Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Many Lives of Samuel Johnson


James  Cummings, the bookseller from Signal Mtn, Tn., is fast becoming a valuable source of books for My Sentimental Library Collection.  Last month I bought a book formerly owned by William Targ from him.  This month I bought two books formerly owned by the Johnsonian, Gwin J. Kolb.  One of them, Kolb's copy of  Johnson Before Boswell:  A Study of Sir John Hawkins' Life of Samuel Johnson, will be the first book in this month's blog posting, "My Many Lives of Samuel Johnson."


Johnson Before Boswell:  A Study of Sir John Hawkins' Life of Samuel Johnson, by Bertram H. Davis,  New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1960.

Hawkins's biography of Samuel Johnson was published in 1787 and was the first full-length biography of Johnson, over 600 pages.  Its popularity was short-lived because of criticism of the book and its author. James Boswell was one of Hawkins's biggest detractors.  I will read Davis's book, then browse Hawkins online at ECCO via my KB Library Pass, and then form my own opinion on the worth of Hawkins's LOJ.

As a bibliomaniac, I am sometimes obsessive in my collecting habits, and maybe even excessive.  I have thirty-one copies of William Strunk's Elements of Style in my Elements of Style Collection.  I am fast approaching that number of copies of biographies of Samuel Johnson in my library. And I have already exceeded that number if I use the expanded meaning of the word "biography" that O.M. Brack, Jr. and Robert E. Kelley used in their book, The Early Biographies of Samuel Johnson.

In the Preface of their book, Brack and Kelley wrote:

"Biography, for the purposes of this collection, has been rather loosely defined as any account that begins with the phrase, 'Samuel Johnson was born,' or some rough equivalent, and makes some attempt, no matter how haphazard, to survey his life or his career in chronological order."


The Early Biographies of Samuel Johnson edited by O.M. Brack Jr. and Robert E. Kelley, Iowa City:  University of Iowa Press, 1974.

I will use Brack's and Kelley's expanded meaning of biography for the display of my LOJ Collection.  And I will include books written about LOJ biographies, such as the one Davis wrote about Hawkins's LOJ.

Brack and Kelley provided no less than fourteen biographies of Samuel Johnson in their book. The earliest one was written in 1762 by William Rider, and was part of his book, An Historical and Critical Account of the Lives and Writings of the Living Authors of Great Britian. Wherein their respective Merits are discussed with Candor and Impartiality, London, 1762. Rider's biography of Johnson contained a whole four pages. The fourteenth biography, written by James Harrison, contained eighteen pages, and appeared in his edition of A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson, London, 1786. A number of the other biographies appeared in periodicals of the day, with most of them borrowing biographical data mentioned in Biographia Dramatica, or, A Companion to the Playhouse, first published under an abbreviated title in 1764. Brack and Kelley are quick to note that the reader will find the early biographies of Johnson somewhat repetitious.  Times have not changed. Writers of today's LOJs are still trying to shed new light on old subjects, and without success.


Boswell's Life of Johnson Including Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides and Johnson's Diary of a Journey Into South Wales by George Birkbeck Hill, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1887. Six vols.

That was the "before" picture. Hill's edition of Boswell's LOJ is my most frequent source of information about Johnson's life,  and by its shabby looks, was well used by its former owners.  In fact, this is about how the set looked when I first bought it almost seven years ago.   And here is the "after" picture after I rebound it:







Tipped into the first volume was an interesting letter from G.B. Hill to a still unidentified American book collector.  There was also some marginalia written in the books.  I'm still researching the identity of the American book collector.  I've ruled out Cowan, and am researching a Chicago bookseller, Jerrold Nedwick, whose bookseller's ticket was pasted in one of the volumes.



Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. by Rev. C Adams, New York: Carlton & Lanahan, 1869.

LOJ with a religious twist, written "for the young men of this country."  Charles Adams was a Wesleyan minister.  He was the president of Illinois Female College from 1858 until he resigned in July 1868 and became a clerk in the Dead Letter Office in Washington.  A true "man of letters."




The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. Comprising a Series of His Epistolary Correspondence and Conversation With Many Eminent Persons; and Various Original Pieces of His Composition; With a Chronological Account of His Studies and Numerous Works.  The Whole Exhibiting a View of Literature and Literary Men in Great Britain For Nearly Half a Century, by James Boswell (with copious notes), London: George Routledge and Sons, 1895.

596 pages of very small type.  Very hard to read. 




Macauley's Life of Johnson, Edited With Introduction, Notes Etc. by Albert Perry Walker, Boston: D.C. Heath & Company, 1903

Part of Heath's English Classics Series.  Macaulay wrote his life of Johnson in 1856.  That and his 1831 scathing review of Croker's LOJ are included in this volume.


Boswell's Life of Johnson, Edited by Augustine Birrell, Westminster: Archibald Constable and Co.., Boston, 1904. Six vols.

I am very disappointed with Birrell's editing of this set.  In his Intro he says that his notes are few and far between because he deleted most of them, believing them unimportant  (Most of the notes included are Malone's).  Birrell praises G.B. Hill's edition of LOJ and writes, "When you know you must be beaten, the wisest course is to decline competition."  That says a lot about Hill's edition!  Birrell's publisher must have been having fits with Birrell praising a rival publisher's works.




Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., An Abridgment, With Annotations by the Eminent Biographers and an Introduction and Notes by Mary H. Watson, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1913.

Watson was a teacher at DeWitt Clinton High School in NYC.  This book was part of Macmillan's Pocket American and English Classics Series.



The Life of Samuel Johnson L.L.D. by James Boswell.  Complete and Unabridged With Notes.  with an Introduction by Herbert Askwith, New York:  The Modern Library, n.d. but c.1930.

Number G2 of the Modern Library Giant Series. 1200 pages in all.



Samuel Johnson by Joseph Wood Krutch, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1945 (1944)

I have yet to read this biography.  What I like to do first is to go to the index and then read how the author presents certain portions of Johnson's life.  If the author captures my interest great; if not, I don't think I'll miss anything new.  I'll have to give Krutch a chance, though.  He was the Brander Matthews Professor of Dramatic Literature, Columbia University, and the author of a number of books.


The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell [with] Illustrations by Gordon Ross.  New York: Doubleday and Company, 1946.

Part of the Literary Guild Book Club.


The Portable Johnson and Boswell, Edited, With an Introduction by Louis Kronenberger,  New York:  The Viking Press, 1955 (1947)

A book to take on vacations. 762 pages worth.


Mr. Oddity: Samuel Johnson, LL.D. by Charles Norman, Drexel Hill, Pa: Bell Publishing Company, 1951.

In between the Table of Contents and the Forward, Norman inserts a List of Characters, thirteen of which he identifies as "Non-Boswellian sources for Johnson's Life.  At 348 pages, Norman's book is at least 200 pages shorter than the average LOJ biography, but bigger is not always better.  I began reading this books some years ago, but for some reason stopped reading it with my bookmark on page 197. I am putting it on my reading pile again.



The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell, London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1952. Two vols.

No. 1 of the Everyman's Library Series.  As Terry Seymour, author of A Guide to Collecting Everyman's Library, Bloomington, 2005, once noted to me,  "Being No. 1 in the Everyman's Library Series says a lot about what J.M. Dent thought about Boswell's  Life of  Samuel Johnson."




The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. by James Boswell, Esq. With Marginal comments and Markings From Two Copies Annotated by Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi, Prepared For Publication With an Introduction by Edward G. Fletcher, in Three Volumes, New York:  the Heritage Press, 1963.

The same edition as the Limited Editions Club, but at a lower price and lower quality of binding.  I've read some of Piozzi's comments, but need to devote a week to this set alone.



Samuel Johnson: A Biography by John Wain.  New York:  The Viking Press, 1974.

Read and enjoyed, but nothing stands out in my memory that puts this LOJ biography above the others.


Samuel Johnson by W. Jackson Bate.  New York:  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

Sidney Ives's annotated copy with something extra that produced my essay, "An Unexpected Find in Umatilla, Florida."   I found something new as well.  There are over 75 page numbers written on the endpapers, and I thought these were references Ives used to create his talk before the Johnsonians.  But that is not the case.  The page numbers identify typos and grammatical errors in the book!

I wrote a review comparing certain portions of Nokes's book with Bate's books.






Samuel Johnson:  The Life of an Author by Lawrence Lipking, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998

This book is not a biography of SJ, but rather  a book about his writing career.  Since it provides a survey of Johnson's works in chronological order, it meets the biographical standards set by Brack and Kelley.





According to Queeney by Beryl Bainbridge, New York: Carroll & Graff Publishers, 2001.

 I'm stretching it a bit here because this book is historical fiction.  But it does present a biography of sorts of Samuel Johnson from the eyes of Hester Thrale's daughter, Queeney.  I've read that Dame Beryl Bainbridge insisted the characters were real, but there is at least one notable Johnsonian who publicly doubted that.



Samuel Johnson:  The Struggle by Jeffrey Meyers, New York:  Basic Books, 2008

This author doesn't struggle with his writing; he just churns them out.  His list of works is almost a mile long.  His biography of Johnson, however, didn't appeal to me.  Same old stuff.

Samuel Johnson:  A Biography by Peter Martin, Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008

Martin wrote biographies on Boswell and Malone as well.  I have the former and want to acquire the latter.


Samuel Johnson: A Life by David Nokes, New York:  Henry Holt and Company, 2009.

Here's a review by John Carey in the London Sunday Times, written three months before Nokes died.  Nokes emphasizes Johnson's sexual tendencies – which seems to be the thing authors of today are honing in on these days, Martin and Meyers as well.   The worst is Philip Baruth's ploy in The Brothers Boswell,  a 2009 historical novel in which the author insinuates that Johnson had a sexual encounter with Boswell's brother.  Personally, I find such writing distasteful.




Boswell's Presumptuous Task:  The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson by Adam Sisman, New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000

To quote the blurb on the book jacket: "A dazzling study of the biographer at work."


The Works of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.  A New Edition in Twelve Volumes With an Essay on His Life and Genius by Arthur Murphy. Esq.  London: Printed for F.C. and J. Rivington &c, 1823.

The first volume contains Murphy's essay, first published in 1793.


Murphy's "Essay on the Life and Genius of Samuel Johnson" was included in the Murphy, Chalmers, and Tegg editions, and almost all other editions of Johnson's Works published after 1793.



Johnsoniana; Or Supplement to Boswell: Being Anecdotes and Sayings of Dr. Johnson, Collected by Piozzi, Hawkins, Tyers, Hoole, Steevens, Reynolds, Cumberland, Cradock, Seward, Murphy, Beattie, Miss Hawkins, Windham, Nichols, Humphry, Hannah More, Parr, Mad. D'Arblay, Horne, Baretti, Lady Knight, Northcote, Percy, Stockdale, Parker, Rose, Green, Reed, Kearsley, Knowles, Smith, Warner, King Boothby, Pepys, Carter &c.&c.&c. Edited by J. Wilson Croker, Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1842.

This work contains portions of the biographies written by Hawkins and Murphy, as well as the anecdotes of a number of friends in Johnson's circle.  In 1831, Croker published a new edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson.  It was soundly bashed by Macaulay.







Johnsonian Miscellanies Arranged and Edited by George Birkbeck Hill, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1897. 2 vols.

I include this work because it contains Johnson's Annals covering his life from birth to his eleventh year, Murphy's essay in its entirety, extracts from Hawkins's LOJ, the Piozzi Anecdotes, and more.



Johnsonian Gleanings, (3 of 10 vols) by Aleyn Lyell Reade, New York: Octagon Books, 1968 (1923-33)

I ordered Vol V on ebay because the appendix contained a listing of Johnson's Undergraduate Library thoroughly researched by Reade.   The ebay seller had three volumes up for auction and sent me the wrong one.  I ended up buying all three volumes just to make sure I got the right one.  Vol. 4 contains appendices pertaining to Johnson's boyhood.  Vol. 5 covers Johnson's life from 1728 to 1735, and Vol. 6 covers Johnson's life from 1735 to 1740.



Macaulay's and Carlyle's Essays on Samuel Johnson Edited With Introduction and Notes by William Strunk, Jr. New York:  Henry Holt and Company, 1895, 96.

Yes.  I have two copies.  Strunk was an instructor, and later a Professor, at Cornell University when he wrote this book.  He was to become one of the leading Shakespeare authorities of his time.  He was also the author of my favorite grammar book, The Elements of Style.  Strunk's book on Johnson contains a forty-page introduction which includes a chronological table of Johnson's entire life, followed by words of wisdom on Croker's edition of Boswell's LOJ, and Strunk's views on Boswell, Macaulay and Carlyle. And that's just the Intro.  Follow that by Macaulay's trouncing review of Croker's edition, and Carlyle's essay which is in effect  his response to Macaulay's review.  Moi recommends!


On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History by Thomas Carlyle, London:  Chapman & Hall, 1840.

I include this work because Carlyle briefly but eloquently describes Johnson's life and his works in his essay, "The Hero as Man of Letters."




Dictionary Johnson:  Samuel Johnson's Middle Years by James Clifford, New York:  McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981 (1979).

I include this work because it covers the most productive portion of Johnson's writing career from the Rambler  to the Dictionary to the Idler and to Rasselas.



Boswell the Great Biographer 1789-1795, Edited by Marlies K. Davies and Frank Brady, New York:  McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1989.

A gift from James Caudle, Associate Editor of the Yale Editions of the Private Papers of James Boswell during my visit to the Sterling Library, Yale University in June 2010 with Terry Seymour and Dave Larkin.



A Critical Dictionary of English Literature and British and American Authors Living and Deceased From the Earliest Accounts to the Latter Half of the Nineteenth Century...by S. Austin Allibone, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1874, 3 Vols and 2 Supp.

Allibone devotes 11 pages to Johnson, providing a short biography and covering all his works in chronological order.



Everyman's Dictionary of Literary Biography English & American Compiled after John w. Cousin by D.C. Browning, London:  J.M. Dent & Sons, 1958.

My ready reference. Sits on the edge of a nearby shelf for easy access.




Studies of a Booklover by Thomas Marc Parrott, New York:  James Pott & Company, 1904.


Parrot was a Professor of English at Princeton University. This work contains a forty-one page chapter on "The Personality of Johnson."  What qualifies the piece as a "biography" is a paragraph that begins, "Samuel Johnson was born in the cathedral town of Lichfield in 1709..."

The Chobham Book of English Prose by Stephen Coleridge, Boston:  Small, Maynard & Company, 1924.

Coleridge's essay on Johnson is but one of the 54 essays included in this book.  Also included is a short essay on Boswell.  Coleridge does not begin his essay with "Samuel Johnson was born..." nor does he cover Johnson's works in chronological order.  But the quality of the essay is such that I would include it in any listing of the LOJ.

Note:  On the front pastedown, a former owner wrote the name of the place where he acquired this copy of the book:  "The Old Corner Bookstore 1925."



In the Name of the Bodleian by Augustine Birrell, New York:  Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905.

Two essays nominate this book for inclusion in my blog entry on "My Many Lives of Samuel Johnson."  "The Johnsonian legend" reviews not only G.B. HIll's edition of Boswell's LOJ, but also the Johnsonian Miscellanies.  And Birrell's essay, "Boswell as Biographer" seeks to show that both Macaulay and Carlyle were wrong about Boswell.  Birrell wrote an essay specifically on Dr. Johnson in Obiter Dicta, Second Series that is well worth reading as well, but I would really be stretching it to call it "a biography" or "a review of a biography."  It is more about Johnson's character.



The Wit and Sagacity of Dr. Johnson, Selected and Arranged by Norman J. Davidson, London:  Seeley & Co., n.d..

From the Intro:  "Samuel Johnson, lexicographer, essayist, poet, and philosopher, was born at Lichfield, September 18, 1709..."

This just about completes my blog on "My Many Lives of Samuel Johnson."  For brevity purposes, I have omitted well over ten works from the likes of Dobson, Hyde, Fleeman, Taine, and others which would have qualified under my expanded definition of biography.  Some of these works are listed in My Samuel Johnson Collection on Library Thing.