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Samuel Johnson - further reading

"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 (fortunately) 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. There is a useful bibliography of secondary literature in Clingham's volume, noted below under "Starting points".

Starting points

There is a short introduction to Johnson by Pat Rogers in the Past Masters series, Samuel Johnson (1993).

A collection of introductory essays, The Cambridge Companion to Samuel Johnson (1997) was edited by Greg Clingham.


There are a number of anthologies of Johnson's writings:

  • Samuel Johnson: Selected Writings, edited by Patrick Cruttwell (Penguin Classics, 1968).
  • The Oxford Authors: Samuel Johnson, edited by Donald Greene (1984)
  • Samuel Johnson: Selected Essays, edited by David Womersley (Penguin Classics, 2003)
  • Samuel Johnson: Selected Writings (21st-Century Oxford Authors), edited by David Womersley (2020)
  • Samuel Johnson: Selected Works (The Yale Edition), edited by Robert DeMaria Jr, Stephen Fix and Howard Weinbrot (2021).

Biographies by contemporaries

The major biographies are:
  • Boswell's Life of Johnson (1791) Available in numerous editions.
  • John Hawkins, Life of Samuel Johnson, LLD [1787], edited by O M Brack, Jr (2009). 
  • Hesther Lynch Piozzi, Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson, LLD [1786], edited by Arthur Sherbo (1974)

Modern biographies

The numerous modern biographies include:

  • James L. Clifford, Young Samuel Johnson (1955)
  • James L. Clifford, Dictionary Johnson (1979)
  • Walter Jackson Bate, Samuel Johnson (1978)
  • John Wain, Samuel Johnson (revd ed, 1988)
  • Robert DeMaria Jr, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1993)
  • Peter Martin, Samuel Johnson: A Biography (2008)
  • Jeffrey Meyers, Samuel Johnson: The Struggle (2008)
  • David Nokes, Samuel Johnson: A Life (2009)
  • Nicholas Hudson, A Political Biography of Samuel Johnson (2013)

Writings by Samuel Johnson

Many editions of works by Johnson are available in modern paperback series such as Penguin Classics, Oxford World's Classics and Broadview Editions. These include:

  • Rasselas
  • A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (sometimes published together with James Boswell's A Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides)
  • The Life of Savage
  • The Lives of the Poets

There is no complete modern edition of Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language but selections are available:

  • Samuel Johnson's Dictionary, edited by Jack Lynch (2004)
  • Johnson's Dictionary: An Anthology, edited by David Crystal (2005)

    Scholarly editions

    The standard edition of Johnson's works is the Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson (23 volumes, 1958-2019). This great resource is freely available online at www.yalejohnson.com.

    Other important editions include:

    • The Poems of Samuel Johnson, edited by David Nichol Smith and Edward L McAdam Jr, revised by J D Fleeman (2nd edn, 1974).
    • A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, edited by J D Fleeman (1985)
    • The Lives of the Poets, edited by Roger Lonsdale (Oxford, 2006).


    The standard edition of the letters is Bruce Redford (ed), The Letters of Samuel Johnson (The Hyde Edition) (1992-94).

    An earlier edition is by R W Chapman (1952, reprinted 1984). Though largely superseded by Redford's edition it is still useful, particularly for Mrs Thrale's letters to Johnson.

    On-line editions

      There are on-line editions of many of Johnson's works at Jack Lynch's site; click here.


      • Norman Page, A Dr Johnson Chronology (1990)
      • Pat Rogers, The Samuel Johnson Encyclopedia (1996)
      • A Bibliography of the Works of Samuel Johnson, compiled by J D Fleeman, prepared for publication by James McLaverty (2000) 
      • Jack Lynch (ed), Samuel Johnson in Context (2012)
      • James L. Clifford and Donald J. Greene, Samuel Johnson: A Survey and Bibliography of Critical Studies (1970)
      • Donald Greene and John A.Vance, A Bibliography of Johnsonian Studies,1970-1985 (1987)
      • Jack Lynch, A Bibliography of Johnsonian Studies 1986-1998 (2000)

      Also of interest

      • Henry Hitchings, Dr Johnson's Dictionary: The Extraordinary Story of the Book that Defined the World (2005)
      • Lynda Mugglestone, Samuel Johnson and the Journey into Words (2015)
      • Michael Bundock, The Fortunes of Francis Barber: The True Story of the Jamaican Slave Who Became Samuel Johnson's Heir (2015)
      • Henry Hitchings, The World in Thirty-Eight Chapters or Dr Johnson's Guide to Life (2018)
      • Leo Damrosch, The Club: Johnson, Boswell and the Friends Who Shaped an Age (2019)

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