Dr. Johnson was a man of many virtues, but the gentle handling of books was not among them. Because of his “slovenly and careless” way with books, his friends were less than enthusiastic about lending to him from their collections. The novelist Fanny Burney tells us how one of Garrick’s favorite routines involved imitating Johnson reading aloud from the actor’s rare and “stupendously bound” edition of Petrarch, and then, “in one of those fits of enthusiasm which always seem to require that he should spread his arms aloft in the air . . . suddenly pounc[ing] my poor Petrarca over his head upon the floor!”and forgetting all about it. Some, however, kept the books Johnson had mangled as curiosities.

Johnson’s atrocious treatment of books makes an ordinary mortal like myself feel a little less guilty about the horrible way I have been...


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