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Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance. Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.
                                   Rasselas (1759)

Difference of thoughts will produce difference of language. He that thinks with more extent than another, will want words of a larger meaning; he that thinks with more subtilty will seek for terms of more nice discrimination; and where is the wonder, since words are but the images of things, that he who never knew the original should not know the copies?
Idler No. 70 (August 18, 1759)

When a language begins to teem with books, it is tending to refinement; as those who undertake to teach others must have undergone some labour in improving themselves, they set a proportionate value on their own thoughts, and wish to enforce them by efficacious expressions;
Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775)

Dr Samuel Johnson


Samuel Johnson was born in 1709 in Lichfield, Staffordshire. The son of a bookseller, he rose to become one of the greatest literary figures of the eighteenth century, most famously compiling A Dictionary of the English Language (1755).

Poverty and illness followed Johnson for much of his life. He contracted scrofula (also known as the King’s Evil) as a baby, which left him partially blind and deaf as well as noticeably scarred. Johnson attended the local grammar school in Lichfield and went on to Pembroke College, Oxford. However, he left after just 13 months as his parents could no longer afford the fees. In 1735, he married a widow, Elizabeth Porter, and set up a school at Edial; it failed within months. With this behind him and accompanied by one of his few remaining pupils - the soon-to-be star of the London stage, David Garrick (1717-1779), Johnson walked to the capital to seek fame and fortune. He worked as a hack writer for many years, writing and editing articles for Edward Cave’s Gentleman’s Magazine. He received some critical success with his early poem London (1738) and his biography of the wayward poet Richard Savage. Johnson’s big opportunity came in 1746 when a consortium of publishers identified the need for a much-improved dictionary and commissioned Johnson to compile.


Johnson lived in at least 17 different places in London, but moved to Gough Square in order to work on his Dictionary, which was finally published in 1755. From then on Johnson’s fame was assured and he was known as 'Dictionary Johnson', although he still suffered some financial difficulty.

Johnson’s written work was immense and varied. He completed a critical edition of the works of William Shakespeare (1765) and created biographies and critical appraisals of 52 English poets of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for his Lives of the Poets (1779-81). He also wrote literary criticism and was a prolific essayist, being the almost sole contributor to The Rambler (1750-52) and The Idler (1758-60) as well as writing for The Adventurer (1752-54) .

Johnson gained a pension from George III in 1762, allowing him a more comfortable lifestyle. He could now spend more time travelling and talking: Johnson was well-known for his robust character and his challenging and often witty conversation. He was a sociable man, being a member of several Clubs, and his circle of friends included the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, the literary hostess Hester Thrale and the writer Oliver Goldsmith. Johnson’s life inspired many biographies, the most famous of which is The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D (1791) by his great friend, the Scottish lawyer James Boswell.

Today, according to The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Johnson is the second most-quoted Englishman. A topical reference guide to his quotations can be found here. He most famously said ‘...when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’.

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