Odds and quads - 14 November 2013

November 14, 2013

One of the greatest British writers of the 18th century, Samuel Johnson (1709-84) studied at Pembroke College, Oxford, for just over a year before he ran out of money. He would later describe himself as “a hardened and shameless Tea-drinker, who has for twenty years diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant, whose kettle has scarcely time to cool, who with Tea amuses the evening, with Tea solaces the midnight, and with Tea welcomes the morning”.

The Worcester gruel mug (c.1765), now owned by Pembroke, was kept in the city for Dr Johnson’s personal use during his frequent visits to his friend Thomas Warton. The two‑quart teapot (also Worcester, c.1765) was given to the college in 1858 by a descendant of the Reverend Samuel Parker of Henley, whose wife was part of Dr Johnson’s social circle.

The Japanese short sword, one of a pair traditionally worn by a samurai, was donated to the college in 1932 by Sir William Conyngham, former British ambassador to Japan. Both the blade and the handle date from the first half of the 18th century. The hilt is decorated in ray skin bound in dark brown silk.

Send suggestions for this series on the treasures, oddities and curiosities owned by universities across the world to matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

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