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Samuel Johnson - a select bibliography

"The best part of every author is in general to be found in his book, I assure you."
Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson lived by his pen from the age of 28 until he received a pension at the age of 53. He wrote essays, reviews, sermons, biographies, poetry, an edition of Shakespeare's plays and the Dictionary of the English Language. Even after financial necessity had ceased to drive him, he still produced many works, including A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and the Lives of the Poets

Of the making of books and articles about Johnson, there is no end. There are studies of every aspect of his life and work, from his prose style to his politics, from his religion to his health. No attempt has been made to deal with these here. There is a useful bibliography of secondary literature in Clingham's volume, noted below under "Starting points".

Starting points

The most convenient anthology of Johnson's writing is Donald Greene (ed), Samuel Johnson (Oxford, 1984), in the Oxford Authors series. Less extensive, but also useful, is Samuel Johnson: Selected Writings, edited by Patrick Cruttwell (Harmondsworth, 1968) in the Penguin Classics series. Both of these are readily available. There is a short (111 pages) introduction to Johnson by Pat Rogers in the Past Masters series, Samuel Johnson (Oxford, 1993). Another excellent introduction is A Preface to Samuel Johnson by Thomas Woodman (London, 1993), which sets criticism of the works against the background of eighteenth century culture, religious, political, commercial, and literary. A collection of introductory essays, The Cambridge Companion to Samuel Johnson (Cambridge, 1997) was edited by Greg Clingham.

Biographies by contemporaries

  • Boswell's Life of Johnson. Available in numerous editions.
  • John Hawkins, Life of Samuel Johnson, LLD
  • Hesther Lynch Piozzi, Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson, LLD

Modern biographies

The numerous modern biographies include:

  • James L. Clifford, Young Samuel Johnson
  • James L. Clifford, Dictionary Johnson
  • Walter Jackson Bate, Samuel Johnson
  • John Wain, Samuel Johnson
  • Robert DeMaria Jr, The Life of Samuel Johnson
  • David Nokes, Samuel Johnson: A Life
  • Peter Martin, Samuel Johnson: A Biography
  • Nicholas Hudson, A Political Biography of Samuel Johnson

Writings by Samuel Johnson

There are many editions of works by Johnson. Several have been published in paperback by Penguin. The Complete English Poems was edited by J D Fleeman (Harmondsworth, 1971). A Journey to the Western Islands was published together with Boswell's A Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, edited by Peter Levi (Harmondsworth, 1984). There is an edition of Rasselas (Harmondsworth, 1976) edited by D J Enright. Rasselas has also been published in paperback in the Oxford World's Classics series, edited by J P Hardy (Oxford, 1988).

The poems also appear in The Poems of Samuel Johnson edited by David Nichol Smith and Edward L McAdam Jr, revised by J D Fleeman (2nd edn, Oxford, 1974). Dr Fleeman produced an astonishingly detailed edition of A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (Oxford, 1985). He also collected a number of biographies in Early Biographical Writings of Dr Johnson (Farnborough, 1973). The Life of Savage was edited by Clarence Tracy (Oxford, 1971).

The Lives of the Poets have been edited by Roger Lonsdale (Oxford, 2006).

The standard edition of the letters is Bruce Redford (ed), The Letters of Samuel Johnson (The Hyde edition) (Oxford, 1992-94). An earlier edition is by R W Chapman (Oxford, 1952, reprinted 1984). Though largely superseded by Redford's edition it is still useful, particularly for Mrs Thrale's letters to Johnson.

The first and fourth editions of the Dictionary of the English Language are available on CD-ROM (Cambridge, 1996).

The standard edition of Johnson's works is the Yale edition, which commenced publication in 1958. The volumes are:

  • Vol I, Diaries, Prayers and Annals, edited by E L McAdam Jr, with Donald and Mary Hyde (New Haven and London, 1958)
  • Vol II, The Idler and the Adventurer, edited by W J Bate, John M Bullitt and L F Powell (New Haven and London, 1963)
  • Vols III-V, The Rambler, edited by W J Bate and Albrecht B Strauss (New Haven and London, 1969)
  • Vol VI, Poems, edited by E L McAdam Jr, with George Milne (New Haven and London, 1964)
  • Vols VII, VIII Johnson on Shakespeare, edited by Arthur Sherbo (New Haven and London, 1969)
  • Vol IX, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, edited by Mary Lascelles (New Haven and London, 1971)
  • Vol X, Political Writings, edited by Donald J Greene (New Haven and London, 1977)
  • Vol XIV, Sermons, edited by Jean Hagstrum and James Gray (New Haven and London, 1978)
  • Vol XV, A Voyage to Abyssinia, edited by Joel J Gold (New Haven and London, 1985)
  • Vol XVI, Rasselas and Other Tales, edited by Gwin J Kolb (New Haven and London, 1990)
  • Vol XVII, A Commentary on Mr Pope's Principles of Morality, or Essay on Man, edited by O M Brack Jr (New Haven and London, 2005)
  • Vol XVIII, Johnson on the English Language, edited by Gwin J Kolb and Robert DeMaria Jr (New Haven and London, 2005)

The following volumes are forthcoming in the Yale edition:
  • Vols XI-XIII, Debates in Parliament, edited by Thomas Kaminski
  • Vol XIX, Biographical Writings, edited by O M Brack Jr
  • Vols XX-XXII, The Lives of the Poets, edited by John H Middendorf
  • Vol XXIII, Shorter Prose, edited by O M Brack Jr
  • Vol XXIV, Index
There are on-line editions of many of Johnson's works at Jack Lynch's site; click here.
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