Photographs, captions and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. [Click on the images for larger pictures.]

Dr Johnson by Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald, FSA (1834-1925). Bronze. Unveiled by Fitzgerald himself in 1910, when a royal unveiling was cancelled because of the death of Edward VII (see Baker 84). It is outside the east end of St Clement Danes church on the Strand, where Dr Johnson used to worship, looking past the Law Courts down Fleet Street .

Dr Johnson's face is said to have been copied from a portrait by Reynolds and a bust by Nollekens (Bullus and Asprey 70), and his figure looks stout and crumpled, as it did in real life. He is apparently commenting animatedly on a book he is reading, with two more books and an inkpot at his feet. The New York Times of the day mentions a quill as well, but that is missing now. The same newspaper report surmises that "the doctor is engaged in the not uncongenial task of laying down the law" ("London's Newest Statue").

Left to right: (a) The whole monument. (b) Close-up of the front of the plinth. It has a medallion of Boswell in profile and inscriptions about Johnson and the statue itself.

The main part of the inscription reads: SAMUEL JOHNSON/ L.L.D. / CRITIC . ESSAYIST . PHILOLOGIST / WIT. POET. MORALIST / DRAMATIST. POLITICAL WRITER. TALKER. On either side of the Boswell medallion are Johnson's dates, BORN 1709 DIED 1784, and below that the information about the sculptor and the erection of the monument. Note the bronze floral decoration on the base of the plinth.

(a) Relief showing Johnson and Boswell afoot in the Highlands. (very similar to the one on the south side of Fitzgerald's statue of Boswell in Lichfield, except that Johnson's walking stick is strangely curtailed here). (b) Relief showing Johnson and Mrs Thrale, looking very companionable.

The relief panels are whimsically affectionate, and not at all formal. Can it be accident that Mrs Thrale's name looks like "Thrall"? The work as a whole has often been dismissed as grotesque: "never did he look like this walking down Fleet Street" said Arthur Mee in the thirties (220), and the verdict is still, "not very life-like" (Wiltshire 232). But there is something endearing about it, all the same.

Related Material

Sources

Baker, Margaret. London Statues and Monuments. 4th ed. London: Shire, 1995. Print.

Bullus, Claire, and Ronald Asprey. The Statues of London. London & New York, Merrell, 2009. Print.

"London's Newest Statue." New York Times, 14 August 1910. Web. 22 September 2012.

Mee, Arthur. London: Heart of Empire and Wonder of the World. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1937. Print.

Wiltshire, John. The Making of Dr Johnson: Icon of Modern Culture. Hastings: Helm Information, 2009. Print.


Victorian Web Homepage Visual Arts Sculpture Samuel Johnson

Last modified 22 September 2012