Samuel Johnson: A Biography by Peter Martin - review by Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson

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Samuel Johnson: A Biography

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Weidenfeld & Nicolson 378pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

Boswell’s Life of Johnson is the greatest biography in the language, indeed in any language. But not all the Doctor is there – Boswell dealt mainly with the later part of the life, when he knew Johnson and recorded his conversation. It is a book of character and sayings. But there is more to the man than that. Indeed Johnson’s life and works are so rich that many scholars and writers have been tempted to feast on it. I am thinking particularly of James Clifford, so good on the early years and the Dictionary period, and Walter Jackson Bate, whose one-volume Samuel Johnson takes some beating. 

Nevertheless there is always room for more, and Peter Martin’s new biography, nearly 600 pages of well-researched, fully annotated and judiciously expressed portraiture, is welcome. He thinks Johnson is well known but little read, and is anxious to draw more people into the works. Johnson was fortunate to be the

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