Samuel Johnson: Brief Biography Right? Left? TIME LINE Picture Books The Quotes: Sampler Topical Guide Search The Site Quote of the Week Top 20 of the Month Apocrypha The Website: Sources Links Email Us Who Would DO This?
This timeline is here to give you the broad strokes of Johnson's life; I'm not trying to tell you all that he went through and felt. Johnson went through periods of depression and elation, failure and success - - poverty was a frequent threat, and he even faced the possibility of debtor's prison.
- In the table below, "Age" lists Johnson's age on January 1 of the year shown, even if the events described happen after his birthday. (His birthday is in September.)
- Links to texts generally take you to other sites. Many come from Jack Lynch's site at Rutgers.
Year Age Major/Well Known Writings Events 1709 Samuel Johnson born (September 18 in Lichfield, England, to Michael Johnson (bookseller, age 52), and Sarah Johnson nee Ford (age 40). He is their first child, and they are proud parents. It is Michael's pre-appointed duty, as Sheriff of Lichfield, to lead the citizens of the town around the town's borders a couple days later, and he is generous to all in doing so.
Johnson is put out to a wetnurse whose milk was tubercular. Bate correctly describes the results as "disastrous." J's eyes are infected, and he contracts scrofula; he is almost blind in his left eye, and his right eye is also affected. He is deaf in one ear. His face is also scarred.
1712 2 Brother Nathaniel born (October). 1725 15 Johnson spends time living with his older 1st cousin, the Rev. Cornelius Ford. Ford had a huge influence on Johnson. In the words of Pat Rogers (The Samuel Johnson Encyclopedia), "the worldly Ford first opened the young man's eyes to a world of sophistication which he had never seen as a boy in Lichfield. It is probable that SJ acquired his first knowledge of the London literary scene from his cousin during a prolonged stay in 1725-26." 1726
Johnson returns home, and reads a lot. A Lot. Discovers Petrarch and The Classics. 1728 18 Johnson enters Oxford University (Pembroke College). 1729 19 Johnson experiences deep depression, described by Boswell as "overwhelmed with an horrible hypochondria ... dejection, gloom, and despair."
Johnson leaves Oxford without a degree; exit is due to a lack of funds.
1731 21 J's father Michael dies in December. 1732 22 Works as usher in a school at Market-Bosworth. 1733 23 Spends time living in Birmingham, with Edmund Hector (a schoolfellow and lifelong friend). He contributes a few essays to a local publisher, and meets a number of people, including Elizabeth Porter, whom he will eventually marry. He works on his translation of Lobo, with a lot of assistance from Hector. 1734 24 J returns to Lichfield. Writes a letter (November) to Edward Cave, London magazine publisher (Gentleman's Magazine), offering the services of someone he knows well, uh, er, probably J himself, now that you mention it, who would make sundry contributions to his publication. 1735 25 J's translation of Lobo's Voyage to Abyssinia published. J marries Elizabeth "Tetty" Porter, age 46, in July. She is the widow of a mercer he met in Birmingham in 1733.
J tries his hand as a schoolmaster in Edial. The effort is unsuccessful. David Garrick is one of his students. "From Mr. Garrick's account he did not appear to have been profoundly reverenced by his pupils," says Boswell. "His oddities of manner, and uncouth gesticulations, could not but be the subject of merriment to them."
While working as a schoolmaster, J works on his play Irene. 1737 27 Brother Nathaniel dies, perhaps a suicide.
J goes to London with Garrick, seeking fame and fortune (the education industry providing neither), and leaving his wife in Lichfield for the time being. J makes further proposals to Cave. In the summer he returns to Lichfield and Tetty, and to finish Irene. Later this year they both move to London.
1738 28 London;
Life Of Sarpi.
J gets work as a hack writer for Cave's Gentleman's Magazine.
J gets ten guineas from publisher Robert Dodsley for London.
On reading London, Alexander Pope is impressed.
1739 29 Complete Vindication of the Licensers of the Stage;
Life of Boerhaave.
1740 30 Start of the Parliamentary Debates;
Life of Admiral Drake;
Life of Admiral Blake;
Life of Barretier.
1744 34 Life Of Savage 1745 35 Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth, part of a planned edition of Shakespeare's plays. The project was aborted after a publisher of another edition threatened to sue for copyright infringement. 1746 36 J is approached by a consortium of booksellers, and begins work on the Dictionary. 1747 37 Plan for a Dictionary of the English Language 1748 38 Vision of Theodore the Hermit 1749 39 The Vanity of Human Wishes;
Founds the Ivy Lane Club (not to be confused with The Club, founded in 1764). 1750 40 Start of The Rambler essays. 1751 41 Life of Cheynel 1752 42 End of The Rambler essays. Wife Tetty dies. (They had no children, but she had a daughter from her previous marriage.) 1753 43 Contributes essays to The Adventurer series. Considers remarrying. Bate and others have concluded that the object of his affection was a woman named Claire Hill Boothby (1708-56). However, "any thought of marriage was quickly dropped," says Bate. 1754 44 Life of Edward Cave 1755 45 The famous Letter to Lord Chesterfield;
A Dictionary of the English Language, 1st edition. (The preface can be read at bartleby.com
Johnson receives an honorary degree from Oxford University (an M.A.), which will appear on the title page of his Dictionary. 1756 46 2nd edition of the Dictionary. In March, Johnson is arrested for debt, and released with the help of Richardson. 1758 48 Start of The Idler essays;
On the Bravery of the Common English Soldier.
Money continues to be a problem, and Johnson avoids being arrested for debt again with another loan from a friend. 1759 49 Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia J's mother Sarah dies. 1760 50 End of The Idler essays. 1762 52 J receives an annual pension from the crown. He greeted the offer with apprehension -- he had earlier characterized pensioners in his Dictionary as state hirelings and traitors to the country. However, he is assured that the pension is for his past efforts, not work to be done in the future. 1763 53 The Life Of Ascham
Account of the Imposture of the Cock-Lane Ghost.
On May 16, J meets Boswell (age 23), in Thomas Davies bookshop, London. Biography will not be the same. 1764 54 The Club is formed, with J as a charter member. The list of eventual members is impressive: among them are Joseph Banks, Boswell, Edmund Burke, Charles Burney, Charles James Fox, Garrick, Edward Gibbon, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Adam Smith, and William Windham. 1765 55 Johnson's edition of Shakespeare's plays. J meets Hester (1741-1821) and Henry (1728?29?-1781) Thrale. J is very depressed when they meet him, and they take him in. J's visits with them, exposure to their family life in Streatham, and their friendship mean a lot to him, and his spirits are considerably lifted. 1766 56 The Fountains 1767 57 During a February visit to the library of King George III, Johnson encounters George III himself. During the conversation, the King "expressed a desire to have the literary biography of his country ably executed," says Boswell. 1770 60 The False Alarm 1771 61 Thoughts on the Late Transactions Respecting Falklands Islands 1773 63 4th edition of his Dictionary J and Boswell tour Scotland, August 18 - November 22. 1774 64 The first "Collected Edition" of J's works published. (The genesis of the edition is curious: Davies, in financial difficulties, started it without J's authorization, rounding out the second volume [of an intended 2 volumes] with the works of others; the whole idea incenses J, but his temper is dissipated on seeing Davies' financial straits, and they publish more.)
J visits Wales with the Thrales. 1775 65 A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland;
Taxation No Tyranny
Visits France with the Thrales. 1781 71 The Lives of the Poets; the full title is Prefaces Biographical and Critical to the Works of the most eminent English Poets Friend Henry Thrale dies. J is one of four executors of his will. 1784 74 The Thrale Brewery is sold, providing Hester with somewhat of a release. She marries Gabriel Piozzi, an Italian musician. This upsets J, who has become extraordinarily fond of Hester over the years. J dies on December 13.
(We have Hawkins account of Johnson's last years and George Steevens' account of Johnson's funeral.
1785 Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides appears in September. Some are shocked by the explicit, detailed retelling of conversations. 1786 Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson published. 1787 Sir John Hawkins' Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. published. I've posted an extract covering Johnson's Last Years. 1788 Sermons Left For Publication By John Taylor, LL.D. (Sermon 4) These sermons are generally accepted as having been written by Johnson. Johnson's name first appeared on an 1812 edition.
Hester Piozzi's Letters To And From the Late Samuel Johnson published. This is the first edition of his letters, and includes her letters to him as well as his to her.
1791 Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. published. This is pretty much the only endeavor at which Boswell is successful. Boswell will die in 1795.
This timeline is drawn from the following sources:
- Bate, W. Jackson: Samuel Johnson. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975).
- Boswell, James: The Life Of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1791)
- Clifford, James L.: Hester Lynch Piozzi [Mrs. Thrale]. (Columbia University/Morningside, 1987 [2nd edn.]).
- Reddick, Alan: The Making of Johnson's Dictionary (Cambridge, 1990)
A more detailed timeline can be found in "The Samuel Johnson Encyclopedia," by Pat Rogers (Greenwood Press, 1996). A very, very detailed timeline can be found in "A Dr. Johnson Chronology," by Norman Page (G.K.Hall & Co., 1990). Both books are excellent reference books.