Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) is one of the pre-eminent figures of 18th-century English letters. A poet, essayist, critic, journalist and lexicographer, Johnshon was formidably productive and wide-ranging, He was also a legendary wit and conversationalist, whose sharp-tongued pronouncements and many eccentricities are well recorded in Boswell’s classic Life. In 1755 he published the first proper dictionary of the English language, defining some 40,000 words with great verve. (In it he defined a lexcographer as a ‘harmless drudge’.) His essays on Shakespeare, his Lives of the Poets and his extensive periodical essays were all seminal works in their field and is philosophical romance Rosselas (1759) is as pungent today as ever.
TIMOTHY WILSON SMITH was the author of prize-winning Delacroix (1992), Napoleon and his Artists (1996), Caravaggio (1998) and Napoleon: Man of War, Man of Peace (2002). He has degrees in History and English, taught at Eton College, has lectured at the National Portrait Gallery and has broadcast on the BBC. He died in 2006.