1786 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

A Lady, "Dr. Johnson's Ghost" General Evening Post (21 March 1786).



'Twas at the solemn hour of night,
When men and spirits meet,
That JOHNSON, huge majestic sprite,
Repair'd to Boswell's feet.

His face was like the full orb'd moon,
Wrapt in a threat'ning cloud,
That bodes the tempest bursting soon,
And winds that bluster loud.

Terrific was his angry look,
His pendent eye-brows frown'd;
Thrice in his hand he wav'd a book,
Then dash'd it on the ground.

"Behold," he cry'd, "perfidious man,
This object of my rage:
Bethink thee of the sordid plan
That form'd this venal page.

"Was it to make this base record,
That you my friendship sought;
Thus to retain each vagrant word,
Each undigested thought?

"Dar'st thou pretend that, meaning praise,
Thou seek'st to raise my name;
When all thy babbling pen betrays,
But gives me churlish fame?

"Do readers in these annals trace
The man that's wise and good?
No! — rather one of savage race,
Illib'ral, fierce, and rude.

"A traveller — whose discontent
No kindness can appease;
Who finds for spleen, perpetual vent,
In all he hears and sees.

"One whose ingratitude displays
The most ungracious guest;
Who hospitality repays
With bitter, biting jest.

"Ah! would, as o'er the hills we sped,
And climb'd the sterile rocks,
Some vengeful stone had struck thee dead,
Or steeple, spar'd by Knox!

"Thy adulation now I see,
And all its schemes unfold;
Thy av'rice, Boswell, cherish'd me,
To turn me into gold.

"So keepers guard the beasts they show,
And for their wants provide;
Attend their steps where'er they go,
And travel by their side.

"O! were it not that, deep and low,
Beyond thy reach I'm laid,
Rapacious Boswell had ere now
JOHNSON a mummy made."

He ceas'd, and stalk'd from Boswell's sight
With fierce indignant mien,
Scornful as Ajax' sullen sprite,
By sage Ulysses seen.

Dead paleness Boswell's cheek o'erspread,
His limbs with horror shook;
With trembling haste he left his bed,
And burnt his fatal book.

And thrice he call'd on JOHNSON'S name,
Forgiveness to implore!
Then thrice repeated — "injur'd Fame!"
And word — wrote never more.
Surbiton.