Selections from Samuel Johnson, Prayers and Meditations

The following extracts are from Johnson's Prayers & Meditations, ed. George Birkbeck Hill, in Johnsonian Miscellanies, vol. 1.

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Since the Communion of last Easter I have led a life so dissipated and useless, and my terrours and perplexities have so much encreased, that I am under great depression and discouragement, yet I purpose to present myself before God to-morrow with humble hope that he will not break the bruised reed,

Come unto me all ye that travail.

I have resolved, I hope not presumptuously, till I am afraid to resolve again. Yet hoping in God I stedfastly purpose to lead a new life. O God, enable me, for Jesus Christ's sake.

My purpose is

To avoid Idleness.

To regulate my sleep as to length and choice of hours.

To set down every day what shall be done the day following.

To keep a Journal.

To worship God more diligently.

To go to Church every Sunday.

To study the Scriptures.

To read a certain portion every week.

Almighty and most merciful Father look down upon my misery with pity, strengthen me that I may overcome all sinful habits, grant that I may with effectual faith commemorate the death of thy Son Jesus Christ, so that all corrupt desires may be extinguished, and all vain thoughts may be dispelled. Enlighten me with true knowledge, animate me with reasonable hope, comfort me with a just sense of thy love, and assist me to the performance of all holy purposes, that after the sins, errours, and miseries of this world, I may obtain everlasting happiness for Jesus Christ's sake. To whom, &c. Amen.

I hope to attend on God in his ordinances to-morrow.

Trust in God O my soul. O God, let me trust in Thee.


March, 28, 1762.

God grant that I may from this day

Return to my studies.

Labour diligently.

Rise early.

Live temperately.

Read the Bible.

Go to church.

O God, Giver and Preserver of all life, by whose power I was created, and by whose providence I am sustained, look down upon me [with] tenderness and mercy, grant that I may not have been created to be finally destroyed, that I may not be preserved to add wickedness to wickedness; but may so repent me of my sins, and so order my life to come, that when I shall be called hence like the wife whom Thou hast taken from me, I may dye in peace and in thy favour, and be received into thine everlasting kingdom through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ thine only Son our Lord and Saviour. Amen.



Almighty and most merciful Father, who by thy son Jesus Christ hast redeemed man from Sin and Death, grant that the commemoration of his passion may quicken my repentance, encrease my hope, and strengthen my faith and enlarge my Charity; that I may lament and forsake my sins and for the time which thou shalt yet grant me, may avoid Idleness, and neglect of thy word and worship. Grant me strength to be diligent in the lawful employments which shall be set before me; Grant me purity of thoughts, words, and actions. Grant me to love and study thy word, and to frequent thy worship with pure affection. Deliver and preserve me from vain terrours, and grant that by the Grace of thy Holy Spirit I may so live that after this life ended, I may be received to everlasting happiness for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


April 20, 1764, GOOD FRYDAY.

I have made no reformation, I have lived totally useless, more sensual in thought and more addicted to wine and meat, grant me, O God, to amend my life for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

I hope

To put my rooms in order*.

I fasted all day.

* Disorder I have found one great cause of idleness.


April 21, 1764, —3—m.

My indolence, since my last reception of the Sacrament, has sunk into grosser sluggishness, and my dissipation spread into wilder negligence. My thoughts have been clouded with sensuality, and, except that from the beginning of this year I have in some measure for born excess of Strong Drink my appetites have predominated over my reason. A kind of strange oblivion has overspread me, so that I know not what has become of the last year, and perceive that incidents and intelligence pass over me without leaving any impression.

This is not the life to which Heaven is promised. I purpose to approach the altar again to morrow. Grant, O Lord, that I may receive the Sacrament with such resolutions of a better life as may by thy grace be effectual, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.


April 21. I read the whole Gospel of St. John. Then sat up till the 22d.

My Purpose is from this time

To reject or expel sensual images, and idle thoughts.

To provide some useful amusement for leisure time.

To avoid Idleness.

To rise early.

To study a proper portion of every day.

To Worship God diligently.

To read the Scriptures.

To let no week pass without reading some part.

To write down my observations.

I will renew my resolutions made at Tetty's death.

I perceive an insensibility and heaviness upon me. I am less than commonly oppressed with the sense of sin, and less affected with the shame of Idleness. Yet I will not despair. I will pray to God for resolution, and will endeavour to strengthen my faith in Christ by commemorating his death.

I prayed for Tett.


Having before I went to bed composed the foregoing meditation and the following prayer, I tried to compose myself but slept unquietly. I rose, took tea, and prayed for resolution and perseverance. Thought on Tetty, dear poor Tetty, with my eyes full.

I went to church, came in at the first of the Psalms, and endeavoured to attend the service which I went through without perturbation. After sermon I recommended Tetty in a prayer by herself, and my Father, Mother, Brother, and Bathurst, in another. I did it only once, so far as it might be lawful for me.

I then prayed for resolution and perseverance to amend my Life. I received soon, the communicants were many. At the altar it occurred to me that I ought to form some resolutions. I resolved, in the presence of God, but without a vow, to repel sinful thoughts to study eight hours daily, and, I think, to go to church every Sunday, and read the Scriptures. I gave a shilling, and seeing a poor girl at the Sacrament in a bedgown, gave her privately a crown, though I saw Hart's hymns in her hand. I prayed earnestly for amendment, and repeated my prayer at home. Dined with Miss W. went to prayers at church; went to Davies's, spent the evening not pleasantly. Avoided wine and tempered a very few glasses with Sherbet. Came home, and prayed.

I saw at the Sacrament a man meanly dressed whom I have always seen there at Easter.


EASTER DAY, April 22, 1764, at 3 m.

Almighty and most merciful Father, who hast created and preserved me, have pity on my weakness and corruption. Deliver me from habitual wickedness and idleness, enable me to purify my thoughts, to use the faculties which Thou hast given me with honest diligence, and to regulate my life by thy holy word.

Grant me, O Lord, good purposes and steady resolution, that I may repent my sins, and amend my life. Deliver me from the distresses of vain terrour, and enable me by thy Grace to will and to do what may please thee, that when I shall be called away from this present state I may obtain everlasting happiness through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Sept. 18, 1764, about 6 evening.

This is my fifty-sixth birth-day, the day on which I have concluded fifty five years.

I have outlived many friends. I have felt many sorrows. I have made few improvements. Since my resolution formed last Easter I have made no advancement in knowledge or in goodness; nor do I recollect that I have endeavoured it. I am dejected but not hopeless.

O God for Jesus Christ's Christ's sake have mercy upon me.


Sept. 18, 1768, at night.

Townmalling, in Kent.

I have now begun the sixtieth year of my life. How the last year has past I am unwilling to terrify myself with thinking. This day has been past in great perturbation, I was distracted at church in an uncommon degree, and my distress has had very little intermission. I have found myself somewhat relieved by reading, which I therefore intend to practise when I am able.

This day it came into my mind to write the history of my melancholy. On this I purpose to deliberate. I know not whether it may not too much disturb me.

I this day read a great part of Pascal's Life.

O Lord, who hast safely brought me, &c.

Almighty and most merciful Father, Creator and Preserver of mankind, look down with pity upon my troubles and maladies. Heal my body, strengthen my mind, compose my distraction, calm my inquietude, and relieve my terrours, that if it please thee, I may run the race that is set before me with peace patience constancy and confidence. Grant this O Lord, and take not from me thy Holy Spirit, but pardon and bless me for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.


1770, April 11. Cupped.


1770, April 14.

This week is Passion week.

I have for some weeks past been much afflicted with the Lumbago, or Rheumatism in the Loins, which often passes to the muscles of the belly, where it causes equal, if not greater pain. In the day the sunshine mitigates it, and in cold or cloudy weather such as has for some time past remarkably prevailed the heat of a strong fire suspends it. In the night it is so troublesome, as not very easily to be borne. I lye wrapped in Flannel with a very great fire near my bed, but whether it be that a recumbent posture encreases the pain, or that expansion by moderate warmth excites what a great heat dissipates, I can seldom remain in bed two hours at a time without the necessity of rising to heat the parts affected at the fire.

One night, between the pain and the spasms in my stomach I was insupportably distressed. On the next night, I think, I laid a blister to my back, and took opium; my night was tolerable, and from that time the spasms in my stomach which disturbed me for many years, and for two past harassed me almost to distraction, have nearly ceased; I suppose the breast is relaxed by the opium.

Having passed Thursday in Passion Week at Mr. Thrales, I came home on Fryday morning, that I might pass the day unobserved. I had nothing but water once in the morning and once at bed-time. I refused tea after some deliberation in the afternoon. They did not press it. I came home late, and was unwilling to carry my Rheumatism to the cold church in the morning, unless that were rather an excuse made to myself. In the afternoon I went to Church but came late, I think at the Creed. I read Clarkes Sermon on the Death of Christ, and the Second Epistle to Timothy in Greek, but rather hastily. I then went to Thrale's, and had a very tedious and painful night. But the Spasms in my Throat are gone and if either the pain or the opiate which the pain enforced has stopped them the relief is very cheaply purchased. The pain harasses me much, yet many have the disease perhaps in a much higher degree with want of food, fire, and covering, which I find thus grievous with all the succours that riches and kindness can buy and give.

On Saturday I was not hungry and did not eat much breakfast. There was a dinner and company at which I was persuaded. or tempted to stay. At night I came home sat up, and composed the prayer, and having ordered the maid to make the fire in my chamber at eight went to rest, and had a tolerable night.


Easter Day, Apr. 15 [1770], in the morning.

Almighty and everlasting God, who hast preserved me by thy fatherly care through all the years of my past Life, and now permittest me again to commemorate the sufferings and the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ grant me so to partake of this holy Rite, that the disquiet of my mind may be appeased, that my Faith may be encreased, my hope strengthened, and my Life regulated by thy Will. Make me truly thankful for that portion of health which thy mercy has restored, and enable me to use the remains of Life to thy glory and my own salvation. Take not from me O Lord thy Holy Spirit. Extinguish in my mind all sinful and inordinate desires. Let me resolve to do that which is right, and let me by thy help keep my resolutions. Let me, if it be best for me, at last know peace and comfort, but whatever state of life Thou shalt appoint me let me end it by a happy death, and enjoy eternal happiness in thy presence, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


1 in the afternoon, EASTER DAY.

I am just returned from the communion having been very little interrupted in my duty by bodily pain.

I was very early at church and used this prayer, I think, before service with proper collects. I was composed during the service. I went to the table to hear the prefatory part of the office, then returned to my pew, and tried to settle some resolutions.

I resolved to form this day, some plan for reading the Scriptures.

To rise by eight, or earlier.

To form a plan for the regulation of my daily life.

To excite in myself such a fervent desire of pleasing God as should suppress all other passions.

I prayed through all the collects of meditation, with some extemporary prayers; recommended my friends living and dead. When I returned to the table I staid till most had communicated, and in the mean time tried to settle my mind prayed against bad and troublesome thoughts, resolved to oppose sudden incursions of them, and, I think had —— thrown into my mind at the general confession. When I went first to the table, the particular series of my thoughts I cannot recollect.

When I came home I returned thanks by accommodating the general thanksgiving, and used this prayer again, with the collects, after receiving. I hope God has heard me.

Shall I ever receive the Sacrament with tranquillity? Surely the time will come.

Some vain thoughts stole upon me while I stood near the table, I hope I ejected them effectually so as not to be hurt by them.

I went to prayers at seven having fasted; read the two morning lessons in Greek. At night I read Clarke's Sermon of the Humiliation of our Saviour.


30, EASTER DAY, 1ma mane.

The day is now come again in which, by a custom which since the death of my wife I have by the Divine assistance always observed, I am to renew the great covenant with my Maker and my Judge. I humbly hope to perform it better. I hope for more efficacy of resolution, and more diligence of endeavour. When I survey my past life, I discover nothing but a barren waste of time with some disorders of body, and disturbances of the mind very near to madness, which I hope he that made me, will suffer to extenuate many faults, and excuse many deficiencies. Yet much remains to be repented and reformed. I hope that I refer more to God than in former times, and consider more what submission is due to his dispensations. But I have very little reformed my practical life, and the time in which I can struggle with habits cannot be now expected to be long. Grant O God, that I may no longer resolve in vain, or dream away the life which thy indulgence gives me, in vacancy and uselessness.

9na mane.

I went to bed about two, had a disturbed night, though not so distressful as at some other times.

Almighty and most merciful Father, who seest all our miseries, and knowest all our necessities, Look down upon me, and pity me. Defend me from the violent incursions of evil thoughts, and enable me to form and keep such resolutions as may conduce to the discharge of the duties which thy Providence shall appoint me, and so help me by thy Holy Spirit, that my heart may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found, and that I may serve Thee with pure affection and a cheerful mind. Have mercy upon me, O God, have mercy upon me; years and infirmities oppress me, terrour and anxiety beset me. Have mercy upon me, my Creatour and my Judge. In all dangers protect me, in all perplexities relieve and free me, and so help me by thy Holy Spirit, that I may now so commemorate the death of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ as that when this short and painful life shall have an end, I may for his sake be received to everlasting happiness. Amen.


1782, March 18.

Having been, from the middle of January, distressed by a cold which made my respiration very laborious, and from which I was but little relieved by being blooded three times, having tried to ease the oppression of my breast by frequent opiates, which kept me waking in the night and drowsy the next day, and subjected me to the tyranny of vain imaginations; Having to all this added frequent catharticks, sometimes with mercury; I at last persuaded Dr. Laurence on Thursday March 14 to let me bleed more copiously. Sixteen ounces were taken away, and from that time my breath has been free, and my breast easy. On that day I took little food, and no flesh. On Thursday night I slept with great tranquillity. On the next night (15) I took diacodium and had a most restless night. Of the next day I remember nothing but that I rose in the afternoon, and saw Mrs. Lennox and Sheward.

17 Sunday. I lay late, and had only Palfrey to dinner. (d. 2s. 6.) I read part of Wallers Directory, a pious rational book, but in any except a very regular life difficult to practise.

It occurred to me that though my time might pass unemployed, no more should pass uncounted, and this has been written to-day in consequence of that thought. I read a Greek Chapter, prayed with Francis, which I now do commonly, and explained to him the Lord's Prayer, in which I find connection not observed, I think, by the expositors. I made punch for Myself and my servants, by which in the night I thought both my breast and imagination disordered.

March 18. I rose late, looked a little into books. Saw Miss Reynolds and Miss Thrale, and Nicolaida, afterwards Dr. Hunter came for his catalogue. I then dined on tea, &c.; then read over part of Dr. Laurence's book de Temperamentis, which seems to have been written with a troubled mind.

I prayed with Francis.

My mind has been for some time much disturbed. The Peace of God be with me.

I hope to-morrow to finish Laurence, and to write to Mrs. Aston, and to Lucy.

19. I rose late. I was visited by Mrs. Thrale, Mr. Cotton, and Mr. Crofts. I took Laurence's paper in hand, but was chill, having fasted yesterday, I was hungry and dined freely, then slept a little, and drank tea, then took candles and wrote to Aston and Lucy, then went on with Laurence of which little remains. I prayed with Francis.

Mens sedatior, laus DEO.

To-morrow Shaw comes, I think to finish Laurence, and write to Langton.

Poor Laurence has almost lost the sense of hearing, and I have lost the conversation of a learned, intelligent, and comunicative companion, and a friend whom long familiarity has much endeared. Laurence is one of the best men whom I have known.

Nostrum omnium miserere, Deus.

20. Shaw came; I finished reading Laurence. Steevens came. I dined liberally. Wrote a long letter to Langton, and designed to read but was hindered by Strahan. The ministry is dissolved. I prayed with Fr. and gave thanks.

To-morrow — To Mrs. Thrale — To write to Hector. To Dr. Taylor.

21. I went to Mrs. Thrale. Mr. Cox and Paradise met me at the door and went with me in the coach. Paradise's loss. In the evening wrote to Hector. At night there were eleven visitants. Conversation with Mr. Cox. When I waked I saw the penthouses covered with snow.

22. I spent the time idly. Mens turbata. In the afternoon it snowed. At night I wrote to Taylor about the pot, and to Hamilton about the Foedera.

23. I came home, and found that Desmoulins had while I was away been in bed. Letters from Langton and Boswel. I promised Lowe six guineas. Corrected proofs for Shaw.

24. Sunday. I rose not early. Visitors Allen, Davies, Windham, Dr. Horseley, Palfry, 2s. 6d. Dinner at Strahan's. Came home and chatted with Williams, and read Romans ix. in Greek.

To-morrow begin again to read the Bible put rooms in order; copy Lowe's Letter.

25. M. I had from Strahan L78. At night of the Bible I read 11 p. and something more in 55'.

26. Tu. I copied Lowe's Letter. Then wrote to Mrs. Thrale. Cox visited me. I sent home Dr. Laurence's papers with notes. I gave Desmoulins a guinea, and found her a gown.

27. W. — At Harley-street. bad nights — in the evening Dr. Bromfield and his Family. Merlin's steelyard given me.

20. Th. I came home. Sold Rymer for Davies: wrote to Boswel. Visitor Dr. Percy. Mr. Crofts. I have in ten days written to Aston, Lucy, Hector, Langton, Boswel; perhaps to all by whom my Letters are desired.

The Weather, which now begins to be warm gives me great help. I have hardly been at Church this year, certainly not since the 15 of Jan. My Cough and difficulty of Breath would not permit it.

This is the day on which in 1752 dear Tetty died. I have now uttered a prayer of repentance and c.; perhaps Tetty knows that I prayed for her. Perhaps Tetty is now praying for me. God help me. Thou, God, art merciful, hear my prayers, and enable me to trust in Thee.

We were married almost seventeen years, and have now been parted thirty.

I then read 11 p. from Ex. 36. to Lev. 7. I prayed with Fr. and used the prayer for Good Friday.

29. Good Friday. After a night of great disturbance and solicitude, such as I do not remember, I rose, drank tea, but without eating, and went to Church. I was very composed, and coming home, read Hammond on one of the Psalms for the day. I then read Leviticus. Scot came in which hindred me from Church in the afternoon. A kind letter from Gastrel. I read on, then went to Evening prayers, and afterwards drank tea with bunns; then read till I finished Leviticus 24 pages et sup.

To write to Gastrel to morrow.

To look again into Hammond.

30. Sat. Visitors Paradise and I think Horseley. Read 11 pages of the Bible. I was faint, dined on herrings and potatoes. At Prayers, I think, in the Evening. I wrote to Gastrel, and received a kind letter from Hector. At night Lowe. Pr. with Francis.

31. Easter Day. Read 15 pages of the Bible. Cætera alibi.