Lionel Johnson

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Lionel Johnson
Born(1867-03-15)15 March 1867
Died4 October 1902(1902-10-04) (aged 35)
  • Poet
  • essayist
  • critic

Lionel Pigot Johnson (15 March 1867 – 4 October 1902) was an English poet, essayist, and critic (although he claimed Irish descent and wrote on Celtic themes).


Johnson was born in Broadstairs, Kent, England in 1867 and educated at Winchester College. While at Winchester, Johnson became friends with Frank Russell, 2nd Earl Russell. The two started a lengthy religious discussion that Russell later published as Some Winchester Letters of Lionel Johnson (1919).

Johnson graduated from New College, Oxford, in 1890 and converted to Catholicism in June 1891.[1] At that time, Johnson introduced Lord Alfred Douglas to his friend Oscar Wilde. Johnson later denounced Wilde in "The Destroyer of a Soul" (1892) and deeply regretted that he had unwittingly initiated the secret homosexual relationship that had devolved into a public scandal.[2]

In 1893, Johnson published what some consider his greatest work, "Dark Angel". During his lifetime, he published: The Art of Thomas Hardy (1894), Poems (1895), and Ireland and Other Poems (1897). Johnson was a member of the Rhymers' Club, and cousin to Olivia Shakespear (who dedicated her novel The False Laurel to him).

Johnson died of a "cerebral haemorrhage", per an inquest on 8 October 1902,[3] after collapsing in The Green Dragon on Fleet Street in London.[4] The story of Johnson's being struck and killed by a hansom cab is a myth.[5]


  • In October 2018, Strange Attractor Press published Incurable: The Haunted Writings of Lionel Johnson, the Decadent Era's Dark Angel, edited by Nina Antonia.[6]
  • Duncan Fallowell included Incurable in his list of books for the books of the year section (2018) in The Spectator.[7]
  • Michael Dirda, in his 5 December 2018 book review for The Washington Post, entitled "The '90s are having a literary moment. That is, the 1890s... " recommended Incurable as a must read.[8]
  • Eric Hoffman reviewed Incurable in the Fortean Times on 25 February 2019, saying "This handsome volume from the excellent Strange Attractor Press includes a lengthy, authoritative introduction by Antonia, which provides biographical and critical contexts...Incurable is an accessible introduction to the work of this minor, yet distinctive, poet."[9]
  • On 1 May 2019 Alan Contreras reviewed Incurable in the Gay and Lesbian Review, saying Johnson's: "writing conjured worlds of the imagination" and called Nina Antonia's illustrated biography "masterful, gorgeously written and packed with carefully researched gossip."[10]
  • Robert Asch, ed. Lionel Johnson: Poetry and Prose. Saint Austin Press, 2021. ISBN 978-1919673004.


  1. ^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Lionel Pigot Johnson" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. ^ Fisher, Trevor (2002). Oscar and Bosie. Sutton Publishing. pp. 42–3. ISBN 0-7509-2459-4.
  3. ^ Asch, Robert (2021). Lionel Johnson: Poetry and Prose. Kington: Saint Austin Press. p. 488. ISBN 978-1919673004.
  4. ^ Sweet, Matthew (2001). Inventing the Victorians. London: Faber and Faber. p. 205. ISBN 978-0-571-20663-6.
  5. ^ Asch, Robert (2021). Lionel Johnson: Poetry and Prose. Kington: Saint Austin Press. pp. 61–64, 488–496. ISBN 978-1919673004.
  6. ^ Johnson, Lionel P. (12 September 2018). Incurable: The Haunted Writings of Lionel Johnson, the Decadent Era's Dark Angel. MIT Press. ISBN 9781907222627.
  7. ^ "Books of the year – part one | the Spectator".
  8. ^ [1][dead link]
  9. ^ Eric Hoffman for Fortean Times, February 25, 2019
  10. ^ "Short Reviews". 29 April 2019.


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