05 March 2023

A journey through Lent 2023
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)

Patrick Comerford

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

This morning [5 March 2023] is the Second Sunday in Lent, and I hope later this morning to attend the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Parish Church, Stony Stratford.

For five years, until I retired last March, I was the Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare, and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral.

I preached, spoke and took part in services regularly in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, during those five years.

Samuel Johnson’s circle of friends in London included Thomas Barnard (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.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection

The Precentor’s stall in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

No comments: