Wednesday, 16 March 2016

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (36)

‘This world must soon pass away’ … evening lights in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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.

The Johnson Society, which is based in Lichfield, has over 600 members across the UK and worldwide. This evening [16 March 2016], at 7.30 p.m., the Johnson Society holds its Annual General Meeting in the Guildhall in Lichfield. This evening’s programme includes a lecture by Alex Wright, ‘Robert James, School Friend of Johnson, & their Dictionaries.’

Robert James (1703-1776) was an English doctor who is best known as the author of A Medicinal Dictionary compiled in 1743-1745, for inventing a popular “fever powder,” and as a friend of Johnson from their school days in Lichfield. However the use of his powder, a compound of antimony and phosphate of lime, contributed to the death of the Irish poet, Oliver Goldsmith, who was part of Johnson’s literary circle in London.

Another prominent 18th century medical figure, the Birmingham surgeon and doctor Edmund Hector (1708-1794), was Johnson’s closest school friend at Lichfield Grammar School. Hector moved to Birmingham in 1729, and lived at No 1 The Old Square. There he was often host to Johnson from 1732 on, and Johnson lived in Hector’s house for almost two years.

Johnson’s last visit to Hector in Birmingham was in November 1784, just a few weeks before he died. When he returned to London, Johnson wrote a letter to Hector in which he seems to realise his death is imminent:

...this world must soon pass away. Let us think seriously on our duty. I send my kindest respects to dear Mrs. Careless: let me have the prayers of both. We have all lived long, and must soon part. God have mercy on us, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Continued tomorrow.

Yesterday’s reflection.

The Guildhall in Lichfield, seen from the house where Samuel Johnson was born … the Guildhall is the venue for the annual general meeting of the Johnson Society this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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