In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Samuel Johnson

  • Introduction
  • Primary Bibliographies
  • Secondary Bibliographies
  • Editions
  • Primary Anthologies
  • General Overviews
  • Critical Anthologies
  • Reference Works
  • Early Biographies
  • Modern Biographies
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British and Irish Literature Samuel Johnson
Jack Lynch
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 September 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 September 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0030


Critics and historians have been fascinated by Samuel Johnson almost since he arrived in London in 1738. He was the subject of extensive commentary throughout his life, and within days of his death several short biographical sketches appeared. Since then the volume of commentary has exploded: each year sees about two hundred books, reviews, and articles on Johnson’s life and works. Among major British authors, this places him behind only Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, and Joyce in terms of the volume of commentary. What’s more, much of this scholarship is deeply contextual, referring to every aspect of his world. Johnson brought a polymath’s knowledge to a tremendous range of interests, and there is hardly a subject that doesn’t appear in the scholarship on Johnson—politics, science, medicine, philosophy, criticism, classical studies. The variety of approaches that have been taken to Johnson is equally broad: traditional historicism, New Critical close reading, deconstruction, psychoanalysis, feminism, Marxism, and so on. The result is that the modern reader is in for tremendous richness, but also tremendous challenges, in trying to understand Johnson’s writings. This bibliography highlights the most important and influential scholarship on Johnson’s life, his works, and his age, and describes some of the concerns that have dominated Johnsonian scholarship over the last century.

Primary Bibliographies

Johnson was a miscellaneous writer who engaged in many genres over the course of fifty years. Since many of these works were originally published anonymously, and since many appeared in different editions during Johnson’s lifetime, it is not easy even to be sure of what Johnson wrote. Fleeman 2000, a comprehensive and highly technical bibliography, is the best guide to the complicated history of Johnson’s publishing life. Tankard 2002 surveys all the writing projects Johnson considered taking on but never completed.

  • Fleeman, J. D., comp. A Bibliography of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Treating His Published Works from the Beginnings to 1984. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 2000.

    The definitive bibliography of Johnson’s primary texts, by David Fleeman and completed by James McLaverty. Fleeman worked for three decades on identifying every edition of Johnson’s works and has done extensive original bibliographical research on almost every title. Absolutely essential for serious scholarship.

  • Tankard, Paul. “‘That Great Literary Projector’: Samuel Johnson’s Designs, or Catalogue of Projected Works.” Age of Johnson 13 (2002): 103–180.

    Johnson was always considering projects large and small that never came to fruition. Tankard offers a survey of works Johnson planned but never wrote.

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