Monday, June 11, 2018

`I Am Overpowered'

“On Friday, June 11, [1784,] we talked at breakfast, of forms of prayer.”

Dr. Johnson is seventy-four years old. His mind remains vigorous but his body is failing. He suffers from general circulatory disease, made evident a year earlier by a stroke; chronic bronchitis and emphysema, accompanied by growing breathlessness; congestive heart failure, the cause of his fluid retention, known as “dropsy”; and rheumatoid arthritis. Together, the emphysema and heart disease result in what Johnson and his doctors call “asthma.” Boswell continues:

“Johnson. ‘I know of no good prayers but those in the “Book of Common Prayer.”’ DR. ADAMS, (in a very earnest manner,) ‘I wish, Sir, you would compose some family prayers.’ Johnson. ‘I will not compose prayers for you, Sir, because you can do it for yourself. But I have thought of getting together all books of prayers which I could, selecting those which should appear to me the best, putting out some, inserting others, adding some prayers of my own, and prefixing a discourse on prayer.’”

The Rev. Dr. William Adams was Johnson’s lifelong friend and former tutor at Pembroke College, Oxford, known for his sermons and An Essay in Answer to Mr. Hume’s Essay on Miracles (1752). He and Boswell and others present enthusiastically endorse Johnson’s project:

“We all now gathered about him, and two or three of us at a time joined in pressing him to execute this plan. He seemed to be a little displeased at the manner of our importunity, and in great agitation called out, `Do not talk thus of what is so awful. I know not what time God will allow me in this world. There are many things which I wish to do.’ Some of us persisted, and Dr. ADAMS said, ‘I never was more serious about anything in my life.’ Johnson. ‘Let me alone, let me alone; I am overpowered.’ And then he put his hands before his face, and reclined for some time upon the table.”

The project came to nothing. Six months later, Johnson was dead.

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