March 03, 2009

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By Kathryn Kopchik

LEWISBURG, Pa. — The Bucknell Humanities Institute will commemorate the 300th birthday of Samuel Johnson during a two-day celebration March 23 and 24 at Bucknell University.

"Johnson is one of the great writers of 18th-century England," said Greg Clingham, professor of English at Bucknell and director of the Bucknell University Press. || Related story University Press marks anniversary

"He is also, along with Montaigne, Shakespeare, Rousseau, Goethe, Tolstoy and Borges, one of a handful of humanists in the European tradition whose writings in a variety of genres continue to challenge and extend our philosophical, moral and literary experiences," he said.

According to Clingham, Bucknell is the only liberal arts university and the only educational institution outside of Harvard (Houghton Library in August) and Oxford (Pembroke College in September) to host an event of this caliber. For a list of events worldwide, visit

Individual talks
The celebration will include individual talks by three of the most eminent Johnson scholars on Monday, March 23, in Bucknell Hall.

Leo Damrosch, who is the Ernest Birnbaum Professor of English at Harvard, will discuss "Doctor Johnson vs. Jean Jacques: Two Styles of Thinking and Being" at 4:45 p.m.

David Ferry, who is the Sophie Chantal Professor Emeritus of English at Wellesley College, will give a poetry reading, including a birthday poem for Johnson, as well as remarks on Johnson and Tolstoy at 5:30 p.m.

Christopher Ricks, who is the Sarah B. Warren Professor in the Humanities at Boston University and professor of poetry at the University of Oxford, will give the talk, "Sound and Sense," at 6:05 p.m.

"These eminent scholars will commemorate Johnson's life and work, his contribution to the Western literary tradition, to the American tradition of liberal education, and to his continuing place in the curriculum on college campuses such as Bucknell," said Clingham.

Public discussion
Damrosch and Ricks will join Clingham, Philip Smallwood, professor of English at Birmingham City University, and Adam Rounce, lecturer in English at Manchester Metropolitan University, in a public discussion on Tuesday, March 24, from 10 to 11 a.m. in the Special Collections Reading Room in the Bertrand Library.

Both the talks and the discussion are open to the public. The Tercentenary celebration is supported by the Office of the Provost, and with additional support from the University Lectureship Committee, the Department of English, the Ellen Clarke Bertrand Library, and the Bucknell University Press.

Related events
The Bertrand Library will host "A Tercentenary Celebration of Samuel Johnson's Work," an exhibit of Johnsonian books and artifacts, including first editions and other rare books from the Bertrand Library's Special Collections, in the James A. Russell Exhibit Area located on lower level one of the Library through April 30.

Other related events include a dramatic reading of scenes from G.K. Chesterton's play "The Judgment of Dr. Johnson," and Samuel Johnson after 300 Years, a Bucknell University Press publication by Clingham and Smallwood commemorating the event. For more information about the University Press publication, visit

Clingham has been invited to give lectures on Johnson in Japan and China this year. He will speak to the English Institute of Japan and the Johnson Club of Japan in May, and give a plenary lecture at the seventh international conference on New Directions in the Humanities in Beijing.

Johnson bio
Johnson made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, novelist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. His Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755 and has been called the first British dictionary. His later works include essays, an annotated edition of William Shakespeare's plays, and the Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, a collection of biographies and evaluations of 17th and 18th century poets. He is the subject of James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, which has been called "the most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature."

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