The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D., by James Boswell

1740: AETAT. 31.

In 1740 he wrote for the Gentleman’s Magazine the ‘Preface,’ ‘Life of Sir Francis Drake,’ and the first parts of those of ‘Admiral Blake,’ and of ‘Philip Baretier,’ both which he finished the following year. He also wrote an ‘Essay on Epitaphs,’ and an ‘Epitaph on Philips, a Musician,’ which was afterwards published with some other pieces of his, in Mrs. Williams’s Miscellanies. This Epitaph is so exquisitely beautiful, that I remember even Lord Kames, strangely prejudiced as he was against Dr. Johnson, was compelled to allow it very high praise. It has been ascribed to Mr. Garrick, from its appearing at first with the signature G; but I have heard Mr. Garrick declare, that it was written by Dr. Johnson, and give the following account of the manner in which it was composed. Johnson and he were sitting together; when, amongst other things, Garrick repeated an Epitaph upon this Philips by a Dr. Wilkes, in these words:

‘Exalted soul! whose harmony could please

The love-sick virgin, and the gouty ease;

Could jarring discord, like Amphion, move

To beauteous order and harmonious love;

Rest here in peace, till angels bid thee rise,

And meet thy blessed Saviour in the skies.’

Johnson shook his head at these common-place funereal lines, and said to Garrick, ‘I think, Davy, I can make a better.’ Then, stirring about his tea for a little while, in a state of meditation, he almost extempore produced the following verses:

‘Philips, whose touch harmonious could remove

The pangs of guilty power or hapless love;

Rest here, distress’d by poverty no more,

Here find that calm thou gav’st so oft before;

Sleep, undisturb’d, within this peaceful shrine,

Till angels wake thee with a note like thine!’

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31