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At Dr Johnson’s House

October 4, 2017
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 pertinent examples of lexicography that came to mind as he showed me around every corner of his rambling old house in Gough Sq where he wrote the famous Dictionary of the English Language

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

17 Responses leave one →
  1. October 4, 2017

    I was there this past Sunday, taking photos. Although yours are better than mine.

  2. Richard Reisen permalink
    October 4, 2017

    Your posts make my day. Thanks for all your efforts.
    The photos are very well made.

    P. S.
    looks like the book about the Fireworks by Simon Costin comes true end of next year.
    Thanks for your help again.

  3. Judy Stevens permalink
    October 4, 2017

    Thank you! For this charming way to explore this fine old house. Can’t think of a better way to start the day.

  4. October 4, 2017

    This must have been fun to construct!

    Can’t help but think of Robbie Coltrane as the very bad tempered Samuel Johnson in Blackadder. Always thought it was slightly odd casting but there is a picture above which looks very like RC.

    Thanks as always 🙂

  5. October 4, 2017

    One get glimpses of boards that the Dr trod on. This is a charming expose what can I say ~ good write up & photos by GA, house well looked after. Worth a visit I’am sure lots of the Dr’s presence still here, grab some. John a bus pass poet

  6. October 4, 2017

    Wonderful post. Today’s word – for me – is mystagogue.

  7. Helen Breen permalink
    October 4, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks so much for the lovely photos and quotes from Dr. Johnson. It is my favorite place in London- so tranquil and simply appointed.

    You may know that the house is the venue for the Dr. Johnson’s Reading Circle that meets about six times a year to discuss the good Doctor’s writing and those of his contemporaries. The group is hosted by Dr. Jane Darcy of the English Department at University College London. I attended a meeting last year and hope to do so again when I return in 2018.

    Dr. Johnson’s House is an oasis of calm, a place of reflection in the midst of the City …

  8. October 4, 2017

    When I worked in St Bride Lane in the mid-’80s I used to pop around the corner often to see Johnson’s house (hoping to temporarily flush away some of the foetor of tax accountancy). I don’t recall the carpet and walls clashing so badly in that upstairs room, so I assume one or the other has been changed in the past three decades. Mrs Johnson – what were you thinking?

  9. October 4, 2017

    Dear GA – as a young lad in the 195os my old mum brought me to London to do “I Spy London.”
    I remember very few of the items that all had questions. “What is missing from Boadiceas statue. (The reins). Then there was the porters rest near Hyde Park Corner and most memorably that every time I go up Fleet Street I am reminded of Dr Johnson’s House. In 1959.
    It’s now on my list to visit and maybe find out what the question was years ago for Big Chief I Spy. A children’s book that gave me an enduring interest in London history.

  10. Maria permalink
    October 4, 2017

    Thank you. What a beautiful home. I must visit next time I’m in London.

  11. Martin Tolley permalink
    October 4, 2017

    This is a wonderful house to visit. I went there some years ago now. It is mercifully free of “stuff” (National Trust take note!) but has a tremendous atmosphere. Walking up the creaky stairs you can almost feel the presence of the great man around you, just preparing to come out of a room with pen in hand to say hello.

  12. Susan permalink
    October 4, 2017

    Fantastic pics! The interior shots are superb-esp. the one of the dictionary! Thanks for taking us along with you!

  13. October 4, 2017

    The cat statue outside the home is not primarily a “domestick animal’. The cat, Hodge, lived with Johnson who called him “a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed”. Johnson personally purchased oysters as he did not want servants to “take a dislike to the poor creature”. Johnson was known to oppose cruelty to animal including vivisection which he defined as perpetrated “by a race of men that have practised tortures without pity”.
    Interestingly as a result of sculptor Jon Bickley although the cat exists outside the City of London has thought that the structure would encourage interest in the story of Dr Johnson and act as a focal point especially amongst the young…

  14. Rosemary Antrobus permalink
    October 4, 2017

    Intellectual- a word that is little in use. Dr Johnson you are a one line poet!!!!!

  15. Steve szilagyi permalink
    October 4, 2017

    Thank you. This is everything I could have hoped for in a photographic tour of this hallowed place, up to and including Hodge.

  16. debra matheney permalink
    October 4, 2017

    Lovely way to start my day. Have visited a few times to bask in the aura of the great man. Years ago when I was a student, the staff directed me to a shop which only sold Dr. Johnson’s works. The owner was gracious enough to show me several editions of the dictionary, a real treat. Another fun place is his home in Lichfield. Makes me nostalgic for Britain.

    Thanks for all the lovely posts and photos.

  17. Gary Arber permalink
    October 4, 2017

    If Mr. Pussy was still with us he would have found the suggestion that he was from the lowest order very offensive.

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