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On the evening of the next day I took leave of him, being to set out for Scotland. I thanked him with great warmth for all his kindness. “Sir,” said he, "you are . very welcome. Nobody repays it with more.”
How very false is the notion that has gone round the world, of the rough and passionate and harsh manners of this great and good man. That he had occasional sallies of heat of temper, and that he was sometimes perhaps too “ easily provoked” by absurdity and folly, and sometimes too desirous of triumph in colloquial contest, must be allowed. The quickness both of his perception and sensibility disposed him to sudden explosions of satire; to which his extraordinary readiness of wit was a strong and almost irresistible incitement. To adopt one of the finest images in Mr. Home's Douglas,
- On each glance of thought Decision followed, as the thunderbolt
Pursues the flash ! I admit that the beadle within him was often so eager to apply the lash, that the judge had not time to consider the case with sufficient deliberation.
That he was occasionally remarkable for violence of temper may be granted: but let us ascertain the degree, and not let it be supposed that he was in a perpetual rage, and never without a club in his hand to knock down every one who approached him. On the contrary, the truth is, that by much the greatest part of his time he was civil, obliging, nay, polite, in the true sense of the word; so much so, that many gentlemen who were long acquainted with him never received, or even heard a strong expression from him.
The following letters concerning an epitaph which he wrote for the monument of Dr. Goldsmith in Westminster abbey, afford at once a proof of his unaffected modesty, his carelessness as to his own writings, and of the great respect which he entertained for the taste and judgement of the excellent and eminent person to whom they are addressed.
TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. “ DEAR SIR, I have been kept away from you, I know not well how; and of these vexatious hindrances I know not when there will be an end. I therefore send you the poor dear doctor's epitaph. Read it first yourself ; and if you then think it right, show it to the club. I am, you know, willing to be corrected. If you think any thing much amiss, keep it to yourself till we come together. I have sent two copies, but prefer the card. The dates must be settled by Dr. Percy.
" I am, sir,
“ SAM. JOHNSON. “ May 16, 1776."
TO THE SAME..
“SIR,-Miss Reynolds has a mind to send the epitaph to Dr. Beattie: I am very willing ; but having no copy, cannot immediately recollect it. She tells me you have lost it. Try to recollect, and put down as much as you retain ; you perhaps may have kept what I have dropped. The lines for which I am at a loss are something of 'rerum civilium sive naturalium 9.' It was a sorry trick to lose it: help me if you can.
“I am, sir,
“ SAM. JOHNSON. “ June 22, 1776. “ The gout grows better but slowly.”
It was, I think, after I had left London this year, that this epitaph gave occasion to a remonstrance to the Monarch of Literature, for an account of which I am indebted to sir William Forbes of Pitsligo.
9 These words must have been in the other copy. They are not in that which was preferred.-- Boswell.
- That my readers may have the subject more fully and clearly before them, I shall first insert the epitaph.
Poetæ, physici, historici,
In loco cui nomen Pallas,
Sir William Forbes writes to me thus: “ I enclose the * round robin. This jeu d'esprit took its rise one day at dinner at our friend sir Joshua Reynolds's. All the company present, except myself, were friends and acquaintance of Dr. Goldsmith. The epitaph written for him by Dr. Johnson became the subject of conversation, and various emendations were suggested, which it was agreed should be submitted to the doctor's consideration. But the question was, who should have the courage to propose them to him? At last it was hinted, that there could be no way so good as that of a round robin, as the sailors call it, which they make use of when they enter into a conspiracy, so as not to let it be known who puts his name first
r Mr. Malone has detected this mistake, which was not discovered till after Goldsmith's monument was put up in Westminster abbey. He was born Nov. 29, 1728; and therefore when he died he was in his forty-sixth year.-ED,