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Samuel Johnson's House: A Tour

Dr Samuel Johnson, writer of A Dictionary of the English Language and frequent contributor to Familiar Quotations, has a home in London that is still standing

This is italicized because after watching numerous videos of the Blitz while walking through the Museum of London, I'm shocked any building survived (aside from St Paul's, which anytime they talked about its symbolizing the indomitable British spirit, I immediately cried).

I didn't know anything about Johnson, but I love a good house museum, so off I trotted to right near Fleet Street, through some alleyways and up to this fun entrance:

There an old man buzzed me in, and when he asked what I knew about Dr Johnson and I said "Didn't he do the dictionary or something," he immediately launched into how totally awesome Johnson was, and when I said I was mainly interested in women's history, he was like "AH-HA! Did you know Samuel Johnson was a huge supporter of women writers?" NO I DID NOT, SIR. But it turns out he totally was, and encouraged women like Fanny Burney to publish, and yeah, he said that quote about women preaching that wasn't great, but I am now fairly convinced it is at least taken out of context.

As The Guardian puts it, "There are many reasons for liking Dr Johnson, but one of the most pleasant, for contemporary sensibilities, is the way he got on with women."

They let you wander around the Johnson House, which is my favorite kind of house museum. One of the things that stuck with me the most, weirdly enough, is this 18th century anti-burglary device:

So there's a chain across the door and this loopy thing. The bar at the casement window is to prevent small children being shoved through, a la Oliver Twist, and apparently if they couldn't use a tiny child, they would lift the chain from the lock with an ingenious sort of hook. BUT if the chain were fastened using this corkscrew thing, it became basically impossible to do. Fantastic.

This is Hester Thrale's "tea equipage." She was a great friend of Johnson, although while I was touring, I thought 'Didn't she gossip a lot and say nasty things about potentially gay ladies?' And I looked it up when I got home and yes that is the same Hester Thrale. But her tea set is nice.

It's a fairly narrow but long house that goes up and up. I think this is the second floor. Those doors on the right hide a window seat. Not sure what the point of hiding it is, but there we are.

I call this his Friendship Collage. Center of it is Francis Barber, his Jamaican manservant, who he made his "residual heir," which apparently means he got money every year, and later Boswell talked to him to get info about his famous Life of Johnson. Ugh Samuel Johnson seems so great.

The third floor has costumes.

The fourth floor is his garret, where he wrote his dictionary. There's also a fantastic view from the top of the staircase down (clearly). The garret was bombed in WWII and the beams are still blackened from the fire, but they managed to salvage it. 

Fantastic house museum 10/10, would recommend. More costumes in house museums, please.


  1. Jane Austen's house had bonnets to try on!

    Sam Johnson is a lot of fun. My favorite line is "Clear your mind of cant," which is good advice all on its own, but many years ago I saw it rendered as an inspirational quotation, "Clear your mind of can't," which is so hilariously ironic that it is the best thing ever.

  2. More historic houses should have costumes


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