Swimming with Dr Johnson and Mrs Thrale challenges the popular image of Samuel Johnson as a man who favoured energetic discussion over physical exercise, enthroned in an armchair peering short-sightedly at a book. Thanks to the diarist and author Hester Thrale we have many anecdotes that connect Dr Johnson to a variety of sports, and Julia Allen, following Lytton Strachey's advice to attack her subject in unexpected places, uses entries from Dr Johnson's dictionary and anecdotes about the great man as her window into the world of eighteenth-century sport and exercise.
Revealing a world both foreign and familiar, Allen takes the reader through a range of sports and activities, from boxing and cricket to dancing and coach travel to swimming, riding and skating. She reasserts women's place in eighteenth century sport, especially the luckier ones such as Mrs Thrale, and draws on medical treatises and reports to show how dangerous these sports could be, and to explore the theories upon which contemporary notions about health and exercise were based. Combined with fascinating biographies not only of Dr Johnson and Mrs Thrale, but also of a host of eighteenth-century sporting celebrities, Swimming with Dr Johnson and Mrs Thrale gives a fascinating insight into a century where things were done very differently, often with dangerous consequences.
This eccentric book brings together pieces of eighteenth-century life to create a vivid picture of the whole, making it essential reading for anybody interested in history or sport.