Dr Samuel Johnson moved to London from Lichfield in 1737. He arrived with a friend, a former pupil of his, who was hoping to make a living as an actor.
The friend quickly found success. Within a few years he had taken London by storm and was living like a movie star. He controlled the Theatre Royal, counted William Hogarth and Sir Joshua Reynolds among his friends, and had earned enough money to entertain lavishly at this house in Southampton Street, near Covent Garden.
Johnson took much longer to find fame. Jealous of his friend’s success, he attacked him in a newspaper article in 1752. Accusing the man of getting above himself now that he was famous, he described a visit that he had made to ‘Prospero’ here:
‘When I told my name at the door, the footman went to see if his master was at home, and, by the tardiness of his return, gave me reason to suspect that time was taken to deliberate. He then informed me that Prospero desired my company, and shewed the staircase carefully secured by mats from the pollution of my feet.
‘The best apartments were ostentatiously set open, that I might have a distant view of the magnificence which I was not permitted to approach; and my old friend receiving me with all the insolence of condescension at the top of the stairs, conducted me to a back room, where he told me he always breakfasted when he had not great company.
‘While we were conversing upon such subjects as imagination happened to suggest, he frequently digressed into directions to the servant that waited, or made a slight inquiry after the jeweller or silversmith; and once, as I was pursuing an argument with some degree of earnestness, he started from his posture of attention, and ordered, that if Lord Lofty called on him that morning, he should be shown into the best parlour.’
HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 113. ‘Prospero’ was a real pain, by Dr Johnson’s account. What was his real name?
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