Sam was born in 1709 and so if we were to overlay our current generational alphabet diagram onto the 18th century, he would be a Gen Z. Different researchers and groups disagree on the exact demarcations between, for example, Gen Z and millennials, but everyone agrees that Generation Z folks were born about the mid-1990’s. Sam was in his early 20’s in the early 1730’s, so that anachronistic label fits.

The early 1730’s were started as a slow and transitional period for Sam. He did ultimately succeed in publishing one major work, A Voyage to Abyssinia, which was his translation from French of the original work by Jerónimo Lobo, a Portuguese Jesuit missionary who had lived in the 17th century. (Abyssinia is the older name for what is now Ethiopia. Lobo’s original work was not published during his lifetime.) This was Sam’s first book and, as biographer David Nokes points out, the title page says it was published in London in 1735, but it was actually published in Birmingham in December 1734. “London” gave the book more cachet.

Sam’s home was still in his birthplace, in Lichfield, but he was in Birmingham – a big city about 25 km south – visiting his friend Edmund Hector, who was lodging with a bookseller named Thomas Warren. Both Hector and Warren were the ones who encouraged Sam to write the book, and it was slow going at first – he procrastinated because he didn’t have a hard deadline. Hector tried to prod and encourage him by saying that the poor printer and his family were suffering because the printer couldn’t take on another job until the translation was finished. This finally got Sam moving: “He lay in bed with the book, which was a quarto, before him, and dictated while Hector wrote. Mr. Hector carried the sheets to the press, and corrected almost all the proof sheets, very few of which were even seen by Johnson” (quoting Boswell). His persistence pays off and the book is finished. He was paid £5.

The other important thing that happened to Sam on this trip to Birmingham was that he met his future wife, Elizabeth Porter. She was recently widowed and though she was more than 20 years older than Sam, there was a spark between them. Sam returned to Lichfield in February 1735, in love and with a book to his credit, and he and “Tetty” were married by July.

And then he started looking for a job …

Credit: Heritage Auctions.


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