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Poet, essayist, biographer, lexicographer, critic, conversationalist and wit, Dr Johnson is one of the great figures of English literature, perhaps the most quoted English writer after Shakespeare. Our view of Johnson has been overwhelmingly shaped by James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, published in 1791, the most famous biography in the English language. But invaluable as Boswell is as a source, he should not be the last word. This new biography illuminates the Johnson that Boswell never knew: the awkward youth, the unsuccessful schoolmaster, the eccentric marriage, his early years in London in the 1740s scratching a living, the epic struggle to produce the Dictionary. Very much the outsider, rather than the supremely confident dispenser of robust common sense. Using material unknown to previous biographers, Peter Martin describes the psychological knife-edge on which Johnson felt he lived, caused by his severe melancholia and his physical diseases. He explores Johnson's role in the publishing and printing world of the time and he reveals how important women were to Johnson throughout his life. The Samuel Johnson that emerges from this enthralling biography is still the foremost figure of his age but a more rebellious, unpredictable and sympathetic figure than the one that Boswell so memorably portrayed.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780297607199
ISBN-10: 0297607197
Format: Hardback
(243mm x 159mm x 49mm)
Pages: 544
Imprint: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 31-Jul-2008
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » Reliable, readable life of 18th-century England's most celebrated intellectual, lexicographer, poet, critic, biographer, essayist, Tory, travel writer and - perhaps most of all - Personality.Few writers can approach Johnson (1709 - 84) more surely than Martin, biographer of the Great Man's own famous biographer (A Life of James Boswell, 2000, etc.). He does so in conventional fashion, beginning with a sketch of Johnson's hometown, Lichfield, and ending with the funeral and burial, discussing intervening events more or less chronologically. There are few surprises. Martin does argue that Johnson was, perhaps, not so adamantine a Tory as others have portrayed him, more than once declaring that it's unproductive and inaccurate to view Whig v. Tory as a simplistic struggle merely mirroring today's Right v. Left. Yet he acknowledges that Johnson strongly opposed U.S. independence (famously dismissing the principal American champions of freedom as "drivers of Negroes"), accepted a pension from George III and enjoyed the honorary Oxford doctorate arranged by a grateful government when he published a pamphlet attacking the American rebels' position on taxation. Politics aside, Martin ably shows us the enormous depths of Johnson's humanity. He was hideously scarred by scrofula, nearly blind, subject to violent twitching that suggests Tourette's, big and clumsy and taurine, often unkempt and always impecunious. Yet Johnson nonetheless married (with uneven result), had devoted friends (to whom he was fiercely devoted), opened his home to those in need, enjoyed the company of the famous (Joshua Reynolds, hometown buddy David Garrick) but also the unknown. He battled melancholy continually, railed against his own sometimes dilatory ways, yet when ready to work was immensely productive in a very short time, his pen flashing across the page, his mind remembering the vast libraries he'd read, his imagination soaring where few had ever gone, or ever will go, not least of all in the astonishing Dictionary.From the ordinary clay of words, Martin sculpts an impressive image of an extraordinary man. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Peter Martin

Peter Martin was born in Argentina of English parents and educated there and in America. He has taught English literature in both England and America and written extensively on 18th-century British and American literature and culture. He divides his time between southern Spain and West Sussex.

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