The Birthday Supper
The highlight of the Society’s year is the annual Johnson Birthday Weekend in September. The celebrations of Johnson’s birth include a wreath-laying ceremony at the statue of Johnson in Lichfield’s Market Square on the Saturday morning, and a special Johnson service in Lichfield Cathedral on the Sunday morning. Another important element of the celebrations is the Birthday Supper, held on the Saturday evening in the grand surroundings of Lichfield Guildhall, which is attended by civic dignitaries and by admirers of Johnson from Lichfield and around the world.
During the Supper a new President of the Johnson Society is installed. The Society’s current President is Henry Hitchings (pictured). Henry is an author and journalist who has written extensively about language and cultural history, but more particularly has published two books on Samuel Johnson. He was a King’s Scholar at Eton College before going on to Christ Church, Oxford and then to University College London to research his PhD on Samuel Johnson. In May 2009, Henry became the theatre critic on the London Evening Standard, and he has also written for the Financial Times, the New Statesman, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal and the Times Literary Supplement. He has also made radio, television and festival appearances. Henry was the writer and presenter of the documentary Birth of the British Novel, which was broadcast on BBC4 in 2011. He had previously been a featured contributor to the documentary Samuel Johnson: The Dictionary Man in 2006.
Henry Hitchings has written extensively. In 2005, he published Dr Johnson’s Dictionary: The Extraordinary Story of the Book that Defined the World. In the United States, this book (under the title Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary) won the Modern Language Association’s prize for the best work by an independent scholar in 2005. In April 2008, Henry published The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English, a study of loanwords, calques and their cultural significance. In November 2008, The Secret Life of Words won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the first work of non-fiction to do so in six years. In March 2009, on the strength of The Secret Life of Words, Henry was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. In June 2009, he received a Somerset Maugham Award. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2015.
Henry Hitchings’ presidential address to the Johnson Society in 2018 was entitled: ‘Johnson’s Dictionary as a Guide to Life’.
The Johnson Birthday Weekend this year will be from 13 to 16 September 2019. The President Elect, Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, will be installed at the Johnson Birthday Supper on Saturday 14 September.