1786 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

Richard Graves, "Elegy on the Death of Dr. Samuel Johnson" Graves, Lucubrations (1786) 216-20.



Mature in age, with fame, with honour crown'd,
For virtue reverenc'd, as for wit renown'd;
Whose bosom glow'd with purest precepts fraught;
Whose life express'd each precept which he taught.
Such Johnson was — but is, alas! no more!
Let Literature herself the loss deplore;
With Piety and Virtue by her side,
In sable mourn their guardian and their pride.

Though life is frail, all human glories vain,
Yet Johnson's bays unfaded shall remain;
His works survive, to future ages dear,
And latest times his memory revere;
Who first from fashion's laws our language freed
(A task, where none but Johnson could succeed;)
With genius, taste, and erudition join'd,
Each term abstruse, each dubious phrase defin'd,
And fix'd the standard of that wavering tongue,
In which himself had written — Pope had sung.

As plann'd by him, e'en dictionaries please;
He moral truths has taught with classic ease:
Add, that his writings blend, thro' every page,
The christian hero, and the learned sage.

Our Poets' works, with critic skill he weigh'd,
Their faults, their beauties, and their lives display'd.
From him, to judge with freedom we may learn,
And solid sense from empty sound discern.
Himself correct, he hardly knew to spare
Those bards, who boldly vend unfinish'd ware.
Unaw'd by names, if by too rigid laws
Some bards he judg'd, who merit just applause,
With equal candour, by a gentler test,
He others tried, whom rival wits oppress'd.
E'en Watts and Blackmore, whose flat strains abound
With pious traits, in him a patron found.

But while we justly praise what Johnson wrote,
Are then his humble charities forgot?
Himself not rich, he shar'd his slender store
With those who were, but ought not to be, poor;
Sought modest merit, in its dark abode,
The naked cloth'd, and gave the hungry food.

Nor were his friendships less his joy or pride,
With whom in friendship Garrick liv'd and died.
And Reynolds, doom'd, alas! his friend to mourn,
And deck with cypress wreaths his hallow'd urn;
Whose matchless skill has done, what painting can,
That those who read his works, may view the man.
Nor, Thurlow, thou disdain thy meed of praise,
Whose bounty strove thy drooping friend to raise,
If haply warmer climes might yet restore
That health, which medicine could assist no more.

Stern foe to vice, by virtue's friends caress'd,
Thus Johnson liv'd, with learned leisure blest;
Happy through life, yet happier in his end,
Who, dying, claim'd his Saviour for his friend.
Ob. 13 Dec. 1784.