THE namesake of the English Samuel Johnson, his younger contemporary ( 1709-1784), was born in Guilford, Connecticut, on October 14, 1696. We do not know much about his early childhood, except that he learned to read early and extensively and, being a product of the puritanic period, his reading was dominated by religious topics. Apparently he was destined by temperament and inclination to be a scholar and teacher. At the age of fourteen he entered the Collegiate School at Saybrook (later, when he transferred to New Haven, it became Yale College). On graduation he came back home to teach children, but soon was called to his alma mater to instruct young men.
In 1720 Johnson became pastor of the Congregational Church in West Haven. Unfortunately, some disturbing modern ideas began to reach him across the ocean. Particularly powerful was the impact of Newton's speculations. He was greatly impressed by the picture of the universe in which natural laws of irresistible causes and effects account for the motions of all heavenly bodies. But while admiring the Newtonian philosophy of determinism in the field of natural phenomena, he was unable to reconcile the corresponding determinism in the official creed of his own Churchthe doctrine of predestination-with his personal belief in freedom of the human will as the foundation of all responsibility. Finally he made his sincere doubts in the correctness of the "congregational way" publicly known, much to the consternation of his own congregation. A couple of months later he sailed for London ( 1722) where he took orders in the Church of England. As his new faith was not popular in his own country, he assumed the duties of a missionary at Stratford on his return and continued this humble and strenuous work for the following thirty years.
In 1729 Johnson had an opportunity to meet George Berkeley, then on his visit to America, whose subjective idealism proved to be very much to his liking. A long friendship and extensive correspondence developed between the two thinkers, both members of the same Church.