Religion in the Age of Enlightenment

Article Title

Samuel Johnson at Prayer


Elizabeth Kraft


Religion in the Age of Enlightenment, Samuel Johnson, prayer


Samuel Johnson's life was punctuated by prayer. In this essay, I will examine Johnson's prayer practice in terms of both meaning and behavior. Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language provides clear and succinct evidence in Johnson's own words of what he understood prayer and the act of praying to be. Of the two definitions of prayer and the seven definitions of to pray included in the Dictionary, the first in each category concerns religion and simply states that the noun and the verb are the same. According to Johnson the first meaning of to pray is "to make petitions to heaven''; the first sense of prayer is, likewise, a "petition to heaven:' Indeed, Johnson does not define any of the other words commonly used for prayer in the eighteenth century ( e.g., adoration, praise, thanksgiving, and confession) with the word prayer, whereas the first sense of petition is "request; intreaty; supplication; prayer:'' Clearly, to Johnson, prayer and petition are synonymous. The primary point of prayer is to beseech heaven or "the supreme power; the sovereign of heaven".