The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.


This is the first and only scholarly edition of Sir John Hawkins's Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., a work that has not been widely available in complete form for more than two hundred years. Published in 1787, some four years before James Boswell's biography of Johnson, Hawkins's Life complements, clarifies, and often corrects numerous aspects of Boswell's Life.

Samuel Johnson (1709-84) is the most significant English writer of the second half of the eighteenth century; indeed, this period is widely known as the Age of Johnson. Hawkins was Johnson's friend and legal adviser and the chief executor of his will. He knew Johnson longer and in many respects better than other biographers, including Boswell, who made unacknowledged use of Hawkins's Life and helped orchestrate the critical attacks that consigned the book to obscurity.

Sir John Hawkins had special insight into Johnson's mental states at various points in his life, his early days in London, his association with the Gentleman's Magazine, and his political views and writings. Hawkins's use of historical and cultural details, an uncommon literary device at the time, produced one of the earliest "life and times" biographies in our language. The Introduction by O M Brack, Jr., covers the history of the composition, publication, and reception of the Life and provides a context in which it should be read. Annotations address historical, literary, and linguistic uncertainties, and a full textual apparatus documents how Brack arrived at this definitive text of Hawkins's Life.


This is the first scholarly edition of Sir John Hawkins’s Life of Samuel Johnson, ll.D. Before the 1787 first edition was published, Hawkins, sensitive to the accuracy of his biographical account of Johnson, cancelled nineteen leaves, one twice, and replaced them before publication because they contained several errors in fact and shortcomings in style. When Hawkins revised a copy of the first edition to serve as printer’s copy for the second edition published a few months later in 1787, additional corrections or revisions were made in fact and style, but the second edition also introduced new errors. Nevertheless, the 1787 second edition, revised by Hawkins and corrected by him for the press, represents what the biographer wished the public to read; it has therefore been chosen as copy-text for this edition. the present edition preserves the text of the second edition, correcting the typographical errors, which are recorded in the list of emendations. Any impulse to coauthor the biography by guessing what Hawkins might have done had he had another opportunity to revise and correct the text has been firmly resisted. Thus, Hawkins’s errors in his narrative are usually left standing and are corrected in the annotations.

This new edition of The Life of Samuel Johnson, ll.D. is the first to provide a carefully edited text, with annotations for the entire biography. As Hawkins points out in the second paragraph of the Life, he is “engaged to relate facts to which I was a witness, conversations in which I was a party, and to record memorable sayings uttered only to myself.” Hence, it is impossible to assign many of his statements to a particular time or trace them to a particular source. Nevertheless, an attempt has been made in the annotations to keep the chronology straight and to provide a source for quotations and allusions insofar as this is possible. the focus of the annotations is to illuminate the text, not to provide elaborate discussions of related literary, cultural, and political matters. References to primary and secondary sources allow the interested reader to pursue topics beyond the boundaries imposed by the need to provide concise and appropriate annotations. Cross-references to James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson and to other early biographers have been kept to a minimum in order to allow Hawkins to tell his own story. As is pointed out in the introduction, all the early biographers knew Johnson in . . .

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