The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

Sir John Hawkins
Edited by O M Brack Jr.

An essential early Johnson biography, recovered from obscurity and reissued in celebration of the tercentenary of Johnson’s birth


"Brack's edition makes available the full text of Hawkins's pre-Boswellian biography, providing a detailed scholarly context for a work that has traditionally been viewed with suspicion, if not hostility, by Johnsonians. Yet Hawkins had known Johnson much longer than Boswell, and his elaborate and firsthand, if at times idiosyncratic, narrative valuably supplements more familiar accounts."
—Roger Lonsdale, editor of the Oxford edition of Johnson's Lives of the Poets

"Hawkins’s book gives us a remarkably clear, authentic, and durable picture of Johnson, ‘warts and all,’ as viewed from the perspective of his lifelong friend, legal adviser, and, eventually, executor of his estate. I have found Professor Brack’s work exemplary. After a long interval of years, we now have the advantage of the total text with an apparatus criticus designed by a seasoned and distinguished textual editor."
—James Gray, author of Johnson’s Sermons: A Study

“Brack’s new edition will for the foreseeable future form an important part of the scholarly arsenal of standard reference works of Johnson studies, especially concerning those details of Johnson’s earlier life that Hawkins knew best.”
New Rambler

“This definitive edition of the first full-length biography of Samuel Johnson should be in every library, available to anyone seeking information about this significant writer who has been deemed an―‘icon of modern culture’ . . . Anyone interested in Johnson or biography should make time to explore this volume.”
Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer

"Brack's edition of Hawkins's The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. is the first scholarly one to be produced since its publication in 1787, and must be welcomed by everyone with an interest in biography in general and Johnson in particular."
—Jonathan Lamb, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900

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This is the first and only scholarly edition of Sir John Hawkins’s Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., a work that has not been widely available in complete form for more than two hundred years. Published in 1787, some four years before James Boswell's biography of Johnson, Hawkins's Life complements, clarifies, and often corrects numerous aspects of Boswell's Life.

Samuel Johnson (1709-84) is the most significant English writer of the second half of the eighteenth century; indeed, this period is widely known as the Age of Johnson. Hawkins was Johnson's friend and legal adviser and the chief executor of his will. He knew Johnson longer and in many respects better than other biographers, including Boswell, who made unacknowledged use of Hawkins's Life and helped orchestrate the critical attacks that consigned the book to obscurity.

Sir John Hawkins had special insight into Johnson's mental states at various points in his life, his early days in London, his association with the Gentleman's Magazine, and his political views and writings. Hawkins's use of historical and cultural details, an uncommon literary device at the time, produced one of the earliest "life and times" biographies in our language. The Introduction by O M Brack, Jr., covers the history of the composition, publication, and reception of the Life and provides a context in which it should be read. Annotations address historical, literary, and linguistic uncertainties, and a full textual apparatus documents how Brack arrived at this definitive text of Hawkins's Life.

Page count: 592 pp
16 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9


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O M Brack, Jr., a professor of English literature emeritus at Arizona State University, is coauthor of Samuel Johnson's Early Biographers and coeditor of The Early Biographies of Samuel Johnson. He has edited volumes of the Works of Samuel Johnson published by Yale and is textual editor for the Georgia series the Works of Tobias Smollett. Brack is the curator of the 2009 Johnson tercentenary exhibition at the Huntington Library.