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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
9 [This was a mistake, which was not discovered till after Goldsmith's monument was put up in Wesminster Abbey. He was born Nov. 29, 1728; and therefore, when he died, he was in his fortysixth year. MALONE.]
* This prelate, who was afterwards translated to the See of Limerick, died at Wimbledon in Surry, June 7, 1806, in his eightieth year. The original Round Robin remained in his possession : the paper which Sir William Forbes transmitted to Mr. Boswell, being only a copy. MALONE.)
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 to tell the gentlemen, that he would alter the
? 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. This Epitaph is engraved upon Dr. Goldsmiib'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-sécured of classical stability. I cannot, however, but be of opinion, that it is not sufficiently discriminative. Applying to Goldsmith equally the epithets of “ Poetæ, Historici, Physici,” is surely not right; for as to his claim to the last of those epithets, I have heard Johnson him
“ 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 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.
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 the 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.
“ 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
3 Beside this Latin Epitaph, Johnson honoured the memory of his friend Goldsmith with a short one in Greek. See Vol. II. p. 270. VOL. III.