The A-Z of Dr Johnson

Dr Samuel Johnson

BBC Radio 4 marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Dr Samuel Johnson with a series of programmes celebrating his contribution to the English language and lexicography.

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”
Dr Samuel Johnson

Dr Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, in September 1709.

He was a son of a bookseller and lack of funds forced him to leave Oxford before he attained his degree. He worked as a teacher for a while, before heading to London in search of work.

After beginning his life in London as a journalist he made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, novelist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer.

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”
Dr Samuel Johnson

Johnson's most famous work is A Dictionary of the English Language, which was published in 1755 and became widely recognised as the first standard dictionary until publication of the Oxford English Dictionary 150 years later.

His other major works are:Lives of the English Poets, Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia; Notes on The Plays of William Shakespeare; The Idler essays; The Rambler magazine and A Journey to The Western Isles of Scotland.

Coming up in the season

  • dictionary

    Johnson's Syllables

    Sprinkled between programmes, 5-18 September

    Fragments from Dr Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language performed by John Sessions and Julian Glover.

  • dictionary

    Any Questions: from Lichfield, Staffordshire

    9.00-10.00pm, Friday 4 September 2009, repeated Saturday 5 September 2009

    Jonathan Dimbleby chairs. The panel includes: Lord Adonis, Secretary of State for Transport; David Willetts, Shadow Secretary of State for Universities and Skills; Sarah Dunant, novelist and broadcaster; and Professor Jonathan Bate, literary scholar.

  • dictionary

    Classic Serial: Boswell's Life of Johnson, part 1

    3.00-4.00pm, Sunday 6 September 2009, repeated Saturday 12 September 2009

    Young James Boswell comes to London to seek out his hero. He wants to write a biography of the great man "in scenes", with Johnson's conversation cast as dialogue. Nothing quite like this has ever been attempted before. With Kenneth Cranham as Dr Johnson and Paul Higgins as James Boswell.

  • dictionary

    Afternoon Reading: Johnson's Miscellany

    3.30-3.45pm, Tuesday-Thursday 8-10 September 2009

    David Nokes, Professor of English, King's College, and Johnson's biographer, introduces three readings which feature extracts from Johnson's major works. The reader is Michael Pennington.

  • dictionary

    Great Lives: Dr Samuel Johnson

    4.30-5.00pm, Tuesday 8 September 2009, repeated Friday 11 September 2009

    Matthew Parris's guest is Boris Johnson, joined by biographer Peter Martin.

  • dictionary

    Sunday Worship

    8.10-8.50am, Sunday 13 September 2009

    From Lichfield Cathedral. Canon Pete Wilcox and Canon Wealands Bell, with the Lichfield Cathedral Chamber Choir, directed by Martyn Rawles.

  • dictionary

    Classic Serial: Boswell's Life of Johnson, part 2

    3.00-4.00pm, Sunday 13 September 2009, repeated Saturday 19 September 2009

    Boswell visits Johnson only intermittently, but relies on him more and more. Johnson meets Hester Thrale, who becomes his devoted friend and confidante, and the most important person in his life.

  • dictionary

    Words, Words, Words

    11.30am-noon, Thursday 17 September 2009

    Sue Perkins explores Dr Johnson's house in London in the company of biographer Henry Hitchings and lexicographer John Simpson. Antiquarian bookseller Karen Thomson gives Sue a tour of early dictionaries held at the British Library.

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