not alone. After Goldsmith’s death in 1774 ...

At the V&A

Peter Campbell: Quilts, 22 April 2010

... and usefully. ‘A man cannot hem a pocket-handkerchief,’ a ‘lady of quality’ said to Samuel Johnson one day, ‘and so he runs mad, and torments his family and friends.’ The anecdote is recounted by Mrs Thrale. Johnson, it appears, was much impressed and, in Mrs Thrale’s telling, ‘when one ...

The Strange Case of John Bampfylde

Roger Lonsdale, 3 March 1988

... modern music was a long-cherished ambition of Giuseppi Baretti, the Italian writer and friend of Samuel Johnson, who had lived in London since 1751. After much thought, Baretti commissioned the music from François-André Danican Philidor, the French operatic composer (celebrated also for his prowess at chess). Philidor worked in Paris on what was to be ...

Guilty Statements

Hilary Putnam, 3 May 1984

Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science 
by Ian Hacking.
Cambridge, 287 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 521 23829 3
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... Hacking writes. ‘So far as I’m concerned, if you can spray them then they are real.’ Samuel Johnson long ago made the same argument. (‘If you can kick them, then they are real.’) Of course, Johnson didn’t actually say anything like this, but when he ‘refuted’ Berkeley by kicking a stone he was ...

Not for Horrid Profs

Colin Burrow: Kermode’s Shakespeare, 1 June 2000

Shakespeare's Language 
by Frank Kermode.
Allen Lane, 324 pp., £20, April 2000, 0 7139 9378 2
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... was his notorious response to hearing Shakespeare praised for never having blotted a line). Samuel Johnson catches Shakespeare ‘entangled with an unwieldy sentiment, which he cannot well express, and will not reject; he struggles with it for a while, and if it continues stubborn, comprises it in words such as occur, and leaves it to be ...

Sudden Elevations of Mind

Colin Burrow: Dr Johnson, 17 February 2011

The Works of Samuel JohnsonVols XXI-XXIII: The Lives of the Poets 
edited by John Middendorf.
Yale, 1696 pp., £180, July 2010, 978 0 300 12314 2
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... or editing. Very little English literary criticism has lasted as long or worn as well as Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Poets. It shaped the canon of English poetry and set the terms for critical discussion of Donne, Milton, Dryden, Swift and Pope over at least two centuries. This is all the more amazing given that its own life began ...

Grub Street Snob

Terry Eagleton: ‘Fanny Hill’, 13 September 2012

Fanny Hill in Bombay: The Making and Unmaking of John Cleland 
by Hal Gladfelder.
Johns Hopkins, 311 pp., £28.50, July 2012, 978 1 4214 0490 5
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... piece of heterosexual erotica for the rest of his days. A shopkeeper with the splendid name of Samuel Drybutter, who was once thought to have written the only sodomitical passage in Fanny Hill, and who was killed by the mob as a sodomite himself, may have been a friend of Cleland. In his time in Bombay, Cleland also defended a raped and enslaved Indian ...


Eric Korn, 18 June 1981

Chambers Universal Learners’ Dictionary 
Chambers, 908 pp., £5.95, July 1980, 0 550 10632 4Show More
Le Mot Juste 
Kogan Page/Papermac, 176 pp., £5.95, July 1980, 0 85038 294 7Show More
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... and that the inclusion of a word in a dictionary is in no way an attempt to change its status. (Samuel Johnson would have had a word for this dereliction of the lexicographer’s duty: the word is ‘pusillanimous’.) So there are Biro and Landrover and Hoover and Perspex and even Realtor. But if, pausing for refreshment, you should look for what ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: 10,860 novels, 23 August 2001

... Earlier this year, Andrew Marr certified it dead. (He was announcing the shortlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction at the time. His verdict may prove to be no less premature than Johnson’s pronouncement on Sterne: ‘Nothing odd will do long. Tristram Shandy did not last.’) Responding to ...

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