05 June 2013

Dr Johnson's House Blog - June 2013

The House has seen a lot of change behind the scenes recently with the appointment of a new Deputy Curator (me) in March [we are a humble team of just two, supported by a wonderful group of volunteers.] So, what have I been up to, you may well ask. Well, in order to get familiar with the House and its treasures, I’ve spent a lot of time going through its fine collection of Johnsoniana, its archives and manuscripts – a real treat!

Every day I seem to stumble across some fascinating, obsolete word (imagine how offended you would be if I were to call you a bedpresser or, heaven forbid, a fopdoodle!). Trawling through former Curators’ talks has also provided much anecdotal amusement – did you know that Johnson could drink over 22 cups of tea in one sitting? I didn’t. An expensive habit considering it wasn’t until the last 6 months of his life that the tax on tea was reduced to a more palatable 12.5%, down from a staggering 119%. Good news for an indulgent Johnson perhaps, but not so much for the rest of Georgian London, as the same Act of 1784 saw an increase in tax on windows (and introduced one on hats, of all things!).

In our Map Chest I also came across several wonderful images of the courtyards and alleyways around Fleet Street, the neighbourhood where Johnson spent much of his time in London. Inspired by this find, our Late Opening June 20th is my chance to share these prints, watercolours and photos with you in Johnson’s Neighbourhood: Past and Present [6.30-8pm]. Book now

In contrast, our Late Opening July 4th explores Johnson’s opinion on events further afield: the bid for freedom made by ‘our American colonies’ [it would seem taxation was proving to be somewhat bothersome for them, too]. Johnson once remarked that patriotism was ‘the last refuge of a scoundrel’. The evening Patriots and Scoundrels: Johnson on Independence Day [6-8pm] will draw on Johnson’s 1775 pamphlet ‘Taxation No Tyranny’ to illustrate his thoughts on the matter further, with short introductory talks by the Curator. Our state-side cousins are more than welcome and will receive discounted entry. Book now

CAVEAT not for the easily offended:

 “That our commerce with America is profitable, however less than ostentatious or deceitful estimates have made it, and that it is our interest to preserve it, has never been denied; but, surely, it will most effectually be preserved, by being kept always in our own power.”                                                                                                             Taxation No Tyranny, 1775

What say you..?


By Celine McDaid, Deputy Curator at Dr Johnson’s House