The poet, essayist, critic, journalist and lexicographer Samuel Johnson was one of the pre-eminent figures of 18th-century English letters. Johnson was also a legendary wit and conversationalist, whose sharp-tongued pronouncements and many eccentricities are well recorded in Boswell's classic Life. In 1755, he published the first proper dictionary of the English language, defining some 40,000 words with great verve. In it he defined a lexicographer as a 'harmless drudge'. His essays on Shakespeare, his "Lives of the Poets" and his extensive periodical essays were all seminal works in their field and his philosophical romance "Rasselas" is as pungent today as ever.
Timothy Wilson-Smith is the author of the prize-winning Delacroix (1992), Napoleon and his Artists (1996), Caravaggio (1998) and Napoleon: Man of War, Man of Peace (2002). He has been a Chief Examiner at A Level for Renaissance Art, has lectured at the National Portrait Gallery and has broadcast on the BBC.