With the emergence of monsters reimagined into classic literature – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea-Monsters, and the upcoming Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter – it’s easy to forget that during full moons, Samuel Johnson, the most distinguished man of letters in English history, grew hirsute, lustful, and howled. Samuel Johnson, Werewolf?
No. As told by his amanuensis, James Boswell, it is the book he dared not publish in his lifetime from a manuscript long thought apocryphal or lost, The Other Life of Samuel Johnson.
Johnson, it turns out, was a deeply conflicted man who split his existence into two spheres, the Apollonian and Dionysian.
While working on his Dictionary of the English Language, he was simultaneously compiling a lexicon of sexual slang with particular attention to the acronym associated with for unwarranted carnal knowledge in all its variations, as well as the tender and not so tender nouns of the female mound and its environs.
And, as he wrote Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, Johnson scribbled Lives of the Most Eminent English Buggers.
Johnson was doomed from the start: His father owned a book shop and with depraved indifference exposed his son to the printed word at an early age and thus condemned him to a life of reading and writing. Some parents are monsters. While there is as yet no direct proof, it is well-known that excessive reading causes scrofula, the tubercular disease of the lymph nodes that plagued Johnson in his early life. Surgical excision left him scarred on face and body, which from his perspective left him a hideous beast. He would, for the rest of his life, desperately try to keep the beast hidden away, caged in a corner of his mind. But the beast was strong and fearsome, and it would periodically escape the ganglia of neurons that tightly held it at bay to terrorize his quotidian self and those around him.
When his friend, Harry Porter, died, the widow took a shine to the twenty-five year old man twenty-one years her junior. Old broad, young buck: She saw the beast within and was delighted.
“A little travelin’ music, Sammy,” she’d exclaim when flushed with desire. Few are aware that Jackie Gleason’s classic, signature stage exit line has its origins with Johnson’s wife, Tetty.
Words, words, words; okay, the man cold write and liked to do so. But words won’t ease a gentle, restless soul or nourish the savage beast that shares office space with it.
And so, eleven years after meeting Boswell, Johnson is swingin’ through the Hebrides wielding a broadsword while dressed in Scottish drag and engaging in a highland fling as Boswell, the voyeur, takes notes. Where was YouTube when it was needed most to catch the raunchy Tory in all his glory?
Books rights to The Other Life of Samuel Johnson were recently acquired by Penguin, which appears to have cornered the market on classics gone wild. As print-ad tag-line for their series of resurrected classics, Pengiun exclaims, with a demented glee usually associated with Dr. Victor Frankenstein, “They’re alive! Alive!"
Johnny Depp has shown interest in acquiring the movie rights.
The book and film’s working title? Dr. Johnson and Mr. Hyde.