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At Dr Johnson’s House

June 3, 2015
by the gentle author

I walked over to Fleet St yesterday to pay a visit upon Dr Samuel Johnson who could not resist demonstrating his superlative erudition by recounting examples of lexicography that came to mind as he showed me around the rambling old house in Gough Sq where he wrote his famous Dictionary

House. n.s. [hus, Saxon, huys, Dutch, huse, Scottish.] 1. A place wherein a man lives, a place of human abode. 2. Any place of abode. 3. Place in which religious or studious persons live in common, monastery, college. 4. The manner of living, the table. 5. Family of ancestors, descendants, and kindred, race. 6. A body of parliament, the lords or commons collectively considered.

Acce’ss. n.s. [In some of its senses, it seems derived from accessus, in others, from accessio, Lat. acces, Fr.] 1. The way by which any thing may be approached. 2. The means, or liberty, of approaching either to things or men. 3. Encrease, enlargement, addition. 4. It is sometimes used, after the French, to signify the returns of fits of a distemper, but this sense seems yet scarcely received into our language.

To Rent. v.a. [renter, Fr.] 1. To hold by paying rent. 2. To set to a tenant.

Ba’ckdoor. n.s. [from back and door.] The door behind the house, privy passage.

Door. n.s. [dor, dure, Saxon, dorris, Erse.] The gate of a house, that which opens to yield entrance. Door is used of houses and gates of cities, or publick buildings, except in the licence of poetry.

Hábitable. adj. [habitable, Fr. habitabilis, Lat.] Capable of being dwelt in, capable of sustaining human creatures.

Time. n.s. [ꞇıma, Saxon, tym, Erse.] 1. The measure of duration. 2. Space of time. 3. Interval. 4. Season, proper time.

Stair. n.s. [ꞅꞇæᵹꞃ, Saxon, steghe, Dutch.] Steps by which we rise an ascent from the lower part of a building to the upper. Stair was anciently used for the whole order of steps, but stair now, if it be used at all, signifies, as in Milton, only one flight of steps.

Chair. n.s. [chair, Fr.] 1. A moveable seat. 2. A seat of Justice or authority. 3. A vehicle borne by men, a sedan.

Díctionary. n.s. [dictionarium, Latin.] A book containing the words of any language in alphabetical order, with explanations of their meaning, a lexicon, a vocabulary, a word-book.

A’ftergame. n.s. [from after and game.] The scheme which may be laid, or the expedients which are practised after the original design has miscarried, methods taken after the first turn of affairs.

Mystago’gue. n.s. [μυσταγωγὸς, mystagogus, Latin.] One who interprets divine mysteries, also one who keeps church relicks, and shews them to strangers.

Box. n.s. [box, Sax. buste, Germ.] 1. A case made of wood, or other matter, to hold any thing. It is distinguished from chest, as the less from the greater. It is supposed to have its name from the box wood. 2. The case of the mariners compass. 3. The chest into which money given is put. 4.  The seats in the playhouse, where the ladies are placed. (David Garrick’s box illustrated)

Fascina’tion. n.s. [from fascinate.] The power or act of bewitching, enchantment, unseen inexplicable influence.

A’fternoon. n.s. [from after and noon.] The time from the meridian to the evening.

Intelléctual. n.s. Intellect, understanding, mental powers or faculties. This is little in use.

Prívacy. n.s. [from private.] 1. State of being secret, secrecy. 2. Retirement, retreat. 3. [Privauté, Fr.] Privity; joint knowledge; great familiarity. Privacy in this sense is improper. 4. Taciturnity.

Lexicógrapher. n.s. [λεξικὸν and γράφω, lexicographe, French.] A writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.

Ca’binet. n.s. [cabinet, Fr.] 1. A set of boxes or drawers for curiosities, a private box. 2. Any place in which things of value are hidden. 3. A private room in which consultations are held.

A’bsence. n.s. [See Absent.] 1. The state of being absent, opposed to presence. 2. Want of appearance, in the legal sense. 3. Inattention, heedlessness, neglect of the present object.

Work. n.s. [weorc, Saxon, werk, Dutch.] 1. Toil, labour, employment. 2. A state of labour. 3. Bungling attempt. 4. Flowers or embroidery of the needle. 5. Any fabrick or compages of art. 6. Action, feat, deed. 7. Any thing made. 8. Management, treatment. 9. To set on Work To employ, to engage.

Way. n.s. [wœʒ, Saxon, weigh, Dutch.] The road in which one travels.

Court. n.s. [cour, Fr. koert, Dut. curtis, low Latin.] 1. The place where the prince resides, the palace. 2. The hall or chamber where justice is administered. 3. Open space before a house. 4. A small opening inclosed with houses and paved with broad stones.

Cat. n.s. [katz, Teuton. chat, Fr.] A domestick animal that catches mice, commonly reckoned by naturalists the lowest order of the leonine species.

To Mew. v.a. [From the noun miauler Fr.] To cry as a cat.

Visit Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square, EC4A 3DE

As part of Huguenot Summer, Beatrice Behlen of the Museum of London will be giving a talk at Dr Johnson’s House entitled MADE ACCORDING TO THE MODE – OBTAINING CLOTHES IN EIGHTEENTH CENTURY LONDON tomorrow, Thursday 4th June at 6:30pm. CLICK HERE TO BOOK

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Carol Himmelman-Christopher permalink
    June 3, 2015

    Thank you. The pairing of the wonderful photos and the definitions are strangely evocative. Very easy to imagine the rooms inhabited and life flowing on. Very enjoyable. Thank you.

  2. June 3, 2015

    very effective, nicely done

  3. June 3, 2015

    Lovely! What a nice conceit!

  4. Sue permalink
    June 3, 2015

    I think is one of my favourite blogs of yours. Beautiful photography and a great design & layout. Love it!

  5. June 3, 2015

    I am left to wonder on the strange use of the apostrophe. I know the possessive apostrophe is probably an C18th thing but are these apostrophes of omission or serve some other purpose entirely?

  6. June 3, 2015

    adj. [grand, French; grandis, Latin.]
    Great; illustrious; high in power.
    Great; splendid; magnificent.
    Noble; sublime; lofty; conceived or expressed with great dignity.
    It is used to signify ascent or descent of consanguinity.

  7. June 3, 2015

    Superb – and reminds me it’s too long since my last visit. Thanks!

  8. June 3, 2015

    PS, the apostrophes, I think, show where the stress falls in the pronunciation.

  9. Debra Matheney permalink
    June 3, 2015

    How lovely. One of my very favorite places in London. Loved the definition o f intellectual. One can easily imagine Dr. Johnson and friends enjoying tea around the table.

    The curator’s cottage across from the backdoor is quite unique, said to be the smallest private residence in London.

    Thank you so much.

  10. June 3, 2015

    Thank you for this lovely
    Pictorial [pictor, Latin] produced by a painter,
    Peregration (from Peregrate [peragro, Latin] to wander over, to ramble through.)

  11. June 4, 2015

    Simply wonderful! Thank you for sharing.

  12. Maggie permalink
    June 4, 2015

    Thank you, evocative and a pleasure to read.

  13. June 5, 2015

    As a kid I used to read dictionaries just for fun, because I loved the words so much. I’ve always been interested in where words come from. Interesting to see some Dutch words mentioned here that have gone out of use in my language since then.

  14. June 6, 2015

    Thanks so much! That’s exactly the sort of thing that makes me wish I could go to London to visit… such atmosphere!

    I thought it was funny that looking at Dr. Johnson’s painting I kept wondering who it reminded me of… until it clicked. Rodney Dangerfield. lol!


  15. June 14, 2015

    I often lecture on the Huguenots, especially their silver and silk arts once they settled in their new countries. If only the Huguenot Summer concept had been advertised here (Aus) in advance. Alas May to September 2015 is already half over.

    Your photos of Dr Johnson’s House are amazing… many thanks for the link.
    Art and Architecture, mainly

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