1785 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

B. Walwyn, "An Elegy on Dr. Johnson" Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (21 January 1785).



Mourn, Albion, mourn! thy Johnson is no more,
Whose learning has immortaliz'd thy name:
He was thy boast and pride in classic lore,
Which rivals now the Greek and Roman fame.

Thy language to his pen more beauty owes—
Varied in phrase, and in expression chaste,
Purified in style, and strong in sense it flows,
Enrich'd with words, and dignified with taste.

His thoughts were manly, and with truth combin'd—
His sentiments were just — his morals pure;
Whate'er he wrote, 'twas copious and refin'd;
For from his brain came wisdom all mature.

Ah! mourn, ye Muses, o'er his honour'd shade,
Who, to your charms, oft tun'd fair Albion's lyre;
And caus'd to bloom anew thy laurel glade,
Whose verdant branches fann'd his youthful fire.

Mourn, mourn, ye youth of Albion's sea-girt plain,
Upon his tomb shed new the grateful tear;
'Twas he who taught ye worth and peace to gain,
And form'd thy mind fair Virtue to revere.

Light draw thy sable curtain o'er the dale,
While Genius o'er her fav'rite minstrel weeps,
While sadness echoes in the vault her tale,
Where learning low with her lov'd Johnson sleeps.

As gray-ey'd morn a golden eve foretells,
Misfortune on his dawning genius frown'd—
But with immortals now for e'er he dwells,
And thus, a golden eve his day has crown'd.

Oft Genius wanders full of anxious care,
And meets a foe, where it would make a friend—
And as a woodbine, while it scents the air,
Falls to the ground, if none assistance lend.

But if supported, then each tendril strays,
And round the bow'r bespreads its fragrant bloom,
To shed such sweets of gratitude repay,
And fall to deck its cultivator's tomb.

In him this first of truths, with joy, we find—
Ye strengthen Genius, while ye twine its bays—
The noblest culture is the genial mind:
Ye have its labour — give it but your praise.

Genius would, like an aloe, rear its head,
Which to the shrubs below a sovereign appear,
But Envy on its birth, with frequent tread,
And, thus it blooms, scarce in an hundred years.

Merit is not scarce — 'tis want of aid,
That Genius now on earth so seldom's seen;
In ev'ry clime its rays would be display'd,
If Fame would but its youth from Envy screen.

On earth, no merit ever can be found,
That tries the mind to teach, or heart to heal,
That Envy's shaft so deep as authors wound;
For pierc'd their fame, the pain they always feel.

But worth, like his, no Envy could impair,
Like Phoebus for his song was he renown'd.
He taught the swains of cities to beware,
And live in peace, while flocks their cots surround.

For well he knew Content is here unknown—
That Worth and Innocence neglected pine—
The impudence and Vice here thrive alone,
And knaves in spoils of woe most splendid shine.

Here he had seen and felt the wretch's pain,
Who scorn'd to prostitute his worth for gold,
Was left to starve beneath the proud disdain—
Fainting with famine — shiv'ring with the cold.

Here Modesty he saw bewilder'd stray—
Despis'd and shunn'd by all the great and vile;
Amid a croud to find a desert way—
Where none will pity — but where all beguile.

Here to the roofless child of varied woes,
He found, inhospitably, clos'd the door;
For Luxury to such no pity shows,
Who rich themselves, feel ever for the poor!

To him seem'd Friendship, meagre as a shade—
Eluding those who would its form embrace;
A viewless breath that sordid int'rest made—
Lib'ral benevolence from man to chace.

He saw that ev'ry joy the wealthy taste,
Debas'd their nature more than pleas'd the mind—
That all their pleasure was their wealth to waste,
And, thus, so few that's good and great we find.

Where e'er he turn'd, no longer Love was seen,
Sighing with bliss upon the fair one's breast;
For Affectation wore his heav'nly mien,
And chac'd the God with humble swains to rest.

Such were the sordid scenes that he survey'd,
Whose woes he felt, although their vice he blam'd;
But where was Virtue, there he tribute paid;
For to amend mankind he always aim'd.

He was, to rising Genius, e'er a friend—
Proud all its worth with honour to display—
Candid in praise, and careful faults to mend,
He was to Fame companion of their way.

He knew the blessing of immortal praise,
And that no good below with this compares;
For nothing here on earth life's woe repays,
Where to be born, is to inherit cares.

He chid the vicious, but distress'd reliev'd;
His heart was lib'ral, as his mind was great;
And beggars that from want he had retriev'd,
He more respected, than the Peers of State.

To him mankind were all of equal worth,
Whose only privilege is to be good;
And if there was a wretch he scorn'd on earth,
'Twas he who but distinction understood.

But where shall now his friends such pleasure find,
As late his mirth and wit would oft afford,
Where elegance and sense most brilliant shin'd,
When he presided at the festive board?

But cease to mourn his loss, his dearest friends;
For he is gone and left a world of woe,
Where ev'ry moment some new sorrow sends,
Where diff'rent state is diff'rent pain to know.

Beneath our feet here nought but thorns arise,
On either hand rapacious heaths surround;
Above our heads loud thunders rend the skies,
While earthquakes oft display the nether ground.

Want, as a hag, broods o'er the peasant's cot,
And, as a vulture, pride on breasts of kings;
Lust, as a viper, is in youth begot,
While each of these on age too frequent clings.

And what is life? 'Tis but a Winter's day—
The mist of ignorance obscures its dawn,
And o'er its noon scarce shines of sense a ray,
When Night of Death is come and all withdrawn.

'Tis but a spider that a cobweb spins,
And from its entrails draws the tender thread;
Whose labour only ends where it begins—
And breathe but Heav'n the labour'd fabrick's fled!

Or 'tis a painted cloud which night despoils,
Or else a drop of dew which day destroys;
Or 'tis a vapour mocking all our toils—
Rose but from earth to overgloom our joys.

In life we only stand the mark of fate,
Whose sport is but to wound a mortal breast—
Her flying game is all the rich and great,
While oft the poor she leaves beneath to rest.

What is its glory but pale envy's food?
Though we respire — Ah, yet, we never live!
The present moment makes our age a jest;
For it is gone e're it can pleasure give.

And, thus, the present but entombs the past,
And opes a grave the future to enclose;
And Time but runs to bring us at the last
To that UNKNOWN from whence at first we rose.

Then mourn no longer, friends, his late decease—
Death is but rest, for which all life we toil:
'Tis of our passion's war an endless peace,
Or harvest home enjoy'd by ev'ry soil.

Within the grave no longer starve the poor,
Nor there the widow her lost husband mourns;
There Death from all misfortune guards the door,
While man in peace within his realm sojourns.