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Samuel Johnson lived from 18 September 1709 to 13 December 1784. He was an English author, journalist and literary critic who travelled with James Boswell to the Highlands and Islands in 1773. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield in Staffordshire. His father, Michael Johnson, was a bookseller. Samuel was educated at Lichfield Grammar School, where he excelled in Latin, and was later tutored by his cousin, Cornelius Ford. In 1728, at the age of 19, he became a student at Pembroke College, Oxford. However, his parent's increasing poverty meant he could only stay a year, and did not obtain a degree. Johnson is one of the most written about people of his age, only partly because of the detailed biography later written by his friend James Boswell. The cause of his parents' increasing financial problems is unclear, but his biographies describe Johnson's own odd physical tics in such detail that he has in modern times been diagnosed as suffering from Tourette syndrome.
Johnson spent some time working as a teacher at a school in Market Bosworth. In July 1735, the 25 year old Johnson married Elizabeth Jervis Porter. She was the wealthy recent widow of Johnson's best friend, had three children, and was 21 years older than Johnson. In October 1737 they moved together to London, and Johnson started to work as a journalist, poet, and author. In 1746 Samuel Johnson was contracted for 1,500 guineas to write a comprehensive dictionary of the English language. Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755 and it had a huge and lasting influence on the use of English, being viewed as the best available English dictionary for 150 years. Following the publication of the Dictionary, Johnson was finally awarded his degree by Oxford University.
It is not true that the original manuscript of Johnson's Dictionary was destroyed by a servant after completion. This was depicted in an episode of the comedy Blackadder III which first aired in 1987 entitled Ink and Incapability and is based on a historical incident involving the a manuscript of a book written by the author Thomas Carlyle.
In 1763, Johnson became a friend of James Boswell, the Scottish lawyer and author. Between the middle of August and the beginning of November 1773, Johnson and Boswell undertook a grand tour of north east and north west Scotland plus a number of the islands of the Inner Hebrides. Johnson and Boswell both published accounts of their tour. Boswell's account was not published until 1786 as a precursor to his classic biography of the life of Johnson, but was written with he benefit of copious notes taken at the time. Johnson's A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland was published in 1775, eleven years earlier and only two years after the journey, but largely from memory.
Samuel Johnson died in December 1784 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Most sources now describe him as "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history".