The great lexicographer Samuel Johnson said he loved all mankind except Americans, whom he called rascals, robbers and pirates. As for their dialect, the English they spoke revealed the “corruption to which every language widely diffused must always be exposed”.

Yet many American literary figures revered him. Nathaniel Hawthorne travelled to Lichfield, Johnson’s birthplace in the English midlands, and visited his London rooms, “passing my hand over a heavy, ancient, broken balustrade, on which, no doubt, Johnson’s hand had often rested”.

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