Elizabeth Porter

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For the Florida politician, see Elizabeth W. Porter.
Portrait of Elizabeth "Tetty" Porter, Samuel Johnson's wife. Hyde Collection, Houghton Library, *2003JM-8.

Elizabeth Jervis Porter (1689 – 17 March 1752), familiarly known as "Tetty", was the wife of Samuel Johnson.

Born Elizabeth Jarvis (or Jervis – Boswell lists both), her first marriage was to Henry Porter, a Birmingham merchant, with whom she had three children. The couple became friends of Johnson in 1732 (on first meeting him, she said to her daughter Lucy, "That is the most sensible man I ever met.") and Johnson courted her after Porter's death. His affectionate names for her, "Tetty" or "Tetsey," were regional contractions for the name "Elizabeth."

They married on 9 July 1735 at St. Werburgh's Church, Derby, where the event is reenacted annually. At the time he was 25, she 46, and neither the Johnson nor Porter families were enthusiastic about the marriage.

Her dowry of over £600 was invested in setting up Edial Hall, a private school at Edial near Lichfield. After its failure, in 1737 Johnson moved to London, where she joined him later that year.

In later life she suffered from ill-health, exacerbated by alcohol and opiate medicines. Robert Levet, a poverty-stricken doctor supported by Johnson, ascribed her death to the latter. She died at 63, and is buried in Bromley Parish Church. Her gravestone inscription says Formosae, cultae, ingeniosae, piae (beautiful, elegant, talented, dutiful).

Johnson called the marriage "a love-match on both sides," and always recalled her affectionately and with grief, especially on the anniversary of her death.

The chief descriptions of her, however, come from unsympathetic accounts by Johnson's contemporaries and biographers such as his ex-pupil David Garrick, Hester Thrale and Thomas B. Macaulay: the last described her as "a short, fat, coarse woman, painted half an inch thick, dressed in gaudy colours, and fond of exhibiting provincial airs and graces." The writer and essayist Alice Meynell judged her less harshly, attacking these critics for prejudice.

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