1784 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

John Hoole, "Narrative of what passed in the Visits paid by J. Hoole to Dr. Johnson, in his last Illness" 1784; European Magazine 36 (September 1799) 153-58



SATURDAY, Nov. 20, 1784. — This evening, about eight o'clock, I paid a visit to my dear friend Dr. Johnson, whom I found very ill and in great dejection of spirits. We had a most affecting conversation on the subject of religion, in which he exhorted me, with the greatest warmth of kindness, to attend closely to every religious duty, and particularly enforced the obligation of private prayer and receiving the sacrament. He desired me to stay that night and join in prayer with him; adding, that he always went to prayer every night with his man Francis. He conjured me to read and meditate upon the Bible, and not to throw it aside for a play or a novel. He said he had himself lived in great negligence of religion and worship for forty years; that he had neglected to read his Bible, and had often reflected what he could hereafter say when he should be asked why he had not read it. He begged me repeatedly to let his present situation have due effect upon me, and advised me, when I got home, to note down in writing what had passed between us, adding, that what a man writes in that manner dwells upon his mind. He said many things that I cannot now recollect, but all delivered with the utmost fervour of religious zeal and personal affection. Between nine and ten o'clock his servant Francis came up stairs: he then said, we would all go to prayers, and, desiring me to kneel down by his bed-side, he repeated several prayers with great devotion. I then took my leave. He then pressed me to think of all he had said, and to commit it to writing. I assured him I would. He seized my hand with much warmth, and repeated, "Promise me you will do it:" on which we parted, and I engaged to see him the next day.

SUNDAY, Nov. 21. — About noon I again visited him, found him rather better and easier, his spirits more raised, and his conversation more disposed to general subjects. When I came in, he asked if I had done what he desired (meaning the noting down what passed the night before); and upon my saying that I had, he pressed my hand, and said earnestly, "Thank you." Our discourse then grew more cheerful. He told me, with apparent pleasure, that he heard the Empress of Russia had ordered the Rambler to be translated into the Russian language, and that a copy would be sent him. Before we parted, he put into my hands a little book, by Fleetwood, on the sacrament, which he told me he had been the means of introducing to the University of Oxford by recommending it to a young student there.

MONDAY, Nov. 22. — Visited the doctor, found him seemingly better of his complaints, but extremely low and dejected. I sat by him till he fell asleep, and soon after left him, as he seemed little disposed to talk; and, on my going away, he said emphatically, "I am very poorly indeed!"

TUESDAY, Nov. 23. — Called about eleven: the Doctor not up: Mr. Gardiner in the dining-room: the Doctor soon came to us, and seemed more cheerful than the day before: he spoke of his design to invite a Mrs. Hall to be with him, and to offer her Mrs. Williams's room. Called again about three, found him quite oppressed with company that morning, therefore left him directly.

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 24. — Called about seven in the evening, found him very ill and very low indeed; he said a thought had struck him that his rapid decline of health and strength might be partly owing to the town air, and spoke of getting a lodging at Islington. I sat with him till past nine, and then took my leave.

THURSDAY, Nov. 25. — About three in the afternoon was told that he had desired that day to see no company. In the evening, about eight, called with Mr. Nicol [note: Mr. George Nichol, of Pall Mall], and, to our great surprise, we found him then setting out for Islington, to the Rev. Mr. Strahan's. He could scarce speak; we went with him down the court to the coach; he was accompanied by his servant Frank and Mr. Lowe the painter. I offered myself to go with him, but he declined it.

FRIDAY, Nov. 26. — Called at his house about eleven, heard he was much better, and had a better night than he had known a great while, and was expected home that day. Called again in the afternoon — not so well as he was, nor expected home that night.

SATURDAY, Nov. 27. — Called again about noon; heard he was much worse; went immediately to Islington, where I found him extremely bad, and scarce able to speak, with the asthma. Sir John Hawkins, the Rev. Mr. Strahan, and Mrs. Strahan, were with him. Observing that we said little, he desired that we would not constrain ourselves, though he was not able to talk with us. Soon after he said he had something to say to Sir John Hawkins, on which we immediately went down into the parlour. Sir John soon followed us, and said he had been speaking about his will. Sir John started the idea of proposing to him to make it on the spot, that Sir John should dictate it, and that I should write it: he went up to propose it, and soon came down with the Doctor's acceptance. The will was then begun; but before we proceeded far, it being necessary, on account of some alteration, to begin again, Sir John asked the Doctor whether he would chuse to make any introductory declaration respecting his faith. The Doctor said he would. Sir John further asked, if he would make any declaration of his being of the Church of England: to which the doctor said "No!" but, taking a pen, he wrote on a paper the following words, which he delivered to Sir John, desiring him to keep it: "I commit to the infinite mercies of Almighty God my soul, polluted with many sins; but purified, I trust, with repentance and the death of Jesus Christ." While he was at Mr. Strahan's, Dr. Brocklesby came in, and Dr. Johnson put the question to him, whether he thought he could live six weeks? to which Dr. Brocklesby returned a very doubtful answer, and soon left us. After dinner the will was finished, and about six we came to town in Sir John Hawkins' carriage; Sir John, Dr. Johnson, Mr. Ryland [note: Brother-in-law to the late Dr. Hawkesworth] (who came in after dinner), and myself. The Doctor appeared much better in the way home, and talked pretty cheerfully. Sir John took leave of us at the end of Bolt court, and Mr. Ryland and myself went to his house with the doctor, who began to grow very ill again. Mr. Ryland soon left us, and I remained with the dDctor till Mr. Sastres came in. We staid with him about an hour, when we left him on his saying he had some business to do, Mr. Sastres and myself went together homewards, discoursing on the dangerous state of our friend, when it was resolved that Mr. Sastres should write to Dr. Heberden; but going to his house that night, he fortunately found him at home, and he promised to be with Dr. Johnson next morning.

SUNDAY, Nov. 28. — Went to Dr. Johnson's about two o'clock, met Mrs. Hoole coming from thence, as he was asleep: took her back with me: found Sir John Hawkins with him: he doctor's conversation tolerably chearful. Sir John reminded him that he had expressed a desire to leave some small memorials to his friends, particularly a Polyglot Bible to Mr. Langton; and asked if they should add the codicil then. The Doctor replied, "he had forty things to add, but could not do it at that time." Sir John then took his leave. Mr. Sastres came next into the dining-room, where I was with Mrs. Hoole. Dr. Johnson hearing that Mrs. Hoole was in the next room desired to see her: he received her with great affection, took her by the hand, and said nearly these words, "I feel great tenderness for you; think of the situation in which you see me, profit by it, and God Almighty keep you for Jesus Christ's sake, Amen." He then asked if we would both stay and dine with him. Mrs. Hoole said she could not; but I agreed to stay. Upon my saying to the Doctor that Dr. Heberden would be with him that morning, his answer was, "God has called me, and Dr. Heberden comes too late." Soon after this Dr. Heberden came: while he was there, we heard them, from the other room, in earnest discourse, and found that they were talking over the affair of the K—g and C—n [note: This alludes to an application made for an increase to his pension, to enable him to go to Italy]. We overheard Dr. Heberden say, "All you did was extremely proper." After Dr. Heberden was gone, Mr. Sastres and I returned into the chamber. Dr. Johnson complained that sleep this day had powerful dominion over him, that he waked with great difficulty, and that probably he should go off in one of these paroxysms. Afterwards he said that he hoped his sleep was the effect of opium taken some days before, which might not be worked off. We dined together, the doctor, Mr. Sastres, Mrs. Davies, and myself: he eat a pretty good dinner with seeming appetite, but appearing rather impatient, and being asked unnecessary and frivolous questions, he said he often thought of Macbeth, — "Question enrages him." He retired immediately after dinner, and we soon went, at his desire (Mr. Sastres and myself), and sat with him till tea. He said little, but dozed at times. At six he ordered tea for us, and we went out to drink it with Mrs. Davies; but the Doctor drank none. The Rev. Dr. Taylor, of Ashburne, came soon after; and Dr. Johnson desired our attendance at prayers, which were read by Dr. Taylor. Mr. Ryland came and sat some time with him: he thought him much better. Mr. Sastres and I continued with him the remainder of the evening, when he exhorted Mr. Sastres in nearly these words: "There is no one who has shown me more attention than you have done, and it is now right you should claim some attention from me. You are a young man, and are to struggle through life: you are in a profession that I dare say you will exercise with great fidelity and innocence; but let me exhort you always to think of my situation, which must one day be yours: always remember that life is short, and that eternity never ends! I say nothing of your religion; for if you conscientiously keep to it, I have little doubt but you may be saved: if you read the controversy, I think we have the right on our side; but if you do not read it, be not persuaded, from any worldly consideration, to alter the religion in which you were educated: change not, but from conviction of reason." He then most strongly enforced the motives of virtue and piety from the consideration of a future state of reward and punishment, and concluded with, "Remember all this, and God bless you! Write down what I have said — I think you are the third person I have bid do this [note: The other two were Dr. Brocklesby and myself — J. H.] At ten o'clock he dismissed us, thanking us for a visit which he said could not have been very pleasant to us.

MONDAY, Nov. 29. — Called with my son about eleven; saw the Doctor, who said, "You must not now stay;" but as we were going away, he said, "I will get Mr. Hoole to come next Wednesday and read the Litany to me, and do you and Mrs. Hoole come with him." He appeared very ill. Returning from the city I called again to inquire, and heard that Dr. Butter was with him. In the evening, about eight, called again and just saw him; but did not stay, as Mr. Langton was with him on business. I met Sir Joshua Reynolds going away.

TUESDAY, Nov. 30. — Called twice this morning, but did not see him: he was much the same. In the evening, between six and seven, went to his house, found there Mr. Langton, Mr. Sastres, and Mr. Ryland: the Doctor being asleep in the chamber, we went all to tea and coffee, when the Doctor came in to us rather chearful, and entering said, "Dear gentlemen, how do you do?" He drank coffee, and, in the course of the conversation, said that he recollected a poem of his, made some years ago on a young gentleman coming of age: he repeated the whole with great spirit: it consisted of about fifteen or sixteen stanzas of four lines, in alternate rhyme. He said he had only repeated it once since he composed it, and that he never gave but one copy. He said several excellent things that evening, and among the rest, that "scruples made many men miserable, but few men good." He spoke of the affectation that men had to accuse themselves of petty faults or weaknesses, in order to exalt themselves into notice for any extraordinary talents which they might possess; and instanced in Waller, which he said he would record if he lived to revise his life. Waller was accustomed to say that his memory was so bad he would sometimes forget to repeat his grace at table, or the Lord's prayer, perhaps that people might wonder at what he did else of great moment; for the Doctor observed, that no man takes upon himself small blemishes without supposing that great abilities are attributed to him; and that, in short, this affectation of candour or modesty was but another kind of indirect self-praise, and had its foundation in vanity. Frank bringing him a note, as he opened it he said an odd thought struck him, that "one should receive no letters in the grave" [note: This note was from Mr. Davies the bookseller, and mentioned a present of some pork, upon which the Doctor said, in a manner that seemed as if he thought it ill-timed, "Too much of this; or some such expression."]. His talk was in general very serious and devout, though occasionally chearful: he said, "You are all serious men, and I will tell you something. About two, years since I feared that I had neglected God, and that then I had not a mind to give him; on which I set about to read Thomas a Kempis in Low Dutch, which I accomplished, and thence I judged that my mind was not impaired, Low Dutch having no affinity with any of the languages which I knew." With respect to his recovery, he seemed to think it hopeless. There was to be a consultation of physicians next day: he wished to have his legs scarified, to let out the water; but this his medical friends opposed, and he submitted to their opinion, though he said he was not satisfied. At half past eight he dismissed us all but Mr. Langton. I first asked him if my son should attend him next day, to read the Litany, as he had desired; but he declined it on account of the expected consultation. We went away, leaving Mr. Langton and Mr. Desmoulins, a young man who was employed in copying his Latin epigrams.

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 1. — At his house in the evening: drank tea and coffee with Mr. Sastres, Mr. Desmoulins, and Mr. Hall: went into the Doctor's chamber after tea, when he gave me an epitaph to copy, written by him for his father, mother, and brother. He continued much the same.

THURSDAY, Dec. 2. — Called in the morning and left the epitaph: with him in the evening about seven; found Mr. Langton and Mr. Desmoulins; did not see the Doctor; he was in his chamber, and afterwards engaged with Dr. Scott.

FRIDAY, Dec. 3. — Called; but he wished not to see any body. Consultation of physicians to be held that day: called again in the evening; found Mr. Langton with him; Mr. Sastres and I went together into his chamber; he was extremely low. "I am very bad indeed, dear gentlemen (he said); very bad, very low, very cold, and I think I find my life to fail." In about a quarter of an hour he dismissed Mr. Sastres and me; but called me back again, and said that next Sunday, if he lived, he designed to take the sacrament, and wished me, my wife, and son to be there. We left Mr. Langton with him.

SATURDAY, Dec. 4. — Called on him about three: he was much the same, did not see him, he had much company that day. Called in the evening with Mr. Sastres about eight; found he was not disposed for company; Mr. Langton with him; did not see him.

SUNDAY, Dec. 5. — Went to Bolt-court with Mrs. Hoole after eleven; found there Sir John Hawkins, Rev. Mr. Strahan, Mrs. Gardiner, and Mr. Desmoulins, in the dining-room. After some time the Doctor came to us from the chamber, and saluted us all, thanking us all for this visit to him. He said he found himself very bad, but hoped he should go well through the duty which he was about to do. The sacrament was then administered to all present, Frank being of the number. The Doctor repeatedly desired Mr. Strahan to speak louder; seeming very anxious not to lose any part of the service, in which he joined in very great fervour of devotion. The service over, he again thanked us all for attending him on the occasion: he said he had taken some opium to enable him to support the fatigue: he seemed quite spent, and lay in his chair some time in a kind of dose. He then got up and retired into his chamber. Mr. Ryland then called on him. I was with them: he said to Mr. Ryland, "I have taken my viaticum, I hope I shall arrive safe at the end of my journey, and be accepted at last." He spoke very despondingly several times: Mr. Ryland comforted him, observing that "we had great hopes given us." "Yes (he replied), we have hopes given us; but they are conditional, and I know not how far I have fulfilled those conditions" [note: See his Letter to Mrs. Thrale, Vol. III. Page 350, in Letters published by Mrs. Piozzi.] He afterwards said: "However, I think that I have now corrected all bad and vicious habits." Sir Joshua Reynolds called on him: we left them together. Sir Joshua being gone, he called Mr. Ryland and me again to him: he continued talking very seriously, and repeated a prayer or collect with great fervour, when Mr. Ryland took his leave. He eat a tolerable dinner, but retired directly after dinner. My son came to us from his church: we were at dinner, Dr. Johnson, Mrs. Gardiner, myself, Mrs. Hoole, my son, and Mr. Desmoulins. He had looked out a sermon of Dr. Clarke's, "On the Shortness of Life," for me to read to him after dinner, but he was too ill to hear it. After six o'clock he called us all into his room, when he dismissed us for that night with a prayer, delivered as he sat in his great chair in the most fervent and affecting manner, his mind appearing wholly employed with the thoughts of another life. He told Mr. Ryland that he wished not to come to God with opium, but that he hoped he had been properly attentive. He said before us all, that when he recovered the last spring, he had only called it a reprieve, but that he did think it was for a longer time; however he hoped the time that had been prolonged to him might be the means of bringing forth fruit meet for repentance.

MONDAY, Dec. 6. — Sent in the morning to make inquiry after him: he was much the same: called in the evening; found Mr. Cruikshanks the surgeon with him: he said he had been that day quarrelling with all his physicians: he appeared in tolerable spirits.

TUESDAY, Dec. 7. — Called at dinner time: saw him eat a very good dinner: he seemed rather better, and in spirits.

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 8. — Went with Mrs. Hoole and my son, by appointment; found him very poorly and low, after a very bad night. Mr. Nichols the printer was there. My son read the Litany, the doctor several times urging him to speak louder. After prayers Mr. Langton came in: much serious discourse: he warned us all to profit by his situation; and, applying to me, who stood next him, exhorted me to lead a better life than he had done. "A better life than you, my dear sir!" I repeated. He replied warmly, "Don't compliment now." He told Mr. Langton that he had the night before enforced on — a powerful argument to a powerful objection against Christianity. He had often thought it might seem strange that the Jews, who refused belief to the doctrine supported by the miracles of our Saviour, should after his death raise a numerous church; but he said that they expected fully a temporal prince, and with this idea the multitude was actuated when they strewed his way with palm-branches on his entry into Jerusalem; but finding their expectations afterwards disappointed, rejected him; till in process of time, comparing all the circumstances and prophecies of the Old Testament, confirmed in the New, many were converted; that the Apostles themselves once believed him to be a temporal prince. He said that he had always been struck with the resemblance of the Jewish Passover and the Christian doctrine of redemption. He thanked us all for our attendance, and we left him with Mr. Langton.

THURSDAY, Dec. 9. — Called in the evening; did not see him, as he was engaged.

FRIDAY, Dec. 10. — Called about eleven in the morning; saw Mr. La Trobe there: neither of us saw the Doctor, as we understood he wished not to be visited that day. In the evening I sent him a letter, recommending Dr. Dalloway (an irregular physician) as an extraordinary person for curing the dropsy. He returned me a verbal answer that he was obliged to me, but that it was too late. My son read prayers with him this day.

SATURDAY, Dec. 11. — Went to Bolt-court about twelve; met there Dr. Burney, Dr. Taylor, Sir John Hawkins, Mr. Sastres, Mr. Paradise, Count Zenobia, and Mr. Langton. Mrs. Hoole called for me there: we both went to him; he received us very kindly; told me he had my letter, but "it was too late for doctors, regular or irregular." His physicians had been with him that day, but prescribed nothing. Mr. Cruikshanks came: the doctor was rather cheerful with him; he said, "Come, give me your hand," and shook him by the hand, adding, "You shall make no other use of it now;" meaning he should not examine his legs. Mr. Cruikshanks wished to do it, but the doctor would not let him. Mr. Cruikshanks said he would call in the evening.

SUNDAY, Dec. 12. — Was not at Bolt-court in the forenoon; at St. Sepulchre's school in the evening with Mrs. Hoole, where we saw Mrs. Gardiner and Lady Rothes; heard that Dr. Johnson was very bad, and had been something delirious. Went to Bolt-court about nine, and found there Mr. Windham and the Rev. Mr. Strahan. The Doctor was then very bad in bed, which I think he had only taken to that day: he had now refused to take any more medicine or food. Mr. Cruikshanks came about eleven; he endeavoured to persuade him to take some nourishment, but in vain. Mr. Windham then went again to him, and, by the advice of Mr. Cruikshanks, put it upon this footing, that by persisting to refuse all sustenance he might probably defeat his own purpose to preserve his mind clear, as his weakness might bring on paralytic complaints that might affect his mental powers. The Doctor, Mr. Windham said, heard him patiently; but when he had heard all, he desired to be troubled no more. He then took a most affectionate leave of Mr. Windham, who reported to us the issue of the conversation, for only Mr. Desmoulins was with them in the chamber. I did not see the doctor that day, being fearful of disturbing him, and never conversed with him again. I came away about half past eleven with Mr. Windham.

MONDAY, Dec. 13. — Went to Bolt-court at eleven o'clock in the morning; met a young lady coming down stairs from the doctor, whom, upon inquiry, I found to be Miss Morris (a sister to Miss Morris formerly on the stage [note: As there have been several Miss Morris's on the stage, it may be proper to mention that the young lady was sister to Miss Morris, who appeared in Juliet at Covent Garden Nov. 26, 1768, and died May 1, 1769. She was related to Corbyn Morris, Esq. Commissioner of the Customs]). Mrs. Desmoulins told me that she had seen the doctor; that by her desire he had been told she came to ask his blessing, and that he said, "God bless you!" I then went up into his chamber, and found him lying very composed in a kind of dose: he spoke to nobody. Sir John Hawkins, Mr. Langton, Mrs. Gardiner, Rev. Mr. Strahan and Mrs. Strahan, Doctors Brocklesby and Butter, Mr. Steevens, and Mr. Nichols the printer, came; but no one chose to disturb him by speaking to him, and he seemed to take no notice of any person. While Mrs. Gardiner and I were there, before the rest came, he took a little warm milk in a cup, when he said something upon its not being properly given into his hand: he breathed very regular, though short, and appeared to be mostly in a calm sleep or dosing. I left him in this state, and never more saw him alive. In the evening I supped with Mrs. Hoole and my son at Mr. Braithwaite's, and at night my servant brought me word that my dearest friend died that evening about seven o'clock; and next morning I went to the house, where I met Mr. Seward: we went together into the chamber, and there saw the most awful sight of Dr. Johnson laid out in his bed, without life!

JOHN HOOLE.