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Johnson was born in Litchfield, England, on September 18, 1709; his father Michael was a bookseller. Johnson was not a healthy infant, and there was considerable question as to whether he would survive. Johnson was scarred from scrofula, and suffered a loss of hearing and was blind in one eye. The availability of the books in his father’s shop, and his natural proclivity for learning, contributed to his having extensive knowledge at an early age.

When Johnson spent time with an elder cousin, he was exposed to a broad range of thinking and cultivation. He later attended Oxford for about a year, but left for financial reasons. This was a horrible disappointment to someone who was so learned, to leave for financial reasons, and see his academic inferiors succeed in an arena where he couldn’t. During this period he went into a severe depression; his friend Edmund Hector helped him remain productive, in spite of the depression.

In 1735, Johnson married Elizabeth “Tetty” Porter, a woman several years older than him: she was 46, and he 25.

As a young man, Johnson tried his hand at a career as a schoolmaster, and was unsuccessful– largely because he didn’t have a degree. To some extent, his ungainly appearance, twitches, and mannerisms made it difficult to maintain the respect of his students. He eventually (1737) went to London to seek his fortune, and found employment as a writer for various periodicals. In addition to writing book reviews and derivative biographies, at one point he was assigned the task of writing thinly disguised reports of the debates in Parliament. Johnson obtained some notice with his works London (1738) and The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749) — both of which are considered great poems. His efforts in the 1750’s are why he’s considered a titan. This decade saw the creation of his Dictionary (1755), his Rambler essays (1750-52), his Idler essays (1758-60), and Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia (1759). This was a trying decade for him: his wife died in 1752 (just after the cessation of the Rambler essays), and she was often on his mind.

Shortly after this period, Johnson met a young Scot named James Boswell (in 1763) in Thomas Davies bookstore in London. The two became fast friends. Boswell took notes of their conversations, and leveraged those notes and other material into the mammoth, landmark biography “The Life of Samuel Johnson.”

Johnson’s output included far more than just his output of the 1750’s, of course. It also includes a complete edition of Shakespeare; a number of frequently cited political tracts; sermons; a description of his 1773 tour to Scotland with Boswell, with considerable discussion of the change of an era; and a series of biographies of numerous British poets (The Lives of the Poets), commissioned to accompany reprints of each poet’s works.

Johnson died on December 13, 1784. Boswell’s biography was published in 1791.

“Adversity is the state in which man mostly easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.”

“The applause of a single human being is of great consequence.”

“Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance.”

“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.”

“It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time.”

“Shame arises from the fear of men, conscience from the fear of God.”

“To strive with difficulties, and to conquer them, is the highest human felicity.”

“Knowledge is of two kinds: We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information about it.”

“The true art of memory is the art of attention.”

“He that is already corrupt is naturally suspicious, and he that becomes suspicious will quickly become corrupt.”

“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

“Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.”

“It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust.”

“No man ever yet became great by imitation.”

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

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