In the beginning of the year 1782,
death deprived him of his old friend and companion; he who had,
for near forty years, had the care of his health, and had
attended him almost constantly every morning, to enquire after
the state of his body, and fill out his tea, the mute, the
officious, and the humble Mr. Levett. Of this disastrous
event, as soon as it happened, Johnson sent to his friend, Dr.
Lawrence, the following account:
Jan. 17, 1782.
Our old friend Mr. Levett, who was last night eminently
chearful, died this morning. The man who lay in the same
room, hearing an uncommon noise, got up, and tried to make him
speak, but without effect. He then called Mr. Holder the
apothecary, who, though when he came he thought him dead, opened
a vein, but could draw no blood. So has ended the long life
of a very useful and very blameless man.
I am, Sir,
Your most humble servant,
I find in one of Johnson's diaries the
following note: 'January 20, Sunday. Robert Levett
was buried in the church yard of Bridewell, between one and two
in the afternoon. He died on Thursday 17, about seven
in the morning, by an instantaneous death. He was an old
and faithful friend. I have known him from about 46.
Commendari. May God have mercy on him. May he have
mercy on me!'
The grief which the loss of friends
occasioned Johnson, seems to have been a frequent stimulative
with him to composition. His sense of Levett's worth he
expressed in the following lines, which may, perhaps, contribute,
more than any one circumstance in his character, to keep the
memory of his existence alive:
Condemn'd to hope's delusive mine,
As on we toil from day to day,
By sudden blast, or slow decline,
Our social comforts drop away.
Well tried through many a varying year,
See Levett to the grave descend;
Officious, innocent, sincere,
Of every friendless name the friend.
Yet still he fills affections' eye,
Obscurely wise, and coarsely kind,
Nor, letter'd ignorance, deny
Thy praise to merit unrefin'd.
When fainting nature called for aid,
And hov'ring death prepar'd the blow,
The vig'rous remedy display'd,
The power of art, without the show.
In mis'ry darkest caverns known,
His useful care was ever nigh;
Where hopeless anguish pour'd his groan,
And lonely want retir'd to die.
No summons mock'd by chill delay;
No petty gain disdain'd by pride;
The modest wants of ev'ry day,
The toil of ev'ry day supply'd.
His virtues walk'd their narrow round,
Nor made a pause, nor left a void;
And sure the eternal Master found
The single talent well employ'd.
The busy day, the peaceful night,
Unfelt, uncounted, glided by:
His frame was firm, his pow'rs were bright,
Though now his eightieth year was nigh.
Then with no throb of fiery pain,
No cold gradations of decay,
Death broke at once the vital chain,
And freed his soul the nearest way.
Introduction | 1781 | 1782 | 1783
Johnson's Will | Hawkins' Postscript
From "The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.," by Sir John Hawkins,
Knt. 2nd edition, 1787, London. (Pages 541-594)
Johnson Sound Bite Page
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