Samuel Johnson

Born: September 18, 1709, Lichfield
Died: December 13, 1784, London

Occupation: Writer / Poet

Challenges overcome: Tourette’s Syndrome

Successes, Achievements & Awards:

Samuel Johnson, often referred to as Dr Johnson, was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire in 1709. He is considered one of the greatest literary figures of the 18th Century. He most famously compiled A Dictionary of the English Language.

Samuel attended Litchfield Grammar School before moving onto to Oxford University but had to leave after just 18 months due to financial issues. He married a widower, Elizabeth Porter, in 1735 before moving to London in 1737 to seek fame and fortune. He started off as a hack writer, writing and editing for Gentleman’s Magazine by Edward Cave. He gained some critical success with his early poem, London in 1738 and his biography of poet Richard Savage in 1744.

His first big opportunity was when he was commissioned to write the dictionary in 1746, although it wasn’t published until 1755. After that, Johnson was successful and well known, often referred to as ‘Dictionary Johnson’, although he still struggled financially. His work was great and varied, and included biographies of over 50 English poets and a complete critical edition of the works of William Shakespeare.

He gained a government pension in 1762, which allowed him to live without money troubles again. This allowed him to travel and talk, and many people liked him for his funny conversations and robust character. He was very sociable and was a member of many clubs. His life inspired many biographies, the most famous of which was written by his friend, James Boswell in 1791. Samuel Johnson died in December 1784 and is buried in Westminster Abbey. He is the second most quoted Englishman and is most famous for saying “…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”.

Challenges Overcome

It is believed that Samuel had Tourette’s syndrome. He was noted by his friends to have almost constant tics and gesticulations, which startled those who met him for the first time. He also made noises and whistling sounds, repeated sounds and words, irregular or blowing respiratory noises. Samuel also carried out compulsive acts, like touching posts, measuring footsteps when leaving a room and performing complex gestures when crossing a threshold.

The symptoms he possessed are evidence of his affliction of Tourette’s which he is thought to have suffered for most of his life.

When he was a child, Johnson also contracted scrofula, then referred to as The King’s Evil, which left him with poor hearing and eyesight as well as visible scarring. He was seen by Queen Anne in an attempt to cure his scrofula. He was given a gold medal at this event and wore it for the rest of his life even though he knew he wasn’t cured by the visit.

Disability Definitions

Tourettes Syndrome

Tourette (too-RET) syndrome is a nervous system (neurological) disorder that starts in childhood. It involves unusual repetitive movements or unwanted sounds that can’t be controlled (tics). For instance, you may repeatedly blink your eyes, shrug your shoulders or jerk your head. In some cases, you might unintentionally blurt out offensive words.
Signs and symptoms of Tourette syndrome typically show up between ages 2 and 12, with the average being around 7 years of age. Males are about three to four times more likely than females to develop Tourette syndrome.


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