I was a bit short of sleep yesterday. Getting a good night’s sleep on a university campus is not that easy. Footballing and skateboarding were still going on just outside the window at 1 am, when I eventually dozed off; the building site next door started work at 6am, including angle-grinding paving stones.
I’d anticipated leaving Leeds much earlier in the day and driving along country roads to Lichfield, but as it was lunchtime it was down the M1, across to Derby then along Icknield/Ryknild Street to Lichfield, which only took about two hours.
Lichfield is a nice little city, needing much longer than the 2½ hours available. Having a cursory look round the centre, most of our time was spent in the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum.
I am fond of the old curmudgeon, and I found it quite moving to see some of his possessions – his scruffy old armchair was particularly evocative. They also have his portable desk, tea set, and a book which a friend had lent to him (if my memory serves it was a copy of Orlando Furioso) only for a cup of tea to be spilled over it.
The museum also has a number of books which were Johnson’s own copies, documents, and quite a lot of pictures. The kitchen is shown as his father (Michael)’s workshop, the basement has a tableau of the young Sam sitting in his kitchen reading Macbeth, and one room is devoted to the Dictionary, in which they have a copy of the 1979 Times one volume facsimile edition for browsing.
The first ground floor room you enter, which was Michael Johnson’s bookshop, is a bookshop now, selling a general second-hand stock, but with an emphasis on Johnsoniana, as well as a few souvenir items.
Highly recommended (assuming you have some interest in Samuel Johnson).
Lichfield is needing a return visit for a proper walk round (preferably with a Pevsner), the cathedral is the only three-spire cathedral in Europe.
Johnson was born in 1709 in Lichfield and later in life introduced Boswell to it. “I lately took my friend Boswell and showed him genuine civilised life in an English provincial town. I turned him loose in Lichfield.”
I share Johnson’s appreciation of tea (Jonas Hanway’s remarks against tea caused Johnson to pronounce that he was “in that article a hardened sinner, who had for years diluted his meals with the infusion of that fascinating plant; whose tea kettle had no time to cool; who with Tea solaced the midnight hour, and with Tea welcomed the morning.”) and so was disappointed that by 4.30 all the tearooms in Lichfield seemed to be either closed or closing, and so had recourse to a Costa.
P.S. on 30 September I got to Dr Johnson’s House in London.