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03.07.2024 – 03.07.2025

Exhibition: Desks, Drudgery and the Dictionary

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After a 250-year absence, the ‘Dictionary Desk’ of celebrated 18th century writer Samuel Johnson makes a historic return to his former abode, Dr Johnson’s House in the City of London. The exhibition titled ‘Desks, Drudgery, and the Dictionary: Samuel Johnson’s Garret Lexicography’ will recount the fascinating journey of the desk back to the very garret where the seminal English dictionary was born.

This summer, visit a new exhibition at Dr Johnson's House, showcasing new aspects of Johnson's garret lexicography, exploring why the garret was so important in Johnson's move to Gough Square. It also explores how Johnson and his assistants worked on the Dictionary before it was published in 1755, and presents the history – and mystery – of Johnson’s 'Dictionary Desk'.

The star attraction of this exhibition is Johnson’s ‘dictionary desk’, previously at Pembroke College, Oxford, which has been returned to the garret for the first time since the dictionary was written there. Discover the journey of the desk of the past 250 years, and how the dictionary was compiled, and explore the desk's links to Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, and Johnson's lost godchildren.

​This exhibition is the result of a collaborative project funded by TORCH at Oxford University: ‘Rethinking Johnson's House of Words’. The research project redirects attention to the garret in which Samuel Johnson completed his English dictionary in 1755 as a writerly and collaborative space, and the birthplace of a book of international cultural significance. It is a close collaboration between Celine Luppo McDaid, the Director and Curator of Dr Johnson's House, and Prof. Lynda Mugglestone, professor of English Language at Pembroke College, Oxford, and will reunite physical space and lexicographical practice.

Check with Dr Johnson's House for opening times and days.

If you’re looking to expand your day, follow the City of London Literary walking trail that explores the rich literary connections from Dr Johnson's House along Fleet Street to St Paul's Cathedral.

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