Our Patron solves a mystery: Was she or wasn’t she?

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  • Post published:March 16, 2010
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Dr Gordon Turnbull was appointed our Patron in 2004.  He followed in the distinguished footsteps of Dr David Fleeman and Mary, the Viscountess Eccles.  Gordon heads The Boswell Project at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale.  I had the great pleasure of catching up with Gordon at the “Johnson at 300” conference at Pembroke in September last year.



Gordon has recently had published a long article in The Times Literary Supplement of December the 18th 2009 (at pages 19 – 21).  A most important piece of research, it discussed the identity of those who are said to have been in Johnson’s presence when he died.  On the authority of Boswell it has been universally assumed that Mrs Desmoulins (one of the numerous needy people whom Johnson supported and who lived with him in his home) and his servant Frank Barber were present.  In a tightly argued essay, based on the widest possible reading, our Patron demonstrates quite conclusively that it was Mrs Desmoulins’ son alone who shared “in the grim intimacy of the dying Johnson’s chamber”.

Any good library should have a copy of the particular Times Literary Supplement.  All should read this paper.