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  • Published: 19 July 2022
  • ISBN: 9781784740184
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $42.99

Dinner with Joseph Johnson

Books and Friendship in a Revolutionary Age



A portrait of a radical age via the writers who gather around a publisher's dining table - from William Wordsworth to Mary Wollstonecraft

Joseph Johnson became a bookseller and a maker of books in an age when books appeared to have the potential to change the world. Between 1760 and 1809, the years of Johnson's adulthood, Britain experienced a period of political, social, scientific, cultural, religious and scientific change during which nothing was certain and everything seemed possible.

On paper Johnson's dinner guests charted the evolution of Britain's relationship first with America and then with Europe: several were intimately involved in the struggles that reformed the world order. They pioneered revolutions in medical treatment and scientific enquiry and they proclaimed the rights of women and children.

The men and women who gathered around Johnson had no communal name and they never moved as a single group. Some, like Wollstonecraft, Fuseli, Bonnycastle and Lindsey, frequented his shop and his dining room without waiting to be invited, treating his home as an extension of their own. Others, like Priestley and Barbauld, viewed St Paul's Churchyard as their pole star. Paine, Trimmer and Darwin left fewer textual traces of their physical presence in Johnson's house. One man, Johnson's engraver William Blake, came to dinner only rarely. The poet William Cowper never visited London but he made his presence felt in the dining room just as surely as did those who came to Johnson's shop and home.

Johnson turned his home into a place where writers of contrasting politics and personalities could come together. The dining room provided space for thinking and talking but it also symbolised and served as a sanctuary at times of crisis. Johnson's guests had to contend with events that threatened their physical security as well as their intellectual liberty. In the tumultuous years either side of the French Revolution they faced riots, fire, exile and prison, alongside the more quotidian but no less serious threats of homelessness, mental collapse, poverty and the exigencies of childbirth. Throughout Johnson's house provided a refuge, and his labours allowed his visitors to make their voices heard even when external forces conspired to silence them.

  • Published: 19 July 2022
  • ISBN: 9781784740184
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $42.99

About the author

Daisy Hay

Daisy Hay was born in Oxford in 1981. She is the author of Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron and Other Tangled Lives, for which she was awarded the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize by the British Academy and highly commended by the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. She has a BA and a PhD in English Literature from the University of Cambridge and an MA in Romantic and Sentimental Literature from the University of York. In 2009-10 she was the Alistair Horne Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford and in 2010-12 she held a visiting scholarship at Wolfson College, Oxford. In 2012-13 she was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. She is currently a Lecturer in English Literature and Archival Studies at the University of Exeter, and a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker. She lives in Devon.

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