Tag Archives: Samuel Johnson

Portrait of a Bluestocking: Hannah More

Hannah_MoreProlific author Hannah More made her way to the most prestigious literary circles of eighteenth-century England, establishing herself as a true Bluestocking. But she’s better known for her moralist writings.

Hannah More was born on February 2, 1745. Her father, who’d been raised Presbyterian, had turned to the Church of England. He’d aspired to a career in the church and raised all his daughters with a particularly strong religious foundation, even for the time. More and her sisters were educated at home. Her father taught mathematics and Latin. Later, her elder sisters would teach her French.

In 1758, her father established a girls’ boarding school. More eventually began teaching there. Her first literary endeavors were pastoral plays that would be appropriate for her students to perform. When she published In Search After Happiness (1762), the work proved a success. Within about twenty years, it had sold over 10,000 copies.

More gave up her position at the school in 1767 because she got engaged to William Turner. But six years later, the two still hadn’t gotten married–and Turner exhibited no sense of urgency. In 1773, the engagement ended. More suffered a nervous breakdown, and Turner agreed to pay £200 a year to More as compensation. That sum was enough that More could live modestly while she pursued a literary career.

Garrick-Poetical_WorksThat same year, More made a pilgrimage to London with two of her sisters, a trip she would repeat annually. Thanks to the lyrics she’d written about David Garrick’s version of King Lear, the legendary actor and playwright took notice of More. The acquaintance proved a fortuitous one for More: not only did Garrick help her gain entry into London’s literary circles, but he also collaborated with her on the tragedy Percy (1777), writing both the prologue and epilogue. The association ensured that when the play was performed at Convent Garden that December, it was a smashing success.

But when More followed up with The Fatal Falsehood in 1779, she was on her own. Garrick had passed away. The new play foundered, and More decided to turn away from theatre and pursue other genres. By this time, she’d become thoroughly ensconced with London’s literati. More befriended luminaries like Joshua Reynolds, Samuel Johnson, and Edmund Burke. In 1781, More met Horace Walpole, and the two occasionally corresponded thereafter.

More also frequented Lady Elizabeth Montagu’s salon and came to be closely affiliated with the Bluestockings, befriending Hester Capone, Elizabeth Carter, Frances Boscawen, and Elizabeth Vesey. In 1782, More wrote a witty poem in tribute to her friends called The Bas-Bleu, but it wouldn’t be published until two years later. That year also marked a turning point in More’s career. With Sacred Dramas (1782), she began turning toward more serious subjects. She followed up with works like An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World (1788) and Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1809).

More also began to engage in the abolitionist movement. She had become close with Beilby Porteus, the Bishop of London, along with evangelical leaders like Zachary Macaulay and William Wilberforce. More also found herself drawn into a circle of prominent anti-slavery activists like James Ramsay and Charles Middleton.

While back in Bristol, More discovered the poetry of Ann Yearsley. She took the young poetess under her wing, even organizing a benefit to raise money when Yearsley faced dire financial straits. Yearsley, who was known as Lactilia, published Poems, on Several Occasions and earned £600. Wishing to protect Yearsley’s earnings from her greedy husband, More and Montagu put the money in trust. Yearsley demanded the capital, but her mentors refused. Finally, Yearsley publicly insinuated that More had stolen the money. They were left with no choice but to turn over the money to Yearsley. Meanwhile, her reputation destroyed, More was forced to slink away from the London social scene.

Though More left London, she didn’t stop writing. She retired to the country with her sister Martha in 1785 and devoted her time to writing religious books and tracts. More’s long friendship with Porteus would come to significantly shape this period of More’s authorial career. At Porteus’ urging, More undertook a number of lively rhymes and prose stories–all didactic, naturally. They started in 1792 with Village Politics, by Will Chip, with the intent to refute the doctrines of Thomas Paine and undermine the influence of the French Revolution.Village Politics was a publishing phenomenon.


“The Carpenter,” a broadside from the Cheap Repository series

Encouraged, More and Porteus embarked on a more ambitious endeavor. They began the Cheap Repository Series, which ran from 1795 until 1797. Already a prolific author, More managed to write three pieces for the series each month. The most famous of these, The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain, was even translated into multiple languages. The tracts promoted Christian virtues like sobriety, frugality, and industry. But they also encouraged respect for the British Constitution and a trust in the benevolence of the gentry. Two million copies circulated in one year.

Meanwhile, More and her sister Martha had been busy setting up a dozen schools where children could learn to read and get lessons on the Bible and the catechism. Their noble cause had met with considerable resistance from local farmers, who feared that education would prove the downfall of agriculture. More also had some unlikely detractors: local church leaders, who considered More’s approach and doctrine too Methodist.

More remained quite active and productive until the last years of her life. She’s remembered today for her tireless work for education, and for her religious writing. Because her doctrine has fallen out of fashion, More’s works aren’t often taught, and she’s fallen from our collective conscience. But her works encapsulate the zeitgeist of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain.


Samuel Johnson: Both Author and Subject of Innovative Biography

Life of Johnson-James Boswell

September 18 marks the birthday of Samuel Johnson, legendary author, essayist, and lexicographer. Johnson is perhaps best known as the subject of James Boswell’s seminal Life of Johnson, the biography that ushered in a new era for the genre. But before Johnson merited his own biography (indeed, multiple biographies), he got his start by writing a biography himself. Johnson began a strange and relatively short-lived friendship with minor poet Richard Savage, and gained attention by writing Savage’s biography.

An Unlikely Friendship

Grub Street Journal

From The Grub Street Journal (Oct 30, 1732), this cartoon depicts the “literatory,” a sort of publishing factory driven by beasts without artistic inspiration. Such was the perception of Grub Street writers like Johnson and Savage, who did indeed scrape together a living from commissioned writing.  

Samuel Johnson came to London in 1737, when he was 28 years old. By 1739, he was already separated from his wife (already in her late forties) and scraping by as an impoverished writer in Grub Street. It was during this period of poverty that Johnson befriended Richard Savage. Savage was at least twelve years older than Johnson, and he, too was struggling to make a living with his pen. Savage claimed to be the illegitimate son of the Countess of Macclesfield and the Earl Rivers. Thanks to a sensational public divorce, Savage’s repeated insistence on his ancestry, and the fact that he did in fact receive financial support from the countess, his assertions are rather well corroborated.

Savage found even further notoriety when he killed a man and was sentenced to death. He says that his own mother encouraged a speedy dispatch of her illegitimate son, but Queen Caroline interceded on his behalf. Savage was released, and soon stories of his origins and exploits had taken on a life of their own. Savage’s most famous poem was, appropriately enough, The Bastard.

Richard Savage-Old Bailey

Etching of proceedings inside the Old Bailey (c 1725)

It’s not clear how or when Johnson and Savage first met. There’s no actual documentation of their meeting in the form of letters, journal entries, or eyewitness accounts. But in Johnson’s later years, the myth developed that Johnson and Savage encountered each other on the street at night. Neither could afford food or lodging, so they passed the nights by wandering through London. Their friendship, however, lasted less than two years. And while Johnson writes of Savage’s nightly walks, he never mentions himself as a companion–he never alludes to the pair’s first meeting at all.

The friendship is unlikely in every sense. Johnson was a devout Christian, hardly a likely companion to a murderer and profligate. It was likely a friendship of proximity, promulgated by shared circumstances. But Life of Savage propelled Johnson to fame, and he remained successful thanks to subsequent works like his momentous Dictionary of the English Language (1755), The History of Rasselas (1759), and The Rambler (1750-1752). Savage, on the other hand, continued to languish as a minor poet. He relentlessly and shamelessly sought the patronage of Robert Walpole and an appointment to the position of poet laureate, but to no avail.

An Empathetic Biographer

Johnson starts his biography with a sort of meditation on Savage’s nightly perambulations around London. He places these excursions in the context of Savage’s poem “Of Public Spirit,” which considers the state’s responsibility to care for the poor and indigent and questions the Whig policy of expatriating the underprivileged to North America and Africa. Savage goes so far as to attack colonialism, countering the popular rationalization that “while they enslave, they civilize.” It’s quite fitting that “Of Public Spirit” sold only 72 copies, underlining Savage’s status as a nonentity. Savage himself was disenfranchised, and Johnson saw him as a spokesman for the downtrodden. Johnson’s latent empathy for Savage betrays his own familiarity with such destitution.

Yet while Johnson writes of Savage’s nightly walks, he never mentions himself as a companion–he never alludes to the pair’s first meeting at all. By the time he set about writing Savage’s biography, he had already realized the need to distance himself from Savage. Johnson wrote, “it was always dangerous to trust him, because he considered himself discharged, by the first Quarrel, from all Ties of Honour or Gratitude.”

Richard Savage-Samuel Johnson

Thus, while Johnson saw Savage as a Romantic figure, a starving-poet archetype, he never got taken by him. A great appeal of Life of Savage was that tension between Johnson as biographer and Johnson as friend; he constantly walked a line between judgement and empathy. This approach was certainly uncommon; biographies tended to aggrandize their subjects, glossing over shortcomings. Johnson also departed from the classic form of biography, drawing influences instead from distinctively English sources: elements of Newgate confessions, scandal romances, and courtroom dramas all crop up in Life of Savage. Johnson’s innovation resulted in a biography that was as readable as a novel.

A Role Reversal

Fast forward almost twenty years, to May 16, 1763. Johnson was 53 years old. He entered Tom Davies’ bookshop and encountered the 22-year-old James Boswell. The Scottish Boswell had entreated Davies to keep his heritage a secret; he knew that Johnson disliked Scots. But Davies laughed off the request and made a very casual introduction. The meeting affected Boswell deeply, just as Johnson’s first interaction with Savage had likely affected Johnson profoundly. Boswell wrote of the experience later, noting that Johnson was “a Man of most dreadful appearance. He is very slovenly in his dress and speaks with a most uncouth voice. Yet his great knowledge, and strength of expression command vast respect and render him excellent company.”

Boswell resolved to record further details of his interactions with Johnson, an endeavor that would later result in eighteen volumes of documentation over their long friendship. It’s important to note that Boswell only spent approximately 250 days with Johnson, which illustrates how truly fastidious he was in recording the details of Johnson’s life. When Boswell undertook Johnson’s biography, he overcame the challenge of having met Johnson later in life by conducting extensive research. Despite apparently possessing all the “truth” of Johnson’s life, Boswell still took liberties with Johnson’s life. He censured some of Johnson’s less politically correct comments and omitted some events altogether.

Samuel Johnson-James Boswell-Oliver Goldsmith

In “The Mitre Tavern” (1880), Samuel Johnson (far right) converses with James Boswell (center) and author Goldsmith.

Yet Boswell wasn’t the first to attempt a biography of Samuel Johnson. Other much more illustrious authors, namely Horace Walpole, Elizabeth Montagu, and Frances Burney, were all working on biographies. And Sir Richard Hawkins had already beaten Boswell to the punch. The two, it turns out, didn’t agree on much–except that Johnson’s relationship with Savage was completely inexplicable. Though they presented disparate accounts of Johnson’s first meeting with Savage (and Johnson himself did nothing to elucidate the matter), their estimation of Savage is perhaps best distilled by Boswell: he called Savage “a man of whom it is difficult to speak impartially, without wondering that he was for some time the intimate companion of Johnson; for his character was marked by profligacy, insolence, and ingratitude.”

When Boswell finally published Life of Johnson in 1791, the work was truly exhaustive. Boswell set a new standard for biography, insisting upon the importance of details, of acknowledging that the minutiae are ultimately part of the big picture of someone’s character and personhood. His work now stands as the greatest biography in the English language, perhaps, as some think, eclipsing even the work of Johnson himself.



Eliza Haywood, Overlooked Authorial Pioneer

Called both the “Great Arbitress of Passion” and insulted as “Juno of majestic size,” Eliza Haywood occupied a complicated place among her contemporaries. The incredibly prolific author wrote novels, plays, and pamphlets, and her writing incited controversy among her peers. Today scholars appreciate Haywood’s role as a feminist writer, and collectors can build an expansive and diverting personal library around her many works.

A Start on the Stage


Eliza Haywood

Haywood’s origins are obscure, mainly because she gave conflicting accounts of her own life. But experts agree that she was born in or around 1693. Born Elizabeth Fowler, she first appears on the public record in 1715 as “Mrs. Haywood” in Thomas Shadwell’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens; Or, The Man-Hater at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre. She shared the stage with bookseller William Hatchett, who would be her companion and lover for over 20 years; the two never married, but Hatchett was the father of Haywood’s second child.

By 1717, Haywood had made her way to Lincoln Inn Fields, where she worked for John Rich. Rich had Haywood write an adaptation of The Fair Captive, but the play ran for only three nights. Rich staged the play for a fourth night, giving the proceeds to Haywood. Haywood’s own first play, A Wife to be Lett was staged six years later in 1723. She would go on to join Henry Fielding at Haymarket Theatre, staging opposition plays. In 1729, Haywood wrote Frederick, Duke of Brunswick-Lunenburgh to honor George II, the head of Tory opposition to Robert Walpole’s ministry.

More successful, however, was an opera based on of Fielding’s The Tragedy of Tragedies. Called The Opera of Operas (1733), Haywood’s adaptation included an important difference: it includes a reconciliation scene. By this time, George I and George II had reconciled, thanks to Caroline of Ansbach, and Haywood includes this development–along with symbols borrowed from Caroline’s grotto. These hints weren’t lost on Haywood’s audience, and they signaled her shift in politics to support the Tories. Fielding, however, kept up his oppositional activities, and Robert Walpole responded with the Licensing Act of 1737. The legislation effectively stopped all new plays from being produced, leaving Haywood, Fielding, and their contemporaries to pursue other authorial genres.

Amatory Fiction and Parallel Histories

By this time, however, Haywood had already exhibited talent in a variety of genres. Throughout the 1720’s, she wrote the kinds of novels that would today be called “bodice rippers.” Haywood made her debut with Love in Excess; Or, the Fatal Enquiry (1719-1720), which offered a surprisingly positive view of a fallen woman. The novel was published in two separate volumes thanks to the economy of the time; authors were paid flat fees for their work, rather than royalties, so it behooved Haywood and her contemporaries to publish their works in multiple volumes.

Watch an Oxford University lecture on Haywood’s Love in Excess and Defoe’s novels>>

Had she gotten royalties for Love in Excess, she’d have been well off, indeed. The book was reprinted six times over the next decade. To advertise subsequent editions, Haywood’s colleagues wrote in praise of Haywood’s seductive writing. Richard Savage exclaimed that her “soul-thrilling accents all our senses wound” to promote the second printing of the novel’s first edition, and James Sterling wrote in 1725 that Haywood was the “Great Arbitress of Passion.”

Haywood continued penning novels for the next three decades. She, Aphra Behn, and Delarivier Manley came to be known as “the fair triumvirate of wit,” and Haywood contributed fully to the literary life of her era. Her Adventures of Eovaii: A Pre-Adamitical History (1736) mocks the idea that a woman should barter her virginity to obtain a place in society, later popularized by Samuel Richardson in Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740). Henry Fielding would also satirize Richardson’s novel with An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (1741).

Haywood’s writing evolved considerably over time, as did her evaluations of marriage and relationships between women and men. The History of Betsy Thoughtless (1751) is considered the first novel of female development written in English, and it’s also unusual for its focus on marriage, rather than courtship, which became popular and reached a peak in the nineteenth century with authors like Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë.

Pamphlets and Periodicals


Duncan Campbell

Along with her thrilling novels of the 1720’s, Haywood also published a number of titillating pamphlets about the life and supposed talents of the deaf and mute Duncan Campbell. Campbell allegedly had a gift of prophecy, which was attributed to numerous supernatural sources. Haywood published A Spy Upon the Conjurer (1724) and The Dumb Projector (1725). It’s also conjectured that Haywood wrote, along with Daniel Defoe and William Bond, The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell (1720).

In 1744, Haywood undertook a new and impressive task. She began issuing The Female Spectator, the first periodical written by women, for women. It was Haywood’s response to The Spectator, an incredibly popular periodical issued by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, and she followed the example of John Dunton’s Ladies’ Mercury. In The Female Spectator, Haywood wrote using four personas, rather than her own name. She issued four volumes of the periodical between 1744 and 1746. When Haywood published her conduct book The Wife a decade later, she originally published under the “Mira” persona she’d used in The Female Spectator. But The Wife’s companion piece, The Husband was published shortly thereafter under Haywood’s own name.

Haywood again ran into trouble for expressing her political views with The Parrot (1746) and A Letter from H__ G__g, Esq (1750). She created fictional accounts of the exploits of Bonnie Prince Charlie, which proved an ill advised topic to address on the heels of the Jacobite uprising. A stack of the pamphlets was found in her home, and Haywood was arrested and charged with seditious libel–as was Hatchett.. Haywood argued that she hadn’t written or printed the pamphlets, but that someone had left them at her home. Neither Haywood nor Hatchett ever went to trial.

Haywood’s Appearance in Pope’s Dunciad


The first volume of ‘Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent to the Kingdom of Utopia’ (1725)

Ever interested in politics, Haywood published a series of parallel histories, notably Memoirs of a Certain Island, Adjacent to Utopia (1724) and The Secret History of the Present Intrigues of the Court of Caramania (1727). In the former, Haywood not only picks a fight with her contemporary Martha Fowkes, but she also not so subtly alludes to her one-time affair with Richard Savage–and to Savage’s lack of proper pedigree. Savage claimed that he was the illegitimate heir of a wealthy family, and many details of his claims have been corroborated. He also murdered a man but managed to dodge the death penalty.

Savage’s purported lowly origins only served to heighten his notoriety. A poet (and the father of Haywood’s first child), Savage became a famous figure, so much so that Samuel Johnson deemed him worthy of biography. The success of Johnson’s Life of Savage (1744) pushed both Johnson and Savage to even greater prominence. Savage’s celebrity would soon present a challenge for Haywood. Intimately familiar with the hacks of Grub Street whom Alexander Pope so openly despised, Savage fed Pope plenty of details for the Dunciad Variorum (1729). Savage undoubtedly aided Pope in excoriating Haywood, who unabashedly wrote to feed her two children. Pope found Haywood absolutely “vacuous.” He refers to her as the “phantom priestess,” an allusion to Fantomina and calls her “Juno of majestic size, with cow-like udders, and ox-like eyes.”


Richard Savage

Savage’s sycophancy paid off with years patronage from Pope, and he enjoyed several years of prosperity. But one by one, his patrons dropped away until Pope was the last remaining. In 1743, even Pope wrote to cut off ties, and Savage soon found himself penniless. He died in debtor’s prison. Though at the time Savage enjoyed a strong reputation as a poet, today his works are mostly overlooked in favor of his more illustrious contemporaries.

Unfortunately for Haywood’s legacy, for centuries she was remembered primarily for her appearance in the Dunciad. It’s only in the last several decades that scholars have begun to recognize Haywood’s varied contributions–and more remain to be discovered, since Haywood so frequently published anonymously. Today, experts see Haywood’s novels as a pivotal transition between lurid novels like those of Aphra Behn and the more plain spoken works epitomized by Frances Burney.

For collectors, Eliza Haywood offers limitless opportunities to build a rich collection. A truly prolific author, Haywood could keep the dedicated completist busy for a lifetime! And her fascinating relationships with other authors offer numerous directions to extend a collection.

Further Reading

Williams, Kate. ‘The Force of Language, and the Sweets of Love’: Eliza Haywood and the Erotics of Reading Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. Lumen: Selected Proceedings from the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies/ Lumen:travaux choisis de la Société canadienne d’étude du dix-huitième siècle, vol. 23, 2004, p. 309-323

Wilmouth, Traci. A Savage Spy: The Role of Richard Savage in Composing Pope’s Dunciad. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 2007.