In Mansfield Park
, Austen makes a reference to "Dr Johnson's celebrated judgment."
Samuel Johnson is the man she's talking about, who I think is most lastingly remembered as The Dictionary Guy. He spent seven years compiling A Dictionary of the English Language
, which was commissioned due to the general shittiness of English dictionaries up to that point. To make matters worse, while the £1,575 he made from it was a ton of money for the time (1747-1755), it wasn't actually enough to cover the expenses of the materials, the assistants, and his own household. So he had to keep writing while
working on this massive project.
A friend actually pointed out that the standardized French dictionary had taken forty years to create, with forty people working on it. Johnson basically shrugged and went "lol, the French
, amirite?" He actually boasted that he could do it in just three years, though it took seven in the end. It's still one of the greatest works of scholarship in the history of English—it was the ultimate English dictionary until the OED.
In the meanwhile he wrote a play, Irene
, helped by his bff David Garrick, former pupil and current theatre superstar. It wasn't terribly successful, but he made money off of it, which was ... well, he was very much of the Terry Pratchett line of thought on writing
. More precisely, he said that "no man but a blockhead" would write for any reason but to make a living.
Well, he got what he wanted out of it, anyway. He also wrote this poem called "The Vanity of Human Wishes." Coming out of a Chaucer class, I figured it'd be about how people always ask for the wrong things, and don't recognize the right ones (think "Unanswered Prayers," lol—the concept goes back a long way). It's ... well, vaguely about that, but on a far more existential level.( Read more... )