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THE ROUND ROBIN
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 or last to the paper. This proposition was instantly assented to; and Dr. Barnard, Dean of Derry, now Bishop of Killaloe, drew up an address to Dr. Johnson on the occasion, replete with wit and humour, but which it was feared the Doctor might think treated the subject with too much levity. Mr. Burke then proposed the address as it stands in the paper in writing, to which I had the honour to officiate as clerk.
Sir Joshua agreed to carry it to Dr. Johnson, who received it with much good humour ', and desired Sir Joshua
1 He however, upon seeing Dr. Warton's name to the suggestion, that the Epitaph should be in English, observed to Sir Joshua, 'I wonder that Joe Warton, a scholar by profession, should be such a fool.' He said too, 'I should have thought Mund Burke would have had more sense.' Mr. Langton, who was one of the company at Sir Joshua's, like a sturdy scholar, resolutely refused to sign the Round Robin. The Epitaph is engraved upon Dr. Goldsmith's monument without any alteration. At another time, when somebody endeavoured to argue in favour of its being in English, Johnson said, 'The language of the country of which a learned man was a native, is not the language fit for his epitaph, which should be in ancient and permanent language. Consider, Sir; how you should feel, were you to find at Rotterdam an epitaph upon Erasmus in Dutch!' For my own part I think it would be best to have Epitaphs written both in a learned language, and in the language of the country; so that they might have the advantage of being more universally understood, and at the same time be secured of classical stability. I cannot, however, but be of opinion, that it is not sufficiently discriminative. Applying to Goldsmith equally the epithets of 'Poeta, Historici, Physici,' is surely not right; for as to his claim to the last of those epithets, I have heard Johnson himself say, 'Goldsmith, Sir, will give us a very fine book upon the subject; but if he can distinguish a cow from a horse, that, I believe, may be the extent of his knowledge of natural history.' His book is indeed an excellent performance, though in some instances he
THE ROUND ROBIN
to tell the gentlemen, that he would alter the Epitaph in any manner they pleased, as to the sense of it; but he would never consent to disgrace the walls of Westminster Abbey with an English inscription.
"I consider this Round Robin as a species of literary curiosity worth preserving, as it marks, in a certain degree, Dr. Johnson's character.'
My readers are presented with a faithful transcript of a paper, which I doubt not of their being desirous to see.
Sir William Forbes's observation is very just. The anecdote now related proves, in the strongest manner, the reverence and awe with which Johnson was regarded, by some of the most eminent men of his time, in various departments, and even by such of them as lived most with him; while it also confirms what I have again and again inculcated, that he was by no means of that ferocious and irascible character which has been ignorantly imagined.
This hasty composition is also to be remarked as one of a thousand instances which evince the extraordinary promptitude of Mr. Burke; who while he is equal to the greatest things, can adorn the least; can, with equal facility, embrace the vast and complicated speculations of politicks, or the ingenious topicks of literary investigation '.
'DR. JOHNSON TO MRS. BOSWELL.
'MADAM,-You must not think me uncivil in omitting to answer the letter with which you favoured me some time ago. I imagined it to have been written without Mr. Boswell's knowledge, and therefore supposed the answer to require, what I could not find, a private conveyance.
The difference with Lord Auchinleck is now over; and
appears to have trusted too much to Buffon, who, with all his theoretical ingenuity and extraordinary eloquence, I suspect had little actual information in the science on which he wrote so admirably. For instance, he tells us that the cow sheds her horns every two years; a most palpable errour, which Goldsmith has faithfully transferred into his book. It is wonderful that Buffon, who lived so much in the country, at his noble seat, should have fallen into such a blunder. I suppose he has confounded the cow with the deer.
Beside this Latin Epitaph, Johnson honoured the memory of his friend Goldsmith with a short one in Greek. See ante, July 5, 1774.
BOSWELL'S ATTACK OF MELANCHOLY [1776
since young Alexander has appeared, I hope no more difficulties will arise among you; for I sincerely wish you all happy. Do not teach the young ones to dislike me, as you dislike me yourself; but let me at least have Veronica's kindness, because she is my acquaintance.
'You will now have Mr. Boswell home; it is well that you have him; he has led a wild life. I have taken him to Lichfield, and he has followed Mr. Thrale to Bath. Pray take care of him, and tame him. The only thing in which I have the honour to agree with you is, in loving him; and while we are so much of a mind in a matter of so much importance, our other quarrels will, I hope, produce no great bitterness. I am, Madam, your most humble servant,
'May 16, 1776.'
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, June 25, 1776. 'You have formerly complained that my letters were too long. There is no danger of that complaint being made at present; for I find it difficult for me to write to you at all. [Here an account of having been afflicted with a return of melancholy or bad spirits.]
1 The boxes of books 1 which you sent to me are arrived; but I have not yet examined the contents. . . .
'I send you Mr. Maclaurin's paper for the negro, who claims his freedom in the Court of Session.'
'DR. JOHNSON TO MR. BOSWELL.
'DEAR SIR,-These black fits, of which you complain, perhaps hurt your memory as well as your imagination. When did I complain that your letters were too long?? Your last letter, after a very long delay, brought very bad news. [Here a series of reflections upon melancholy, and— what I could not help thinking strangely unreasonable in him who had suffered so much from it himself,—a good deal of severity and reproof, as if it were owing to my own fault,
Upon a settlement of our account of expences on a Tour to the Hebrides, there was a balance due to me, which Dr. Johnson chose to discharge by sending books.
2 Baretti told me that Johnson complained of my writing very long letters to him when I was upon the continent; which was most certainly true; but it seems my friend did not remember it.
or that I was, perhaps, affecting it from a desire of distinction.]
'Read Cheyne's English Malady; but do not let him teach you a foolish notion that melancholy is a proof of
To hear that you have not opened your boxes of books is very offensive. The examination and arrangement of so many volumes might have afforded you an amusement very seasonable at present, and useful for the whole of life. I am, I confess, very angry that you manage yourself so ill.
'I do not now say any more, than that I am, with great kindness, and sincerity, dear Sir, your humble servant, 'July 2, 1776.' SAM. JOHNSON.'
'It was last year determined by Lord Mansfield, in the Court of King's Bench, that a negro cannot be taken out of the kingdom without his own consent.'
'DR. JOHNSON TO MR. BOSWELL.
'DEAR SIR,—I make haste to write again, lest my last letter should give you too much pain. If you are really oppressed with overpowering and involuntary melancholy, you are to be pitied rather than reproached...
'Now, my dear Bozzy, let us have done with quarrels and with censure. Let me know whether I have not sent you a pretty library. There are, perhaps, many books among them which you never need read through; but there are none which it is not proper for you to know, and sometimes to consult. Of these books, of which the use is only occasional, it is often sufficient to know the contents, that, when any question arises, you may know where to look for information.
Since I wrote, I have looked over Mr. Maclaurin's plea, and think it excellent. How is the suit carried on? If by subscription, I commission you to contribute, in my name, what is proper. Let nothing be wanting in such a case. Dr. Drummond', I see, is superseded. His father would
1 The son of Johnson's old friend, Mr. William Drummond. (See vol. i. pp. 352-5.) He was a young man of such distinguished merit, that he was nominated to one of the medical professorships in the College of Edinburgh without solicitation, while he was at Naples.
BOSWELL'S MELANCHOLY RELIEVED [1776
have grieved; but he lived to obtain the pleasure of his son's election, and died before that pleasure was abated.
'Langton's lady has brought him a girl, and both are well; I dined with him the other day.
'It vexes me to tell you, that on the evening of the 29th of May I was seized by the gout, and am not quite well. The pain has not been violent, but the weakness and tenderness were very troublesome, and what is said to be very uncommon, it has not alleviated my other disorders. Make use of youth and health while you have them; make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell. I am, my dear Sir, your most affectionate
'July 6, 1776.'
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'Edinburgh, July 18, 1776. Your letter of the second of this month was rather a harsh medicine; but I was delighted with that spontaneous tenderness, which, a few days afterwards, sent forth such balsam as your next brought me. I found myself for some time so ill that all I could do was to preserve a decent appearance, while all within was weakness and distress. Like a reduced garrison that has some spirit left, I hung out flags, and planted all the force I could muster, upon the walls. I am now much better, and I sincerely thank you for your kind attention and friendly counsel....
'Count Manucci 1 came here last week from travelling in Ireland. I have shewn him what civilities I could on his own account, on your's, and on that of Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. He has had a fall from his horse, and been much hurt. I regret this unlucky accident, for he seems to be a very amiable man.'
As the evidence of what I have mentioned at the beginning of this year, I select from his private register the following passage:
'July 25, 1776. O GOD, who hast ordained that whatever
Having other views, he did not accept of the honour, and soon afterwards died.
A Florentine nobleman, mentioned by Johnson in his Notes of his Tour in France. I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with him in London, in the spring of this year.