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'■ O could my feeble powers thy \'irtues trace,
By filial love each fear should be suppress'd ;
The blush of incapacity I'd chace,
And stand— Recorder of Thy worth !— confess'd."

Ano7iymous Dedication of Evelina, to Dr. Burnet/, in 17/8,












Towards the end of this year, Dr. Johnson began
again to nearly monopolize the anxious friendship
of Dr. Biirney.

On the l6th of November, Dr. Johnson, in the
carriage, and under the revering care of Mr. Wind-
ham, returned from Litchfield to the metropolis ;
after a fruitless attempt to recover his health by
breathing again his natal air.

The very next day, he wrote the following note
to St. MartinVstreet.

" To Dr. Burney.
" Mr. Johnson, who came home last night, sends




his respects to dear Dr. Burney ; and to all the
dear Burneys, little and great.

" Bolt Court, 17th Nov. 1784."

Dr. Burney hastened to this kind call immedi-
ately ; but had the grief to find his honoured friend
much weakened, and in great pain ; though cheer-
ful, and struggling to revive. All of the Doctor's
family who had had the honour of admission, has-
tened to him also ; but chiefly his second daughter,
who chiefly and peculiarly was always demanded.

She w^as received with his w^onted, his never-failing
partiality ; and, as well as the Doctor, repeated her
visits by every opportunity during the ensuing short
three weeks of his earthly existence.

She will here copy, from the diary she sent to
Boulogne, an account of what, eventually, though
unsuspectedly, proved to be her last interview with
this venerated friend.

To Mrs. Phillips.

95th Nov, 1784. — Our dear father lent me the
carriage this morning for Bolt Court. You will
easily conceive how gladly I seized the opportunity
for making a longer visit than usual to my revered


Dr. Johnson, whose health, since his return from
Litchfield, has been deplorably deteriorated.

He was alone, and I had a more satisfactory and
entertaining conversation with him than I have had
for many months past. He was in better spirits, too,
than I have seen him, except upon our first meeting,
since he came back to Bolt Court.

He owned, nevertheless, that his nights were
grievously restless and painful ; and told me that
he was going, by medical advice, to try what sleep-
ing out of town might do for him. And then, with
a smile, but a smile of more sadness than mirth ! —
he added : "I remember that my wife, when she
was near her end, poor woman ! — was also advised
to sleep out of town : and when she was carried to
the lodging that had been prepared for her, she
complained that the staircase w^as in very bad con-
dition ; for the plaister was beaten off the walls in
many places. * O ! ' said the man of the house,
' that's nothing ; it's only the knocks against it of
the coffins of the poor souls that have died in the
lodging.' "

He forced a faint laugh at the man's brutal
honesty ; but it was a laugh of ill-disguised, though
checked, secret anguish.

B 2


I felt inexpressibly shocked, both by the per-
spective and retrospective view of this relation : but,
desirous to confine my words to the literal story, I
only exclaimed against the man's unfeeling ahsur-
ditij in making so unnecessary a confession.

" True ! " he cried ; " such a confession, to a per-
son then mounting his stairs for the recovery of her
health — or, rather, for the preservation of her life,
contains, indeed, more absurdity than we can well
lay our account to."

We talked then of poor Mrs. Thrale — but only for
a moment — for I saw him so greatly moved, and with
such severity of displeasure, that I hastened to start
another subject ; and he solemnly enjoined me to
mention that no more !

I gave him concisely the history of the Bristol
milk-woman, who is at present zealously patronized
by the benevolent Hannah More. I expressed my
suq^rise at the reports generally in circulation, that
the first authors that the milk-woman read, if not the
only ones, w^ere Milton and Young. ** I find it diffi-
cult," I added, ** to conceive how^ Milton and Young
could be the first authors with any reader. Could a
child understand them? And grown persons, who
have never read, are, in literature, children still."


'* Doubtless,'' he answered. ** But there is nothing
so little comprehended as what is Genius. They give
it to all, when it can be but a part. The milk-woman
had surely begun with some ballad — Chevy Chace
or the Children in the AVood. Genius is, in fact,
knoiving the use of fools. But there must be tools,
or how use them ? A man who has spent all his
life in this room, will give a very poor account of
what is contained in the next."

'* Certainly, sir ; and yet there is such a thing as
invention ? Shakespeare could never have seen a
Caliban ?"

" No ; but he had seen a man, and knew how^ to
vary him to a monster. A person, who would draw
a monstrous cow, must know first what a cow is
commonly ; or how can he tell that to give her an
ass's head, or an elephant's tusk, will make her
monstrous ? Suppose you show me a man, who is a
very expert carpenter, and that an admiring st an der-
by, looking at some of his works, exclaims : * O ! He
was born a carpenter ! ' What would have become of
that birth-right, if he had never seen any wood ? ''

Presently, dwelling on this idea, he went on. **Let
two men, one with genius, the other with none, look
together at an overturned waggon j he who ha« no


genius will think of the waggon only as he then sees
it ; that is to say, overturned, and walk on : he w^ho
has genius w^ill give it a glance of examination, that
will paint it to his imagination such as it w^as previ-
ously to its being overturned ; and when it was stand-
ing still ; and when it was in motion ; and when it was
heavy loaded ; and when it was empty : but both alike
must see the waggon to think of it at all."

The pleasure with which I listened to his illustra-
tion now animated him on ; and he talked upon this
milk-woman, and upon a once as famous shoe-maker ;
and then mounted his spirits and his subject to our
immortal Shakespeare ; flowing and glowing on, with
as much wit and truth of criticism and judgment, as
ever yet I have heard him display ; but, alack-a-day,
my Susan, I have no powder to give you the participa-
tion so justly your due. My paper is filling ; and I
have no franks for doubling letters across the chan-
nel ! But delightfully bright are his faculties, though
the poor, infirm, shaken machine that contains them
seems alarmingly giving way ! And soon, exhilarated
as he became by the pleasure of bestowing pleasure, I
saw a palpable increase of suffering in the niidst of his
sallies ; I offered, therefore, to go into the next
room, there to wait for the carriage ; an offer which,


for the first time ! he did not oppose ; but taking,
and most affectionately pressing, both my hands,
" Be not," he said, in a voice of even melting kind-
ness and concern, "be not longer in coming again
for my letting you go now !''

I eagerly assured him I would come the sooner,
and was running off ; but he called me back, and in
a solemn voice, and a manner the most energetic,
said : *' Remember me in your prayers ! ''

How affecting, my dearest Susanna, such an in-
junction from Dr. Johnson ! It almost — as once be-
fore — made me tremble, from surprise and emotion —
surprise he could so honour me, and emotion that
he should think himself so ill. I longed to ask him
so to remember me ! but he was too serious for
any parleying, and I knew him too well for offering
any disqualifying speeches : I merely, in a low voice,
and, I am sure, a troubled accent, uttered an instant,
and heart-felt assurance of obedience ; and then,
very heavily, indeed, in spirits, I left him. Great,
good, and surpassing that he is, how short a time will
he be our boast ! I see he is goino-. This winter
will never glide him on to a more genial season
here. Elsewhere, who may hope a fairer ? I now
wish I had asked for li is prayers ! and perhaps, so


encouraged, I ought : but I had not the presence of

# 4i» # # #

Melancholy was the rest of this year to Dr. Bur-
ney ; and truly mournful to his daughter, who, from
this last recorded meeting, felt redoubled anxiety
both for the health and the sio:ht of this illustrious
invalid. But all accounts thenceforward discouraged
her return to him, his pains daily becoming greater,
and his weakness more oppressive : added to which
obstacles, he was now, she was informed, almost con-
stantly attended by a group of male friends.

Dr. Burney, however, resorted to Bolt Court
every moment that he could tear from the imperious
calls of his profession ; and was instantly admitted ;
unless held back by insuperable impediments belong-
ing to the malady. He might, indeed, from the kind
regard of the sufferer, have seen him every day, by
watching, like some other assiduous friends, particu-
larly Messrs. Langton, Strahan, the Hooles, and
Sastres, whole hours in the house to catch a favour-
able minute ; but that, for Dr. Burney, was utterly
impossible. His affectionate devoirs could only be
received when he arrived at some interval of ease ;
and then the kind invalid constantly, and with tender
pleasure gave him welcom©.


The Memorialist was soon afterwards engaged on
a visit to Norbury Park ; but immediately upon her
return to town, presented herself, according to her
willing promise, at Bolt Court.

Frank Barber, the faithful negro, told her, with
great sorrow, that his master was very bad indeed,
though he did not keep his bed. The poor man
would have shewn her up stairs. This she declined,
desiring only that he w^ould let the Doctor know
that she had called to pay her respects to him, bu^
would by no means disturb him, if he w^ere not weN
enough to see her without inconvenience.

Mr. Straghan, the clergyman, was wdth him,
Frank said, alone ; and Mr. Straghan, in a few
minutes, descended.

Dr. Johnson, he told her, was very ill indeed, but
very much obliged to her for coming to him ; and
he had sent Mr. Straghan to thank her in his name,
but to say that he was so very bad, and very w^eak,
that he hoped she would excuse his not seeing her.

She was greatly disappointed ; but, leaving a
message of the most affectionate respect, acquiesced,
and drove away ; painfully certain how extremely
ill, or how sorrowfully low he must be, to decline
the sight of one whom so constantly, so partially, h»


had pressed, nay, adjured, " to come to him again
and again."

Fast, however, was approaching the time when he
could so adjure her no more !

From her firm conviction of his almost boundless
kindness to her, she was fearful now to importune
or distress him, and forbore, for the moment, re-
peating her visits ; leaving in Dr. Burney's hands
all propositions for their renewal. But Dr. Burney
himself, not arriving at the propitious interval, un-
fortunately lost sight of the sufferer for nearly a
week, though he sought it almost daily.

On Friday, the 10th of December, Mr. Seward
brought to Dr. Burney the alarming intelligence
from Frank Barber, that Dr. Warren had seen his
master, and told him that he might take what opium
he pleased for the alleviation of his pains.

Dr. Johnson instantly understood, and impres-
sively thanked him, and then gravely took a last
leave of him : after which, with the utmost kind-
ness, as wtH as composure, he formally bid adieu to
all his physicians.

Dr. Burney, in much affliction, hurried to Bolt
Court ; but the invalid seemed to be sleeping, and
could not be spoken to till he should open his eyes..


Mr. Straghan, the clergyman, gave, however, the
welcome information, that the terror of death had
now passed away ; and that this excellent man no
longer looked forward with dismay to his quick
ajDproaching end ; but, on the contrary, with what
he himself called the irradiation of hope.

This was, indeed, the greatest of consolations, at
so awful a crisis, to his grieving friend ; nevertheless,
Dr. Burney was deeply depressed at the heavy and
irreparable loss he w as so soon to sustain ; but he
determined to make, at least, one more eifort for a
parting sight of his so long-honoured friend. And,
on Saturday, the 1 1 th December, to his unspeakable
comfort, he arrived at Bolt Court just as the poor
invalid was able to be visible ; and he was immediately

Dr. Burney found him seated on a great chair,
propt up by pillows, and perfectly tranquil. He
aflPectionately took the Doctor's hand, and kindly
inquired after his health, and that of his family ; and
then, as evermore Dr. Johnson was wont to do, he
separately and very particularly named and dwelt
upon the Doctor's second daughter ; gently adding,
*' I hope Fanny did not take it amiss, that I did not
see her that morning ? — I was very bad indeed ! *'


Dr. Burney answered, that the word amiss coidd
never be apropos to her; and least of all now, wdien
he was so ill.

The Doctor ventured to stay about half an hour,
which was partly spent in quiet discourse, partly in
calm silence ; the invalid always perfectly placid in
looks and manner.

When the Doctor was retiring. Dr. Johnson again
took his hand and encouraged him to call yet another
time ; and afterwards, when again he was departing,
Dr. Johnson impressively said, though in a low voice,
** Tell Fanny — to pray for me ! " And then, still
holding, or rather grasping, his hand, he made a
prayer for himself, the most pious, humble, eloquent,
and touching. Dr. Burney said, that mortal man could
compose and utter. He concluded it w^ith an amen !
in which Dr. Burney fervently joined ; and which
was spontaneously echoed by all who were present.

This over, he brightened up, as if with revived
spirits, and opened cheerfully into some general
conversation ; and when Dr. Burney, yet a third
time, was taking his reluctant leave, something of his
old arch look played upon his countenance as, smil-
ingly he said, " Tell Fanny — I think I shall yet
throw the ball at her again ! "


A kindness so lively, following an injunction so
penetrating, reanimated a hope of admission in the
Memorialist ; and, after church, on the ensuing
morning, Sunday, the I'Sth of December, with the
fullest approbation of Dr. Burney, she repaired once
more to Bolt Court.

But grievously was she overset on hearing, at the
door, that the Doctor again was worse, and could
receive no one.

She summoned Frank Barber, and told him she
had understood, from her father, that Dr. Johnson
had meant to see her. Frank then, but in silence,
conducted her to the parlour. She begged him
merely to mention to the Doctor, that she had called
with most earnest inquiries ; but not to hint at
any expectation of seeing him till he should be

Frank went up stairs ; but did not return. A full
hour was consumed in anxious waitino;. She then
saw Mr. Langton pass the parlour door, which she
watchfully kept open, and ascend the stairs. She
had not courage to stop or speak to him, and another
hour lingered on in the same suspense.

But, at about four o'clock, Mr. Langton made his
appearance in the parlour.


She took it for granted he came accidentally, but
observed that, though he bowed, he forbore to speak ;
or even to look at her, and seemed in much disturbance.

Extremely alarmed, she durst not venture at any
question ; but Mrs. Davis,* who was there, uneasily
asked, ** How is Dr. Johnson now, Sir ? '^

" Going on to death very fast I" was the mournful

The Memorialist, grievously shocked and overset
by so hopeless a sentence, after an invitation so
sprightly of only the preceding evening from the
dying man himself, turned to the window to recover
from so painful a disappointment.

'' Has he taken any thing. Sir?'* said Mrs. Davis.

** Nothing at all ! We carried him some bread
and milk ; he refused it, and said, ' The less the
better ! ' "

Mrs. Davis then asked sundry other questions,
from the answers to which it fully appeared that his
faculties were perfect, and that his mind was quite

This conversation lasted about a quarter of an
hour, before the Memorialist had any suspicion that

* Mrs. Davis is mentioned more than once by Mr. Boswell.


Mr. Langton had entered the parlour purposely to
speak to her, and with a message from Dr. Johnson :

But as soon as she could summon sufficient firm-
ness to turn round, Mr. Langton solemnly said,
" This poor man, I understand, Ma'am, from Frank,
desired yesterday to see you."

" My understanding, or hoping that. Sir, brought
me hither to day."

" Poor man ! 'tis a pity he did not know himself
better ; and that you should not have been spared
this trouble."

*' Trouble?" she repeated; ** I would come an
hundred times to see Dr. Johnson the hundredth
and first ! "

" He begged me. Ma'am, to tell you that he
hopes you will excuse him. He is very sorry,
indeed, not to see you. But he desired me to
come and speak to you for him myself, and to tell
you, that he hopes you w411 excuse him ; for he feels
himself too w-eak for such an interview."

Struck and touched to the very heart by so kind,
though sorrowful a message, at a moment that
seemed so awful, the Memorialist hastily exj^ressed
something like thanks to Mr. Langton, who was
visibly affected, and, leaving her most affectionate


respects, with every warmly kind wish she couki
half utter, she hurried back to her father's coach.

The very next day, Monday, the 13th of Decem-
ber, Dr. Johnson expired — and without a groan.
Expired, it is thought, in his sleep.

He was buried in Westminster Abbey j and a
noble, almost colossal statue of him, in the high and
chaste workmanship) of Bacon, has been erected in
St. Paul's Cathedral.

The pall bearers were Mr. Burke, Mr. Windham,
Sir Joseph Banks, Mr. Colman, Sir Charles Bun-
bury, and Mr. Langton.

Dr. Burney, wdth all who were in London of the
Literary Club, attended the funeral. The Reverend
Dr. Charles Burney also joined the procession.


This year, happily for Dr. Burney, re-opened
with a new professional interest, that necessarily
called him from the tributary sorrow with which the
year 1784 had closed.

The engravings for the Commemoration of Handel
were now finished ; and a splendid copy of the work
was prepared for the King. Lord Sandwich, as one
of the chief Directors of the late festival, obligingly


offered his services for taking the Doctor under his
wing to present the book at the levee ; but his
Majesty gave Dr. Burney to understand, through
Mr. Nicohii, that he would receive it, at a private
audience, in his library.

This was an honour most gratifying to Dr. Bur-
ney, who returned from his interview at the palace,
in an elevation of pleasure that he communicated to
his family, with the social confidence that made the
charm of his domestic character.


He had found their Majesties together, without
any attendants or any state, in the library; where
he presented both to the King and to the Queen
a copy of his Commemoration.

They had the appearance of being in a serene rete
a tete, that bore every mark of frank and cheerful
intercourse. His reception was the most gracious ;
and they both seemed eager to look at his offerings,
which they instantly opened and examined.

" You have made. Dr. Burney,'* said his Majesty,
" a much more considerable book of this Commemo-



ration than I had expected ; or, perhaps, than you
had expected yourself?"

*' Yes, Sire," he answered ; " the subject grew upon
me as I proceeded, and a continual accumulation of
materials rendered it almost daily more interesting."

His Majesty then detailed his opinion of the
various performers ; and said that one thing only had
discredited the business, and that was the inharmo-
nious manner in which one of the bass singers had
sung his part ; which had really been more like a
man groaning in a fit of the cholic, than singing an air.

The Doctor laughingly agreed that such sort of
execution certainly more resembled a convulsive
noise, proceeding from some one in torture, than
any species of harmony; and that, therefore, as he
could not speak of that singer favourably in his
account, he had been wholly silent on his subject ; as
had been his practice in other similar instances.

The Queen seemed perfectly to understand, and
much to approve, the motive for this mild method of
treating want of abilities and powers to please, where
the will was good, and where the labour had been

The King expressed much admiration that the
full fortes of so vast a band, in accompanying the


singers, had never been too loud, even for a single
voice ; when it might so naturally have been ex-
pected that the accompaniments even of the softest
pianos, in such plenitude, would have been overpower-
ing to all vocal solos. He had talked, he said, both
with musical people and with philosophers upon the
subject ; but none of them could assign a reason, or
account for so astonishing a fact.

Something, then, bringing forth the name of
Shakespeare, the Doctor mentioned a translation of
his plays by Professor Eichenberg. The King,
laughing, exclaimed : " The Germans translate
Shakespeare ! why we don't understand him our-
selves : how should foreigners ?"

The Queen replied, that she thought Eichenberg
had rendered the soliloquies very exactly.

*' Aye," answered the King, " that is because, in
those serious speeches, there are none of those puns,
quibbles, and peculiar idioms of Shakespeare and his
times, for which there are no equivalents in other

The Doctor then begged permission to return his
most humble thanks to his Majesty, for the hints with
w^hich the work had been honoured during its com-
pilation. The King bowed ; and their Majesties

c 2


both re-opened their books to look at the engravings ;
when the King, remarking to several of them the
signature of E. F. Burney,* said : ''All your family
are geniuses, Dr. Burney. Your daughter — "

"0! your daughter," cried the Queen, lifting up
one of her hands, '* is a very extraordinary genius,
indeed ! "

" And is it true," said the King, eagerly, '' that
you never saw Evelina before it was printed ? "

"Nor even till long after it was published;"
answered the Doctor. This excited a curiosity for
the details that led, from question to question, to
almost all the history that has here been narrated ;
and which seemed so much to amuse their Majesties,
that they never changed the theme during the rest of
a long audience. And, probably, the parental plea-
sure obviously caused by their condescension, in-

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Online LibraryFanny BurneyMemoirs of Doctor Burney (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 23)