Johnson, Joseph, 1738-1809

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English bookseller and publisher.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : London, to William Cowper, 1782 Feb. 18. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270871157

Joseph Johnson, bookseller and publisher, lived in London from 1761 until the last few years of his life. A Dissenter, known for his progressive political views and for his role in bringing together many of the leading intellectuals of his time, Johnson was notable for publishing such writers as Maria Edgeworth, Joseph Priestley, Thomas Paine, and Mary Wollstonecraft.

From the description of Joseph Johnson Letterbook, 1795-1810. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122313806

Joseph Johnson, English publisher and bookseller.

From the description of Joseph Johnson manuscript material : 1 item, 1807 (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 452001993

Epithet: of Add MS 36052

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000356.0x0001f1

Joseph Johnson was born near Liverpool in 1738. He came to London in 1752, when he was fourteen, and became apprenticed to George Keith, a bookseller. Between 1760 and 1765, he had several bookshops of his own before he formed partnerships first with Benjamin Davenport, then with John Payne, in Paternoster Row. After a fire destroyed his and Payne's business in 1770, he opened a new shop in St. Paul's Churchyard, where he remained for the next thirty-nine years.

During the 1760s, Johnson became friends with a number of people who would influence his thinking and whose writings he would later publish, among them John Aikin, George Fordyce, Henry Fuseli, and Joseph Priestley. In part because of Priestley's influence, Johnson, reared a Baptist, became a Unitarian, and in 1774 was a co-founder, with Theophilus Lindsey, of the Essex Street Chapel, the first Unitarian place of worship in England.

With the establishment of his own shop in 1770, Johnson became known as an advocate of publishing inexpensive books, in order to create as wide a readership as possible for them. From the early 1770s until shortly before his death in 1809, he held weekly dinners for the authors he published, and is credited for bringing together many of the leading intellectuals of his time. Frequent guests included Fuseli, Priestley, William Godwin, John Aikin, Anna Letitia Barbauld, and John Horne Tooke.

In 1788, Johnson and his friend Thomas Christie founded the Analytical Review, a liberal and Unitarian periodical that one of his biographers has described as "as accurate a reflection of the thought of English liberalism in the 1790s as we have." During its ten-year run, the Review published articles by Henry Fuseli, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Mary Hays, among many others. In 1796, Johnson also participated in the founding and production of the Dissenting periodical, the Monthly Magazine, whose contributors included John Aikin and Anna Letitia Barbauld.

Johnson's continuing interest in progressive thought in those years is also reflected by his publication of such works as Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790), her Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution (1794), and Thomas Paine's Rights of Man (1791). The 1790s, however, were also a decade of increasing political conservatism in England, in which publishers and booksellers came under increasing scrutiny for their production of allegedly seditious material. In 1798, Johnson was charged with selling a controversial pamphlet by Gilbert Wakefield, and sentenced in January 1799 to six months in prison. A chronic sufferer of asthma, Johnson's condition worsened during his imprisonment; he never completely regained his health.

Partly because of his imprisonment, partly owing to changes in the political climate, and in part because of the growth of large publishing houses in the early 1800s, Johnson's business suffered after 1800; after another fire damaged his shop in 1806, he went into semi-retirement. He died in December 1809, at age 71.

From the guide to the Joseph Johnson Letterbook, 1795-1810, (The New York Public Library. Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Boswell's Life of Johnson : including Boswell's Journal of a tour to the Hebrides and Johnson's Diary of a journey into North Wales, edited by George Birkbeck Hill, extra-illustrated, 1464-1897 (inclusive), 1724-1874 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn United States Sanitary Commission records. Army and Navy Claim Agency archives, 1861-1870 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Thomas J. Dodd Papers, undated, 1919-1971. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Center.
referencedIn Maria Edgeworth manuscript material : 14 items, 1814-1844 The New York Public Library. Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle.
creatorOf Johnson, Joseph, 1738-1809. Joseph Johnson manuscript material : 1 item, 1807 New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Alison, Archibald, 1757-1839. Papers pertaining to Charles Darwin and evolution [manuscript], 1771-1921. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Kalispell, Montana, Records, 1895-2012 Pacific Lutheran University Archives and Special Collections ELCA Region 1 Archives
creatorOf Johnson, Joseph, 1738-1809. Joseph Johnson Letterbook, 1795-1810. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn William Cowper manuscript material : 32 items, ca. 1784-1799 The New York Public Library. Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle.
creatorOf Barbauld, Mrs. (Anna Letitia), 1743-1825,. Autograph letter signed from Anna Letitia Barbauld, Palgrave, Suffolk, to Joseph Johnson [manuscript], [ca. 1780] April 29. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Donald Hyde and Mary Hyde Eccles Autograph Collection, 1505-1957 (inclusive), 1702-1854 (bulk). Houghton Library
creatorOf Letter from William Cowper to [Joseph Johnson?] concerning the placing of an advertisement for Cowper's translation of Homer in the 1787 (3rd) edition of his Poems; 9 Jan. 1787. Also included are a postcard from Arundel Esdaile (ff. 120, 120b) and a ... British Library
referencedIn Mary Wollstonecraft manuscript material : 49 items, 1773-1797 The New York Public Library. Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle.
referencedIn (VIII. ff. 196). 12 Mar. 1742-29 Jan. 1743.includes:f. 2 Fellow: Suit v. Jermyn: 1742. f. 5 Barnard Wilson, DD, Vicar of Newark: Suit v. Lord Middleton: 1742. f. 5 Francis Willoughby, 2nd Baron Middleton: Lawsuits: 1742-1746. f. 8 Isabella Le Neve... British Library
creatorOf Wingrave, F. (Francis). Dr. Goldsmith's Animated nature : manuscript, 1804-1805. Houghton Library
creatorOf Cowper, William, 1731-1800. Autograph letter signed : to Joseph Johnson, 1786 [May 2?]. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn Thomas Percival manuscript material : 1 item, 1787 The New York Public Library. Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle.
creatorOf Thompson, Thomas, 1776-1861. Cowperiana scrapbooks, 1731-1853. Boston Athenaeum
creatorOf Alison, Archibald, 1757-1839,. Papers pertaining to Charles Darwin and evolution, 1771-1821. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Johnson, Joseph, 1738-1809. Autograph letter signed : London, to William Cowper, 1782 Feb. 18. Pierpont Morgan Library.
creatorOf Pforzheimer, Carl H. (Carl Howard), 1879-1957,. Carl H. Pforzheimer collection of Shelley and his circle : manuscripts, 1772-1925 (bulk 1780-1850). New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Cowper, William, 1731-1800. William Cowper manuscript material : 32 items, New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Joseph Johnson Letterbook, 1795-1810 The New York Public Library. Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle.
referencedIn Goldsmith, Oliver, 1730?-1774. [Letters and papers concerning the publication of the first four London editions of Goldsmith's animated nature], 1769-1816. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Arden, Thomas S., d. 1805. person
associatedWith Axton, April, person
associatedWith Ballantyne, James person
associatedWith Ballantyne, James. person
correspondedWith Barbauld, Mrs. (Anna Letitia), 1743-1825, person
associatedWith Barlas, William person
associatedWith Barlas, William. person
associatedWith Baynes, R. person
associatedWith Beddoes, Thomas, 1760-1808. person
associatedWith Bell, John, ca. 1736-1806. person
associatedWith Belsham, Thomas, 1750-1829. person
associatedWith Bethlehem Lutheran Church (Kalispell, Mont.) corporateBody
associatedWith Boswell, James, 1740-1795 person
associatedWith Carr, John, Sir, 1772-1832. person
associatedWith Conder, Thomas, 1746 or 7-1831. person
associatedWith Cooper, Thomas, 1759-1839. person
associatedWith Cottle, Joseph, 1770-1853. person
associatedWith Cowper, William, 1731-1800. person
associatedWith Coxe, Tench, 1755-1824. person
associatedWith D. and A. Cowan corporateBody
associatedWith D. and A. Cowan. corporateBody
associatedWith Darwin, Erasmus, 1731-1802. person
associatedWith Davy, Humphry, Sir, 1778-1829. person
associatedWith Denman, Thomas, 1733-1815. person
associatedWith Devonshire, Elizabeth Cavendish, Duchess of, 1758-1824. person
associatedWith Dobson, Thomas, 1751-1823. person
correspondedWith Dodd, Thomas J. (Thomas Joseph), 1907-1971 person
associatedWith Dugdale, Bennet person
associatedWith Dugdale, Bennet. person
associatedWith Edgeworth, Maria, 1767-1849. person
associatedWith Edgeworth, Richard Lovell, 1744-1817. person
associatedWith Fellows, John, 1759-1844. person
associatedWith Gilbert and Hodges corporateBody
associatedWith Gilbert and Hodges. corporateBody
associatedWith Goldsmith, Oliver, 1730?-1774. person
associatedWith Hartley, David, ca. 1731-1813. person
associatedWith Hayley, William, 1745-1820. person
associatedWith Hollis, John, 1757-1824. person
associatedWith Hutchinson, Benjamin, 1729?-1804. person
associatedWith K. E. Mercier and Co corporateBody
associatedWith K. E. Mercier and Co. corporateBody
associatedWith Lackington, Allen and Co. corporateBody
associatedWith Leslie, John, Sir, 1766-1832. person
associatedWith Longman, Thomas Norton, 1771-1842. person
associatedWith Madison, James, 1751-1836. person
associatedWith Manners and Miller. corporateBody
associatedWith Miller, Samuel, 1769-1850. person
associatedWith Morgan, Lady (Sydney), 1783-1859. person
associatedWith Murray and Cochrane corporateBody
associatedWith Murray and Cochrane. corporateBody
associatedWith Murray and Highley. corporateBody
associatedWith Newton, John, 1725-1807. person
associatedWith Oxenham and Company corporateBody
associatedWith Oxenham and Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Parr, Bartholomew, 1750-1810. person
associatedWith Percival, Thomas, 1740-1804 person
associatedWith Pforzheimer, Carl H. (Carl Howard), 1879-1957, person
associatedWith Porter, Jane, 1776-1850. person
associatedWith Priestley, Joseph, 1733-1804. person
associatedWith Seagrave, J. person
associatedWith Skrimshire, F. (Fenwick), 1774 or 5-1855. person
associatedWith Smith, Charlotte Turner, 1749-1806. person
associatedWith Sullivan, William, 1774-1839. person
associatedWith Thompson, Thomas, 1776-1861. person
associatedWith T. & J. Swords (Firm). corporateBody
associatedWith Turton, William, 1762-1835. person
associatedWith United States Sanitary Commission corporateBody
associatedWith Wollstonecraft, Charles person
associatedWith Wollstonecraft, Charles. person
associatedWith Wollstonecraft, Mary, 1759-1797 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Great Britain
Milton-next-Sittingbourne, Kent
Great Britain
Great Britain--London
London, England
Great Britain--England
Booksellers and bookselling
Booksellers and bookselling
Publishers and publishing
Publishers and publishing
Publishers and publishing
Authors and publishers
Authors and publishers
Book industries and trade
Book industries and trade
Booksellers and book trade
Booksellers and book trade


Birth 1738-11-15

Death 1809-12-20






Ark ID: w6h99860

SNAC ID: 67692416