The son of a bookseller, Johnson excelled at school in spite of illness (he suffered the effects of scrofula throughout his life) and poverty. He entered Oxford in 1728 but was forced to leave after a year for lack of funds. He sustained himself as a bookseller and schoolmaster for the next six years, during which he continued his wide reading and published some translations. In 1735 he married Elizabeth Porter, a widow 20 years his senior, and remained devoted to her until her death in 1752.
Johnson settled in London in 1737 and began his literary career in earnest. At first he wrote primarily for Edward Cave's Gentleman's Magazine —poetry and prose on subjects literary and political. His poem "London," published anonymously in 1738, was praised by Pope and won Johnson recognition in literary circles. His Life of Savage (1744) is a bitter portrait of corruption in London and the miseries endured by writers. Also of note are his long poem The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749) and his essays in the periodical The Rambler (1750–52).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.