Page images
PDF
EPUB

ÆT. 75.

BOSWELL'S LIFE OF JOHNSON.

325

Oxford, before the University, by the Rev. Mr. Agutter, of Magdalen College. The Lives, the Memoirs, the Essays, both in prose and verse, which have been published concerning him, would make many volumes. The numerous attacks too upon him I consider as part of his consequence, upon the principle which he himself so well knew and asserted. Many who trembled at his presence were forward in assault, when they no longer apprehended danger. When one of his little pragmatical foes was invidiously snarling at his fame at Sir Joshua Reynolds's table, the Reverend Dr. Parr exclaimed, with his usual bold animation, “Ay, now that the old lion is dead, every ass thinks he may kick at him.”

A monument for him, in Westminster Abbey, was resolved upon soon after his death, and was supported by a most respectable contribution; but the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's hąving come to a resolution of admitting monuments there upon a liberal and magnificent plan, that cathedral was afterwards fixed on, as a place in which a cenotaph should be erected to his memory: and in the cathedral of his native city of Lichfield a smaller one is to be erected.? To compose his epitaph, could not

countenance is analysed upon the principles of that fanciful writer. There are also several seals with his head cut on them, particularly a very fine one by that eminent artist, Edward Burch, Esq., R. A., in the possession of the younger Dr. Charles Burney.*

Let me add, as a proof of the popularity of his character, that there are copper pieces struck at Birmingham, with his head impressed on them, which pass current as halfpence there, and in the neighbouring parts of the country.

It is not yet published. In a letter to me, Mr. Agutter says, “ My sermon before the University was more engaged with Dr. Johnson's moral than his intellectual character. It particularly examined his fear of death, and suggested several reasons for the apprehensions of the good, and the indifference of the infidel, in their last hours'; this was illustrated by contrasting the death of Dr. Johnson and Mr. Hume : the text was, Job xxi. 22—26."

? This monument has been since erected. It consists of a medallion, with a tablet beneath, on which is this inscription :

* For a further account of the portraits of Johnson, see the Appendix to this volume. - Editor.

but excite the warmest competition of genius.' If laudari

“ The friends of Samuel JOHNSON, LL.D.

A native of Lichfield,
Erected this Monument,

As a tribute of respect
To the Memory of a man of extensive learning,
A distinguished moral writer, and a sincere Christian.

He died Dec. 13, 1784, aged 75.Malone. 1 The Rev. Dr. Parr, on being requested to undertake Johnson's epitaph, thus expressed himself in a letter to William Seward, Esq. :

“I leave this mighty task to some hardier and some abler writer. The variety and splendour of Johnson's attainments, the peculiarities of his character, his private virtues, and his literary publications, fill me with confusion and dismay, when I reflect upon the confined and difficult species of composition, in which alone they can be expressed with propriety, upon his monument.”

• But I understand that this great scholar, and warm admirer of Johnson, has yielded to repeated solicitations, and executed the very difficult undertaking.

Dr. Johnson's monument, consisting of a colossal figure leaning against a column (but not very strongly resembling him), has since the death of Mr. Boswell been placed in St. Paul's Cathedral, having been first opened to public view, Feb. 23, 1796. The epitaph was written by the Rev. Dr. Parr, and is as follows:-

ago SAMVELI · IOHNSON

GRAMMATICO · ET · CRITICO
SCRIPTORVM · ANGLICORVM · LITTERATE · PERITO

POETAE: LVMINIBVS · SENTENTIARVM
ET · PONDERIBVS · VERBORVM · ADMIRABILI

MAGISTRO · VIRTVTIS · GRAVISSIMO
IIOMINI · OPTIMO · ET · SINGVLARIS · EXEMPLI.

QVI VIXIT. ANN · LXXV • MENS · II. DIEB · XII.
DECESSIT · IDIB · DECEMBRANN CHRIST

clɔ · locc · LXXXII SEPVLT · IN AED · SANCT · PETR· WESTMONASTERIENS • 311· KALIANVAR, ANNCHRIST · clɔ • Iɔcc · LXXXV, AMICI · ET · SODALES · LITTERARII

PECVNIA · CONLATA

H·M· FACIVND · CVRA VER.
On a scroll in his hand are the following words :-

ΕΝΜΑΚΑΡΕΣΣΙΠΟΝΩΝΛΝΤΑΞΙΟΣΕΙΗ.ΑΜΟΙΒΗ
On one side of the monument :-
FACIEBAT JOHANNES BACON, SCULPTOR ANN. CARIST.

M.D.CC.LXXXV.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

a laudato viro be praise which is highly estimable, I should not forgive myself were I to omit the following sepulchral

The subscription for this monument, which cost eleven hundred guineas, was begun by the Literary Club, and completed by the aid of Johnson's other friends and admirers.--Malone.

It is to be regretted that the committee for erecting this monument did not adhere to the principles of the Round Robin, on the subject of Goldsmith's epitaph, and insist on having the epitaph to Johnson written in the language to which he had been so great and so very peculiar a benefactor. The committee of subscribers, called curators, were Lord Stowell, Mr. Burke, Mr. Windham, Sir Joseph Banks, Mr. Metcalf, Mr. Boswell, and Mr. Malone; of whom Mr. Metcalfe, Mr. Burke, and Sir Joseph had signed the Round Robin; but it may be presumed that Dr. Johnson's preference of a Latin epitaph, so positively pronounced ou that occasion, operated on their minds as an expression of what his wishes would have been as to his own. It seems, however, to me, the height of bad taste and absurdity to exhibit Dr. Johnson in St. Paul's cathedral in the masquerade of a half-naked Roman, with such pedantic, and, to the passing public, unintelligible inscriptions as the above: of which the following is a close translation :

Alpha Omega.
To SAMUEL JOHNSON,

A grammarian and critic
Of great skill in English literature;
A poet admirable for the light of his sentences

And the weight of his words;

A most effective teacher of virtue ;
An excellent man, and of singular example,

Who lived 75 years, 2 months, 14 days.
He died in the ides of December, in the year of Christ,

MDCCLXXXIV.
Was buried in the church of St. Peter's, Westminster,
The 13th of the kalends of January, in the year of Christ

MDCCLXXXV.
His literary friends and companions,

By a collection of money,

Caused this monument to be made. The reader will not of course attribute to the original all the awkwardness of this nearly literal version ; but he will not fail to observe the tedious and confused mode of marking the numerals, the unnecessary repetition of them, and the introduction of nones and ides, all of which are, even on the principles of the Lapidarian scholars themselves, clumsy, and on the principles of common sense, contemptible. Thirty-four letters and numerals (nearly a tenth part of the whole inscription) are, for instance, expended in letting posterity know that Dr. Johnson was buried in about a week after his death.

verses on the author of THE ENGLISH DICTIONARY, written by the Right Honourable Henry Flood :

“No need of Latin or of Greek to grace

Our Johnson's memory, or inscribe his grave;
His native language claims this mournful space,

To pay the immortality he gave." The character of SAMUEL Johnson has, I trust, been so developed in the course of this work, that they who have honoured it with a perusal may be considered as well

The Greek words, so pedantically jumbled together on the scroll, are an alteration by Dr. Parr of the concluding line of Dionysius, the geographer, with which Johnson had closed the Rambler. It seems, that in deference to some apprehensions that the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's might think the AútūV šk uakápwv åvtáčlog sin å poußn-from the blessed (gods) may he receive his merited rewardsomewhat heathenish, Dr. Parr was persuaded to convert the line into 'Ev uakápool tovūv αντάξιος είη αμοιβή-may he receive amongst the olessed the merited reward of his labours. The reader who is curious about the pompous inanities of literature will find at the end of the fourth volume of Dr. Parr's works, ed. 1828, a long correspondence between Parr, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Malone, and other friends of Dr. Johnson, on the subject of this epitaph. He will be amused at the burlesque importance which Parr attaches to epitaph-writing, the tenacity with which he endeavoured to describe Dr. Johnson, with reference to his poetical character, as poeta probabilis, and his candid avowal, that in the composition he was thinking more of his own character than Dr. Johnson's. - Croker.

? To prevent any misconception on this subject, Mr. Malone, by whom these lines were obligingly communicated, requests me to add the fol. lowing remark:

“ In justice to the late Mr. Flood, now himself wanting, and highly meriting, an epitaph from his country, to which his transcendent talents did the highest honour, as well as the most important service, it should be observed, that these lines were by no means intended as a regular monumental inscription for Dr. Johnson. Had he undertaken to write an appropriate and discriminative epitaph for that excellent and extraordinary man, those who knew Mr. Flood's vigour of mind will have no doubt that he would have produced one worthy of his illustrious subject. But the fact was merely this : In December, 1789, after a large subscription had been made for Dr. Johnson's monument, to which Mr. Flood liberally contributed, Mr. Malone happened to call on him at his house in Berners Street, and the conversation turning on the proposed monument, Mr. Malone maintained that the epitaph, by whomsoever it should be written, ought to be in Latin. Mr. Flood thought differently. The next morning, in a postscript to a note on another subject, he men. tioned that he continued of the same opinion as on the preceding day, and subjoined the lines above given.”

acquainted with him. As, however, it may be expected that I should collect into one view the capital and distinguishing features of this extraordinary man, I shall endeavour to acquit myself of that part of my biographical undertaking, however difficult it may be to do that which many of my readers will do better for themselves.

His figure was large and well formed, and his countenance of the cast of an ancient statue; yet his appearance was rendered strange and somewhat uncouth, by con. vulsive cramps, by the scars of that distemper which it was once imagined the royal touch could cure, and by a slovenly mode of dress. He had the use only of one eye; yet so much does mind govern, and even supply the deficiency of organs, that his visual perceptions, as far as they extended, were uncommonly quick and accurate. So morbid was his temperament, that he never knew the natural joy of a free and vigorous use of his limbs: when he walked, it was like the struggling gait of one in fetters; when he rode, he had no command or direction of his horse, but was carried as if in a balloon. That with his constitution and habits of life he should have lived seventyfive years, is a proof that an inherent vivida vis is a powerful preservative of the human frame.

Man is, in general, made up of contradictory qualities ; and these will ever show themselves in strange succession, where a consistency in appearance at least, if not reality, has not been attained by long habits of philosophical discipline. In proportion to the native vigour of the mind, the contradictory qualities will be the more prominent, and more difficult to be adjusted ; and, therefore, we are not to wonder that Johnson exhibited an eminent example, of this remark which I have made upon human nature. At different times he seemed a different man in some respects; not, however, in any great or essential article, upon which he had fully employed his mind, and settled certain prin. ciples of duty, but only in his manners, and in the display of argument and fancy in his talk. He was prone to

1 As I do not see any reason to give a different character of my illustrious friend now from what I formerly gave, the greatest part of the sketch of him in my Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides is here adopted.

« PreviousContinue »