Friendship was one of the most important things that Sam valued in life. He complained about many things, and many things gave him pain, but he constantly reiterated the value of having friends
And, as this quote illustrates, he knew that those friendships had to be tended to as well. You couldn’t just assume that they would carry on by momentum alone. They needed to be nurtured, talked about, repaired when necessary, because the end result—a continued friendship which has had its challenges, but whose challenges have been confronted and resolved—that friendship can be even stronger than it was originally.
Sam had a variety of friends in his life. He let a motley crew (not this one with too many umlauts) of friends, acquaintances, and various hangers-on live in his own house. He had Boswell, whom he really loved, but in a sense not as an equal. Boswell needed Sam as what we would call his “mentor” today, and Sam did good by him. His more equal friendships were with some of the men and women who were either members of the literary clubs he was part of during his life, or writers in the broader literary community in London.
The two friendships I always think of when I think of Sam, though, are the ones he had with Hester Thrale and with Richard Savage. Savage was a character, part poet, part profligate, part obsessive, and part madman. Throughout his life he claimed to be the illegitimate child of Lady Macclesfield, a claim she vehemently denied. Even that notwithstanding, Savage led a messy life of poverty and drinking and squandering the goodwill of many of his friends and supporters. Oh, and he once killed a man in a bar fight. Sam loved him though, and after his death wrote his biography (1744). (There’s also a modern account of their relationship, Dr Johnson & Mr Savage, by Richard Holmes.)
His friendship with Hester Thrale was one of equals. She had wealth and a comfortable estate outside of London, where Sam spent much time during the last 20 years of his life. Their friendship was solid and good, with Sam being thankful for the respites from busy London, and Hester being happy to have a famous literary man in her home, but also putting up with many of Sam’s idiosyncracies. And apart from those external things, the friendship was true. It ended sadly, just months before Sam’s death, when she happened to marry a man she loved but of whom Sam did not approve (partly because the new husband was Catholic). Sam was wrong, and Hester wrote a gracious final letter to him which effectively ended the long friendship.
I know that some of the people who have subscribed to my blog have been my actual friends, but I am also thankful to those who subscribed to follow my musings even without knowing me. This is the last of my blog postings and podcasts about My Sam Johnson. Everything has its time, and this feels like a good time for me to end off. One practical advantage is that I will have more time to write the actual book! So, that’s a good thing. Thank you so much for following me: I hope you fill in the gap in time you now have by reading some of Sam. Also: I’ve made a note of your email addresses, and when the book is published—I am aiming for 2022—I will contact you to offer you a free signed copy.