Samuel Johnson

George Graham: Telemachus, A Mask

Glasgow: Robert and Andrew Foulis, 1767

Sp Coll Mu48-f.18

On the title page of this volume is an inscription to his friend, the jurist Sir Robert Chambers (1737-1803), written by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), one of the most famous literary figures of the 18th century. His best known work is the Dictionary of the English language published on 15th April 1755, which had taken him eight years to complete. Although not the first dictionary, its erudition and thoroughness made it the most important at that time.

Although never wealthy, Johnson's circumstances were enhanced by the award of a government pension in 1762. In 1763 he met James Boswell, a lawyer originally from Scotland, whose biography Life of Johnson published in 1791, established Johnson's fame and inextricably linked their names forever. By this time, Johnson was a luminary of the cultural and literary elite of London. Following his death on 13 December 1784 he was buried at Westminster Abbey.

Telemachus, a Mask was written by the Reverend George Graham (1728?-1767) of Eton College. According to James Boswell, the theme of this poem particularly interested Johnson as it examines "the contention between pleasure and virtue". Graham was a playwright, and wrote this masque when the genre was out of fashion. When it was published in 1763 the response from critics and public was lukewarm. Graham was on friendly terms with Samuel Johnson who gave it a generous (albeit unsigned) review. However, it seems never to have become popular.

Samuel Johnson: Title page from Graham, George: Telemachus
Inscription by Samuel Johnson on title page of George Graham's Telemachus, A Mask.

Go to the next book in the exhibition, previously owned by: Madame de Pompadour.