Monday 25 September 2017


Hamilton in the distance. 

Until two weeks ago my views about North America were formed at a distance. I had thoughts along the lines of; a disproportionate presence in our world news coverage, the megaphone inanities of a president intent on getting American coalminers back to work, blockbuster action films of an improbable machismo, Royal visits to Canada, a distant memory of school geography lessons and a visit, some thirty and more years ago, before children, when Marilyn and I made a trip to San Francisco and then New York. Memories of then are rather vague. A few highlights and impressions remain
I flew to Toronto’s Pearson Airport on Monday the 4th September, an Air Transit flight from Gatwick. It took eight hours. When I arrived I was feeling tired but excited. Clive and Barbara met me and then drove me to their home at Dorset Place, Westdale, a district of Hamilton.

On the first day, Clive and I went for a bicycle ride along the waterfront trail beside Cootes Paradise. We stopped now and then to take in the views and to observe, cormorants and the occasional heron poised on rocks in the water, waiting for fish to appear. A couple of joggers glided past. Other cyclists swept along the path in both directions. I could see the steal works on the other side of the bay, steam emanating from one of its furnaces. Steal is the main industry of Hamilton.

We did a lot of cycling around Westdale.

During my stay in Westdale with Clive and Barbara we visited a number of nature reserves and environments , many of national scientific importance. We not only visited Cootes Paradise, but also Crawford Lake, walked along part of the limestone Niagara Escarpment and visited the Royal Botanic Gardens at Hamilton. Clive and Barbara are interested in the flora and fauna around The Great Lakes area of Ontario and often take trips to observe and photograph the various birds that inhabit these areas. In accompaniment with Clive and Barbara I met and came across many other Canadians taking advantage of their natural environment. I formed the opinion that this is an aspect of being Canadian, a strong respect and love for the natural world.
Cootes Paradise.

Crawford Lake was interesting for a number of reasons. It’s a conservation area. Woodland art punctuates the pathways. The lake is a rare meromictic lake and there is a reconstructed Iroquoian village  on the site of an original, archaeologically excavated and researched village. A First Nations leader, Chief Top Leaf, was visiting and giving talks on Iroquoian culture while we were there.
Iroquoian long house at Crawford Lake.

Westdale is a pleasant leafy suburb of Hamilton. It has wide quiet streets. The houses are of varying architectural design, some of brick, some stone built but most are timber clad. Front lawns, shrubbery beds and a variety of trees front every residence. The weather was warm, most days being in the mid twenty degrees, this contributed to the feeling of a tranquil pleasant place. Westdale village  has a variety of restaurants including The Saigon Restaurant, The Snooty Fox pub, a good second hand book shop, run by a friendly English lady,  a number of coffee shops and a dilapidated cinema that is in the process of being renovated. Locals want it back in use. I should have asked who, and how it is going to be managed. Will it be a local community facility run by a cooperative? I imagine arthouse type movies being shown there. Perhaps even an outlet for local film makers. I am running ahead of things here. Mere speculation. 

Westdale Cinema being renovated.

On the outskirts of Westdale is McMaster University set in a campus comprising of buildings built in the late 1920’s when its main campus moved from Toronto to Hamilton and modern buildings constructed right up to the present day. 

The building where Clive did his teacher training.

We went on a cycle tour of the campus one lunchtime and hundreds of students were milling about, folders and laptops in hand. Clive showed me the building where he had done his teacher training courses.


Clive and I got the train from Hamilton into Toronto one day. We walked the streets looking at various sights. We went into The Royal Ontario Museum with its modernist glass rubics cube of an extension at one side. I came across The Hudson’s Bay Company shop. It’s an upmarket store these days. We walked into a side street being used as a film set, a winter scene, the setting was the streets of New York. The temperature was 25 degrees centigrade that day. We had a pub lunch in a bar at the heart of ,TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival with fans walking about trying to see the ,"stars."

The Toronto Blue Jays in action against the Detroit Tigers.

 Later we had tickets for the Toronto Blue Jays against the Detroit Tigers in the magnificent Rogers Stadium overlooked by the CN Tower. I have never been to a baseball game before. Any sport where watching the statistics on the score board is more exciting than watching the occasional burst of activity on the field has to be up there with having a hangover. Large computer screens told us when to make a ,"NOISE."The game lasted three hours! Cricket is so much more exciting. Toronto, the city, is fantastic though. 

Clive obtained tickets for the three of us to see a production of HMS Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan at the theater in Stratford one night. Stratford is a very nice town. It was amusing to see the opening scene set in the naval port of Portsmouth, Hampshire. They did try to get their English accents correct.

Stratford Ontario.

A visit to the Canadian Warplanes Museum, at Monro Airport near Hamilton, provided an opportunity to see one of only two, still flying, Lancaster bombers from the second world war on display. The day we went  veteran cars were on display too.

A Lancaster Bomber.

Barbara, Clive and I drove to Niagara Falls on another day. We took a boat called The Hornblower which powered itself to the base of the Horse Shoe Falls, sailing past the smaller American Falls on the way. That was some experience. We got soaked through even for the fact we were wearing  pink plastic ponchos. I challenged one of the crew. “Do I have to wear pink?” She replied curtly, “Its Canadian Red.”

Wearing, "Canadian Red."

After the falls we visited Fort George, a reconstructed British fort built in the early 1800’s on the Niagara River to defend Canada from the Americans. We learned all about the 1812 War against America which the British won and Canada, eventually,became, Canada.

Barbara and Clive at Niagara Falls.

Afterwards we drove to Niagara on the Lake, a picturesque town from the time of Fort George, with many English features including a great pub that sold Old Speckled Hen and provided fish and chips that were not bad. It is world famous for holding one of the main arts festivals in North America, The Shaw Festival. There is an imposing life size statue of George Bernard Shaw in the High Street.

George Bernard Shaw at Niagara on the Lake.
On the 11th September we flew from Pearson Airport to La Guardia, north of Brooklyn, in New York. Barbara had booked us an Airbnb in Little Italy near Greenwich Village.

New York, New York.

 Arriving at La Guardia we first got a Metrocard from a machine just outside of the airport terminal. This gave us subway and bus travel for three days. We got the bus to, Jackson Heights, where the subway system begins.  The bus had deposited us right next to the infamous, elevated railway that features in the Film French Connection with Gene Hackman. It is the scene of one of the most exciting road chases in film. We couldn’t have had a better start to New York. 

Jackson Heights. The French Connection film location.

We got the M line to Bleecker Street in south Manhatten, not far from the apartment we were to stay at. Little Italy is a run down, poor area, vagrants living on the streets, social housing, black bin liners filled with rubbish piled on the pavements and grimy corner shops. We were getting the full flavour of New York from the very start. We found a great artisan coffee shop just round the corner from the apartment where we had coffee and croissants every morning for breakfast.

The coffee shop we used in Little Italy, for breakfast.

On our first afternoon we walked from the apartment in Eldridge Street, through Greenwich Village. Clive had done his research. We found Jones Street where the album cover for, The "Freewheelin’" Bob Dylan album was photographed. Clive and I took turns to pose in a,” Dylanesque,” fashion in the street and took our own photographs. We saw where Dylan had lived in Mc Dougal Street at various periods and saw the,”Wha Club,” where Dylan and other artists had performed.

Bob Dylan lived here in McDougal Street,Greenwich Village.

That first afternoon and evening of the 11th was the time to visit, “Ground Zero.” Commemorative marches and remembrance services had taken place that day. We stood and looked into the abyss of each of the Twin Tower’s footprints where cascades of water tumble down seemingly into a bottomless void. There were thousands of people still around in the evening. Police officers and members of the New York Fire brigade, wearing ceremonial uniforms were  drinking in the bars after the memorial services.

A New York fireman on duty  at Ground Zero.

During our three days in New York we each had our own  particular highlights. We sat in a coffee shop near Battery Park just south of Wall Street and discussed this. To be honest, everything I saw and experienced affected me and will remain with me always. One of my highlights was Greenwich Village and Washington Square and The White Horse Tavern where Dylan Thomas took his last drink.

The White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village where Dylan Thomas took his last drink.

 On Wall Street, I overheard a woman explaining to a friend about her hysterectomy and successful cancer operation. New Yorkers are very loud. They are also incredibly friendly. A few New Yorkers approached us to offer help when they obviously saw we were looking lost on occasion.

The little girl in Wall Street facing out the charging bull.

We accidently ( yes, truly) walked into Trump Tower on 5th Avenue and wondered why the Secret Service agents wore jackets with ,Secret Service, in large letters across their backs. Later that day we walked through the foyer of the Rockefeller Center and were awed by every glittering and polished surface of art deco magnificence. The Trump Tower has nothing on the Rockefeller Center. John D.Rockefeller was a humanitarian. He was a philosopher and philanthropist. Donald Trump is just….. 

The Rockefeller Center. Much much better than Trump Tower.

We had a very pleasant walk through Central Park on a warm sunny day. We went from The Dakota Building, where John Lennon once lived to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the other side of the park. 

The city from Central Park.
We spent an evening at the Iguana Club on 54th Street, between 8th Avenue and Broadway. We had a meal there and listened to the Grammy Award winning Vince Giorodano’s Nighthawks Orchestra. They played jazz music from the 1930’s. People sitting at various tables got up and danced . They were incredible. I asked one of the waiters how come they were so good? He told me they were people who came to the club two nights a week to take dance lessons. It was like a 1930’s flash mob. The club, master of ceremonies and entrance usher was a lovely, smiling elderly lady dressed for the period who stumbled around with an arthritic hip. The waiters were fast and efficient. They all looked middle aged, Latinos mostly. I sat there in the dark shadow of our table and wondered whether they had pensions and health care.  There are things you read and hear about America. Vince , the bandleader, was a large ebullient man who talked to the audience introducing every number with a wry sense of humour. The whole evening was wonderful. I can’t think of a better superlative to describe it.

Vince and The Nighthawks giving it their all.

We walked past the UN building on the east side next to the East River. There is a Barbara Hepworth sculpture at the front of the UN building that she created in her studio in St Ives. It is  based on her ideas about form and line.  She was a friend of Dag Hammarskj√∂ld,  the secretary general of the UN in the 1950s.

"Form and line," by Barbara Hepworth infront of the UN building.

One thing I had intended to do in  New York was to find a small restaurant on E44th Street  called ,John’s Restaurant. It is situated near the UN Building so after we walked passed  the UN   we walked along E44th Street and there was John’s Restaurant on the corner of 2nd Avenue. It is a seedy run down place. The reason I was there is because of my mother. In 1941 during the second world war, my mother had a New York pen friend, arranged for her by the nuns at St Anne’s Convent in Southampton. Her pen friend was called , Alda Steffanacci. One of the photographs Alda  sent my mother, taken in 1941, showed herself with her father and mother standing outside of John’s Restaurant on E44th Street.

Alda, with her mother and father in 1941 outside of John's Restaurant on E44th Street and 2nd Avenue.

  I went in to inquire whether the same family owned the restaurant but over the years it had changed hands a number of times. The waitress very kindly let me take photographs of the inside. Clive also took a photograph of me standing on the  same spot Alda and her family had stood all those years ago.

The same spot today.

We did not go skywards to the top of any high buildings while we were in New York, such as The Empire State building, but we got some incredible views of New York from the river and the harbour.  We took the subway from Bowery to Fulton Street and changed to get the subway to Dumbo across the East River on the Brooklyn side. From there we walked back into Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge.  New York rose before us. 

New York from Brooklyn Bridge.
Another eye popping experience was riding the cable car across to Roosevelt Island beside the 59th Street Bridge. 

On the cable car next to 59th Street Bridge.

We also took the Staten Island Ferry across to Staten Island and got a great view of New York harbour including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island where immigrants were processed at the turn of the last century.

The Staten Island Ferry with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Barbara wanted to see and walk along the High Line, which runs parallel with the piers on the west side of Manhattan where many ships dock. It is close to Greenwich Village. The High Line used to be a railway line above ground that serviced the port and also the meat packing district. It became derelict but has now been turned into an urban garden with pathways. Some of the old railway tracks remain as part of the garden features.

The High Line, which has been turned into a very pleasant urban walkway and garden.

While in New York we also visited The New York Public Library and St Patrick’s Cathedral, both on 5th Avenue.

From the steps pf the New York Public Library.

We stood in awe inside Grand Central Station. It is like a cathedral. We also stood outside of the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway where the Beatles had their famous first televised performance in America.

The Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway.

Time Square is the beating heart of New York. It is brash and bright, the temple to modern consumerism. A symbol of one of the powerful driving forces of our modern culture. Enormous computerised screens flicker with giant sized advertisements. It even has a sloping bank of seats, like a sports stadium, so people can sit and watch the never ending display.My Dad ,who visited New York on a number of occasions  in the late 1940s, asked me if they still had the continuous tickertape band displaying the latest news, moving around Time Square. I had to disappoint him and tell him that was ancient technology.

Time Square.
We flew back to Toronto on the 14th September. On the 15th I had an evening flight back to Gatwick so we spent the day cycling around Westdale, getting a pub lunch at the Snooty Fox and just generally chilling out.

It is difficult to describe how amazing the time I had with Clive and Barbara was. I shall remember it always. They were wonderful hosts. We filled our time with so many experiences over the twelve days.

Friday 1 September 2017


Dr Samuel Johnson, outside St Clement Danes, looking along Fleet Street.

Samuel Johnson was born in 1709 in Lichfield, Staffordshire. He was the son of Michael and Sarah Johnson. His father was a bookseller. Michael Johnson didn’t make much money and became bankrupt at one time. So Samuel Johnson came from a poor background. He also suffered various illnesses . He contracted scrofula as a baby which lead to him having poor hearing and eyesight and left him scarred. In 1717 until 1725 he attended Lichfield Grammar School. He went on to Pembroke College Oxford but was only able to stay for thirteen months. He left in 1729 because his father could not afford to keep him at Oxford. His father died in 1731 . In 1732 Samuel Johnson became an assistant teacher at Market Bosworth School.In 1735 he married a widow , Elizabeth Porter. Johnson called her Tetty. She was twenty years older than he was.  She had three children from her first marriage and had inherited a small fortune. When Johnson met her he was poor and had no prospects. She told her daughter that she thought Johnson the most sensible man she had ever met. Using money that she had been left by her late husband she aided Johnson in setting up his own school, Edial Hall, at Edial near Lichfield. The school failed within months. Perhaps Samuel Johnson’s physical disabilities and his Tourettes deterred parents and pupils. When Johnson's school, failed, Tetty, lost a  large part of her fortune.  The school had only three pupils, including David Garrick, who became the greatest actor of his generation. Johnson continued writing a play, he had begun in 1726, called Irene, a tragic play. In 1749, when living in London,  David Garrick performed in it and Johnson eventually made some money from the production. It was never performed again.

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David Garrick, actor, playwright and theater manager, who influenced the theater throughout the 18th century.

 On the 2nd March 1737, Samuel Johnson and David Garrick left Lichfield for London. They first stayed with Richard Norris, a friend of Garrick’s in Greenwich. In October 1737, Johnson brought Tetty to London. Johnson financed their lives by writing  articles for The Gentleman’s Magazine published by Edward Cave. Between 1737 and 1739 Johnson befriended Richard Savage a poet. Johnson felt guilty about the poor situation he had brought Tetty  to live in. He stopped living with her for a while and stayed in night cellars and taverns with Richard Savage. Sometimes they roamed the streets at night. Savage died in1743 , ill health and alcoholism ruined his constitution. In 1744 Johnson wrote an innovative biography about his friend, called, “Life of Mr Richard Savage,” which was a success. In 1746. Johnson had resumed living with Tetty when he was approached by a group of publishers to create a dictionary of the English Language setting out also a detailed grammar of English. The dictionary disrupted the lives of Tetty and Johnson. He employed assistants to do the work of physically writing what he dictated. There was incessant noise and clutter everywhere. 

17 Gough Square, where Samuel Johnson created his famous dictionary.

  In 1748 Johnson found a suitable house at 17 Gough Square, just north of Fleet Street in the City. He was able to convert the top floor into a long room which was ideal for working on the dictionary and keeping the other floors of the house for living purposes. He paid a rent of £30 a year.He stayed there until 1759 and after the dictionary was published in 1755. Johnson was still poor, while writing the dictionary, and had to finance himself through writing for his own publication The Rambler and for , The Idler and The Adventurer. His wife, Elizabeth died in 1752, before the dictionary was published.There were those who said he didn’t love his wife but his outpouring of grief in letters to friends and the prayer he wrote  at her death reveals a different view.  In 1755, in recognition of his work, writing the Dictionary, he was given an MA by Oxford University. In 1759 He published a novel Rasselas, a philosophical novel , a meditation and exploration in story form. It was an exploration about what a good, fruitful,life should be. In 1762, Johnson was granted a pension for life from George III for his work. This provided some , security. Samuel Johnson could now travel, and spend time talking During his time in London, Johnson lived in seventeen known addresses. After Gough Square he also lived in three Inns of court, number 1 Temple Court being one of his addresses and subsequently rented houses in Johnson's Court and Bolt Court.

The coffee shop, next to Covent Garden, where James Boswell met Samuel Johnson for the first time.

In 1765 he published an edition of Shakespeare which he had researched carefully to bring it back to its original sources. He also met Henry and Hester Thrale and went to live with them at their estate in Streatham. Mrs Thrale,  through the links with the art and literary world Dr Johnson provided, became an important hostess bringing together many talented people.  In 1765, Dublin University awarded him a doctorate.  He was close friends not only with the Thrales and David Garrick, his past pupil, but with Sir Joshua Reynolds, Francis Burney and her composer father, Charles Burney, James Boswell, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith and Thomas Lawrence. 

The house on The Royal Mile, near Edinburgh Castle, where Dr Johnson and James Boswell stayed.

Samuel Johnson and James Boswell toured the Highlands of Scotland and the Hebrides together. Johnson inspired those around him and many biographies were written about him. The most famous biography is that of his friend James Boswell , who wrote, “The Life of Samuel Johnson.” They met for the first time in a coffee house next to Covent Garden Market. A blue plaque marks the very spot.
Towards the end of his life Samuel Johnson became ill, not only suffering gout but he also suffered a stroke which weakened him. He died on the 13th December 1784.

A sketch showing James Boswell.

Jane Austen was born on the 16th December 1775 so she was nine years old when Dr Johnson died. However throughout her letters and novels she refers to Dr Johnson and his writings. On 8th February 1807, writing to her sister Cassandra from Southampton she states, “ But like my dear Dr Johnson I believe I have dealt more in notions than facts.”
On Wednesday 3rd November 1813 writing from Godmershm Park to Cassandra once again she is discussing the decision of William, a servant of Henry’s, at 10 Henrietta Street, to leave London. “ He has more Cowper than of Johnson in him, fonder of Tame Hares & Blank verse than the full tide of human existence at Charing Cross.”
She felt empathy and affection for Dr Johnson it seems.
It can be said that Dr Johnson pervades Jane Austens novels and that she could not have written the novels she did without  Dr Johnson's philosophy of life which obviously influenced  her lifes views.

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Rassalas by Samuel Johnson.

In chapter 39 of Mansfield Park, Fanny has returned to her family home in Portsmouth and is feeling overwhelmed by the chaos.
“In a review of the two houses, as they appeared before her before the end of the week, Fanny was tempted to apply to them Dr Johnson’s celebrated judgement as to matrimony and celibacy, and say, that though Mansfield Park might have some pains, Portsmouth could have no pleasures.”
This is a reference to a sentence in Dr Johnson’s book, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia.
Included in Fanny’s reading material while at Mansfield Park , Edmund notices Lord Macartney, Crabbes’ Tales and Dr Johnsons periodical, the Idler.

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Collected editions of The Idler.

Jane Austen was open to new ideas. Her novels show she had a clear understanding of human nature. Her many references to Dr Johnson make it clear she knew his ideas and writing well. She must have read his articles in the Rambler, Idler and Adventurer and she obviously used his philosophical ideas from Rasselas. In Johnsons novel, Rassalas, Imlac and Pekunah observe human nature and take different things from their observations and experiences. They are open minded about what they see. They discuss their thoughts and discoveries.
Mr Knightly , in Emma embodies many of Dr Johnsons’ ideas about what makes a good person in his patience and understanding and in his efforts to undo error. He is an observer of human nature and life just as Rasselas was. Darcy's maturing love for Elizabeth Bennett is similar to the exploration of human realtionships and development Rassalas experinecd. Many of Austens characters are exceptionally wealthy, not least Mr Darcy, but many are from different parts of society and have varying degrees of wealth or the lack of it. Jane Austen intermingles different types of characters  and their interrelating create the tensions in her novels. 
“Esteem and influence every man desires, but they are equally pleasing, and equally valuable, by whatever means they are obtained; and whoever has found the art of securing them without the help of money, ought, in reality, to be accounted rich, since he has all that riches can purchase to a wise man.”
The Rambler (no 202)
This piece by Samuel Johnson could almost be a discussion about Fitzwilliam Darcy.

 Dr Johnson has something to say about families too. In Rassalas he  writes,
 “ Thus parents and children, for the greatest part, live on to love less and less: and….. where shall we look for tenderness and consolation?” 
In Janes novels there are tensions between different age groups within families. Mr Woodhouse, Emmas father, is such a nervous demanding parent. Mr Bennett in Pride and Prejudice,  doesn’t seem to want to take much interest in his daughters and appears to suffer his wife. Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion  is a domineering, selfish and demanding parent.
Claire Tomlin, in her biography of Jane Austen, relates how In January 1789, James Austen produced the first edition of The Loiterer based on Dr Johnson's magazines The Rambler and the Idler. Henry Austen contributed an essay to the Loiterer but most essays were written by James. It is suggested than one article, “Sophia Sentiment,” in the 28th March 1789 issue, was written by a 14 year old Jane Austen.

James Austen's, The Loiterer.

It is tempting to say; could Jane Austen have written the novels she wrote without the influence of Dr Johnson? Nobody exists in a vacuum and Jane Austen loved ideas and was a great annalist of human nature just like her, “Dear Dr Johnson.”

Recently I have visited Johnson’s house at 17 Gough Square where his dictionary was written. It is a lovely brick town house of the 18th century, set within a small square, that now includes some modern office buildings. Number 17 is the only remaining 18th century house kept intact within the square because of its association with Dr Johnson. It is now the museum to Dr Johnson.The ornate front entrance is reached by four stone steps supported by iron railings to either side. This is the entrance Dr Johnson, his wife Tetty,  friends and employees once entered. Nowadays visitors enter from the left side of the house into a room that was the dining room. The kitchen was situated in the basement below this room. Cupboards in the wall paneling were used to keep tea and coffee, expensive items at that time. Marilyn and I had to pay a small fee to enter the house. We have membership of The National Trust and there is an arrangement with the museum to enable members to get a discount. A cheerful and welcoming lady at the desk, a volunteer at the house, gave us an overview of Dr Johnson and his life whilst he lived in the house. She was very knowledgeable.

The front door to 17 Gough Square. "No entry! No entry!"

One particular story that amused her and when she told us, amused us too, was regarding the front door. Samuel Johnson was always short of money and often got into debt. Something that happened to his father too. It was his father’s debt that prevented Johnson continuing at Oxford University. One night, apparently, debt collectors arrived at 17 Gough Square to confront Samuel Johnson. Johnson, with his servants, barricaded the door with his bed shouting at the debt collectors, “No entry! No entry!” Standing behind the front door  in the entrance hall you can easily imagine the scene. To the right of the door was a small spy hole that Johnson could look through to see who was standing outside. The rooms on this ground floor are painted a dark brown and make the downstairs rooms look drab and dark. There was a purpose for this. The streets were muddy and covered with horse droppings. People entering the downstairs unintentionally brought some of this ordure into the house with them.  Light colours would soon look dirty. Dark colours disguised the dirt.

The parlour with its dark painted walls. The wig cupboard is to the right.

The room  on the opposite side of the entrance hall was  the parlour or  reception room. People arriving to visit Dr Johnson were ushered in here first. There is a powder closet to the right of the fireplace. It looks like a large cupboard with double doors. It was used to store wigs. Samuel Johnson used to sit inside the cupboard with his wig on and a servant would then cover his wig with a grey white powder to create the required grey affect that was all the fashion. It occurred to me, if things went wrong, some loud spluttering and choking might emanate from this cupboard during the wig dusting process. Also this room contains portraits of Dr Johnson, painted by his friend Joshua Reynolds and portraits of other acquaintances of Johnson.

Francis Barber, Dr Johnson's man servant and his heir.

One portrait shows Francis Barber, a freed Jamaican slave, who became Johnsons manservant soon after Tetty,  died. He was born into slavery. Barber was aged about seven when his owner, Colonel Richard Bathhurst, who may have been his father, brought him to England in 1750 and placed him in a Yorkshire school. Five years later, on his deathbed, Bathurst bequeathed Barber £12 and his freedom. It was Bathurst’s son who introduced Francis, now 12 years old, to Dr Johnson, whose wife had died two weeks earlier. Barber spent his next 30 years in Gough Square, Bolt Court, and Johnson’s Court,  places nearby that Johnson lived in too. In 1773 he was joined by his wife, a white woman called Elizabeth Ball who gave birth to four children, two of whom were apparently white themselves, and in 1784, when Johnson died, Barber inherited the bulk of his estate. Part of the inheritance was  an income of £700 per annum. Friends of Dr Johnson, wrote that Johnson didn,t need to employ Barber,  he never seemed to do much. Johnson  relates that Barber, presumably before he married Elizabeth Ball, was something of a lothario. However Dr Johnson had a great fondness for him and friendship and companionship was a valuable thing to him. He expressed the highest opinion of Barber.

Hester Thrale and daughter.

Opinions vary as to Barber’s character. Mrs Thrale and John Hawkins wrote nastily about his being an undeserving servant and a jealous husband, but James Boswell,  had only nice things to say about ‘good Mr Francis’.
Other portraits in the parlour, include those of James Boswell and Joshua Reynolds.There is a grandfather clock in one corner, a circular table with chairs and a glass cabinet with a tea set that once belonged to Hester Thrale.
Johnson's grandfather clock.

On the first floor the stairs come to a wide open space that really is two rooms and a small contained landing. The walls are wooden partitions with doors constructed in them that have been opened wide on hinges and rollers . Once these partion walls are rolled back into place they create separate rooms. Able to create a large space from two rooms and an entrance foyer this area could become multi purpose. A large gathering for a celebration of some sort could be held here.

The first floor with the partition walls folded back.

 The room to the left,when the walls are in place,  was where Anna Williams (1706-1783) lived. Anna Williams and her father were befriended by Johnson and his wife Tetty in the late 1740s. She was an impoverished poet who suffered cataracts in both eyes. In 1751 Johnson arranged for Samuel Sharp, a senior surgeon at Guys Hospital, to operate on Anna William's eyes. Sharp carried out the operation free of charge. He took pity on her because of her poverty and also because she was pious and an intelligent person. Unfortunately the operation was unsuccessful. She moved to Johnson's house in Gough Square and continued to live with Johnson whenever he had lodgings large enough  to accommodate her.She took charge of the domestic running of the household. She has been described as being ill tempered but Boswell quotes Lady Knight who wrote of Anna,
 “…bad health and blindness are surely sufficient apology for her sometimes being impatient, her natural disposition was good , friendly and humane.”

A portrait of Tetty.

Also on this first floor there are many more paintings of Johnson and his friends. The room to the right on this floor is the withdrawing room. On this floor is a stained glass panel hanging in a window showing Dr Johnson with Lichfield Cathedral in the background. There is also the only known portrait of Elizabeth Johnson, his wife, Tetty.

A stained glass portrait of Dr Johnson, on the first floor, showing Lichfield Cathedral in the background.

This room is hung with many portraits of friends and acquaintances. Johnson loved people around him. This may have been due to a morbid fear of being on his own. The portraits in this room, cover actors, politicians, clergy, preachers, forgers and even murderers. Giuseppi Berretti, was a literary critic who was a tutor to Hester Thrale’s children. He had been acquitted of murder in 1769. He got the position of tutor to the Thrale children through a character reference provided by Dr Johnson. Johnson would entertain total strangers in his house. He had many people stay and live with him at Gough Square,  friends and distant relations too. These various people did not always get on well together and it was said shouting and arguing could sometimes be heard coming from number 17. After moving from Gough Square to number 1 Inner Temple, he received even more visitors daily. 

On the next floor, library shelves adorn the walls. There are many editions of Dr Johnson’s and James Boswell’s work. 

David Garrick's costume chest.

A large chest against one wall has a small brass plaque on it explaining that this wooden trunk was used by David Garrick, the actor, to store costumes in. It asks the public not to touch it.On a round table positioned in the center of this room are editions of Dr Johnson's two volume dictionary. These copies on display are modern facsimiles so visitors are permitted to leaf through them. I spent some time looking up various words. He gave the Latin and Greek root. His definition of each word provides examples of the word in context. In all, there are 114,000 quotations in the dictionary. Johnson was the first English lexicographer to use citations in this way, a method that greatly influenced the style of future dictionaries. He had scoured books stretching back to the 1500s, often quoting from those that were thought to be 'great works' such as Milton or Shakespeare. Johnson also provided  a description of English grammar. He gives detailed explanations of vowels, consonants, nouns, adjectives, verbs, syntax, prosody, tenses. He wrote succinctly and simply. He didn’t over-elaborate and his explanations of English grammar are fresh and clear and could be used by a teacher in a junior school today.  I  checked terms such as, “preterite,” and ,”potential.”   Terms such as indictive, infinitive, present, past, imperative and conjuctive mood are used generally nowadays when teaching English. We write, talk and read, unconscious of the language process we go through. It is important to know and use these terms though. They create different meanings and emphasis. We need to know the,” mechanics,” of language so we can use language to better effect.

Dr Johnson's Dictionary.

Here is a definition in the dictionary for ,”existence.” A topic that Johnson explored throughout his life.
n.s. [existentia, low Latin.] State of being; actual possession of being.
Nor is only the existency of this animal considerable, but many things delivered thereof. Brown's Vulgar Errours, b. iii.
It is impossible any being can be eternal with successive eternal physical changes, or variety of states or manner of existency, naturally and necessarily concomitant unto it. Hale.
The soul, secur'd in her existence, smiles
At the drawn dagger, and defies its point.
 Addison's Cato.
When a being is considered as possible, it is said to have an essence or nature; such were all things before the creation. When it is considered as actual, then it is said to have existence also. Watts's Logick.

Eventually, Marilyn and I made our way up to the top floor, the attic. This is a long room, stretching the width of the house, where wooden desks were set up for Dr Johnson’s assistants and where the great dictionary was written. It is quite something to stand inside such a special place. Johnson, dictated the dictionary to his assistants and they together formed a method of recording it. Johnson must have had so many references scattered around this room.  First published in 1755, the dictionary took just over eight years to compile, required six helpers, and listed 40,000 words. The comparable French Dictionnarre had taken 55 years to compile and required the dedication of 40 scholars. Johnson’s dictionary was a gargantuan feet.

The attic of 17 Gough Square. It was here the dictionary was compiled.

Dr Johnson's empathy for human beings is famous. But it must be remembered that he felt an attachment to animals also. James Boswell writing about his friend in April 1783 states,
“ I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself would go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble might take a dislike to the poor creature. (Boswell goes on to write) I remember him one day scrambling up Dr Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back and pulled him by the tail.”

Hodge, looking back at 17 Gough Square after finishing his oysters.

In Gough Square, opposite the entrance to number 17, is a small life size statue of Hodge with  oyster shells at his feet. Passersby generally put their loose change in the empty oyster shells for Dr Johnson to buy some more fresh oysters for Hodge. A nice idea.

Ref: The Life of Samuel Johnson by  James Boswell (First published 1791) Penguin Classics 2008
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia  by Samuel Johnson  (
Jane Austen’s Letters Collected and Edited by Deirdre Le Faye  Third Edition , Oxford University Press 1995
Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomlin  Penguin 1998
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen Penguin Classics 1966
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Penguin Classics 2003
Emma by Jane Austen Penguin Classics 2003
Dr Johnson’s House Museum :
Mentoring Jane Austen: Refelctions on ,"My Dear Dr. Johnson." Gloria Goss 
(Department of English California State University)