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JOHNSON'S LAST ILLNESS-HIS LIBERALITY TO HIS BLACK SERVANT-HIS WILL
is not my intention to give a very minute detail of the particulars of
was fast approaching, when he must "die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Yet it will be instructive, as well as gratifying to the curiosity of my readers, to record a few circumstances, on the authenticity of which they may perfectly rely, as I have been at the utmost pains to obtain an accurate account of his last illness, from the best authority.
Dr. Heberden, Dr. Brocklesby, Dr. Warren, and Dr. Butter, physicians, generously attended him, without accepting any fees, as did Mr. Cruikshank, surgeon; and all that could be done from professional skill and ability was tried, to prolong a life so truly valuable. He himself, indeed, having, on account of his very bad constitution, been perpetually applying himself to medical inquiries, united his own efforts with those
of the gentlemen who attended him; and imagining that the dropsical collection of water which oppressed him might be drawn off by making incisions in his body, he, with his usual resolute defiance of pain, cut deep when he thought that his surgeon had done it too tenderly.1
About eight or ten days before his death, when Dr. Brocklesby paid him his morning visit, he seemed very low and desponding, and said, “I have been as a dying man all night." He then emphatically broke out in the words of Shakspeare,
"Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased;
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow;
And, with some sweet oblivious antidote,
Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff,
To which Dr. Brocklesby readily answered, from the same great poet : -therein the patient
Must minister to himself."
Johnson expressed himself much satisfied with the application.
On another day, after this, when talking on the subject of prayer, Dr. Brocklesby repeated from Juvenal,
"Orandum est, ut sit mens sana in corpore sano,"
and so on to the end of the tenth satire; but in running it quickly over, he happened, in the line,
Qui spatium vitæ extremum inter munera ponat,"
to pronounce supremum for extremum; at which Johnson's critical ear instantly took offence, and discoursing vehemently on the unmetrical effect of such a lapse, he showed himself as full as ever of the spirit of the grammarian.
Having no other relations, it had been for some time Johnson's in
I This bold experiment Sir John Hawkins has related in such a manner as to suggest a charge against Johnson of intentionally hastening his end; a charge so very inconsistent with his character in every respect, that it is injurious even to refute it, as Sir John has thought it necessary to do. It is evident that what Johnson did in hopes of relief, indicated an extraordinary eagerness to retard his dissolution.-BOSWELL.
2 The author in a former page has shown the injustice of Sir John Hawkins's charge against Johnson, with respect to a person of the name of Heely, whom he has inaccurately represented as a relation of Johnson's. See p. 249.-That Johnson was anxious to discover whether any of his relations were living, is evinced by the following letter, written not long before he made his will:
"TO THE REV. DR. VYSE, IN LAMBETH.
"SIR, Bolt-court, Fleet-street, Nov. 29, 1784. "I am desirous to know whether Charles Scrimshaw, of Woodsease (I think), in your father's neighbourhood, be now living; what is his condition, and where he may be found. If you can conveniently make an inquiry about him, and can do it without delay, it will be an act of great kindness to me, he being very nearly related to me. I beg you to pardon this trouble. I am, Sir, your most humble servant,
In conformity to the wish expressed in the preceding letter, an inquiry was made, but
tention to make a liberal provision for his faithful servant, Mr. Francis Barber, whom he looked upon as particularly under his protection, and whom he had all along treated truly as an humble friend. Having asked Dr. Brocklesby what would be a proper annuity to a favourite servant, and being answered that it must depend on the circumstances of the master; and, that in the case of a nobleman, fifty pounds a year was considered as an adequate reward for many years' faithful service:- Then," said Johnson, "shall I be nobilissimus, for I mean to leave Frank seventy pounds a year, and I desire you to tell him so." It is strange, however, to think, that Johnson was not free from that general weakness of being averse to execute a will, so that he delayed it from time to time; and had it not been for Sir John Hawkins's repeatedly urging it I think it is probable that his kind resolution would not have been fulfilled. After making one, which, as Sir John Hawkins informs us, extended no farther than the promised annuity, Johnson's final disposition of his property was established by a Will and Codicil, of which copies are subjoined.1
no descendants of Charles Scrimshaw or of his sisters were discovered to be living. Dr. Vyse informs me that Dr. Johnson told him, "he was disappointed in the inquiries he had made after his relations." There is therefore no ground whatsoever for supposing that he was unmindful of them, or neglected them.-MALONE.
I❝IN THE NAME OF GOD. AMEN. I, SAMUEL JOHNSON, being in full possession of my faculties, but fearing this night may put an end to my life, do ordain this my last Will and Testament. I bequeath to God a soul polluted by many sins, but I hope purified by Jesus Christ, I leave seven hundred and fifty pounds in the hands of Bennet Langton, Esq.; three hundred pounds in the hands of Mr. Barclay and Mr. Perkins, brewers; one hundred and fifty pounds in the hands of Dr. Percy, Bishop of Dromore; one thousand pounds, Three per cent. Annuities in the public funds; and one hundred pounds now lying by me in ready money: all these before-mentioned sums and property I leave, I say, to Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir John Hawkins, and Dr. William Scott, of Doctors' Commons, in trust, for the following uses :-That is to say, to pay to the representatives of the late William Innys, bookseller, in St. Paul's Churchyard, the sum of two hundred pounds; to Mrs. White, my female servant, one hundred pounds stock in the Three per cent. Annuities aforesaid. The rest of the aforesaid sums of money and property, together with my books, plate, and household furniture, I leave to the beforementioned Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir John Hawkins, and Dr. William Scott, also in trust, to be applied, after paying my debts, to the use of Francis Barber, my man-servant, a negro, in such manner as they shall judge most fit and available to his benefit. And I appoint the aforesaid Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir John Hawkins, and Dr. William Scott, sole executors of this my last will and testament, hereby revoking all former wills and testaments whatever. In witness whereof, I hereunto subscribe my name, and affix my seal, this eighth day of December, 1784.
"SAM. JOHNSON (L.S.) Signed, sealed, published, declared, and delivered, by the said testator, as his last will and testament, in the presence of us, the word two being first inserted in the opposite page.
"By way of Codicil to my last will and testament, I, SAMUEL JOHNSON, give, devise, and bequeath my messuage or tenement situate at Lichfield, in the county of Stafford, with the appurtenances in the tenure and occupation of Mrs. Bond, of Lichfield aforesaid, or of Mr. Hinchman, her under-tenant, to my executors in trust, to sell and dispose of the same; and the money arising from such sale I give and bequeath as fol lows-viz., to Thomas and Benjamin, the sons of Fisher Johnson, late of Leicester, and
The consideration of numerous papers of which he was possessed, seems to have struck Johnson's mind with a sudden anxiety, and as
Whiting, daughter of Thomas Johnson, late of Coventry, and the granddaughter of the said Thomas Johnson, one full and equal fourth part each; but in case there shall be more grand-daughters than one of the said Thomas Johnson, living at the time of my decease, I give and bequeath the part or share of that one to and equally between such grand-daughters. I give and bequeath to the Rev. Mr. Rogers, of Berkley, near Froom, in the county of Somerset, the sum of one hundred pounds, requesting him to apply the same towards the maintenance of Elizabeth Herne, a lunatic. I also give and bequeath to my god-children, the son and daughter of Mauritius Lowe, painter, each of them one hundred pounds of my stock in the Three per cent. Consolidated Annuities, to be applied and disposed of by and at the discretion of my executors, in the education or settlement in the world of them my said legatees. Also I give and bequeath to Sir John Hawkins, one of my executors, the Annales Ecclesiastici of Baronius, and Holinshed's and Stowe's Chronicles, and also an octavo Common Prayer Book. To Bennet Langton, Esq., I give and bequeath my Polyglot Bible. To Sir Joshua Reynolds, my great French Dictionary, by Martiniere, and my own copy of my folio English Dictionary of the last revision. To Dr. William Scott, one of my executors, the Dictionnaire de Commerce, and Lectius's edition of the Greek Poets. To Mr. Windham, Poetæ Græci Heroici per Henricum Stephanum. To the Rev. Mr. Strahan, Vicar of Islington, in Middlesex, Mill's Greek Testament, Beza's Greek Testament, by Stephens, all my Latin Bibles, and my Greek Bible, by Wechelius. To Dr. Heberden, Dr. Brocklesby, Dr. Butter, and Mr. Cruikshank, the surgeon who attended me, Mr. Holder, my apothecary, Gerard Hamilton, Esq., Mrs. Gardiner, of Snow-hill, Mrs. Frances Reynolds, Mr. Hoole, and the Reverend Mr. Hoole, his son, each a book at their election, to keep as a token of remembrance. I also give and bequeath to Mr. John Desmoulins, two hundred pounds Consolidated Three per cent. Annuities; and to Mr. Sastres, the Italian master, the sum of five pounds, to be laid out in books of piety for his own use. And whereas the said Bennet Langton hath agreed, in consideration of the sum of seven hundred and fifty pounds, mentioned in my will to be in his hands, to grant and secure an annuity of seventy pounds, payable during the life of me and my servant, Francis Barber, and the life of the survivor of us, to Mr. George Stubbs, in trust for us; my mind and will is, that in case of my decease before the said agreement shall be perfected, the said sum of seven hundred and fifty pounds, and the bond for securing the said sum, shall go to the said Francis Barber; and I hereby give and bequeath to him the same, in lieu of the bequest in his favour, contained in my said will. And I hereby empower my, executors to deduct and retain all expenses that shall or may be incurred in the execution of my said will, or of this codicil thereto, out of such estate and effects as I shall die possessed of. All the rest, residue, and remainder of my estate and effects I give and bequeath to my said executors, in trust for the said Francis Barber, his executors and administrators. Witness my hand and seal, this ninth day of December, 1784.
"SAM. JOHNSON (L.S.) "Signed, sealed, published, declared, and delivered, by the said Samuel Johnson, as and for a codicit to his last will and testament, in the presence of us, who, in his presence, and at his request, and also in the presence of each other, have hereto subscribed our names as witnesses.
JOHN COPELY, "WILLIAM GIBSON, "HENRY COLE."
Upon these testamentary deeds it is proper to make a few observations.
His express declaration with his dying breath as a Christian, as it had been often practised in such solemn writings, was of real consequence from this great man, for the conviction of a mind equally acute and strong, might well overbalance the doubts of others, who were his contemporaries. The expression polluted may, to some, convey an impression of more than ordinary contamination; but that is not warranted by its genuine meaning, as appears from "The Rambler," No. 42. The same word is used in the will of Dr. Sanderson, Bishop of Lincoln, who was piety itself.
His legacy of two hundred pounds to the representatives of Mr. Innys, bookseller, in
they were in great confusion, it is much to be lamented that he had not entrusted some faithful and discreet person with the care and selection of them instead of which, he, in a precipitate manner, burnt large masses of them, with little regard, as I apprehend, to discrimination. Not that I suppose we have thus been deprived of any compositions which he had ever intended for the public eye; but from what escaped the flames, I judge that many curious circumstances relating both to himself, and other literary characters, have perished.
Two very valuable articles, I am sure, we have lost, which were two quarto volumes, containing a full, fair, and most particular account of his own life, from his earliest recollection. I owned to him, that having accidentally seen them, I had read a great deal in them; and apolo
St. Paul's Churchyard, proceeded from a very worthy motive. He told Sir John Hawkins that, his father having become a bankrupt, Mr. Innys had assisted him with money or credit to continue his business. 66 This," said he, "I consider as an obligation on me to be grateful to his descendants."
The amount of his property proved to be considerably more than he had supposed it to be. Sir John Hawkins estimates the bequest to Francis Barber at a sum little short of fifteen hundred pounds, including an annuity of seventy pounds to be paid to him by Mr. Langton, in consideration of seven hundred and fifty pounds, which Johnson had lent to that gentleman. Sir John seems not a little angry at this bequest, and mutters "a caveat against ostentatious bounty and favour to negroes." But surely when a man has money entirely of his own acquisition, especially when he has no near relations, he may, without blame, dispose of it as he pleases, and with great propriety to a faithful servant. Mr. Barber, by the recommendation of his master, retired to Lichfield, where he might pass the rest of his days in comfort.
It has been objected that Johnson has omitted many of his best friends, when leaving books to several as tokens of his last remembrance. The names of Dr. Adams, Dr. Taylor, Dr. Burney, Mr. Hector, Mr. Murphy, the author of this work, and others who were intimate with him, are not to be found in his will. This may be accounted for by considering, that as he was very near his dissolution at the time, he probably mentioned such as happened to occur to him; and that he may have recollected that he had formerly shown others such proofs of his regard, that it was not necessary to crowd his will with their names. Mrs. Lucy Porter was much displeased that nothing was left to her; but besides what I have now stated, she should have considered that she had left nothing to Johnson by her will, which was made during his lifetime, as appeared at her decease.
His enumerating several persons in one group, and leaving them "each a book at their election," might possibly have given occasion to a curious question as to the order of choice, had they not luckily fixed on different books. His library, though by no means handsome in its appearance, was sold by Mr. Christie for two hundred and forty-seven pounds nine shillings; many people being desirous to have a book which had belonged to Johnson. In many of them he had written little notes; sometimes tender memorials of his departed wife: as, "This was dear Tetty's book;" sometimes occasional remarks of different sorts. Mrs. Lyons, of Clifford's-inn, has favoured me with the two fol lowing:
In "Holy Rules and Helps to Devotions, by Bryan Duppa, Lord Bishop of Winton," "Preces quidam videtur diligenter tractasse; spero non inauditus."
In "The Rosicrucian infallible Axiomata, by John Heydon, Gent.," prefixed to which are some verses addressed to the author, signed Ambr. Waters, A. M. Coll. Ex. Oxon, "These Latin verses were written to Hobbes by Bathurst, upon his Treatise on Human Nature, and have no relation to the book.- -An odd fraud."-BOSWELL.
Francis Barber, Dr. Johnson's principal legatee, died in the infirmary at Stafford, after undergoing a painful operation, Feb. 13, 1801.-MALONE.