Finding Jane Austen’s ‘Dear Dr. Johnson’ at the Godmersham Park Library

One of the more famous quotes giving us some insight into Jane Austen was by her brother Henry Austen in his “Biographical Notice of the Author” (1817), which prefaced the posthumous publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in 1818:

“Her reading was very extensive in history and belles lettres; and her memory extremely tenacious. Her favourite moral writers were [Samuel] Johnson in prose, and [William] Cowper in verse. It is difficult to say at what age she was not intimately acquainted with the merits and defects of the best essays and novels in the English language.” [Biographical Notice, 1817]

And ever since, much has been made of both these writers, scholars mining Austen’s works to find any possible allusion to either.

Samuel Johnson

Today I am going to deal with Samuel Johnson (see here for the Cowper volume we are hoping to return to Chawton). It is interesting to see which of his works or works about him are in the 1818 catalogue of Edward Austen’s Godmersham Park Library [GPL], and interesting to see the many that are not, Rasselas for example.

If we look at Austen’s letters, we find several references to Johnson: in November of 1798 she writes to Cassandra: “We have got Boswell’s ‘Tour to the Hebrides’, and are to have his ‘Life of Johnson’; and, as some money will yet remain in Burdon’s [a bookseller] hands, it is to be laid out in the purchase of Cowper’s works.” [Ltr. 12, Le Faye].

Boswell’s The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785) was published as an accompaniment to Johnson’s own 1775 publication Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), both chronicling their trip together to Scotland in 1773. Boswell’s Life of Johnson was published in 1791. These two works that Austen mentions would be added to the family library at Steventon; so one wonders if when Mr. Austen moved the family to Bath in 1800, just two years later, were these books sold as part of his library of 500 books? And did Edward have either in his Godmersham Library? – The 1st edition of Boswell’s Life is listed and is unfortunately a Lost Sheep – interesting to note that it is listed in the typewritten 1908 catalogue, but is crossed out in two places. Boswell’s Tour is not noted in the GPL catalogue at all, but Johnson’s Journey is (see below – we found it in the archives of Amherst!).


In Letter 50 (February 8-9, 1807), Austen writes to Cassandra at Godmersham from Southampton:

“I flatter myself I have constructed you a Smartish Letter, considering my want of Materials. But like my dear Dr. Johnson, I believe I have dealt more in Notions than Facts.”

She is referring here to Johnson’s letter to Boswell of 4 July 1774, which reads:

“I WISH you could have looked over my book before the printer, but it could not easily be. I suspect some mistakes; but as I deal, perhaps, more in notions than in facts, the matter is not great, and the second edition will be mended, if any such there be. The press will go on slowly for a time, because I am going into Wales to-morrow.” [Life of Johnson, ii, 279].

In November 1807, Austen again writes of Cowper and Johnson. She is speaking of Henry’s manservant William: I am glad William’s going is voluntary, & on no worse grounds. An inclination for the country is a venial fault. – He has more of Cowper than of Johnson in him, fonder of Tame Hares & Blank Verse than of the full tide of human Existence at Charing Cross.” [Ltr. 95, Le Faye; referring to a Cowper poem and a Johnson letter in Boswell’s Life].

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Looking now at the 1818 GPL catalogue we find several Johnsons, Boswell’s Life, and two works about Johnson by Hester Thrale Piozzi, and one other travel work by her: these are the titles listed [please note which are extant in the collection and which are the Lost Sheep (most of them) that we continue to search for]:

Samuel Johnson:

1. The Idler. In two volumes. London: Printed for J. Newberry, 1761. 1st ed.

In the Knight Collection.
Read it online: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100258735

2. The Rambler. In four volumes. London: Printed for A. Millar, in the Strand; J. Hodges; J. And J. Rivington; R. Baldwin; and B. Collins, 1756. 1st ed. 4 vols.

In the Knight Collection; missing vol. 1
Read online: various editions are available.

3. The Adventurer. London: Printed for C. Hitch, and L. Hawes, J. Payne, and R. Baldwin;LivesEnglishPoetsTP1781-wp and R. and J. Dodsley, 1756. 3rd ed. 4 vols.

In the Knight Collection.
Read it online: https://books.google.ca/books?id=DxFfuQEACAAJ

4. The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets; with critical observations on their works. By Samuel Johnson. In four volumes. London: Printed for C. Bathurst, J. Buckland, W. Strahan, J. Rivington and Sons, T. Davies, 1781. 1st ed.

A Lost Sheep
Read it online: https://books.google.com/books?vid=V9YNAAAAQAAJ


5. A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland.
London: Printed for W. Strahan; and T. Cadell in the Strand, 1775. 1st ed.

Found! Amherst College, Archives and Special Collections
Read online: https://books.google.ca/books?id=mpoHAAAAQAAJ

***

 There are two of Johnson’s Dictionaries in listed in the 1818 catalogue, with some discrepancies in description. According to the Reading with Austen website, neither have been located: 

6. A Dictionary of the English Language: in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best writers. To which are prefixed a history of the language and an English grammar. By Samuel Johnson, LL. D. In two volumes. The tenth edition, corrected and revised. London, 1810.

A Lost Sheep 

7. A Dictionary of the English Language: in which The Words are deduced from their Originals, and Illustrated in their Different Significations by Examples from the best Writers. To which are prefixed, A History of the Language, and An English Grammar. By Samuel Johnson, A. M. In Two Volumes. London: Printed by W. Strahan, For J. and P. Knapton; T. and T. Longman; C. Hitch and L. Hawes; A. Millar; and R. and J. Dodsley, 1755.

A Lost Sheep
Read online:
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=ucm.5326809190;view=1up;seq=7

*************

One book by James Boswell:

James Boswell, by Joshua Reynolds

1. The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. comprehending an account of his studies and numerous works, in chronological order …. London: Printed by Henry Baldwin, for Charles Dilly, 1791. 1st ed. 2 vol.

A Lost Sheep
Read online: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008459343

boswell-Life-1791-tp-pitt

************

Books by Hester Thrale Piozzi:

Hester Thrale Piozzi

Austen was familiar with Piozzi’s works on Johnson. In June 1799, she writes to Cassandra: So much for Mrs. Piozzi. – I had some thoughts of writing the whole of my letter in her stile, but I beleive I shall not.” [Ltr. 21]

And she writes again of Piozzi in a letter to Cassandra on December 9, 1808:
“But all this, as my dear Mrs. Piozzi says, is flight & fancy & nonsense…” [Ltr. 62, Le Faye, who says this quote is “substantially accurate” from Piozzi’s Letters to and from the Late Samuel Johnson (1788)].

1. Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson, LL.D. during the last twenty years of his life. By Hesther [sic] Lynch Piozzi. London: Printed for T. Cadell in the Strand, 1786. 1st ed.

A Lost Sheep 
Read online: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hw20dy;view=1up;seq=1

2. Letters to and from the Late Samuel Johnson, LL.D. To which are added, some poems never before printed. Published from the original mss. in her possession, by Hester Lynch Piozzi. London: Printed for A. Strahan; and T. Cadell, 1788. 1st ed. 2 vols.

A Lost Sheep
Read online: https://books.google.com/books?id=rOAEAAAAYAAJ

******

3. Observations and Reflections Made in the Course of a Journey through France, Italy, and Germany. By Hester Lynch Piozzi. London: Printed for A. Strahan; and T. Cadell in the Strand, 1789. 1st ed. 2 vols.

This title has been found! and resides in a private collection.
Read online:
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=yale.39002024184575;view=1up;seq=1

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So, as you can see, a good number of lost sheepif you should locate any of these Johnson-related books with any of the Knight family bookplates, please contact us here. Thank you!

c2019, Reading with Austen blog

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3 thoughts on “Finding Jane Austen’s ‘Dear Dr. Johnson’ at the Godmersham Park Library

  1. Fascinating, thank you! Good luck in finding the strays.
    Jocelyn.

    From: Reading with Austen
    Reply-To: Reading with Austen
    Date: Sunday, 17 February 2019 at 10:11 AM
    To: Jocelyn Harris
    Subject: [New post] Finding Jane Austen’s ‘Dear Dr. Johnson’ at the Godmersham Park Library

    Janeite Deb posted: “One of the more famous quotes giving us some insight into Jane Austen was by her brother Henry Austen in his “Biographical Notice of the Author” (1817), which prefaced the posthumous publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in 1818: “Her reading “

    Like

  2. Pingback: Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott ~ Finding Scott in the Godmersham Park Library | Reading with Austen

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