Houghton Library at Harvard is exhibiting some of the items from its Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson through November. There’s also an online exhibit and a printed catalogue with its own blog.
This collection includes such treasures as the copy of James Boswell’s Life of Johnson with catty marginal comments by Hester Piozzi, who was a rival biographer and friend and, scholars now theorize, the doctor’s dominatrix lover.
Last weekend Joshua Kendall wrote in the Boston Globe about America’s love-hate relationship with Johnson—love on our side, hate on his:
As a look at Johnson’s writings reveals, he showed little interest in reciprocating our affection, instead showering Americans with a more or less ceaseless rain of scathing epithets. In 1769, he called Americans “a race of convicts [who] ought to be thankful for any thing we allow them short of hanging.”I do wonder, though, who was paying Dr. Johnson to write those words. After all, he told Boswell, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”
Johnson never set foot on our shores and met few Americans, but had a clear idea how he felt about the colonists. In response to the First Continental Congress, an apoplectic Johnson was compelled to dash off - he tended to write in manic bursts - “Taxation no Tyranny,” a 40-page pamphlet, vilifying the rebellious colonists as “these lords of themselves,” “these kings of Me,” and “these demigods of independence.”
As a hardline Tory and firm believer in governmental authority, Johnson feared that “the madness of independence” would destabilize the cosmic order. He was infuriated not just by our adolescent protests against parliamentary rule, but by our hypocrisy over the issue of slavery. “How is it,” Johnson wondered, “that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”
In other exhibit news, Anderson House, the headquarters and museum of the Society of the Cincinnati in Virginia, has just opened a new exhibit on “Virginia in the American Revolution,” which will run through next March. But anyone can download a PDF file of the catalog from the exhibit home page.
Finally, on the least serious level BibliOdyssey highlights the high hair in eighteenth-century satirical images.