(The “in black” in the header goes without saying, if you’ve seen my wardrobe.)

England was a hoot, a riot–a real shindig, if you will.

The flight over wasn’t bad. I managed to sleep a few hours, so I was able to hit the ground walking in London. I spent two days putting miles on my All-Stars and seeing many things: Hyde Park, Wellington Memorial, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Bloomsbury, the British Museum, Gray’s Inn, St. Paul’s. I also visited Johnson’s House and, more importantly, got to see the statue of Hodge outside. I took a lot of pictures, because I grew up in Florida and am immune to the embarrassments of tourism. Maybe I should have been a photojournalist. Certainly my pictures would be better if I had been.

I then stayed five days at Pembroke College in Oxford. The conference itself was exemplary. The papers were uniformly good. Johnsonians tend to be serious scholars, and the scholarship on display at the conference did not disappoint. Equally impressive, I think, was the generosity that predominated throughout. Academic life is the stuff of fierce disagreements, but even the most intractable opposition last week was collegial. Surely this had something to do with what Helen Deutsch calls Loving Dr. Johnson, but I’m sure it also reflected on the generosity of our hosts at Pembroke. Taking meals together in hall and coffee together in the common room added to the convivial atmosphere. There were many wonderful moments: tours of Johnsonian sights at Trinity and University Colleges, the Mozart string quartet in the chapel, and singing happy birthday to Dr. Johnson at midnight on Thursday in the college bar. All in all, a very fine conference, indeed.

On Friday morning I boarded a bus to Lichfield where I saw the Johnson Birthplace Museum. I found one plaque moving:

The house in which DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON was born.
Born 1709. —— Died 1784.
Educated at Lichfield Grammar School.
Buried in Westminster Abbey.

Of course, having read John Wain’s biography, I knew that Johnson’s origins in Staffordshire were important. But it took breathing in the hometown pride of this plaque, thinking of the career as a trajectory from obscure grammar school to being buried in Poet’s Corner, for it to really sink in that Johnson was a provincial. Lots of people have gone on to become more educated after attending obscure grammar schools, this blogger among them, but none of us have gone on to become Dr. Johnson. It’s a humbling thought.

My old friend Doug picked me up outside the Birthplace Museum Friday afternoon, and we drove up to Wakefield (another cathedral town) where I spent the night with his family. The next day we drove up to Darlington where there was indeed fearsome derby-action. Sunday morning I had a delicious breakfast and then set off on nearly 22 hours of travel. I tried to update the blog on the train from Darlington to London, but National Express’s wifi signed me out before I could post it and I lost the entire thing. I arrived home at 1:30am Monday, was in the classroom by 9am, and have been generally jet-lagged and behind for the rest of the week, hence the long delay in this update. THE END.

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