Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson (1709–1784) was born above his father’s bookshop and came to embody the disparity between humble beginnings and lifetime achievement. He became the subject of one of the most well-known biographies in the English language, James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson. In 1746 publishers approached Johnson to create an authoritative dictionary, and for nearly a decade he worked to produce a volume of 42,773 entries, which sold for the equivalent of today’s $425. Tall and robust, Johnson suffered odd tics that have informed a posthumous diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Portrait after John Opie, oil on canvas, circa 1784. Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 3.0, © National Portrait Gallery, London.