THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF SAMUEL JOHNSON by Christopher Hibbert

THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF SAMUEL JOHNSON

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Jonnson is one of those Writers whose opinions no educated person can do without, yet whose personality we find difficult to cherish. He has the insufferable air of being always right and knowing he is always right, a combination so deadly to the sensitive aesthete. In Hibbert's biography, we hear a rankled contemporary exclaim: ""Although he is a great critic in French, and knows almost as much Italian as I do, he can speak neither language; but he speaks Latin as vehemently as Cicero."" This is a telling point: it emphasizes Johnson's bristling attachment to a dead language and also his preference for an imperial past where standards of judgment were thought to be inexorable and a great man's word the law. Not for nothing was he called the literary dictator of London! Yet how strange that this stentorian bear of a man, puffing and stumping from Grub Street to Mitre Tavern, carrying a club to rout the passing rowdy, a little mad and always frightening, should have inspired such deep friendship among the gifted of his days: Goldsmith, Burke, Garrick, Reynolds, Gibbon. And how odd that he who abhored the Scots and spent so much of his life on the edge of poverty should, in his later years, have as his bosom companion the famous Boswell, a rakish aristocrat from ""Edinborough"" whose jolly interests, morally and otherwise, were the reverse of the good doctor's. Hibbert's biography, of course, cannot hope to compare with the copious and firsthand account we have from Boswell, but it is a shapely and compact narrative which handsomely condenses material from many sources. It is particularly good on Johnson's conversation, his literary development, and his relations with women (his mother, his wife, and Mrs. Thrale). Here, as elsewhere, Johnson the man is hardly appealing, but he remains, even in these riotously fragmented days, the indispensable savant.

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 1971
Publisher: Harper & Row