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Dinner with Joseph Johnson

Bookseller, publisher, Dissenter and dinner-party host, Joseph Johnson was a great enabler in the late 18th-century literary landscape . . .

Daisy Hay is the author of Dinner with Joseph Johnson: Books and Friendship in a Revolutionary Age and Associate Professor of English Literature at the University of Exeter, and Kathryn Sutherland is the author of Why Modern Manuscript Matters and Senior Research Fellow in English at the University of Oxford. Together they join the Slightly Foxed editors to discuss Joseph Johnson’s life and work at St Paul’s Churchyard, the heart of England’s book trade since medieval times.

We listen to the conversation around Johnson’s dining-table as Coleridge and Wordsworth, Joseph Priestley and Benjamin Franklin, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Blake debate the great issues of the day. And we watch as Johnson embarks on a career that will become the foundation stone of modern publishing. We hear how he takes on Olaudah Equiano’s memoir of enslavement and champions Anna Barbauld’s books for children, how he argues with William Cowper over copyright and how he falls foul of bookshop spies and is sent to prison. From Johnson’s St Paul’s we then travel to Mayfair, where John Murray II is hosting literary salons with Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott, and taking a chance on Jane Austen. To complete our tour, we glimpse the anatomy experiments in the basement of Benjamin Franklin House by the Strand.

Our round-up of book recommendations includes Konstantin Paustovsky’s The Story of a Life which begins in Ukraine, Winifred Holtby’s conversations with Wollstonecraft and Woolf, a fresh look at Jane Austen’s Emma and an evocation of the Aldeburgh coast as we visit Ronald Blythe for tea.


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Show Notes

Books Mentioned

Please find links to books, articles, and further reading listed below. The digits in brackets following each listing refer to the minute and second they are mentioned. (Episode duration: 59 minutes; 37 seconds)

We may be able to get hold of second-hand copies of the out-of-print titles mentioned on the podcast and listed below. Please get in touch with Jess in the Slightly Foxed office for more information.

– Colin Clark, The Prince, the Showgirl and Me, Slightly Foxed Edition No. 61 (1:23)

– Edward Ardizzone, The Young Ardizzone, Plain Foxed Edition (2:01)

– Daisy Hay, Dinner with Joseph Johnson: Books and Friendship in a Revolutionary Age (2:52)

– Kathryn Sutherland, Why Modern Manuscripts Matter

– William Cowper, The Task (15:46)

– William Godwin, Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is out of print (24:09)

– John Knowles, The Life and Writing of Henry Fuseli is out of print (24:12)

– Mary Scott, The Female Advocate; a poem occasioned by reading Mr. Duncombes Feminead is out of print (27:36)

Slightly Foxed Cubs series of children’s books (31:52)

– Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (35:53)

– Maria Rundell, Mrs Rundell’s Domestic Cookery is out of print (46:01)

– Konstantin Paustovsky, The Story of a Life, translated by Douglas Smith (50:52)

– Joanna Quinn, The Whalebone Theatre (52:40)

– Jane Austen, Emma (53:16)

– Winifred Holtby, Women and a Changing Civilisation is out of print (54:07)

– Winifred Holtby, Virginia Woolf: A Critical Memoir is out of print (54:44)

– Winifred Holtby, South Riding (55:46)

– Ronald Blythe, The Time by the Sea (56:46)

Related Slightly Foxed Articles

Letters from the Heart, Daisy Hay on Mary Wollstonecraft, Letters Written in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, Issue 51

Just Getting on with It, A. F. Harrold on William Cowper, Selected Poems, Issue 23

The Abyss Beyond the Orchard, Alexandra Harris on William Cowper, The Centenary Letters, Issue 53

‘By God, I’m going to spin’, Paul Routledge on the novels of Winifred Holtby, Issue 32

  • Letters from the Heart
    1 September 2016

    Letters from the Heart

    Over the past few months I’ve been immersed in a feast of late-eighteenth-century reading as I’ve meandered through the foothills of a new book project. I’ve had the delight of reacquainting myself with old friends and have made some new ones along the way as I’ve lived and breathed the turbulent events of the decade following the French Revolution through the eyes of some of the period’s most brilliant writers.
  • Just Getting on with It
    1 September 2009

    Just Getting on with It

    I remember hearing Leonard Cohen being interviewed some years ago, and he said, when asked whether he minded being referred to as a ‘minor poet’, that no he didn’t mind at all, in fact he had spent many delightful hours in the company of minor poets, such as Herrick. My ears pricked up when I heard that. For some reason I’d never imagined Cohen sitting down and reading seventeenth-century English clergymen, but of course I was wrong.
  • The Abyss Beyond the Orchard
    1 June 2017

    The Abyss Beyond the Orchard

    For about a hundred and thirty years after his death in 1800, William Cowper was one of those figures about whom every keen reader had something to say. He was up there with Milton and Johnson, though people felt more intimately connected with Cowper than they were ever likely to feel with Milton. His long poem The Task (1785) seemed to articulate all the longed-for goodness of familiar, homely things; it was a tribute to ‘Domestic Happiness, thou only bliss of paradise that has survived the fall!’ Yet here, and in hundreds of the letters that began to be published from 1804 onwards, things of joy were surrounded by gulfs of loss and desolation.
  • ‘By God, I’m going to spin’
    1 December 2011

    ‘By God, I’m going to spin’

    Winifred Holtby wrote South Riding, a grand sweep of 1930s life in Yorkshire’s sea-facing flatlands, quite literally against a deadline. She completed the novel only weeks before her death, and the manuscript was seen through the press by her lifelong friend Vera Brittain. The book was an instant success, and has never been out of print.

Other Links

Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (11:42)

Dr Johnson’s House, City of London (49:52)

Benjamin Franklin House, Charing Cross, London (49:56)

Opening music: Preludio from Violin Partita No.3 in E Major by Bach

The Slightly Foxed Podcast is hosted by Philippa Lamb and produced by Podcastable

Episode 43: Dinner with Joseph Johnson

Comments & Reviews

Leave a comment

  1. S. Baines says:

    A very enjoyable podcast about Joseph Johnson and his circle. I must admit I had heard of him in passing but feel he has now been made more aware to me. All good wishes and looking forward to the next podcast.

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