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His last letter to me then came, and affected me very tenderly:
“ TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
“ Lichfield, 5th November, 1784. “ DEAR SIR, - I have this summer sometimes amended, and sometimes relapsed, but, upon the whole, have lost ground very much. My legs are extremely weak, and my breath very short, and the water is now increasing upon me. In this uncomfortable state your letters used to relieve; what is the reason that I have them no longer? Are you sick, or are you sullen? Whatever be the reason, if it be less than necessity, drive it away; and of the short life that we have, make the best use for yourself and for your friends.
******. I am sometimes afraid that
omission to write has some real cause, and shall be glad to know that you are not sick, and that nothing ill has befallen dear Mrs. Boswell, or any of your family. I am, sir,
“ SAM. JOHNSON."
Yet it was not a little painful to me to find, that in a paragraph of this letter, which I have omitted, he still persevered in arraigning me as before, which was strange in him who had so much experience of what I suffered. I, however, wrote to him two as kind letters as I could ; the last of which came too late to be read by him, for his illness increased more rapidly upon him than I had apprehended; but I had the consolation of being informed that he spoke of me on his death-bed with affection, and I look forward with humble hope of renewing our friendship in a better world.
I now relieve the readers of this work from any farther personal notice of its authour; who, if he should be thought to have obtruded himself too much upon their attention, requests them to consider the peculiar plan of his biographical undertaking.
Soon after Johnson's return to the metropolis, both the asthma and dropsy became more violent and
distressful. He had for some time kept a journal in Latin of the state of his illness, and the remedies which he used, under the title of Ægri Ephemeris, which he began on the 6th of July, but continued it no longer than the 8th of November; finding, I suppose, that it was a mournful and unavailing register. It is in my possession; and is written with great care and accuracy.
Still his love of literature? did not fail. A few days before his death he transmitted to his friend, Mr. John Nichols, a list of the authours of the Universal History, mentioning their several shares in that work. It has, according to his direction, been deposited in the British Museum, and is printed in the Gentleman's Magazine for December, 1784%.
During his sleepless nights he amused himself by translating into Latin verse, from the Greek, many of the epigrams in the “Anthologia.” These trans
1 It is truly wonderful to consider the extent and constancy of Johnson's literary ardour, notwithstanding the melancholy which clouded and embittered his existence. Besides the numerous and various works which he executed, he had, at different times, formed schemes of a great many more, of which the following catalogue was given by him to Mr. Langton, and by that gentleman presented to his Majesty.-Boswell. (This catalogue, as Mr. Boswell calls it, is, by Dr. Johnson himself, intitled “DESIGNS,” and is written in a few pages of a small duodecimo note-book bound in rough calf. It seems from the hand, that it was written early in life : from the marginal dates it appears that some portions were added in 1752 and 1753. In the first page of this little volume, his late Majesty King George III. wrote with his own hand :
“ Original Manuscripts
G. R.” It has been thought more convenient to transfer this catalogue to the appendix. -Ed.]
2 As the letter accompanying this list (which fully supports the observation in the text) was written but a week before Dr. Johnson's death, the reader may not be displeased to find it here preserved :
- 6th December, 1784. “ The late learned Mr. Swinton, having one day remarked that one man, meaning, I suppose, no man but himself, could assign all the parts of the Ancient Universal History to their proper authours, at the request of Sir Robert Chambers, or of myself, gave the account which I now transmit to you in his
lations, with some other poems by him in Latin, he gave to his friend Mr. Langton, who, having added a few notes, sold them to the booksellers for a small sum to be given to some of Johnson's relations, which was accordingly done; and they are printed in the collection of his works.
A very erroneous notion has circulated as to Johnson's deficiency in the knowledge of the Greek language, partly owing to the modesty with which,
own hand; being willing that of so great a work the history should be known, and that each writer should receive his due proportion of praise from posterity.
“I recommend to you to preserve this scrap of literary intelligence in Mr. Swinton's own hand, or to deposit it in the Museum, that the veracity of this account may never be doubted. I am, sir, your most humble servant,
Turks, Tartars, and Moguls.
independency of the Arabs.
To the birth of Abraham; chiefly by Mr. Shelvock.
History of the Romans; by Mr. Bower.-BOSWELL. (Bishop Warburton, in a letter to Jortin, in 1749, speaks with great contempt of this work as s miserable trash,” and “ the infamous rhapsody called the Universal History." Nich. Anec. vol. ii. p. 173. But Mr. Gibbon's more favourable opinion of this work will, as Mr. Markland observes, claim as much attention as the “decrees” of Warburton, who has not improperly been termed by the former “ the dictator and tyrant of the world of literature. Gibbon speaks of the “ excel. lence of the first part of the Universal History as generally admitted.” The History of the Macedonians, he also observes, " is executed with much erudition, taste, and judgment. This history would be invaluable were all its parts of the same merit.”-Miscel, Works, v. 411, 428. Some curious facts relating to this work, and especially those parts of it committed to himself, will be found in Psalmanazar's Memoirs, p. 291. En.]
[On the subject of Dr. Johnson's skill in Greek, the Editor has great pleasure in quoting an anecdote told by his dear and lamented friend, the late Mr. Gifford, in his Life of Ford : “My friend the late Lord Grosvenor had a house at Salt-hill, where I usually spent a part of the summer, and thus became acquainted with that great and good man Jacob Bryant. Here the conversation turned one morning on a Greek criticism by Dr. Johnson in some volume lying on the table, which I ventured (for I was then young) to deem incorrect, and pointed it out to him. I could not help thinking that he was something of my opinion, but he was cautious and reserved. “But, sir,' said I,
from knowing how much there was to be learnt, he used to mention his own comparative acquisitions. When Mr. Cumberland' talked to him of the Greek fragments which are so well illustrated in “ The Observer,” and of the Greek dramatists in general, he candidly acknowledged his insufficiency in that particular branch of Greek literature. Yet it may be said, that though not a great, he was a good Greek scholar. Dr. Charles Burney, the younger, who is universally acknowledged by the best judges to be one of the few men of this age who are very eminent for their skill in that noble language, has assured me, that Johnson could give a Greek word for almost every English one; and that although not sufficiently conversant in the niceties of the language, he, upon some occasions, discovered, even in these, a considerable degree of critical acumen. Mr. Dalzel, professor of Greek at Edinburgh, whose skill is unquestionable, mentioned to me, in very liberal terms, the impression which was made upon him by Johnson, in a conversation which they had in London concerning that language. As Johnson, therefore,
willing to overcome his scruples, Dr. Johnson himself admitted that he was not a good Greek scholar.' Sir,' he replied with a serious and im. pressive air, it is not easy for us to say what such a man as Johnson would call a good Greek scholar. I hope that I profited by that lesson-certainly I never forgot it.” Gifford's Works of Ford, vol. i. p. lxii.- ED.)
Mr. Cumberland assures me, that he was always treated with great courtesy by Dr. Johnson, who, in his “ Letters to Mrs. Thrale," vol. ii. p. 68, thus speaks of that learned, ingenious, and accomplished gentleman: "The want of company is an inconvenience, but Mr. Cumberland is a million.”-BOSWELL. [The following is Mr. Cumberland's own evidence on the points alluded to by Mr. Boswell : “In quickness of intellect few ever equalled him; in profundity of erudition many have surpassed him. I do not think he had a pure and classical taste, nor was apt to be best pleased with the best authors, but as a general scholar he ranks very high. When I would have consulted him upon certain points of literature, whilst I was making my collections from the Greek dramatists for my essays in the Observer, he candidly acknowledged that his studies had not lain amongst them; and certain it is there is very little show of literature in his Ramblers; and in the passage where he quotes Aristotle he has not correctly given the meaning of the original: but this was merely the result of haste and inattention. Neither is he so to be measured, for he had so many parts and properties of scholarship about him, that you can only fairly review him as a man of general knowledge.”-Cumberland's Memoirs, vol. i. p. 361.-ED.)
was undoubtedly one of the first Latin scholars in modern times, let us not deny to his fame some additional splendour from Greek'.
[Even Mrs. Piozzi used to think Dr. Johnson more free than prudent in professing so loudly his little skill in the Greek language: for though he considered it as a proof of a narrow mind to be too careful of literary reputation®, yet no man could be more enraged than he, if an enemy, taking advantage of this confession, twitted him with his ignorance. When the King of Denmark was in England', one of his noblemen was brought by Mr. Colman to see Dr. Johnson at Mr. Thrale's country-house; and having heard, he said, that he was not famous for Greek literature, attacked him on the weak side; politely adding, that he chose that conversation on purpose to favour himself. Dr. Johnson, however, displayed so copious a knowledge of authors, books, and every branch of learning in that language, that the gentleman appeared astonished. When he was gone, Johnson said, “Now for all this triumph I may thank Thrale's Xenophon here, as, I think, excepting that one, I have not looked in a Greek book these ten years; but see what haste my dear friends were all in,” continued he, “ to tell this poor innocent foreigner that I knew nothing of Greek! Oh no! he knows nothing of Greek!” with a loud burst of laughing”.]
Johnson's affection for his departed relations seemed to grow warmer as he approached nearer to the time when he might hope to see them again. It
1 [In this place Mr. Boswell had introduced extracts from cotemporary writers whom he supposed to have imitated Johnson's style, which it has been thought convenient to transpose to the end of the life.-- Ed.]
? [Mrs. Piozzi would probably have expressed Johnson's sentiments more correctly if she had said, “He considered it a proof of a narrow mind to pretend to learning which one did not really possess.” -Ed.]
3 [In 1768.-ED.]
4 (It has been said that Dr. Johnson never exerted such steady application as he did for the last ten years of his life in the study of Greek. ED.)