"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Lichfield - Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum

E and I had a trip out to Lichfield on Monday afternoon. Despite a dry afternoon being forecast, it was tipping it down when we arrived, so we first had coffee and cake and then visited the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum and Book shop.

The house was built for Michael and Sarah Johnson (Samuel's parents) in 1707/08. It was both a family home and a bookshop. Sarah, at the age of 40, gave birth to Samuel on 18th September, 1709. He attended Lichfield Grammar School and in 1735 married Elizabeth Porter or Tetty as he called her. She was 20 years older than Samuel and had 3 grown up children. They set up a school in Lichfield which closed after only 18 months and, aged 27, Samuel moved to London to seek work. He wrote articles for The Gentleman's magazine, published a satirical poem entitled "London" and a biography of the poet Richard Savage. Samuel and Elizabeth had little money but Samuel gained a reputation for diligence and his knowledge of literature.

He was asked to write an English dictionary and began work on it in 1746. In 1755 his "Dictionary of the English Language" was published. This was not the first dictionary but it was the most complete and the first to include sources of words. When it was first published the Dictionary was very expensive but subsequent edited concise editions were more affordable and it set the standard for dictionaries for the next 150 years. Johnson continued to write essays and a play "Irene" was staged at the Drury Lane Theatre. Elizabeth died in 1752. Johnson was still relatively poor until George III awarded him a pension of £300 a year in 1762. Samuel became one of the great "celebrities" of the period and was invited to many dinner parties. He continued to visit Lichfield throughout his life and travelled to the Western Isles of Scotland with James Boswell in 1773. Samuel and James had originally met in a bookshop in 1764 and Boswell eventually wrote "Life of Samuel Johnson". Samuel continued to write, publishing an edition of Shakespeare's works, a book "Lives of the Poets" and regular revisions of his Dictionary. He died on 13th December 1784 and was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.

Michael Johnson's Work Room

The Parlour

A copy of a portrait bust of Samuel Johnson made by Joseph Nouekensin in 1777.

The original portrait bust

The room where Samuel was born.

His wife, Elizabeth

The museum was very interesting and there was a lot to see - its well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Lichfield.

We then had a wander round the rest of the City Centre.

St Mary's church - the present building dates back to 1868 and is the fifth church on the site since medieval times.

Samuel Johnson Commemorative Statue

Statue of James Boswell

Five Gables

The Guild Hall

Beautiful flowers in this tub but what a shame about the slug pellets :(

I was hoping to pay another visit to the Cathedral but we just didn't have time. Once E finds herself near clothes shops you just can't get her away!! I will return to the Cathedral later this year - I understand the restoration and repair of the Lady Chapel is now complete and I shall make sure I go when the Chapter House is open.

Reference : Souvenir Guide of the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum and Bookshop


Margaret Adamson said...

A very interesting and informative post with great photos.

Ragged Robin said...

Margaret Adamson - Thanks so much - glad you enjoyed :)

Deb said...

great post. So interesting about Samuel Johnson. I only visited Lichfield once when I was about seven,so my memories are very vague. I only remember the cathedral, so it's nice to see the photos. Thanks for sharing. :-)

amanda peters said...

Back... few days away so catching up on you post, lovely shop fronts on Five Gables, I wonder what he would have made of some of the new words we have in the dictionary we have to day..
Amanda xx

Ragged Robin said...

Message for Deb and Amanda Peters

So sorry for late publication - its not been a good few days :( The whole family has had the most foul of viruses - D and I then developed chest infections (now on antibiotics so hopefully will feel better soon) but, more worryingly, B has developed pneumonia so have not had had chance to even switch on the computer last few days!

Deb - Thanks so much. It's a really interesting city - I will return to the Cathedral later this year as the last visit was so fleeing.

Amanda Peters - Thanks - hope you had a good few days away. lol it does make you wonder what he would have made of some of them!!! :)

Em Parkinson said...

I'm ashamed to say the sweet shop picture caught my interest most.....sorry!

Ragged Robin said...

Em Parkinson - lol :) We didn't go in that particular one but the same Company has a shop in Solihull and its superb - visit all the time :)

amanda peters said...

Hope you all feel better soon, we have all had colds again this last week and now there is a sickness bug going round work... Oh the joy ! Knowing my luck just in time for Easter....
Amanda xx

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters - Eek re: the sickness bug :( Not good. Thanks for your good wishes - hope you feel better soon too. Really hope everyone is well for Easter!!

Deb said...

You poor things, hope you're all feeling better soon.

Ragged Robin said...

Deb - Thanks so much for your good wishes:) Feeling better slowly! There seems to be some particularly nasty viruses about at the moment!

Toffeeapple said...

You just filled an extensive gap in my knowledge with your article on Johnson and Boswell, thank you so much.

I hope you are well on the way to recovery.

Ragged Robin said...

Toffeeapple - Thanks so much - glad the Johnson and Boswell stuff was of interest :) Must say I find Lichfield a very interesting place. I can't believe we only discovered it last Autumn as its not far away!

Thanks so much for your good wishes - feel slightly better each day and starting to get upset at not being able to go out in the sunshine so must be on the mend :)

Chris Rohrer said...

I always try to imagine myself in the past and what it must have been like....dinners and being awarded monies, etc. Although, I'm not sure dictionary writing would be very fun:)

Ragged Robin said...

Chris Rohrer - Thanks so much for the comment Chris. Yes, would be interesting at times to be able to go back in time :) I think he became quite a "celebrity" as he was quite a wit and got invited to lots of dinner parties :)