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, 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.
Elizabeth Jervis "Tetty" Porter (later Mrs. Samuel Johnson)(1689-1752): artist unknown, c. 1735 Hyde Collection, Somerville, New Jersey)
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.
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 communicative 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.
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784): Prayers and Meditations (extracts), from George Birkbeck Hill (ed.): Johnsonian Miscellanies, Vol. I
Hester Lynch Thrale (1741-1821) and her daughter Hester ("Queeney"): Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1777 (Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, New Brunswick)
Samuel Johnson: from Letters to Hester Lynch Thrale
Bolt court, Fleet street, June 19, 1783.
DEAR MADAM,--I am sitting down, in no cheerful solitude, to write a narrative, which would once have affected you with tenderness and sorrow, but which you will, perhaps, pass over now with a careless glance of frigid indifference. For this diminution of regard, however, I know not whether I ought to blame you, who may have reasons which I cannot know; and I do not blame myself, who have, for a great part of human life, done you what good I could, and have never done you evil.
I have been disordered in the usual way, and had been relieved, by the usual methods, by opium and catharticks, but had rather lessened my dose of opium.
On Monday, the 16th, I sat for my picture, and walked a considerable way, with little inconvenience. In the afternoon and evening, I felt myself light and easy, and began to plan schemes of life. Thus I went to bed, and, in a short time, waked and sat up, as has been long my custom, when I felt a confusion and indistinctness in my head, which lasted, I suppose, about half a minute; I was alarmed, and prayed God, that, however he might afflict my body, he would spare my understanding. This prayer, that I might try the integrity of my faculties, I made in Latin verse. The lines were not very good, but I knew them not to be very good: I made them easily, and concluded myself to be unimpaired in my faculties.
Soon after, I perceived that I had suffered a paralytick stroke, and that my speech was taken from me. I had no pain, and so little dejection, in this dreadful state, that I wondered at my own apathy, and considered that, perhaps, death itself, when it should come, would excite less horrour than seems now to attend it.
In order to rouse the vocal organs, I took two drams. Wine has been celebrated for the production of eloquence. I put myself into violent motion, and, I think, repeated it; but all was vain. I then went to bed, and, strange as it may seem, I think, slept. When I saw light, it was time to contrive what I should do. Though God stopped my speech, he left me my hand: I enjoyed a mercy, which was not granted to my dear friend Lawrence, who now, perhaps, overlooks me, as I am writing, and rejoices that I have what he wanted. My first note was, necessarily, to my servant, who came in talking, and could not immediately comprehend, why he should read what I put into his hands.
I then wrote a card to Mr. Allen, that I might have a discreet friend at hand, to act as occasion should require. In penning this note, I had some difficulty; my hand, I knew not how nor why, made wrong letters. I then wrote to Dr. Taylor, to come to me, and bring Dr. Heberden, and I sent to Dr. Brocklesby, who is my neighbour. My physicians are very friendly and very disinterested, and give me great hopes, but you may imagine my situation. I have so far recovered my vocal powers, as to repeat the Lord's prayer, with no very imperfect articulation. My memory, I hope, yet remains as it was; but such an attack produces solicitude for the safety of every faculty.
How this will be received by you, I know not. I hope you will sympathize with me; but, perhaps,
"My mistress, gracious, mild, and good,
Cries: Is he dumb? 'Tis time he shou'd."
But can this be possible? I hope it cannot. I hope that what, when I could speak, I spoke of you, and to you, will be, in a sober and serious hour, remembered by you; and, surely, it cannot be remembered but with some degree of kindness. I have loved you with virtuous affection; I have honoured you with sincere esteem. Let not all our endearments be forgotten, but let me have, in this great distress, your pity and your prayers. You see, I yet turn to you with my complaints, as a settled and unalienable friend; do not, do not drive me from you, for I have not deserved either neglect or hatred.
To the girls, who do not write often, for Susy has written only once, and Miss Thrale owes me a letter, I earnestly recommend, as their guardian and friend, that they remember their creator in the days of their youth.
I suppose, you may wish to know, how my disease is treated by the physicians. They put a blister upon my back, and two from my ear to my throat, one on a side. The blister on the back has done little, and those on the throat have not risen. I bullied and bounced, (it sticks to our last sand,) and compelled the apothecary to make his salve according to the Edinburgh dispensatory, that it might adhere better. I have two on now of my own prescription. They, likewise, give me salt of hartshorn, which I take with no great confidence, but I am satisfied that what can be done, is done for me.
O God! give me comfort and confidence in thee; forgive my sins; and, if it be thy good pleasure, relieve my diseases, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
I am almost ashamed of this querulous letter; but now it is written, let it go. I am, &c.
To MRS. THRALE.
London, June 30, 1783.
DEAR MADAM,--Among those that have inquired after me, sir Philip is one; and Dr. Burney was one of those who came to see me. I have had no reason to complain of indifference or neglect. Dick Burney is come home five inches taller.
Yesterday, in the evening, I went to church, and have been to-day to see the great burning-glass, which does more than was ever done before, by the transmission of the rays, but is not equal in power to those which reflect them. It wastes a diamond placed in the focus, but causes no diminution of pure gold. Of the rubies, exposed to its action, one was made more vivid, the other paler. To see the glass, I climbed up stairs to the garret, and then up a ladder to the leads, and talked to the artist rather too long; for my voice, though clear and distinct for a little while, soon tires and falters. The organs of speech are yet very feeble, but will, I hope, be, by the mercy of God, finally restored: at present, like any other weak limb, they can endure but little labour at once. Would you not have been very sorry for me, when I could scarcely speak?
Fresh cantharides were this morning applied to my head, and are to be continued some time longer. If they play me no treacherous tricks, they give me very little pain.
Let me have your kindness and your prayers; and think on me, as on a man, who, for a very great portion of your life has done you all the good he could, and desires still to be considered, madam, your, &c.
To MRS. THRALE.
London, July 1, 1783.
DEAREST MADAM,--This morning I took the air by a ride to Hampstead, and this afternoon I dined with the club. But fresh cantharides were this day applied to my head.
Mr. Cator called on me to-day, and told me, that he had invited you back to Streatham. I showed the unfitness of your return thither, till the neighbourhood should have lost its habits of depredation, and he seemed to be satisfied. He invited me, very kindly and cordially, to try the air of Beckenham; and pleased me very much by his affectionate attention to Miss Vesy. There is much good in his character, and much usefulness in his knowledge.
Queeney seems now to have forgotten me. Of the different appearance of the hills and valleys an account may, perhaps, be given, without the supposition of any prodigy! If she had been out, and the evening was breezy, the exhalations would rise from the low grounds very copiously; and the wind that swept and cleared the hills, would only, by its cold, condense the vapours of the sheltered valleys.
Murphy is just gone from me; he visits me very kindly, and I have no unkindness to complain of.
I am sorry that sir Philip's request was not treated with more respect, nor can I imagine what has put them so much out of humour; I hope their business is prosperous.
I hope that I recover by degrees, but my nights are restless; and you will suppose the nervous system to be somewhat enfeebled. I am, madam, your, &c.
To MRS. THRALE.
London, Dec. 27, 1783.
DEAR MADAM,--The wearisome solitude of the long evenings did, indeed, suggest to me the convenience of a club in my neighbourhood, but I have been hindered from attending it by want of breath. If I can complete the scheme, you shall have the names and the regulations.
The time of the year, for I hope the fault is rather in the weather than in me, has been very hard upon me. The muscles of my breast are much convulsed. Dr. Heberden recommends opiates, of which I have such horrour, that I do not think of them but in extremis. I was, however, driven to them, last night, for refuge, and, having taken the usual quantity, durst not go to bed, for fear of that uneasiness to which a supine posture exposes me, but rested all night in a chair, with much relief, and have been, to-day, more warm, active, and cheerful.
You have more than once wondered at my complaint of solitude, when you hear that I am crowded with visits. "Inopem me copia fecit." Visitors are no proper companions in the chamber of sickness. They come, when I could sleep or read, they stay till I am weary, they force me to attend, when my mind calls for relaxation, and to speak, when my powers will hardly actuate my tongue. The amusements and consolations of languor and depression are conferred by familiar and domestick companions, which can be visited or called at will, and can, occasionally, be quitted or dismissed, who do not obstruct accommodation by ceremony, or destroy indolence by awakening effort.
Such society I had with Levet and Williams; such I had where--I am never likely to have it more.
Samuel Johnson: from letters to Hester Lynch Thrale
This post is dedicated to the memory of the mother of our friend the poet Nin Andrews, who peacefully passed away, at the great age of 94, in the Charlottesville, Virginia night, beneath the Waning Gibbous winter moon.
There's the expression, "Once in a blue moon..."
Some things don't happen very often. Some things never happen. Some things only happen once. Those tend to be the things that get remembered.
Waning Gibbous Moon: photo by David Woods, 16 February 2007
The raccoons who scrape out a marginal nocturnal existence in the grand ecology village of the vast and ancient redwood tree out front are chittering and chattering like crazy tonight. This means they are hungry. I'm going to go out and give them some old bagels. They are extremely unselective in their tastes. They'd eat an old shoe, if you dripped a bit of pan grease on it. Whatever gets you through the long mad cold hungry waning gibbous moon night.
Nin's mom had been a schoolteacher -- what a boon and a benison for a daughter who is to become a writer. To be initiated in The Iliad at an "impressionable age", on a farm in the country, may strike some as cruel and unusual punishment. I however would regard it as a great gift. When you have started out on Homer, it's much easier to put the peewee scribblers of later epochs into proper dwarf perspective.
The brave adventurer cat who thinks he's the boss of this territory suddenly turns very meek and timid and asks to come in out of the great world night, when he knows the raccoons are out and about.
I've now interrupted this meditation to do the raccoon snack thing. The boss cat has exhibited a rare bit of wisdom by curling up beside me and drifting off to slumberland. I can hear him breathing in his dreams.
I'm imagining the schoolmaster from Lichfield and the schoolteacher from Charlottesville (both of whom, I reckon, knew a thing or two about history) getting together behind the barn in eternity and sharing a Punch and a laugh as they gaze down through the hazy constellations at us, reminding us our own personal struggles won't last forever, either. Perhaps Passion and Meditation are simply bridges over troubled water,
Here's Nin's last post for her mother.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Nin Andrews: Bah-bah Mom
My mother is in her last days now. It's been a few weeks in coming, and as a silly coping mechanism, I decided to do a parody a day for each day she was still here. I had quite a few parodies already drawn and written.
My mother, a school teacher, read me so many poems as a child. I didn't like them, and so, as a bratty way to deal with them, I made up parodies. Once you start doing that, it becomes a habit.
So many dumb, dumb parodies run through my mind.
My mother also corrected my accent and grammar constantly. I remember her once saying, It's not bah-baby. You aren't a sheep. It's rock-a-bye-baby.
With a southern accent, bye, becomes bah.
Now, when I am in Virginia, I hear people saying bah, or rather, ba-ah, to each other as they wave goodbye.
I think I will be hearing her voice in my head even louder, at least for a while now.
handing a snack
to a hungry moon
under the redwood
for all the good mild
beneath the great drooping
Fog in Sequoia sempivirens, Redwood National Park, California: photo by Scott Catron, 3 August 2003