Friday, December 12, 2008

I will NOT buy another book about Samuel Johnson... okay, maybe I will

There are two new, well reviewed, biographies of Doctor Samuel "Dictionary" Johnson. This is marvelous news -- if I didn't already own half a dozen biographies of same. What to do?

Now the curious thing about Sam Johnson is that he is, of course, the subject of the greatest biography in the English language: James Boswell's Life. I own two editions of this (that I remember;) an Everyman's Library edition and a six volume edition, edited by Augustine Birrell, from 1901 that I've painfully had to "restore" at least twice, having read it almost to bits. In addition, though it's out-of-print, there is the almost equally wonderful memoir of Johnson's great friend and last love Hester Thrale Piozzi.
Not enough though. I own two delightful out-of-print books by James Lowry Clifford; Young Sam Johnson and Dictionary Johnson, both worth finding and reading still, Liz Picard's book on Johnson's London, and on and on...

So why contemplate reading and buying two more? Well, Jeffrey Meyer's Samuel Johnson: The Struggle may prove too juicy not to want to swallow whole. I took it to lunch yesterday and took a bite or two. I looked up Oliver Goldsmith in the index -- my first rule when considering a book about Johnson and his circle is always to check the biographer's attitude to sweet, silly, brilliant Goldsmith -- anyone who doesn't love Goldy is no friend of mine. Good rule. Meyers passed. I then moved on to read the bits about Johnson's sexual peculiarities that are getting Meyers so much press.

Shocking, my dears, wonderfully, delightfully shocking. And touching. And, damn, now I think I have to own the Meyers.

Today for lunch I'm having a slice or two of Peter Martin's Samuel Johnson: A Biography. Recommended by Harold Bloom (oh dear,) but also by Henry Hitchings, who wrote a very good book I also own, Dr. Johnson's Dictionary: The Extraordinary Story of the Book That Defined the World. I read Martin's introduction, and now, I fear, I may have to have this one too.

What's wrong with that?! I will have to try and sneak them home if I do, as I'm already being frowned at in that quarter for the haul I brought home on Employee Shopping Days.

But this is Dr. Johnson! How can I not? Right?! right?

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