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What Is Dr Johnson's House?

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  • Written By: Daphne Mallory
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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Dr Johnson's House is a museum dedicated to the 18th century writer, Samuel Johnson, who put together the first complete English dictionary. Johnson lived in the house beginning in 1748, and it was there that his dictionary was compiled. The house itself, located in Gough Square in London, is one of a small number of residential houses built around 1700 that still survives in the city.

Johnson had a life marked with difficulty, including poor health and money troubles. Though he was forced out of Oxford without a degree, he went on to become one of the most important literary figures of all time. In 1737, he moved to London with a friend to become a journalist. Eventually, Johnson was commissioned to write the first English dictionary, which he and his assistants worked on for nearly a decade. Just a few years after its publication, however, financial difficulties caused the writer to leave Dr Johnson's House.

An interesting feature at Dr Johnson's House is an imposing chain that secures the front door. Samuel Johnson was often in debt, and he used his home as a sanctuary for his friends when they had no place to go. It was during these difficult times that Johnson fashioned his own security device as a way of preventing people from stealing items from his household. The chain also prevented officials from arresting him and sending him to the nearby Fleet Prison for debtors.

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Over the next half-century, Dr Johnson's House fell into poor condition. It was eventually purchased by Cecil Harmsworth, a member of the British Parliament, in 1911. The new owner spent several years refurbishing the house, and returned it to its original appearance before opening it to the public. During World War II, London was bombed repeatedly, and the house was nearly destroyed several times.

The house now serves as a museum and an educational center on the history of Samuel Johnson's life, as well as a place for biographical theater on his life and times. Dr Johnson's House is open six days a week, excluding holidays, and there is an admission fee. Guided tours and private viewings may also be available.

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