Friday, 2 October 2009

Dr Johnson and Trinity

I spent a week in Budapest last month completing a second series of dental implant sessions. Incidentally, the saving in cost, including air fares, accommodation and meals, comfortably exceeded the cost of the university course I am currently doing. Additionally I have had four trips to a delightful city.

On this last trip I decided, as I had done a lot of sightseeing on previous ones, to spend most time reading, in particular Boswell's Johnson. What came as a matter of considerable surprise to me was his appreciation of my old college rather than the one he briefly attended, Pembroke. In particular, he spent some weeks lodging in Kettel Hall, a college building in which I had rooms for two years. Consequently I did some work on a database to produce a date chart of Johnson and his contemporaries, as a preliminary to perhaps writing an essay to be entitled Trinity: Doctor Johnson's favourite Oxford college?

Only the skeleton of this got written, but what I learnt was that some of his letters are in the college archive, so I asked if I could see them before the gaudy dinner. I had this reply yesterday.

Dear Mr Randall,

Tom has forwarded to me your email about the letters from Samuel Johnson to Thomas Warton in the Trinity Archive. I was most interested to learn that you are writing an essay about Johnson at Trinity - it's a subject which has been much on my mind recently as two weeks ago Sharon Cure (the Trinity librarian) and I put on a small exhibition with that very title in the Old Library for the delegates of the Johnson Tercentenary Conference (held at Pembroke College). There is a brief booklet which we produced that I can give you - it summarises information about his various connections with Trinity and a bit about what the college was like in the 18th Century, which you may find useful. You will notice that besides the letters, the archives which we have are rather scanty, but we did our best to give them a good spin!

I think it should be possible for you to see the Johnson/Warton letters tomorrow afternoon, although I will be rather busy setting out an archive exhibition for the gaudy in the Old Bursary. Can you give me a rough idea of what time you will arrive - earlier in the afternoon would be better for me - and then you can settle in the archive reading room while I dash up and down the stairs!

I look forward to meeting you tomorrow,

Clare Hopkins

I replied as follows.

Dear Clare

Second para: excellent news! I'll arrive after lunch, say 14:00, unless you'd like me there earlier.

First para: woeful news! I feel a bit like somebody setting sail westwards to discover a New World only to land and read a sign Columbus Woz Here – but nonetheless I look forward to reading it.
Cheers, Tony

After breakfast this morning I receive this e-mail.

Dear Tony,

2.00 will be good for me. Shall we meet under the chapel arch, or if you prefer, ask the porter to give me a ring and I will come down from the tower to let you in?

I don't think you need worry about competition from our very trivial researches on your subject! But one good source I would recommend if you aren't aware of it already is David Fairer's edition of the correspondence of Thomas Warton. It's in the college library if you'd like to take a look at it while you're in college.


Well, well, well! I'd better get this posted quickly and get ready to catch the X5 to Oxford.

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