Absolutely No Good

The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.

– Samuel Johnson

This quote, posted on Facebook by a friend who has very often been mistaken as my twin sister, intrigued me. I had heard the name Samuel Johnson, but I could not recall the genre. I googled his name and quickly remembered, “Ah, yes, Brit Lit. I do remember now.” What I didn’t recall was much about the man and so I spent many hours on Monday getting to know Samuel Johnson who lived from 1709 – 1784.

Samuel Johnson:

born to a poor book-seller who succumbed to madness

facially deformed from small pox at a young age and weakened from tubercular lymphatic disease

at end of adolescence, began to make gross guttural sounds and lunge uncontrollably probably suffering Tourette’s Syndrome

at age 26, married a woman 20 years his senior who was not put off by his appearance and mannerisms and who, he says, saved his sanity and gave him back his self-confidence

politically incorrect for his day: encouraged women writers, was anti-slavery and anti-republican

when widowed, sheltered a motley crew of dependents in his home including a former prostitute, a blind poetess and Francis Barber, a boy who had been a slave in Jamaica who ended up being Johnson’s heir.

Samuel Johnson looked and acted like a man who could do no good and people treated him as such. Few could get past his small, sickly, grotesque outward appearance to embrace the brilliance of his mind and fluency of his speech. Samuel was treated like an idiot and, he later related, would have lost his sanity had it not been for the Porters. Mr. and Mrs. Porter were a wealthy couple who valued his company and conversation. They welcomed him into their home where he was a constant guest for many years. Upon the death of the husband, Mrs. Porter coaxed Samuel to stay with her and was overheard to tell her daughter that he was “the most sensible man she had ever met.”

[I]n 1735 they were married. She was 20 years older than he, and brought to the marriage a dowry of over 600 pounds. In those days the interest alone on such a sum would have been almost enough for the couple to live on. There is every indication that it was a love match on both sides. On Tetty’s side, the love was reinforced by the perception of future greatness. On Johnson’s side, the love was reinforced by gratitude toward the woman whose approval and acceptance had given him back his sanity and self-respect. http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/20.html

Did one couple of societal means make the difference for Samuel Johnson? It appears so. After Tetty’s death in 1752, Samuel was deeply saddened. He set to work and was able to stave off disabling melancholy for many years. In 1766, Henry Thrale and his wife Hester, friends of Johnson, visited him and found him most agitated, with his depression in an acute form. They resolved to bring him to their country home, where they thoroughly pampered him, and in effect made him one of the family. Their treatment of him brought him out of his depression and may have saved his sanity. Mrs Thrale wrote of him,

He loved the poor as I never yet saw anyone else do, with an earnest desire to make them happy.

…he nursed whole nests of people in his house, where the lame, the blind, the sick, and the sorrowful found a sure retreat from all the evils whence his little income could secure them.

And just as he would give all the silver in his pocket to the poor who watched him as he left the house, so, on returning late at night, he for years had been putting pennies into the hands of children lying asleep on thresholds so that they could buy breakfast in the morning. http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/20.html

Samuel Johnson truly loved others because he had known real love. Living on the edge of insanity, Samuel had difficulty as a believer, but, as a young man, he was challenged when he read William Law’s book, Serious Call To a Devout and Holy Life and lived a life of faith till his death. Samuel Johnson’s life makes me pause. I know whom I would have been among the players in Samuel’s life. Friday I will tell you who, and how I know.

I close today with a prayer from one of Samuel Johnson’s diaries

O Lord, who wouldst that all men should be saved, and who Knowest that without thy grace we can do nothing acceptable to thee, have mercy upon me. Enable me to break the chain of my sins, to reject sensuality in word and thought, and to overcome and suppress vain scruples; and to use such diligence in lawful employment as may enable me to support myself and do good to others. O Lord, forgive me the time lost in idleness; pardon the sins which I have committed, and grant that I may redeem the time misspent, and be reconciled to thee by true repentance, that I may live and die in peace, and be received to everlasting happiness. Take not from me, O Lord, thy Holy Spirit, but let me have support and comfort for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

Learning to love those who can do me absolutely no good,



6 comments on “Absolutely No Good

  1. Dawn, I read this in rapt attention, taking in every word here. Isn’t it just like God to take the “most unlikely” and form a “most usable” to befriend “the least of these.” This is definitely a person I would like to meet on the streets of Heaven! I couldn’t help but think back to your post yesterday as I was reading today, thinking about what I hold in my own hand to use for God and how He has woven
    the threads of my life together. All of this fits so perfectly into my thoughts, as I have been reading Ravi Zacharias’ book, The Weaver. The title intrigued me, especially after your posts awhile back on that subject. It answers the questions about whether God is involved in every detail of our lives, and how these are all woven together in a definite pattern and plan of His choosing. In reading your post today, it is undoubtedly obvious that God had a plan for this man and Mr. Adams was very much aware of that. Thank you for this!

  2. Dear Cora,

    Thanks for your positive comment. I am unloading a ton of ash from synapstial burning over the next couple of days. When I read Samuel Johnson’s quote it was like it lit a stick of dynamite in my brain and it’s now all tumbling out on “paper”. You should see it before it is massively edited. It makes no sense at all, but the Lord is gracious in giving me quiet times to sort through things AND

    to give me a real-life setting to be what I think I am learning. I must get ready to the free medical clinic to be there by 10:40. It’s sleeting here so I better get going. Perhaps Samuel Johnson will show up?

    I love you and that you pass by here, Cora,

    Happy Leap Year Day: an extra one to love on Jesus!

  3. Oh Dawn… you have brought such light into my morning… to hear the story of a man I have never heard of and to think of God’s mercy played over and over through his humble existence and to desire this same fruit to be played out through mine… to be so generous and merciful and so graciously caring for those least amongst us, for God’s glory.
    His prayer will become my prayer.
    I thank you dear friend for this gift today into the life of such a beautiful man.

    Man looketh at the outward appearance but God looketh at the heart…
    Abba Father, may our hearts be sold out totally for Thee…May there be such beauty as becomes Thee, for Thy honour and glory, for ever and ever…

    • Dear Susan,

      The hardest telling of this journey to the intersection is being composed today for posting tomorrow. It is about my daughter, Joyce, who, in many ways, had to live like Samuel Johnson. She, like Johnson, had many problems and had to live in a world whose definition of “acceptable” is not very wide. I pray you will “be with” me tomorrow as I entrust this leg of the trail to my readers.

      All for Jesus,

  4. Hi Dawn,
    I wondered if you would bring up Wm Law’s name. I printed out his “Serious Call” in the original several months ago so I could read it like a “real” book, and just yesterday took the fat pack of pages, held in ring-bound jacket, down from the shelf to review some things he said about prayer hours (helpful practical stuff). I knew Johnson thought highly of him, but I didn’t know these things about Johnson that you relate here. Interesting read, and more testimony to the grace and love of God. Thanks, sister, and God continue to bless!

  5. Dear Sylvia,

    I discovered that I can read WIliam Law’s book through the same site that I was able to read Dark Night of the Soul. Thank you Christian Classics Ethereal Library! Check out the site for Serious Call

    I am impressed that you know of Samuel Johnson’s link to William Law. It seems that in 2009 two biographies of Samuel Johnson were released on the 300th anniversary of his birth. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/01/books/review/Price-t.html?adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1330549641-SVONwKohmy0xY52nnVdWcQ It seems that the two books presented Samuel Johnson in very different lights. I would like to read both biographies, but I have other “missions” right now. I did read Amazon readers’ reviews and I got quite a good idea of what the authors may have been writing. Eye-opening, nonetheless. I have tried to maintain a sane posture.

    Love your interest!

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