Dr Johnson's House. First English Dictionary.


Follow Johnson’s Court as it meanders between tall buildings of differing ages and styles. It brings you out into Gough Square where immediately on the left you will find:-


Dr Johnson’s House. Samuel Johnson (1709-84), literary scholar and critic lived and worked here, compiling A Dictionary of the English Language, the first comprehensive English dictionary. His monumental tome originated in 1746 when five London booksellers decided that a dictionary would be a guaranteed bestseller and approached Johnson to see if he would be interested in creating one. Since Johnson at the time was flat broke, their offer of 1500 guineas, half of which was to be paid up front, proved irresistible. Eager to secure further funding Johnson sought a patron and approached Philip Dormer Stanhope, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield. Stanhope readily agreed to become the patron of the work, but showed a marked reluctance to contribute financially. Indeed the fact that all he handed over was a draft for a measly £10 rankled with Johnson. When his Lordship then insisted on claiming a part of Johnson’s triumph relations between the two men cooled considerably, with Johnson claiming that Chesterfield taught, ’ the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing master.’ The thick skinned Chesterfield laughed the attack off as a bit of good natured banter, which it most certainly was not.

Still, Johnson at least had the seven hundred and fifty pounds advance, and so he rented these rooms in Gough Square, hired six serving men to work as amanuenses, and embarked upon a project that would take him six years to complete. The finished work contained the definitions for an impressive, if not breathtaking, 43,500 words, amongst them such gems as ’Oats a cereal eaten in England by horses and in Scotland by men!’ He was also able to avenge himself upon Lord Chesterfield - who was openly hinting that he had had a lot more to do with the work than he actually had - ’Patron’ wrote Johnson ’ a wretch who supports with indolence and is paid with flattery.’ Chesterfield laughed that one off too. Johnson’s house is now a museum dedicated to his memory and the original dictionary is on display inside. It is well worth a visit.