Tuesday, 23 February 2016

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (14)

‘What we know amiss in ourselves let us make haste to amend … Lucy Porter (1715-1786), step-daughter of Samuel Johnson

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.

Johnson’s stepdaughter, Lucy Porter (1715-1786), was the daughter of Henry Porter, a Birmingham mercer and wool merchant, and his wife Elizabeth who, when she was widowed, married Samuel Johnson. Johnson was just six years older than his new stepdaughter, and their friendship grew increasingly warm as the years passed. She continued to live in Lichfield after her mother moved to London, living with Johnson’s mother Sarah, and helping her to run the bookshop. When her brother died, Lucy inherited £10,000 and built herself a large house on Tamworth Street, Lichfield, that was demolished in the 1920s.

Her friend, Canon John Pearson, inherited a fortune from Lucy Porter, including her house and a number of valuable relics from Dr Johnson, including the manuscript of his Dictionary – later put in the loft in Lichfield, where it was eaten by rats; the bust of Dr Johnston taken after his death – it was displayed on a shelf over a door but fell and broke when the door slammed; and his walking stick – lost when the Pearson family home burned down accidentally ca 1917. However, his writing desk, some of his letters and a signed copy of his Dictionary survived.

On this day 232 years ago, 23 February 1784, Dr Johnson wrote to Lucy Porter in Lichfield:

My dearest Love … Death, my dear, is very dreadful, let us think nothing worth our care but how to prepare for it: what we know amiss in ourselves let us make haste to amend, and put our trust in the mercy of God, and the intercession of our Saviour. I am, dear Madam, your most humble servant.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.


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