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Samuel Johnson: A Biography [Paperback]

Peter Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Jan. 20 2010
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.

This new biography illuminates the unknown Johnson: 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.

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. 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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'A solidly constructed literary biography that makes judicious use of sources sidelined by Boswell, as well as later academic findings'—GUARDIAN

'Well-researched, fully annotated and judiciously expressed... Peter Martin's volume is a worthy addition to everyone's shelf of Johnsoniana'—LITERARY REVIEW

'Peter Martin has written a very smart and well-researched book'—SPECTATOR

'It would be nice if [Martin's] SAMUEL JOHNSON won the 2009 Samuel Johnson. I think it has a chance'—OBSERVER

About the Author

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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There are many impressions that are conjured when reflecting on the long life of Dr. Samuel Johnson. What tops the list is the enormity, the scale of the life lived and the productivity realized despite the equally large burdens that he carried from birth to the end. Nearly dying of early childhood diseases, the worst of which was scrofula, which scarred him around the neck and led somehow to impaired eyesight and hearing. Given the times in which he lived, seen from our point of view, we could be generous in saying it was before modern medicine; I say generous because the methodologies of a pre-microscope science were crude, barbaric and wrong. It is equally amazing that he survived the gruesome applications of the medical techniques of his day, including but not restricted to copious, nearly fatal blood letting. What is also interesting is how his unquenchable thirst for knowledge brought him into a serious study of advanced research into various treatments. Sometimes recklessly he would administer potions, concoctions, poultices and blends of various types of compounds derived from some flower, herb or other natural growth. At the end of his life, when the drug 'digitalis' had been discovered, he nearly killed himself by self application of a massive dose. He was also fearless in his puncturing of his veins to bleed himself, sometimes again taking too much blood.

Johnson was a tall man, just under 6 feet with a large torso, neck, arms and trunk. He looked from his young days somewhat odd in his body proportions but was possessed of substantial physical strength and stamina. (There were stories told of how, when angered, he could toss someone still sitting in a chair, both sent flying through the air.
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