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THESE Posthumous Devotions of Dr. Johnson will be, no doubt, welcomed by the Public, with a distinction similar to that which has been already paid to his other Works.
During many years of his life, he statedly observed certain days * with a religious solemnity; on which, and other occasions, it was his custom to compose suitable Prayers and Meditations; committing them to writing for his own use, and, as he assured me, without any view to their publication. But being last summer on a visit at Oxford to the Reverend Dr. Adamsi, and that gentleman urging him repeatedly to engage in some work of this kind, he then first conceived a design to revise these pious effusions, and bequeathed them with enlargements, to the use and benefit of others.
Infirmities, however, now growing fast upon him, he at length changed this design, and determined to give the manuscripts, without revision, in charge to me, as I had long shared his intimacy, and was at this time his daily attendant. Accordingly, one morning, on my visiting him by desire at an early hour, he put these papers into my hands, with instructions for committing them to the press, and with a promise to prepare a sketch of his own life to accompany them. But the performance of this promise also was prevented, partly by his hasty destruction of some private memoirs, which he afterwards lamented, and partly by that incurable sickness, which soon ended in his dissolution.
* Viz. New-Year's Day; March 28, the day on which his wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson, died ; Good-Friday; EasterDay; and September the 18th, his own birth-day.
t Master of Pembroke College, at which Dr. Johnson received part of his education.
As a biographer, he is allowed to have excelled without a rival; and we may justly regret that he who had so advantageously transmitted to posterity the memories of other eminent men, should have been thus prevented doing equal honour to his own. But the particulars of this venerable man's personal history may still, in great measure, be preserved ; and the public are authorised to expect them from some of his many friends, who are zealous to augment the monument of his fame by the detail of his private virtues *.
* Since this Preface was written the following publications have appeared, viz. Anecdotes of the late Dr. Johnson, during the last Twenty Years of his Life, by Hester Lynch Piozzi. 3d edit. 1786, small 8vo. The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. published with his Works, by Sir John Hawkins, 8vo. 1787. The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. by James Boswell, Esq. first published in 2 vols. 4to, afterwards (1793) in 3, and finally in 4 vols. 8vo. An Essay on the Life and Genius of Samuel Johnson, LI, D
That the authenticity of this work may never be called in question, the original manuscript will be deposited in the library of Pembroke College in Oxford. Dr. Bray's associates are to receive the profits of the first edition, by the author's appointment; and any further advantages that accrue, will be distributed among his relations*.
I have now discharged the trust reposed in me by that friend, whose labours entitle him to lasting gratitude and veneration from the literary, and still more from the Christian world. His Lives of the English Poets “are written,” as he justly hopes +, “in such a manner as may tend to the promotion of piety.” This merit may be ascribed, with equal truth, to most of his other works; and doubtless to his Sermons, none of which indeed have yet been made public, nor is it known where they are extant; though it be certain, from his own acknowledgment, both in conversation and writing t, that he composed many. As he seems to have turned his thoughts with peculiar earnestness to the study of religious subjects, we may presume these remains would deserve to be numbered among his happiest productions. It is therefore hoped they have fallen into the hands of those, who will not withhold them in obscurity, but consider them as deposits, the seclusion of which, from general use, would be an injurious diminution of their author's fame, and retrenchment from the common stock of serious instruction *. But the integrity of his mind was not only speculatively shadowed in his writings, but substantially exemplified in his life. His prayers and his alms, like those of the good Cornelius, went up for an incessant memorial; and always, from a heart deeply impressed with piety, never insensible to the calls of friendship or compassion, and prone to melt in effusions of tenderness on the slightest incitement. When, among other articles in his Dictionary, Lichfield presents itself to his notice, he salutes that place of his nativity in these words of Virgil, Salve, magna parens. Nor was the salutation adopted without reason; for well might he denominate his parent city great, who, by the celebrity of his name, hath for ever made it so—
published with the 2d edition of his Works, by Arthur Murphy, Esq. 8vo. 1792.
* The profits of the first edition were accordingly paid to Dr. Bray's associates; and those of the second have been distributed among Dr. Johnson's poor relations and connections, all of whom are since dead, except Humphrey Hely, who married Ford, sister to the Rev. Cornelius Ford, and first cousin to our author. This poor man, who has seen better days, is now a tenant of Whicher's Alms-houses, Chapel-street, Westmins er. [It is now, April 1817, about twenty years since he died in these Alms-houses, and was buried in the adjoining burial-ground belonging to St. Margaret's Chapel.]
+ See p. 549. : P. 547.
* In 1788 appeared one volume, and in 1789 a second, of Sermons on different subjects, left for publication by John Taylor, LL.D. late Prebendary of Westminster, &c. published by the Rev. Samuel Hayes, A. M. Usher of Westminster School. To the second volume is added a Sermon avowedly written by Dr. Johnson, for the funeral of his wife: and from internal and other evidence, the whole contents of both volumes are now generally ascribed to the same author.