Johnson, Richard (1573-1659) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 30
Johnson, Richard (1573-1659)

by Thomas Seccombe ‎
The ODNB regards the birth date as based on unsafe identification.

JOHNSON, RICHARD (1573–1659?), romance writer, was baptised in London on 24 May 1573. In his first book, the ‘Nine Worthies of London,’ 1592, 4to, Johnson speaks of himself as an apprentice. He afterwards plumes himself on being a freeman of the city of London, and it is possible, from the title of a dirge written by him in 1619 (‘A Servant's Sorrow for the loss of his late Royal Mistris’), that he was connected in some way with the household of Queen Anne, wife of James I. An edition of his ‘Crowne Garland’ appeared, ‘with new additions,’ in 1659 (Collier, Bibl. Account, p. 404), but it is doubtful if he lived so long.

The work by which Johnson is best known is the ‘Famous Historie of the Seaven Champions of Christendom: St. George of England, St. Denis of France, St. James of Spaine, St. Anthony of Italy, St. Andrew of Scotland, St. Patricke of Ireland, and St. David of Wales,’ b.l. 4to. The oldest known copy is dated 1597 (Bibl. Heber. pt. vi. No. 1803), but this is probably the second edition, as the book was entered at Stationers' Hall in 1596. It is mentioned in Meres's ‘Palladis Tamia,’ fol. 268, and was described by Bishop Hall in his ‘Satires’ as one of the most popular stories of the time. Encouraged by its ‘great acceptance,’ Johnson brought out a second part, wherein the noble achievements of ‘St. George's three sons, the lively sparks of nobility,’ were exhibited, in 1608. A third part appeared in 1616. A poetical version was written by Sir George Buc about 1622, though not issued until the following year, and the work has reappeared in numerous forms between that date and 1872. Mr. F. Carr, of the New Shakspere Society, has pointed out the frequent incorporation of blank verse of no mean quality in Johnson's prose narrative, and his numerous adumbrations, sometimes amounting to direct quotations, of Shakespeare. A notable example is the embodiment of the passage in ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ (act ii. sc. vii. 25) commencing ‘The current that with gentle murmur glides’ in the twelfth chapter of the third part of the ‘Seaven Champions’ (ed. 1696, p. 89), the narrative of which continues with another quotation from the ‘Third Part of Henry VI’ (act iii. sc. 3, 104). There are several citations from the ‘Seven Champions’ in Poole's ‘English Parnassus’ (ed. 1677, cf. pp. 290 l. 8, 527 l. 27).

Three works by Johnson appeared in 1607: 1. ‘The Pleasant Walks of Moorefields,’ 4to, mainly based upon Stow's ‘Chronicle.’ 2. ‘Pleasant Conceites of Old Hobson, the Merry Londoner, full of Humorous Discourses and Witty Merryments, wherat the quickest wits may laugh, and the wiser sorts take pleasure,’ 12mo, a work which professes to narrate pleasant episodes in the life of William Hobson, a well-known haberdasher, who lived in the Poultry during the reigns of Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, and was buried in St. Mildred's Church upon his death in 1581. Hobson's appearance as a character in part ii. of Heywood's ‘If you know not me, you know No Bodie,’ probably suggested to Johnson the idea of clustering a number of current anecdotes of the period round the name. The original edition was reprinted by the Percy Society (1843), and that of 1640 in Hazlitt's ‘Shakespeare's Jest Books,’ vol. iii. (see also London Magazine, December 1823, p. 590). 3. ‘The Most Pleasant History of Tom a Lincolne. That renowned soldier the Red Rose Knight, who for his valour and chivalry was surnamed the Boast of England.’ This was entered at Stationers' Hall in 1607, though the seventh edition (1635), which is in the British Museum, is the earliest known to be extant. It is reprinted in Thoms's ‘Early English Prose Romances,’ vol. ii., and is an interesting example of prose fiction of the ‘Euphues’ type.

Johnson's other works were: 1. ‘The Nine Worthies of London, explayning the honourable Exercise of Armes, the Vertues of the Valiant, and the Memorable Attempts of Magnanimous Minds,’ London, 1592, b.l. 4to. Reprinted ‘Harleian Miscellany,’ viii. 437. In decasyllabic verse, with alternate rhymes. 2. ‘Anglorum Lachrimæ: in a sad passion complayning of the death of our late soveraigne lady Queene Elizabeth; yet comforted again by the vertuous hopes of our most royall and renowned king James,’ 1603, 4to. 3. ‘The Crowne Garland of Golden Roses. Gathered out of England's Royall Garden,’ London, 1612, 8vo, 1659 (both editions reprinted by the Percy Society, 1842 and 1845). 4. ‘A Remembrance of the Honors due to the Life and Death of Robert, Earle of Salisbury, Lord Treasurer of England,’ London, 1612, 4to. Probably two copies only in existence, one in the British Museum Library and the other in the Bodleian Library. 5. ‘Looke on me, London. I am an honest Englishman, ripping up the Bowels of Mischief lurking in the Sub-urbs and Precincts,’ 1613, 12mo. Describing certain flagrant abuses in the metropolis, and entreating the lord mayor, Sir Thomas Middleton, to whom the pamphlet is dedicated, to ‘overlook’ them (reprinted in Collier's ‘Illustrations of Early English Literature,’ vol. ii.). 6. ‘The Golden Garland of Princely Pleasures and Delicate Delights, being most pleasant Songs and Sonets,’ 3rd edit. London, 1620, b.l. 12mo. This is an original work, containing among other things ‘A Lamentable Song of the Death of King Leare and his three daughters’ (reprinted in Percy's ‘Reliques’), and not, as Collier thought, a mere reprint of the ‘Crowne Garland’ under another title, the copy in the British Museum Library being probably unique. 7. ‘The History of Tom Thumbe,’ 1621, b.l. 12mo, of which an extract is given in Ritson's ‘Ancient Popular Poetry,’ vol. ii. It was, says Ritson, only the common metrical story turned into prose ‘with some foolish additions.’ 8. ‘Dainty Conceits,’ 1630 (Lowndes).

[Information from F. Carr, esq., of Walker, Newcastle-on-Tyne; notice prefixed to the Crowne Garland (Percy Soc.), ed. W. Chappell; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. ed. Bohn; Ritson's Bibl. Poetica, p. 258; Corser's Collectanea, pt. viii.; Huth Library Cat.; Hallam's Lit. of Europe, ii. 318; Brit. Mus. Cat.; authorities mentioned in the text.]

T. S.