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Archive for September, 2006

Not the legendary monster

This portrait of Dr. Johnson comes from a copy of A. Edward Newton’s A Magnificent Farce which belonged to the British artist and author Max Beerbohm. He has annotated it “Where is this portrait? Not in America, I do hope–for I’ve never seen it, and should like to, inasmuch as it’s far more convincing and telling than any of the others. This is the man that said those things. This is how he looked when he was saying them. This is intimately the dear man himself–not the legendary monster.”

Beerbohm was certainly a man who knew about a telling portrait. He was celebrated for his incisive and witty caricatures of his contemporaries. Unfortunately for him, his worst fears were correct–the portrait was indeed in America, in Newton’s own Samuel Johnson collection, many items from which later ended up in the Hyde Collection. The portrait, however, Newton left to Haverford College in Pennsylvania, where it currently resides. Diana Peterson of Haverford College Libraries Quaker and Special Collections Department informs me that a recent appraisal disproves the attribution of the portrait to Sir Joshua Reynolds, but it nonetheless remains a striking and very human image of Johnson.

Johnson portrait

Published in:John Overholt |on September 25th, 2006 |Comments Off on Not the legendary monster

Fun for the whole family

As a big Trivial Pursuit fan, I really like these Instructive Conversation Cards, which I suppose were the closest thing the early 19th century had to offer. It’s unfortunate, though, that the very first fact they offer about Samuel Johnson is wrong; he was born in 1709, not 1706. (Either that or we’re way behind on the planning for the tercentenary symposium)


Published in:John Overholt |on September 13th, 2006 |Comments Off on Fun for the whole family

Not equal to Fleet-Street

In the midst of one of our copies of Graphic illustrations of the life and times of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. is bound a set of 11 lovely watercolors that don’t belong there. Unusually, they have formal captions at the bottom, and some of them seem to have additional materials printed onto the sheets. Fortunately for me, the bookdealer’s description of the item from when it was purchased by Mary Hyde Eccles 20 years ago is still with the book. You can’t see it here, but there’s a small “C.J.S. 1837” in the lower left corner, meaning that it’s probably the work of Charles John Smith, who died in 1838 with his projected Historical and Literary Curiosties still unfinished. Presumably, these were the proofs for the illustrations that would have gone in that work had he lived to complete it. I don’t know who it was that bound them into this other work, but I’m glad they haven’t been lost.

I particularly liked this one, which illustrates a passage from Boswell’s Life of Johnson. Boswell writes: “We walked in the evening in Greenwich Park. He asked me, I suppose, by way of trying my disposition, ‘Is not this very fine?’ Having no exquisite relish of the beauties of Nature, and being more delighted with ‘the busy hum of men,’ I answered, ‘Yes, Sir; but not equal to Fleet-street.’ JOHNSON. ‘You are right, Sir.’”

Greenwich Park

Published in:John Overholt |on September 6th, 2006 |Comments Off on Not equal to Fleet-Street