Friday, July 07, 2006

Not Tired of London

Sometimes, when the traffic, the parking, the grime, the ill tempers and the expense make me tired of London, I think of Samuel Johnson and his famous quote, “A man who is tired of London is tired of life”. Since Johnson was right about so many things, then he must be right about life and London and since, I assure myself, I am not tired of life, I should not be tired of London.

Last week, walking along Fleet Street where the traffic, noise and grime are singularly impressive, I saw a small sign pointing towards Samuel Johnson’s house. Curious and having time to spare, I ventured into the intimate passageways just north of Fleet Street that quickly take you back in time into the heart of historic London. Following the signs, I arrived at No. 17 Gough Square, and thought, “what the heck, I don’t know much about Johnson except the headlines and the house looks interesting.”

In fact, the building represents one of the few remaining residential houses of its age in the City of London. It was in this handsome house on the north side of an elegant small square that Dr Johnson lived from 1748 to 1759, to be near his publisher and it was in the attic of the house that he, along with six clerks, worked on his monumental Dictionary of the English Language.

Inside, the house has been impressively and simply restored using panelling and paint colours of the period. The furniture, prints and portraits provide plenty of human interest in the life of Johnson who rose from simple beginnings to become one of the towering masters of the English language. Only Shakespeare and the Bible are quoted more often. Included in the artefacts is a beautiful porcelain service belonging to Johnson’s friend, Joshua Reynolds, and an intriguing piece of Dickensian London can be found in the massive chain and bar over the front door, made by lady chain makers, to stop tiny children from being lowered through the small top window to open the door and rob the house. And we think we have a crime problem!

Upstairs, you can watch a video on Johnson’s life and times (note to the museum’s curator, as soon as funds are available, you need a new TV) and children have the opportunity to try on beautifully made Georgian costumes. I have seen plenty of costumes for children in museums and these were by far the nicest. There are also copies of the Dictionaries and other collections of books.

Back outside again, I stopped to admire the modern statue of Johnson’s cat, Hodge, who is sitting on a dictionary with oysters at his feet. We know about Hodge from the writings of Johnson’s biographer, Boswell, who, not being a cat lover, was shocked at the extent to which Johnson would indulge his pampered pet, even going so far as to go shopping himself for the cat’s favourite oysters.

On the way home, I reflected on how much I enjoyed this unexpected visit to Samuel Johnson’s House. The next time I am feeling a little weary from living in London, I will think not only about Samuel Johnson’s quote but also about his wonderful museum where you can happily spend an hour or so learning about the life and times of a remarkable man who never tired of London.

Dr. Johnson’s House
14 Gough Square
London EC4A 3DE
Tel: 0207 353 3745
Tube: Temple, Blackfiars, Chancery Lane, Holborn

Opening times: Monday to Saturday from 11am – 5:30, May to September and 11am – 5pm, October to April. Closed Bank Holidays

Adults £4.50
Children £1.50
Family £10.00

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