Ai pochi e rari che vogliono conoscere fatti e misfatti di Samuel Johnson, il primo grande lessicografo (e il più scatenato, a mio parere), consiglio di solito due biografie. La prima è quella del contemporaneo di Johnson, James Boswell, intitolata semplicemente Life of Samuel Johnson: un voluminosissimo libro, rilegato in tela verde, come s’addice a un personaggio del calibro del lessicografo inglese. La seconda raccomandazione è la biografia più recente (2005) scritta da Henry Hitchings, dal lunghissimo titolo Dr Johnson’s Dictionary: The Extraordinary Story of the Book that Defined the World.
E’ di oggi una recensione del Washington Times, in cui si parla di due nuove biografie dedicate a Johnson, la prima prodotta dalla penna di un Jeffrey Meyer (già autore di altre biografie) e la seconda da Peter Martin.
The two biographies before us are two very different approaches to putting some context around the life of this gargantuan (literally) personality who was the great lexicographer of his day, that day’s leading aphorist, political journalist, essayist and moralist; a rescuer of the work of William Shakespeare, a campaigner against slavery and a foe of American independence. At the same time, Johnson was a rude bully of revolting table manners, indifferent personal cleanliness, grotesque facial and physical features, alarming tics and noises and enough psycho-sexual problems to accommodate an entire separate chapter of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association. And he hated the Scots and generally despised anyone who was not English.
La mia scelta cadrà probabilmente sul libro di Martin:
One of the more interesting arguments advanced by Mr. Martin is that Johnson never intended his “Dictionary” to be the final word on the English language. By defining words with referrals to their first usage, he intended merely to stabilize the language so that the meaning of words would be more precise and thereby make communications between conversant more efficient. He quotes Johnson in the plan he published before he undertook the nine-year project, “Language is the work of man, of a being from whom permanence and stability cannot be derived. Like humans, words do not remain in a time warp, a linguistic limbo: Like their author, when they are not gaining strength, they are generally losing it.”
Despite what he intended however, Johnson’s choice of the words to define (42,000 out of an estimated common vocabulary of the times of twice that many words), of the quotations he used to explain origins of words and even of the authorities cited all served to produce a High Tory, Church of England and aristocratic standard of language that set up a barrier against the infiltration of more commonplace and popular coinage from being acceptable.
La recensione completa potete leggerla qui.
L’immagine qui sopra è una stampa di Thomas Rowlandson (1786).
“Mr Johnson and I walked Arm in Arm up the High Street to my House in James Court; it was a dusky night;
I could not prevent his being assailed by the Evening effluvia of Edinburgh.” As we marched along he grumbled in my ear “I smell you in the dark.”
Chi è interessato ai dettagli dell’amicizia fra Boswell e Johnson potrà trovarli in Boswell’s presumptuous task, di Adam Sisman.
Postato da: IM