First published a year after the death of Samuel Johnson, the eminent English essayist best known for his groundbreaking English dictionary, Prayers and Meditations is a devotional classic that will delight anyone who has the good fortune to discover it. Three types of material are mingled together, and the back-and-forth flow among them gives the book a refreshing variety. One hundred fifty-seven pages in length, the book is so winsome that it is easy to read in a single sitting.

The prayers receive the most space and are the inspirational part of the book. They confirm the Greek playwright Aristophanes' claim that "high thoughts must have high language." The hallmarks of Johnson's neoclassical style are elevated diction, long sentences, balance and parallelism of clauses and phrases, and beautiful cadence (the rise and fall of language). In style, Johnson's prayers are just like the prayer that Solomon uttered at the dedication of the Temple.

The second genre is the diary-type entry. Numerous brief passages chronicle the religious activities in the life of an English Anglican of a bygone era. The most poignant thread in the story is Johnson's recollections of his deceased wife on the annual anniversary of her death.

The third ingredient consists of lists of resolutions that Johnson incessantly made. These resolutions, too, provide glimpses into the spiritual life of a man who often disappointed himself but who aspired to be a godly man.

The whole book grows out of Johnson's practice of observing certain days on an annual basis. Most of the prayers were composed on New Year's Day, the day Johnson's wife died, Good Friday, Easter, and the author's own birthday.

The excerpts that follow include an example of all three types of ...

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