Samuel Johnson at 300

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Three hundred years ago this year, 1709, saw the birth of Samuel Johnson — essayist, poet, critic, epic talker, dictionary writer, high moralist, and brutal wit.

He grew up huge and plagued with afflictions: blind in one eye, deaf in one ear, horribly scarred from infancy, a twitching, muttering, explosive sufferer of Tourettes.

He knew poverty and despair, and lived through both to become the most quoted English speaker after Shakespeare. If you know the quip that second marriage is “the triumph of hope over experience,” you know Samuel Johnson. Or that “patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.” Or that “a decent pension for the poor is the true test of civilization.” Or that “no man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” All Johnson.

Boswell left him famous like no other with his Life of Johnson. A new biography goes for the whole man. This hour, On Point: Samuel Johnson, at 300.

You can join the conversation. Three hundred years on, are you still switched on by Samuel Johnson? By his mind, his suffering, his wit, his compassion? His stands on slavery? Capital punishment? Life? Share your thoughts.Guests:

Joining us from Berkeley, California, is Jeffrey Meyers. He's the author of many biographies, most recently “Samuel Johnson: The Struggle.”  You can browse inside the book here.

And with us from Hanover, New Hampshire, is Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst and a senior editor at The Atlantic.

This program aired on January 5, 2009.


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