The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page

Samuel Johnson's Last Years
From "The Life of Samuel Johnson", by Sir John Hawkins
- 1782 -

- Introduction
- 1781
- 1782
- 1783
- 1784
- Johnson's Will
- Hawkins' Postscript
See also:
George Steevens' account of Samuel Johnson's funeral

    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,
Sam. Johnson

    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 | 1784
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)

The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page
Back To Top