Dr. Johnson was the greatest man of letters between Pope and Wordsworth. Born at Lichfield in 1709, he inherited, from his father a huge, unwieldy and unhealthy physical frame. His childhood was marred by ill health which affected his sight and hearing, and his face was scarred by scrofula. Though he went up to Pembroke College. Oxford, his studies were cut short by poverty. For a brief period, he worked as a schoolmaster. Subsequently, he did some translation for a publisher in Birmingham and there married a widow who was twenty years his senior. He squandered whatever little money she brought to him in a futile attempt to establish a school. Thereafter he moved to London to try his fortune. When he reached there, he had only two pence half-penny in his pocket. He had with him his late pupil, David Garrick, who became the greatest actor of his time.
Johnson developed a connection with Cave’s Magazine to which he contributed parliamentary reports regularly, without even going to the gallery of the House, but from the notes from others. His magnificent letter to Lord Chesterfield to whom he had addressed the prospectus of his greatest work A Dictionary of the English Language and who neglected him entirely till his labors were near completion, dealt the death blow to the whole 18th-century system of patronage. When later in life he received a pension of £ 300 a year, his struggle and anxieties were over.
His desire of traveling was partly fulfilled when he toured Wales in 1774 and Scotland in 1775. The following year he accompanied the Thrales family to Paris. He died in 1784.
His works are:
(a) London (1738)
(b) The Life of Savage (1744)
(c) The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749)
(d) A Dictionary of the English Language (1755): It took nine years to compile this big project in which he not only undertook to defend but also to illustrate his definitions by quotations taken from the whole realm of English literature. Though he was weak in etymology and philology, the ‘Dictionary’ laid the foundation of English lexicography.
(e) Shakespeare (1765)
(f) Journey to the Western Island of Scotland (1775)
(g) The Rambler, Rassellas, a Prince of Abyssinia (1759)
(h) The Lives of the Poets (1779-81)