Harvard College Library

Intern Has Family Ties to Hyde Collection of Samuel Johnson

Alex Salusbury by a portrait of his ancestor, John Salusbury Piozzi Salusbury, in the Hyde Collection at Houghton Library.

July 21, 2005 - High school senior-to-be Alex Salusbury solved at least one family mystery this summer at Houghton Library. During a two-week stint as an intern cataloging materials in the Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson, he came across his own great-great-great-great-grandfather's Italian coat of arms, a piece of history the family had thought lost to time.

Most people probably wouldn't find a clue to their genealogy in such an important collection of 18th-century literature and culture. Salusbury is the exception: he can trace his lineage directly to Hester Thrale Piozzi, a member of Johnson's famous inner circle. When Piozzi had no children by her second husband, Gabriel, she adopted his nephew from Italy, renaming the boy John Salusbury Piozzi Salusbury and, incidentally, disregarding the aforementioned coat of arms.

Generations later, the current Salusbury’s discovery was fortuitous, but his main interest this summer lay in learning more about Johnson and his circle of friends. Family connections aside, says Salusbury, "I became interested in Johnson around sixth grade because of a great teacher."

Upon learning of the Hyde Collection – his parents are Harvard alumni and his father knew Mary Eccles, who made the bequest to Houghton – Salusbury knew he wanted a first-hand look at the materials and applied for an internship.

"It's enlightening to interact with books I’ve only read about," says Salusbury. "I'm privileged to be in the room with the first editions. Houghton is an astounding library."

What did Salusbury get from his two weeks? "I'm taking away a lot of lore, a lot of stories," he says, and he has plans for his new store of knowledge. Salusbury must write an extensive paper on a historical figure this academic year in order to earn an International Baccalaureate diploma at the Dwight School in New York City. He plans to parlay his research on Johnson into academic success.

His Houghton experience also has whetted his appetite for the Hyde Collection. Salusbury plans to apply to Harvard in the fall, and if he ends up in Cambridge, hopes to work again with the collection.

This story appears courtesy of the Harvard College Library Communications Office
Copyright © 2004 President and Fellows of Harvard College