Friday, January 6th, 2012...10:41 am

You’ve Got Mail: The History of One of My Toes

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Samuel Johnson. Letter to Hester Thrale, Oct. 8, 1779. MS Hyde 1 (93)This posting inaugurates a new weekly feature on the Houghton Library blog, “You’ve Got Mail,” based on letters in Houghton Library. Every Friday this year a Houghton staff member will select a letter from the diverse collections in the Library and put that letter into context. It is our hope that this feature will introduce you to the amazing variety of correspondence included in our collections and the topics, mundane and momentous, personal and universal, they explore.

On 8 October 1779 the diarist and writer Hester Thrale (1741-1821) and her husband were traveling, and her friend Samuel Johnson was worried at not having heard from her. Johnson (1709-1784), poet, essayist, critic and lexicographer, was one of the great letter writers of the English language. He wrote:

I begin to be frighted at your omission to write, do not torture me any longer, but let me know where you are, how you got thither, how you live there and everything else, that one friend loves to know of another.

I will show you the way.

Johnson, who suffered from gout, then proceeds to describe his week and his health and jokingly concludes:

This, madam, is the history of one of my toes; the history of my head would perhaps be much shorter.

This letter is MS Hyde 1 (93). Houghton Library, thanks to the generous bequest of Mary Hyde Eccles, includes more than half of the surviving letters written by Samuel Johnson. The Hyde Collection also holds letters from other members of Johnson’s circle including Hester Thrale, James Boswell, Joshua Reynolds and David Garrick. This letter has been edited and annotated by Bruce Redford in the Hyde edition of The Letters of Samuel Johnson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992-1994, III, 186-187.

[Thanks to William Stoneman, Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library, for contributing this post.]

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