The Johnson Society of Australia

Celebrating the life and work of the 18th Century writer and lexicographer Samuel Johnson and his circle.

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A traveller’s tales – John Byrne in sacred Johnsonian territory

In the April and July issues of The Southern Johnsonian I previewed my planned journey to England for August and September. I was looking forward with a great deal of excitement to this journey during which I planned to take part in the celebrations of the 250th anniversary of the publication of Johnson’s Dictionary. What my five weeks in England brought home to me was that we Johnsonians are part of a world-wide sodality of enthusiasts who love the 18th century. Everywhere I went I was welcomed with great kindness and generosity. I am proud to say that our own Society is held in very high regard by Johnsonians all over the world.

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“Spin Doctor” Johnson

Johnson may be known as a moralist but that does not mean he did not adopt sharp practice if it suited his ends.

Oliver Goldsmith had just written a comedy but was struggling to find a name for it. Johnson’s club assembled at the British Coffee-house and finally somebody suggested “She Stoops to Conquer” which was obviously adopted. Olivers’s next problem was that Colman, the manager of Covent Garden, had rejected it. The club decided that they would do what was necessary to get the play staged. Led by Johnson, Colman was bullied into staging it against his better judgment.

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“Inviting package” on the Dictionary

Henry Hitchings,  Dr Johnson’s Dictionary; The Extraordinary Story of the Book that Defined the World London: John Murray, 2005, 278 pp., $44.95, ISBN 0 7195 6631 2

One of the most attractive commemorations of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language is this book, a scholarly study of the Dictionary brilliantly packaged as an inviting volume for casual reading. Organised as a series of little essays, each headed by a word and a definition from the Dictionary, it takes you through Johnson’s life at the same time as it takes you through the alphabet.

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Obituary: Harold Attwood (1928-2005)

A tribute on behalf of the JSA

by Bronwen Hickman

Members were saddened to hear of the death on June 8 of Harold Attwood, a long-time member of the Johnson Society of Australia. Harold was a gentle, softly-spoken Scot, an eminent medical man with a love of literature. As custodian of the Medical History Museum at Melbourne University, he gave a lecture to the Society ten years ago on Johnson’s lung, explaining why the medical textbook illustration long thought to have been Johnson’s lung could not have been so, and why!

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2005 Seminar voted an outstanding success

The JSA well and truly celebrated the 250th anniversary of Johnson’s Dictionary at the Annual Seminar and Dinner on May 28.

Nick Hudson raised some interesting questions about the payment Johnson received from his bookseller publishers, and concluded that by modern monetary standards, he was well rewarded, but his personal “take” was considerable reduced by his suppor tfor the numerous dependants who lived with him at Gough Square and for his impoverished amanuenses.

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A Johnsonian Carol

For the JSA’s 2004 Christmas party, member Robert Kemp composed a very clever Johnsonian pastiche of Good King Wenceslas after the style of Dr Johnson, which he also incorporated into his Christmas card. Robert, who is a professional actor, gave a splendid recitation of the piece:

Warm dressed, well fed, King Wenceslas looked out                
On Stephen’s feast, when snow lay round about.
Inside, a life of ease; without, one cruel
Where exigents spend hours in search of fuel.             
Thin shepherds sit and watch their ovine flock            
As glory shines, their desp’rate state to mock.
Are all in David’s city worth their hire?
Should angels sing of man or the Messiah?
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Scholarly and entertaining discourse on the capital

A scholarly but highly entertaining discourse, tracing the changes in spelling and typographical conventions in the 18th century was given on Saturday, September 4, after the Annual General Meeting, by Professor Richard Wendorf, Director and Librarian at the Boston Athenaeum, one of the oldest and most distinguished libraries in the United States.

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New JSA web site

The Johnson Society of Australia’s re-designed and updated web site was developed by JSA member Sam Reid, is user-friendly, easily navigated, and developed with a ‘content management system’ so that material can be edited, stored and displayed by non-technical people, which allows for timely updates.

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