cover image Dinner with Joseph Johnson: Books and Friendship in a Revolutionary Age

Dinner with Joseph Johnson: Books and Friendship in a Revolutionary Age

Daisy Hay. Princeton Univ, $39.95 (536p) ISBN 978-0-691-24396-2

In this illuminating account, Hay (Young Romantics), a literature professor at the University of Exeter, sheds light on the far-reaching impact of the dinners hosted by Joseph Johnson at St. Paul’s Churchyard from 1760 to 1809. An influential bookseller, Johnson befriended, hosted, and published many of the era’s defining artists and thinkers, including William Blake, Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestley, and Mary Wollstonecraft, as well as painter Henry Fuseli. Hay offers a window into what went on in Johnson’s dining room and outside of it; some of what she covers is well-known, including the Priestley Riots and Priestley’s exile from Britain. But the real value of Hay’s account is in the small, humanizing stories she recounts. For instance, Wollstonecraft, who described Johnson as “a father and brother,” castigated him for interfering in her interest in Fuseli—later, Johnson would be a chief supporter of Wollstonecraft. As Hay points out, Johnson’s main attribute was kindness, and his considerable role in the intellectual development of Britain was the result of “the kinship of friends who catch each other when they fall.” Hay’s is a fascinating take on the intellectual and political development of the time. Fans of literary history will relish this opportunity to pull up a seat at Johnson’s table. [em](Nov.) [/em]