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10 Interesting Facts About Dr Samuel Johnson – Who Coined “Tired of London, Tired of Life”

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We’re quite chuffed at the popularity of our latest Anglotees T-shirt design called “Tired of London, Tired of Life” which features Dr Samuel Johnson’s iconic quote about London. This got us curious about Dr Johnson so we decided to investigate his life and find out more about him.


There’s still time left to pick up your own Tired of London, Tired of Life t-shirt available only until Friday, April 23rd at Noon US Central Time. Available in men’s, women’s, v-neck, long sleeve and hoodie. Order here now!

Long Lived

Samuel Johnson was born on 18 September 1709 and lived until 13 December 1784 – a rather long life for the age and he lived through most of the Georgian Era.

One of the Finest English Dictionaries

Due to the general dissatisfaction with the English Dictionaries of the Day, a consortium of London publishers approached Johnson to write a new dictionary. He agreed but it took him nine years and he mostly did the work singlehandedly. It is widely regarded as one of the finest dictionaries ever published until the publication 173 years of the first Oxford English Dictionary.

The Debtor

On more than one occasion Johnson was arrested for failing to replay debts he owed. He usually managed to get out of it.

He Probably Had Tourette’s Syndrome

His odd gestures and tics were disconcerting to some on first meeting him. Biographies of Johnson, documented his odd behavior and mannerisms in such detail that they have informed the posthumous diagnosis of Tourette syndrome, a condition not defined or diagnosed in the 18th century.

Didn’t Finish His Oxford Degree

Johnson attended Pembroke College at Oxford but was unable to finish his degree due to his inability to pay the tuition bills. He was forced to leave the school and many of his prized books because he was too poor to transport them home. Eventually, just before the publication of his dictionary, he received a Master of Arts degree from Oxford. He was eventually awarded an honorary Doctorate in 1765.

Married a Close Friend’s Wife

Johnson was good friends with a man named Harry Porter, who eventually died of a terminal illness. He became close to Porter’s wife, Elizabeth and he began courting her. This caused much controversy as she was 46 years old with three children and he was just 25, leading to a family scandal.


On 16 May 1763, Johnson first met 22-year-old James Boswell—who would later become Johnson’s first major biographer—in the bookshop of Johnson’s friend, Tom Davies. They quickly became friends, although Boswell would return to his home in Scotland or travel abroad for months at a time. It would be a friendship that would last the rest of Johnson’s life. It was to Boswell that Johnson uttered his most famous phrase “A man who is tired of London, is tired of life…”

Meeting the King

In February 1767, Johnson was granted a special audience with King George III. This took place at the library of the Queen’s house, and it was organised by Barnard, the King’s librarian. The King, upon hearing that Johnson would visit the library, commanded that Barnard introduce him to Johnson. After a short meeting, Johnson was impressed both with the King himself and with their conversation.

Francis Barber

To help with household duties in his later years, Johnson hired a free slave Jamaican manservant named Francis Barber. He served Johnson from 1752 until Johnson’s death in 1784. Johnson made him his residual heir, with £70 a year to be given him by Trustees, expressing the wish that he move from London to Lichfield in Staffordshire, Johnson’s native city. After Johnson’s death in 1784, Barber did this, opening a draper’s shop and marrying a local woman. Barber was also left Johnson’s books and papers, and a gold watch. In later years he had acted as Johnson’s assistant in revising his famous Dictionary and other works.


Though he was generally not political, he had strong words about America and its rebellion and the concept of patriotism, famously saying “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Johnson also argued that in emigrating to America, colonists had “voluntarily resigned the power of voting”, but they still had “virtual representation” in Parliament. In a parody of the Declaration of Rights, Johnson suggested that the Americans had no more right to govern themselves than the Cornish people. If the Americans wanted to participate in Parliament, said Johnson, they could move to England and purchase an estate. Johnson denounced English supporters of American separatists as “traitors to this country”, and hoped that the matter would be settled without bloodshed, but he felt confident that it would end with “English superiority and American obedience”. So, there were a few things he ended up being wrong about!


There’s still time left to pick up your own Tired of London, Tired of Life t-shirt available only until Friday, April 23rd at Noon US Central Time. Available in men’s, women’s, v-neck, long sleeve and hoodie. Order here now!

Author: jonathan

Jonathan is a consummate Anglophile who launched Anglotopia.net in 2007 to channel his passion for Britain. Londontopia is its sister publication dedicated to everything London.

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  1. And don’t forget Dr Johnson’s ultimate put-down, spoken of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland: worth seeing but not worth going to see!

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