Harvard College Library News: News from around the libraries

World’s Scholars Commemorate Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson

Portrait of Samuel Johnson, copy by Gilbert Stuart
after Sir Joshua Reynolds, *2003JM-15

August 13, 2009 – Some men might say they worked their entire lives to create art. Some might say it was their lives, and they way they lived them, that became art. Samuel Johnson is one of the few men who could say both.

A towering figure in English literature, Johnson authored the first comprehensive English dictionary, helped create the modern idea of biographical writing, and played a key role in establishing writing as a profession free from the system of patronage that dominated many other art forms. In addition to his writing, Johnson today remains famous as the subject of “The Life of Samuel Johnson,” considered by many critics the greatest biography written in English.

In acknowledgement of Johnson’s contributions to English literature, scholars from across the country and overseas will gather at Harvard University’s Houghton Library later this month for a three-day symposium which will examine various aspects of Johnson’s life and work.

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“This symposium is going to be the largest event held in this country to commemorate Johnson’s birth,” said Tom Horrocks, Associate Librarian for Collections at Houghton Library. “It’s bringing the leading Johnson scholars from all over the world to talk on aspects of Johnson’s life and career, which is appropriate, because Houghton Library has the most extensive collection of materials relating to Johnson and his circle anywhere in this country.”

Timed to coincide with the 300th anniversary of Johnson’s birth, the symposium, entitled “Johnson at 300: A Houghton Library Symposium” will address a wide range of topics, including Johnson and America, Johnson’s dictionary, Johnson and modern scholarship, Johnson’s reception in three European literary circles and Johnson and gender. The symposium is open to registered participants, and will run from August 27 through August 29.

The symposium is a complement to the Houghton Library exhibition, A Monument More Durable than Brass: The Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson, which opens August 26, and will examine Johnson’s achievements as a biographer, editor, essayist, literary critic, lexicographer and poet. The exhibition will be open during regular library hours.

Houghton Library, Harvard’s primary repository for rare books and manuscripts, is located in Harvard Yard, northeast of Harvard Square, facing Quincy Street between Widener and Lamont libraries. The library is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Monday, Friday and Saturday; and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The library is closed on Sundays.