Saturday 14th September 2019 marked the 310th birthday of Dr Samuel Johnson. Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield in 1709. A celebrated poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer, his birthday has been marked by Lichfield City Council for many years.
The civic celebration started at the Guildhall, where we were entertained by the choir from St. Michael’s Church. We all then processed from the Guildhall to the marketplace, where the Mayor of Lichfield, Mrs Deborah Baker, welcomed us to the ceremony. We all then joined in with the traditional hymn “When all thy mercies O my God”.
The laying of the wreath at Samuel Johnson’s statue was preceded by the traditional declaration from the Mayor: “As Mayor of this ancient and loyal city, it is my privilege to place on the statue of Dr. Johnson, a wreath to his immortal memory and as a tribute to his genius.”
The choir of St. Michael’s then sang Dr Johnson’s Last Prayer, to music written specially by Peter Hawksworth. I found this particularly pertinent and moving:
Almighty and most merciful Father, I am now as to human eyes, it seems, about to commemorate, for the last time, the death of thy Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer. Grant, O Lord, that my whole hope and confidence may be in his merits, and thy mercy; enforce and accept my imperfect repentance; make this commemoration available to the confirmation of my faith, the establishment of my hope, and the enlargement of my charity; and make the death of thy Son Jesus Christ effectual to my redemption. Have mercy upon me, and pardon the multitude of my offences. Bless my friends; have mercy upon all men. Support me, by thy Holy Spirit, in the days of weakness, and at the hour of death; and receive me, at my death, to everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
The gathering sang the final hymn of the celebration, “Who would true valour see”, which was followed by The Blessing by The Very Reverend Adrian Dorbor, Dean of Lichfield, and the Mayor’s thanks. St. Michael’s choir sang once more as the civic procession returned to the Guildhall.
It was a fabulous and very fitting ceremony to the memory of one of our county’s most influential characters.