Tuesday December 15th:
The last BRLSI lecture of the year, and a reminder that while Darwin and Beyond has been the major focus of 2009, the ‘regular’ lecture programme has not only continued but flourished around it, accounting for two-thirds of the year’s 150+ events. Tonight it was the turn of the Literature and Humanities Group, with Convenor Dr Robert Blackburn introducing Christine Rees (left), Research Fellow at the University of London, to speak on Samuel Johnson, That Great Cham of LIterature.
‘Cham’ turned out not to be a mis-spelling of ‘Sham’, but the title of the Sovereign of Tartary, and a contemporary allusion to Johnson’s position as the Monarch of Literature. Johnson himself, meanwhile, turned out to be a surprisingly modern character, anti-racist and anti-sexist (if still fairly snobbish), with a distrust of rampant consumerism and a belief that language belonged to its speakers, and that dictionaries (including his own monumental work) should concentrate on description rather than prescription.
The lecture wasn’t intended as a beginner’s guide to Johnson; at one point Christine Rees apologised for explaining the plot of his novel Rasselas (published in 1759) ‘for those who haven’t read it for some time’. Such was Ms Rees’ skill as a speaker, however, that even those whose only knowledge of Johnson was his dictionary and famous ‘tired of London, tired of life’ quote came away with a much broader sense of the man and his times, while those more familiar with him (the majority of the audience, from the long and erudite list of questions asked afterwards) had a hour packed with the fine detail and insight that can only come from a true scholar. It was, in short, a typical BRLSI event.
The BRLSI runs a programme of public lectures all year round (except August). For details of forthcoming events
see our What’s On page.