Promoting Samuel Johnson

The Samuel Johnson Society in Lichfield, England (Johnson’s birthplace), recently started what promises to be an excellent Twitter account (@SamJohnsonSoc), where they are posting details and facts — no fake news here! — about Johnson, Lichfield, and … well, we shall see, as it has only just started a couple of weeks ago. The purpose of the society, which was founded 110 years ago, is, as they state in the profile on their Twitter page, “to advance the education of the public in the life, works and times of Dr Samuel Johnson and to help with the preservation of @SamuelJohnsonBM [i.e., the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum].”

Part of the goal I have for this biography of Johnson that I am writing overlaps with part of the mission of the society. I want to promote a man and an author whom perhaps fewer and fewer people know about, and who is maybe even becoming less of a subject of study among scholars (no matter how long the 18th century is 🎈 ).

I had a brief exchange with the society on Twitter last week (here, here, here) in which I suggested that a line of greeting cards might be appropriate. I’m thinking not cards for people who already know about Johnson, but for those who don’t and are introduced to him accidentally, like a parent or doctor mashing cauliflower into your potatoes in order to ensure that you get more variety in your vegetables. I imagine cards with quotations on the front from Johnson which could be applicable to other life situations — a card that a person would buy not first because it commemorates Johnson, but because the quote is funny or quirky and they could see giving it to a friend or relative as a shared joke or accompanying a gift. The trick would be in finding quotes from Johnson that could be “leveraged” — I’m already thinking in business terms — for that purpose and that would attract the interest of someone browsing the shelves in a card store or looking at some site online.

Fortunately, Johnson was endlessly articulate, sarcastic, caustic, and funny, and Boswell and others have preserved many of his quips and comments. Some are of course too specific to the circumstances to translate well as a card for your boyfriend, but there are many that are not. I just thought of this idea recently, so I haven’t had much time to come up with a list of any size, but here are some possibilities:

  • “Frank, a clean shirt!”
  • “I refute it thus!”

I wouldn’t assert that those are the best or most obvious ones, but after some time to think I am sure I could come up with dozens that would work for the purpose. Take the first example. Maybe you have a friend who wears the same T-shirt all the time, or another friend who is meticulous about his appearance and seems to have a newly drycleaned shirt on every time you meet him. That would be the hook, the appeal, even for someone who knows nothing about Johnson. I also picture the cards (sorry for the pun) with an illustration on the front, in order to enhance the drawing power (pun unavoidable) of the quote.


The quote would be on the front page of the card with an illustration. The verso of the front page, and the third page, would be blank so that the giver could write their own comments. And on the back of the card there would be a sparely written explanation of the source of the quote. You see this kind of thing on some greeting cards that feature, for example, photography or a reproduction of an artist’s painting — it’s the front content that draws the buyer in, and then there’s an explanation on the back of the card (for me, the best ones don’t overdo it with the explanation).

I got a printer to do a card with the first sentiment. The illustration is not what I would want personally — I’d prefer something less representational, more minimal, fewer lines but definitely suggesting a shirt — and the explanation of the origin on the back is too long, but anyhoo perhaps you get the idea:

What do you think?

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