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Books

Francis Barber: reluctant member of Dr Johnson’s mad ménage

Dr Johnson’s Jamaican man-servant remains Gough Square’s invisible man, despite Michael Bundock’s years of research

23 May 2015

9:00 AM

23 May 2015

9:00 AM

The Fortunes of Francis Barber: The True Story of the Jamaican Slave Who Became Samuel Johnson’s Heir Michael Bundock

Yale, pp.296, £20, ISBN: 9780300207101

We know a great deal about Samuel Johnson and virtually nothing about his Jamaican servant, Francis Barber. The few facts of which we can be certain are these: born into slavery, Barber was aged about seven when his owner, Colonel Richard Bathhurst — who may, Michael Bundock suggests here, have been his father — brought him to England in 1750 and placed him in a Yorkshire school.

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Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £18 Tel: 08430 600033. Frances Wilson’s books include The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth and The Courtesan’s Revenge.

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