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Friday, 13 November 2015

Dr Johnson's House

17 Gough Square

In 1755, twenty years before Jane Austen was born, Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary was published. According to its preface, this mammoth undertaking rescued the English language, ‘hitherto neglected’ from the corruption of ignorance, and caprices of innovation’.
The parlour

We know from Henry Austen’s Biographical Notice of his sister that Dr Johnson was Jane’s favourite moral writer in prose. Northanger Abbey contains a well-known reference to Johnson and his Dictionary: Henry Tilney’s joking reproof to Catherine Morland. 

When Catherine (not the brightest of Austen’s heroines) discusses her favourite novel with her friend Eleanor Tilney and her brother, she asks: ‘Do not you think Udolpho the nicest book in the world?’
The powdering closet in the parlour.
Henry replies: ‘The nicest: by which I suppose you mean the neatest. That must depend upon the binding’. 
Johnson's chair from the Cock Tavern.

‘Henry’, said Miss Tilney, ‘you are very impertinent. Miss Morland…the word “nicest”, as you used it, did not suit him; and you had better change it as soon as you can, or we shall be overpowered with Johnson and Blair all the rest of the way’.

The first floor.

The author in 18th century dress. Without the heels!
Like Jane Austen, I love Johnson’s wit and wisdom, and I was thrilled when I finally got a chance to visit his house at 17 Gough Square. It’s packed with memorabilia, portraits and prints, and a fabulous library of 18th century works. I even got a chance to dress up as an eighteenth-century lady! The wig was very hot, I assure you.  
The first floor.
Mrs Thrale's tea set.