Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Sunday, 3 November 2013
A very nice human being
One of the highlights of the recent trip to London to visit Green-Eyes was also visiting the house of Samuel Johnson - a little oasis of 18th century peace, tucked away in Gough Square, just off Fleet Street. It is now overshadowed by massive office blocks and the view from the windows bears hardly any similarity to what Johnson would have seen when looking out of them.
"Who is Samuel Johnson?' asked G.E. From her, this was an understandable question, but - sad to say - I have been asked the same one by a few much older people when I mentioned him and his house.
Johnson rented this house to be near to his printer, and he spent many years as 'a harmless drudge', composing the first definitive English dictionary in its garret.
He often infuriated his wife by physically carrying home crippled beggars to feed, who he had taken pity on in the nearby streets. When she left him heartbroken by dying, a friend 'gave' him a ten year-old Jamaican boy - Francis Barber - as a slave, and this boy quickly graduated from 'manservant' to friend and companion.
His freedom was guaranteed by Dr Johnson (who abhorred slavery) from the start, and Frank was the sole inheritor of Johnson's material wealth at the finish. He left him all he had. Frank's portrait was commissioned by Johnson, and shows the level of respect he had for his life-long companion in a time of callous treatment toward most dark-skinned people.
Despite his disregard for personal hygiene (Woman seated next to him at dinner-table: "Sir, you Smell." Lexicographer: "No madam, you smell, I stink.") and appalling eating habits and table-manners, he must have been a very nice human being indeed.
I can just hear him now, correcting me on the use of the word 'nice', but he would have thought of himself as 'nice' at his work, so I am leaving it as it is.