Really As It Was: Writing the Life of Samuel Johnson
“Last night, between seven and eight o’clock,” reported The London Chronicle in the December 11-14 issue of 1784, “died, in his 76th year, at his house in Bolt-court, Fleet street, Dr. Samuel Johnson, so universally known and celebrated in the learned world, that nothing we can say on that head can add to his fame.” Much more was to be said: within days of Johnson’s death, the first sketches of his life began to appear, followed by dozens of newspaper articles, poems, epitaphs, satires, prints, reviews, and biographies.
In celebration of the three-hundredth anniversary of his birth in 1709, this exhibition examines the life of Samuel Johnson—author, critic, and above all conversationalist—as it was written after his death. Drawing on James Boswell’s correspondence and the manuscript of his “Life of Johnson,” as well as newspapers, prints, and works written and annotated by Hester Thrale Piozzi and others, the exhibition explores the tensions of memory and identity found in the competing lives of one of England’s first literary celebrities. [ca. 55 items]
As a contribution to the tercentenary festivities and in support of scholarship on Johnson and Boswell, Beinecke Library has begun scanning the entire James Boswell segment of the Boswell Family Papers, making the collection available in its Digital Images and Collections.
October 13, 2009 talk: Boswell's Life of Johnson: The Director's Cut
October 27, 2009 talk: "Romantick family solemnity": the biographer as Laird of Auchinleck
November 11, 2009 talk: Spectator: The Johnson Circle through the eyes of Hester Thrale Piozzi