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Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Boswell and Johnson

My husband has been reading Boswell's Life of Johnson.

Boswell writes:

"In 1777, it appears from his Prayers and Meditations that Johnson suffered much from a state of mind 'unsettled and perplexed,' and from that constitutional gloom, which, together with his extreme humility and anxiety with regard to his religious state, made him contemplate himself trhough too dark and unfavorable a medium. Certain we may be of his injustice to himself in the following lamentable paragraph, which it is painful to think came from the contrite heart of this great man, to whose labours the world is so much indebted:

"When I survey my past life, I discover nothing but a barren waste of time, with some disorders of body, and disturbances of mind, very near to madness, which I hope He that made me will suffer to extenuate many faults, and excuse many deficiencies."

Boswell goes on to quote part of Johson's Easter prayer that same year. It is interesting and inspiring to find that Johnson abhorred his -- what we would now call depression -- not because it made him "feel bad" but because it perhaps made it more difficult for him to pursue his duties:

"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."

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