Oo-er, missus &c. Elizabeth Carter was a good friend of Samuel Johnson, and her whatnot is a small Georgian period display table for one’s fancy ornaments. This item resides at Dr Johnson’s House in Gough Square, EC4, which is now a museum. It’s a four storey early Georgian town house, one of many of Johnson’s residences over the years in this area, but its significance is that this is where he wrote the Dictionary.
Today, the place is fairly sparcely furnished, but in very good order. There are three or four display cabinets around the building containing contemporary items such a quills, ink stands, tea sets, spectacles. Not overwhelming, just how I like it. The walls, however, are festooned with pictures, mostly engraving portraits of Johnson’s circle. This is where the learning part of the visit kicks in. Johnson was never a rich man – in fact, he spent long periods of dire impecunity – but he had an extensive circle of friends among the artistic, literary, business and political classes. He loved women without being a womaniser, recognising and treating them as intellectual equals. He was fiercely anti-slavery and left generous provision after death for his black servant, Frank Barber. He was suspicious of politics and politicians. He was in every sense a modern man. I left the museum many scales of magnitude better educated on Johnson than I entered it.
The tourist season being at an end and this building being slightly off the beaten track and overshadowed by the City’s modern office blocks, I had the luxury of the place almost entirely to myself. Great for me, but this wonderful museum deserves more patronage and I would unreservedly encourage anybody to go and see it for themselves.
Fougasse at the Cartoon Museum
On to the Fougasse exhibition at the Cartoon Museum, previously featured on this blog here. This is a delightful show. Cyril Kenneth Bird adopted the pen name Fougasse in order not to be confused with another illustrator called Bird. He was active from World War I to the 1960s. Fougasse perfectly represents the transition between Victorian and 20th century cartooning. One can see his linework becoming sparcer through the years, and more beautiful thereby. The Exhibition is finely balanced between his magazine work (mainly for Punch) and his public information output (for the Ministry of War, London Underground and the nascent NHS). Most of latter he did free-of-charge. But for me, it is his magazine work that delights the more. For the historian, cartoons are possibly the most accurate snapshot of contemporary social attitudes, among the educated middle classes in any case. Fougasse was the exponent par excellence of society at war, at home, in the street, on the road (he drew vehicles beautifully). And very, very funny.
The Exhibition closes on 24 November. Don’t miss it.