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At Dr Johnson’s House

June 30, 2023
by the gentle author

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I walked over to Fleet St 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

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Howard permalink
    June 30, 2023

    What a gem of an article – a wonderfully original way of showing the genius of Dr Johnson. Inspired to hasten to Gough Square at the earliest opportunity- thank you Gentle Author.

  2. Annie Green permalink
    June 30, 2023

    I love that house, especially the folding screens to artfully give you privacy in a house that was probably thrumming with noise and people. Such a civilised concept.

  3. Mark permalink
    June 30, 2023

    Damn and blast your eyes sir!
    (Leaves room abruptly).

  4. Mark Preston permalink
    June 30, 2023

    What an excellent resource – visually so much richer than the official site. Thank you.

  5. June 30, 2023

    Interesting approach.

  6. Russell permalink
    June 30, 2023

    Very well done, not to mention clever, GA!

  7. Su C permalink
    June 30, 2023

    a·droit – adjective “clever or skillful in using the hands or mind”

    Well done GA! Now to go and browse the dictionary!!

  8. Lin Pagnani permalink
    July 8, 2023

    Wonderful article and virtual visit! Oh how I wish I could join one of your walks for real. Your work is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  9. Robin permalink
    July 13, 2023

    Your photo of Hodge (and his oysters!) reminded me of Baldrick helping Blackadder rewrite Dr Johnson’s Dictionary:

    I’m quite pleased with “dog.”

    Yes, and your definition of “dog” is?

    “Not a cat.”

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