The occurrences of common life: Samuel Johnson, Practical Science and Industry in the Midlands

1709 - 1784 (c.)

Image: 18th Century Birmingham trade token (n.d.). H Biggs halfpenny with a bust of Dr Samuel Johnson and three lions rampant. Though the artistic quality of the image is poor, the token displays Johnson’s importance and connects him with the economic and technological activity of the Midlands which he described, supported and celebrated in his writings.


This study evaluates Johnson’s positive attitude to science. It provides evidence of his enquiring intellect through quotations from his letters, diaries, the Dictionary and his essays. Johnson was exceptionally fond of London, but not enough recognition has been given to his bond with the Midlands. Extracts from Johnson’s recorded travels in the region throw light on his desire to learn through observation and personal experience and his keen interest in practical science and industry.

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Image courtesy of: Birmingham Assay Office
Donor ref: 698
Text by: Text: Stefka Ritchie Image Captions: Malcolm Dick

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4215-0The occurrences of common life: Samuel Johnson, Practical Science and Industry in the Midlands 3537-0Johnson: Observation and Enquiry 3715-0Johnson and Science 2875-0Johnson, the Natural World and Industry 545-0Johnson, Bridges and John Gwynn 3755-0Johnson and Practical Improvement: Iron 2877-0Johnson and the Midlands Landscape 4217-0Johnson and Derby Porcelain 2878-0Johnson and Silk Production in Derby 4059-0Johnson in Birmingham 3661-0Johnson, John Wyatt and Lewis Paul: Improvements to Cotton Spinning 4219-0Johnson, the Society of Arts and the Transformation of the Cotton Industry 946-0Johnson and John Baskerville 2145-0Johnson, John Taylor and Henry Clay 4218-0Johnson and Matthew Boulton 4064-0Johnson: “a longer stay”
Sources and Further Reading

Boswell, James, The Life of Johnson, ed. G B Hill, rev. L F Powell, 6 vols. (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1934; rept. 1971).
Chapman, R W (ed), The Letters of Samuel Johnson, with Mrs Thrale’s Genuine Letters to
, 3 vols. (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1952).
Hill, G B (ed), The Letters of Samuel Johnson, 2 vols. (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1892).
Hill, G B (ed), Lives of the English Poets, 3 vols. (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1905).
Johnson, Samuel, A Dictionary of the English Language, 2 vols. (1755). First Edition.
Johnson, Samuel, A Dictionary of the English Language, 2 vols. (1773). Fourth edition.
Quotations from both editions are taken from the CD-ROM edition of A Dictionary of the English Language, ed. Anne McDermott (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996).
Middendorf, John (ed), The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1958- ). Vol. I Diaries, Prayers, and Annals; Vol. II The Idler and The Adventure; Vol. IV The Rambler; Vol. XV A Voyage to Abyssinia; Vol. XVI Rasselas and Other Tales.
Murphy, Arthur (ed), The Works of Samuel Johnson, 9 vols. (London, 1825).
Redford, Bruce (ed), The Letters of Samuel Johnson, 5 vols. (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1993).