top of page

Samuel Johnson’s Garret Lexicography: Desks, Drudges and the Dictionary opens 13 July

This summer, visit our exhibition showcasing new aspects of Johnson's garret lexicography, exploring why the garret was so important in Johnson's move to Gough Square.

We'll also be exploring how Johnson and his assistants worked on the Dictionary before it was published in 1755. As part of this, we'll be presenting the history – and mystery – of Johnson’s 'Dictionary Desk'.

In making a dictionary, Johnson stressed, a desk was vital. 'You can make a poem walking in the fields or lying in bed', he stated. But, in every case, 'composing a Dictionary requires books and a desk'.

The star attraction of this exhibition is Johnson’s ‘dictionary desk’, currently at Pembroke College, Oxford, which will be returned to the garret for the first time since the dictionary was written here. This exhibition charts the journey of the desk of the past 250 years, and how the dictionary was compiled. Join us to explore the desk's links to Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, and Johnson's lost godchildren.

We’ll also be investigating how to write a dictionary by hand and looking at the significance of often-forgotten role of his assistants.

This exhibition is the result of a collaborative project funded by TORCH at Oxford University: ‘Rethinking Johnson's House of Words’. The research project redirects attention to the garret in which Samuel Johnson completed his English dictionary in 1755 as a writerly and collaborative space, and the birthplace of a book of international cultural significance.

This exhibition is a close collaboration between Celine Luppo McDaid, the Director and Curator of Dr Johnson's House, and Prof. Lynda Mugglestone, professor of English Language at Pembroke College, Oxford, and will reunite physical space and lexicographical practice. This funding from TORCH facilitates a public benefit from their shared interest in rethinking where, why and how Johnson’s dictionary was compiled.

A programme of in-person and online public events and workshops will be delivered, alongside outreach events to enhance established links with schools. This will include 'Dictionary drop-ins' with Prof. Lynda Mugglestone!

Watch this space for further announcements - preliminary research for the project is already revealing some exciting and unexpected directions!

Table, inkwell, and manuscripts in Johnson's Garret

18 views0 comments


bottom of page