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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Hyde 50

Samuel Johnson manuscripts


Manuscripts and documents of the English lexicographer and poet Samuel Johnson, including diaries, poems, prayers, and other papers.


  • Creation: 1725-1784

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English and Latin.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.


2 linear feet (2 boxes, 16 volumes, and 1 framed item)

This collection consists of items in Johnson's hand, other than his letters (cataloged separately as MS Hyde 1). Highlights include a 77-page diary which Johnson kept sporadically from 1765 to 1784; drafts of his Plan of a Dictionary of the English Language and The Vanity of Human Wishes; and the last known document in his hand, a pension receipt he signed on the day of his death in 1784. The collection also includes significant early transcripts of documents authored by Johnson, such as several pages of extracts that James Boswell made from Johnson's lost diary, and two fragments prepared by an amanuensis for Johnson's Dictionary. Item (54) is a facsimile.

Biographical / Historical

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was one of the leading literary figures of eighteenth-century England. He is best remembered for compiling the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language, published in 1755. Prominent among his diverse other works are the satirical History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia (1759), The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare (1765), and his edition of Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, to the Works of the English Poets (first collected in 1781). He wrote the bulk of the essays released in periodical form as The Rambler (1750-1752) and The Idler (1758-1760).

A native of Lichfield, Johnson attended Oxford in 1728 and 1729, but left without receiving a degree. He married the widow Elizabeth Porter (1688-1752) in 1735; they had no children together. Johnson resided primarily in London from 1737 onward, although he continued to maintain a house in Lichfield. He received an honorary M.A. from Oxford in 1755, and honorary LL.D. degrees from Trinity College, Dublin in 1765 and from Oxford in 1775. He supported himself modestly from his literary endeavors until being granted an annual pension in 1762. He was memorialized in James Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1791), generally regarded as an early landmark of the biographical craft.


Organized into the following series:

  1. I. Autograph manuscripts
  2. II. Transcripts

Within each series, the papers are arranged alphabetically by title.

Physical Location

b (shelved with bMS Hyde 51), Hyde Case 9, Hyde Back Stacks

Immediate Source of Acquisition

2003JM-64, 2003JM-112-119, 2003JM-123, 2003JM-125-128, and 2003JM-236 (in part). Bequest of Mary Hyde Eccles, Four Oaks Farm, Somerville, New Jersey; received: 2004.

All material described below is from accession 2003JM-64 unless otherwise noted.

Separated Materials

Other Johnson autograph material in the Hyde Collection is located in the Samuel Johnson Letters (MS Hyde 1); the Frances Reynolds Papers (MS Hyde 25); the William Dodd Papers (MS Hyde 37); and two Thrale estate documents bearing Johnson's signature (MS Hyde 36 and MS Hyde 39).

One minor item credited to the Hyde Collection in the Fleeman Handlist 252 and IELM, JoS 319 (a list of six place names) was not accessioned with the collection. Mary Hyde Eccles's annotated copy of Fleeman noted this item as lost. Another copy, also in Johnson's hand, is at Yale University.

Sources cited:

  • Fleeman, J.D., A Bibliography of the Works of Samuel Johnson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000)
  • Fleeman, J.D., A Preliminary Handlist of Documents & Manuscripts of Samuel Johnson (Oxford: Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1967)
  • Hazen, Allen T., Samuel Johnson's Prefaces & Dedications (New Haven: Yale University, 1937)
  • McAdam, E.L. Jr., and Donald and Mary Hyde, eds., Samuel Johnson: Diaries, Prayers, and Annals (New Haven: Yale University, 1958)
  • McAdam, E.L. Jr., and George Milne, eds., Samuel Johnson: Poems (New Haven: Yale University, 1964)
  • Smith, Margaret M., et al., Index of English Literary Manuscripts, Volume III, Part 2 (London: Mansell, 1989), pp. 121-178

Processing Information

Processed by: Rick Stattler

Johnson, Samuel, 1709-1784. Samuel Johnson manuscripts, 1725-1784: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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