London, United Kingdom
June 23, 2001
Dr. Johnson was a celebrated writer, journalist, literary critic, and wit. He published his famous annotated Shakespeare in 1765, and his wonderful "Lives of the Poets" in 1780.
Many of the most famous quotations in the English language are his - "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." When discussing a proposed second marriage, he described it as "The triumph of hope over experience." He was dismissive of self-styled literary patrons - "Is not a Patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help?" Of all his achievements, the greatest was, perhaps, the dictionary he wrote and published with but 6 assistants - fixing the meaning and spelling of many previously variable words. Even in the dictionary, however, he could not altogether restrain himself - he said that "Dictionaries are like watches: the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true."
He did not hesitate to put down those he felt were being illogical - he said about the American Declaration of Independence that "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?" He died in 1784, and is buried at Westminster Abbey - a Londoner by choice.
The house itself is a beautiful, Georgian townhouse, elegantly decorated in the style of the man himself. There are two main rooms downstairs, three on the first floor, and a low-ceilinged attic room at the top - all are beautifully proportioned and decorated in the style of his time, and have some of his possessions and publications on view.
I first visited the house in 1999, when my parents, life-long admirers of Dr. Johnson, decided to hold their 25th wedding anniversary party in the house, which is hired out for functions in the evenings, and is the perfect place for such a gathering. It must be said, however, that Boswell reported that Dr. Johnson was not a fan of my father's profession - 'he did not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was an attorney'.
Gough Square is about equidistant from Temple (Circle + District Lines), Chancery Lane (Central Line), and Blackfriars (Circle + District Lines) tube stations, just north of Fleet Street. The museum is open from Monday to Saturday, 11am - 5.30pm.
From journal The greatest city in the world - London