1785 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

James Fordyce, "Epitaph proposed for Samuel Johnson" Gentleman's Magazine 55 (June 1785) 411-12.



Edgeware Road,

June 16, 1785.

MR. URBAN,

The part which the late Dr. Johnson was known to have taken in the introduction and establishment of the Gentleman's Magazine, makes me particularly desirous of a place for the inclosed in that learned and useful publication. His humility, respecting the inscription he ordered for his grave, is no reason why the admirers of his genius and virtues should not endeavour to do them justice. This I have attempted in the Epitaph I now send you. By inserting it in your next Number you will oblige, Sir,

Your most humble servant,

JAMES FORDYCE.

Under this stone are deposited,
Among poets, philosophers, orators, and heroes,
The remains of DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON,
Who united in himself
Their best qualities.
His imagination was bold, rich, and sublime;
His judgement clear and comprehensive,
Penetrating and profound,
The power of addressing at once,
The fancy, the understanding, and the heart,
He possessed in an eminent degree.
Of invincible resolution,
in the cause of truth and virtue,
He exhibited conspicuous marks.
The vices and follies
Of the fashionable or the affluent, the learned or the great,
He disdained to flatter.
The favour of an unprincipled age
He never courted,
By employing his talents to subvert religion or morals,
To propagate infidelity, or encourage licentiousness.
The former he strenuously vindicated, and constantly enforced:
The latter he firmly and openly condemned and exposed;
Standing forth on all occasions
The undaunted censor of the public,
The majestic teacher of mankind.
If in his conversation
He little studied the graces of polite address,
He was no stranger to the feelings
Of friendship or benevolence.
If in his writings
He sometimes neglected the softer arts of composition,
His style often pleased by its harmony,
And always impressed by its vigour.
On most subjects he thought for himself:
On none did he write or speak,
Without advancing something new or uncommon.
His wit was brilliant, ready, and unborrowed;
The vivid energy of sense,
Not a play of words, or the glitter of vivacity.
That he was perfectly acquainted
With the derivation and extent, the elevation and force,
Of the English tongue,
He hath left behind him an illustrious proof,
In his celebrated Dictionary of that language.
Whether he was more distinguished
By strength of memory, or universality of learning,
By critical or biographical skill,
Were difficult to determine.
His knowledge of nature and of life
Was chiefly intuitive;
And his representations of either
can only fail to affect and delight
The ignorant, or the prejudiced.
But that which crowns the character
Of this extraordinary man,
Is the length of years he devoted
To the improvement of his fellow-creatures,
From a principle of piety to his Creator.
He was born Sept. 7, 1709.
He died Dec. 13, 1784.