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1709-2009: 300 years since Dr. Johnson’s birth

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Dr. Samuel Johnson liked books to be lived-in. He scribbled notes in them and – an avid tea-drinker – left ring stains from tea-cups on their covers. Reading thousands of literary works, he noted letters of the alphabet next to words that he could include in his dictionary.

Apparently, this deterred people from lending books to him but it’s an attitude I like: a book containing scribbles that’s damaged or well worn gives the impression of being well loved and enjoyed, whereas a pristinely kept book gives the impression of being unopened, not yet enjoyed.


Johnson’s house at 17 Gough Square (the only one of his 17 London homes that remains today) is full of trivia like this. Famous for creating the first comprehensive English dictionary in 1755, two of Johnson’s 1st edition dictionaries (from the original print run of 2000 copies) can be seen here. It’s the only house on the square that survived the Blitz bombings in 1940-41 (World War II) thanks mostly to the firemen in residence at that time. And, for children who visit, there are Georgian costumes to dress up in (I was tempted but sadly too big).

Nearby is the intriguing Ye Old Cheshire Cheese pub where Johnson reputedly drank. Rebuilt in 1667 – a year after the Great Fire of London – it’s a maze of bars (some cosy, some spacious) serving a good range of drinks and food.


~ Dr Johnson’s house website
~ Photos of Gough Square
~ Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese


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