Five Fascinating Facts about Samuel Johnson

The life of Dr Johnson, told through five pieces of biographical trivia

1. Samuel Johnson was known to drink up to 25 cups of tea in one sitting. Johnson (1709-84) took his eating and drinking seriously, as his prodigious tea habit testifies. According to his first – and still most celebrated – biographer, James Boswell, ‘Doctor’ Johnson (he only acquired the first of his honorary doctorates in 1765, ten years after his famous dictionary was published) would refuse to listen to anyone else at the dinner table until he had satisfied his appetite, ‘which was so fierce, and indulged with such intenseness, that while in the act of eating, the veins of his forehead swelled, and generally a strong perspiration was visible.’ Johnson is reckoned to have been an alcoholic, too. These days, we might say he had an addictive personality: addicted to drink (possibly), to eating, to reading (ever since he first read and fell under the spell of Hamlet as an eight year-old, while living above his father’s bookshop in Lichfield), and – above all – to work. He also collected orange peel, possibly for some (unknown) medicinal remedy. (When Boswell pressed him for more details, the good doctor replied, ‘Nay, Sir, you shall know their fate no further.’)

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Interesting Facts about Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary

A short interesting history of Doctor Johnson’s celebrated Dictionary of the English Language

Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary is his crowning achievement: it is more famous than his one novel (Rasselas) and, although he was also a gifted poet, it is for his lexicography above all else that Johnson is remembered. First published in two large volumes in 1755, the book’s full title was A dictionary of the English Language: in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best writers. To which are prefixed, a history of the language, and an English grammar. It’s no surprise that it’s usually known as ‘Johnson’s Dictionary’. What follows are some of our favourite interesting facts about Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary – a monumental achievement in English literary scholarship.

Johnson’s wasn’t the first English dictionary: before his, there had been several such works. Richard Mulcaster had compiled a list of English words in the sixteenth century (albeit without definitions), and in 1604 Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall had appeared.

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