Saturday, 7 March 2009

Dr Johnson's struggle

Further to Dr Johnson as he really was and Sutherland et al on Johnson et al, I see a new biography of Johnson is getting good reviews: Samuel Johnson: The Struggle (Jeffrey Meyers, Dec 1, 2008, Basic Books, ISBN: 9780465045716).

I saw it mentioned in yesterday's Daily Mail 1 - Revealed: Why the moralising Dr Johnson DIDN'T hold forth on his own love life - which, apart from the prurient lead, is a pretty fair portrait of Johnson's tormented complexity, much of which was airbrushed out in Boswell's classic account, good though it is. The more measured Los Angeles Times review by Tim Rutten ('Samuel Johnson: The Struggle' by Jeffrey Meyers "The new biography does justice to one of the English language's towering intellects") admires Meyers' approach of integrating Johnson's many facets, rather than treating him as a great writer with a catalogue of incidental quirks. (For instance, if the diagnosis of Tourette syndrome 2 is correct, Johnson's amazing quickwittedness and his bizarre array of tics and mannerisms are two sides of the same coin).

[Meyers'] is the first biography to recognize that personal history, habits, eccentricities, style and achievements were inextricably intertwined in what we would call personality.

Judging by the sample available at, it looks in addition extremely readable.

- Ray

1. ... which I abhor for its general "Asylum seekers laugh at dying Diana as house prices plummet" fixations and its crusade to divide all substances into those that cause cancer and those that cure it, but it often produces surprisingly good articles on historical topics.
2. Doctor Samuel Johnson: 'the great convulsionary' a victim of Gilles de la Tourette's syndrome, J M Pearce, J R Soc Med. 1994 July; 87(7): 396–399.

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