Samuel Johnson and Psoriasis
Hi, David,

And thanks for your email, which we posted at

We are fans of Johnson (and Boswell) and never knew that Johnson had this problem. I know little of the disease ... is it possible it made him so cantankerous?

Over the years we have published bits of Johnsonianisms, including one, a funny letter of his, at

and another --- Hitchings book about the dictionary at

We also ran a review of Boswell's "Life of Johnson" which I can't find right now. Imagine, a book review magazine so glutted that we can't find one of our own reviews.

O bother!

Thanks for writing us,

--- L. Lark
Go to the original
that inspired this letter


From: David Rudloff


Hey, Carlos.

I think psoriasis might (have behavioral or mental links, and 'othe'). See:

Follows more detail than you wanted, culled from something longer I wrote after the first response: "The Penknife Surgery of The Cantankerous Sam Johnson" alternatively "...Dictionary Dr. J."

In response to your question, I know of several people with 'hyper-responsive' skin who might qualify as "cantankerous." Of course that isn't useful statistically, and I knew one guy with it who was the very milk of human kindness and affability, but consider the itching etc. If UNtreated, it sometimes isn't all that easy to ignore, especially at night.

The 'milkman' was effectively treated. Dictionary Sam was not, and reduced to managing symptoms as per recent post. But the links may be deeper than behavioral. It seems nearly everything is based in proteins and biologic code these days, including politics and preference for Milk Duds at the movies.

Still, psoriasis also has associated a different arthritis, which some think is different also in its pain response to pain medications.

Narcotics of various kinds (than opium) sometimes create constipation, suspicion, jumped conclusions, or social cantankerism on their own. Dictionary Sam had few pain medications if any without hangover effect. There are also social considerations now as then, as at times if untreated there are obvious cosmetic problems, especially unless full-length clothing is worn. Nails can be noticeably pitted, and fingers can be noticeably involved. That may be a social or even employment problem. For a time it was thought by some untreated psoriatic skin was a bad micro wildlife magnet.

Atopic dermatitis (eczema) may be linked to psoriasis as part complex of illnesses (above search). If the English Dr. J had that as well, he was definitely cantankerous since it is irritated but not necessarily caused by wool. The itch is intense, worse but very similar to that of psoriasis but not the made-up word 'urtch' of herpes zoster, and made worse by scratching. (Yes, there are different kinds not recognized well officially. Urtch is h-urt plus i-tch. "Hitch" is taken by Will Smith, who has no known medical skin problems.) Wool of the time was probably pretty scratchy, and bad enough now for some.

Is history as useful as shameless irrelevant celebrity name dropping? The Biblical Job may have suffered from atopic dermatitis or maybe psoriasis or both as he sat in the ruins of his home mocked by neighbors, scraping himself with a potsherd that may have had an edge as sharp as any knife had then. I knew a older woman that used a razor blade for the purpose to the consternation of family. That really resonated with recollection of Job, required reading at one time in a Lit. class if not for other reasons. Also recall for context that one folk name for the devil in 19th Century rural America was "Old Scratch." See

David Rudloff
Indialantic, Fl.

Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH