Sunday, September 22, 2013

Learning About Samuel Johnson

As part of the class I'm teaching on 18th-century fiction in London, I took my study-abroad students to see Samuel Johnson's house, off Fleet Street in London, and N. wanted to come too.  We were treated to a wonderfully detailed tour by the curator whose stories brought to life Johnson and the menagerie of odd and troubled friends he gave shelter to in the house.  N. loved the experience.  He told me afterwards that he had assumed Johnson (whom he knew vaguely about from living through my editing of Rasselas and hearing me talk about teaching over the years) would be a grand, wealthy man, and it was so sad to hear that he had suffered so many physical, mental, and financial problems.  He was very interested in the story of the production of Johnson's dictionary, and enjoyed looking at a facsimile copy laid on a table in the very garret where Johnson and his amanuenses did the "harmless drudgery" of lexicography.

N. always likes the architectural aspects of our tourism, so he was very interested in the 18th-century house itself, beyond its Johnsonian aura.

Plus, to cater to school groups, Johnson's house has some 18th-century-style costumes in one room, so N., my students, and I all played a little dress-up.

I am having a lot of fun accompanying N. on these outings with my students, because while my students are dutifully appreciative of places like Johnson's house, they lack N.'s voracious enthusiasm.  He has an observant eye for detail, is patiently attentive to narration (while my students get restless!), and is entirely unhesitant to ask questions (even among a group of 15 twenty-year-olds), whether about objects in a room or something the curator says.  He also likes to answer guides' questions when he can, and he had to learn to wait a few minutes to give the college students the first opportunity to answer; when they don't know an answer, he delights in defining "ostler" or pointing out a detail in a painting.  N. is getting a lot out of our outings, and much to my students' bemusement, he's also modelling for them a wholehearted, enthusiastic approach to learning and to London.
Dr. Johnson's House
Inspecting the (facsimile) Dictionary
"A very fine cat indeed."

1 comment:

inhabitingbooks said...

It sounds like his being there will be good for them, maybe light their fires a little.