Sunday, 21 February 2016

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (12)

Inside Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare … Samuel Johnson was a friend of Thomas Barnard when he was Bishop of Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

After yesterday’s lecture in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, I am preaching this morning [21 February 2016], the Second Sunday in Lent, at the Cathedral Eucharist in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare.

Samuel Johnson’s circle of friends in London included Thomas Barnard (ca 1727-1806) while he was Bishop of Killaloe (1780–1794). Barnard, who later became Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe (1794-1806), was a member of the Literary Club, and his other friends in London included Johnson’s biographer James Boswell, and their friend David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, Bishop Thomas Percy, and other literary figures of the day.

In conversation with Boswell, Dr Johnson once said of Bishop Barnard:

No man ever paid more attention to another than he has done to me … Always, sir, set a high value on spontaneous kindness. He whose inclination prompts him to cultivate his friendship of his own accord, will love you more than one whom you have been at pains to attach to you.

Barnard, for his part, wrote some verses about Johnson that conclude:

Johnson shall teach me how to place
In fairest light each borrow’d grace;
From him I’ll learn to write:
Copy his clear familiar style,
And by the roughness of his file
Grow, like himself, polite.


In 1783, Johnson wrote a charade as a tribute to Bishop Barnard:

My first shuts out thieves from your house or your room,
My second expresses a Syrian perfume,
My whole is a man in whose converse is shar’d
The strength of a Bar and the sweetness of Nard.


Bishop Thomas Barnard ... a portrait hanging in the the vestry in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Continued tomorrow.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Updated 21 February 2016 with portrait of Bishop Barnard

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