03 March 2014
Dr Johnson's House Blog - March 2014
Time for a good ol’ spring clean at Dr Johnson’s House
SPRING n.s. [from Springen, Dutch]
1. The season in which plants rise and vegetate; the vernal season.
“Come, gentle SPRING, ethereal mildness,
Come, and from the bosom of yon dropping cloud
Upon our plains descend.” Thomson’s Spring
Though it may not feel like it, Spring is nearly upon us again. Throughout the cold winter months in Dr Johnson’s former basement (now our office), we’ve been going through our fine and varied collection, coming up with ideas of how best to share some of our favourites with our visitors. The collection has been acquired, mainly through donations, since Lord Cecil Harmsworth rescued the House and opened it as a museum in 1911. He was adamant that Dr Johnson’s House should not be filled with ‘irrelevant 18th century bric-a-brac’ or be a ‘stuffy museum’, and that the items in our collection had to be relevant to Johnson directly, appropriate for the ‘cheery home of an impoverished writer’. Thus, Harmsworth turned down some donations, including Johnson’s death mask (too gloomy) and Chippendale furniture (too fancy). The Harmsworths also donated many early items themselves and the Johnson Club transferred their entire collection to the House.
Over the years, many generous donations of relevant books, paintings and artefacts have entered the collection and we’re pleased to say our Library collection of lexicography and many other works by the Great Cham of Literature, his contemporaries and predecessors is now available to browse online. The easy-to-use digital catalogue [http://www.drjohnsonshouse.org/library.html] allows users to browse the fascinating collection of books amassed at the House where the literary colossus and creator of the first comprehensive English dictionary once worked and indeed read many books indeed. We’d be delighted to welcome visitors wishing to view specific items from the collection at the House (by appointment only – just drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org).
The House library and archives comprise more than 1,200 volumes and 100 pamphlets and essays. Highlights include first editions of Johnson’s Dictionary, a 1670 copy of Seneca’s Tragedies, a 1730 copy of Universal Etymological English Dictionary by Nathaniel Bailey and a 1772 copy of The Works of Abraham Cowley. Some were even owned by Johnson himself, at least one of which was clearly much–used judging but the ring mark left on the cover, presumably by one of his many cups of tea!
Throughout the course of 2014, Dr Johnson's House Library will be exhibiting a number of these rare books, not usually on show to the public, in a series of special temporary displays. Items that once belonged to Johnson, his circle of friends and various editions of dictionaries, books and pamphlets will be showcased to reveal Johnson's views on a number of prominent themes, including religion and slavery.
Our current display marks a rather special event: this February 250 years ago Johnson (along with Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith and six other ‘eminent men’) founded The Club (later known as The Literary Club). So, we have decided to celebrate this momentous occasion at the House by displaying some items from our archives which reveal more about this event and its legacy, including menus for supper at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and even a manuscript in Johnson’s own hand. Pay us a visit soon to catch our current display before we contemplate Johnson’s views on religion ahead of Easter celebrations in April.
Spring will also bring with it the inevitable need for a jolly good spring clean. So, in preparation, our Locum Curator went on a course at the Museum of London to train in conservational cleaning techniques (a lot more fun than it sounds and highly recommended! - http://blog.museumoflondon.org.uk/clean-clean/). So, raring to go, there’ll be a programme of collection cleaning at the House in the coming months – check our website or call if you’re interested in what we’ll be up to and ways to get involved. (http://www.drjohnsonshouse.org/index.html).
By Celine McDaid, Locum Curator at Dr Johnson’s House
Image: Johnson’s own copy of Seneca’s Tragedies, cup-stain and all (reproduced by permission of Dr Johnson’s House Trust).