Johnson and His Books


Bible, Greek. Tēs theias graphēs, palaias dēladē kai neas diathēkēs, apanta = Divinae Scripturae, nempe veteris ac Novi Testamenti, omnia. Frankfurt: C. Marnius & J. Aubry, 1597. *2003J-SJ986

As discussed earlier, Johnson was hired by the bookseller Thomas Osborne to catalogue the great library of Robert Harley, the Earl of Oxford. Perhaps because of the tension between Johnson's scholarly interest in the project, and Osborne's commercial one, their relationship was not entirely smooth. One day, when Johnson lingered too long over a particular item, Osborne berated him for sloth with a tirade of profanity. Johnson responded by knocking Osborne down with a large, heavy book. Johnson later told Boswell simply, "Sir, he was impertinent to me, and I beat him." Although it's a difficult claim to verify conclusively, this book may be the very instrument of Osborne's punishment. Certainly it does come from Robert Harley's library, and with its thick wooden boards, it would make a formidable weapon. An inscription inside states, "This is the identical book with which Dr. Johnson knock'd down Osborne the bookseller & bought by me at Harleian sale."