[After the fourth edition of Dr. Goldsmith’s Retaliation was printed, the publisher
received a supplementary epitaph on the wit and punster, Caleb Whitefoord. Though
it is found appended to the later issues of the poem, it has been suspected that
Whitefoord wrote it himself. It may be that the following, which has recently come
to light, is another forgery.]
Here JOHNSON is laid. Have a care how you walk;
If he stir in his sleep, in his sleep he will talk.
Ye gods! how he talk’d! What a torrent of sound
His hearers invaded, encompass’d, and—drown’d!
What a banquet of memory, fact, illustration,
In that innings-for-one that he call’d conversation!
Can’t you hear his sonorous ‘Why no, sir!’ and ‘Stay, sir!
Your premiss is wrong,’ or ‘You don’t see your way, sir!’
How he silenc’d a prig, or a slip-shod romancer!
How he pounc’d on a fool with a knock-me-down answer!
But peace to his slumbers! Tho’ rough in the rind,
The heart of the giant was gentle and kind:
What signifies now, if in bouts with a friend,
When his pistol miss’d fire, he would use the butt-end 1
If he trampled your flow’rs—like a bull in a garden—
What matter for that? he was sure to ask pardon;
And you felt on the whole, tho’ he’d toss’d you and gor’d you,
It was something, at least, that he had not ignor’d you.
Yes ! the outside was rugged. But test him within,
You found he had nought of the bear but the skin; 2
And for bottom and base to his ‘anfractuosity,’
A fund of fine feeling, good taste, generosity.
He was true to his conscience, his King, and his duty,
And he hated the Whigs, and he softened to beauty.
Turn now to his writings. I grant, in his tales,
That he made little fishes talk vastly like whales; 3
I grant that his language was rather emphatic,
Nay, even—to put the thing plainly—dogmatic;
❧ Read for the author, by the Master of the Temple, at the dinner of the ‘Johnson Society’
in Pembroke College, Oxford, on the 22nd June of 1896.
1. Goldsmith said this of Johnson. 2. Goldsmith also said this. 3. And this.
But read him for style, and dismiss from your thoughts
The crowd of compilers who copied his faults, 1
Say, where is there English so full and so clear,
So weighty, so dignified, manly, sincere?
So strong in expression, conviction, persuasion?
So prompt to take colour from place and occasion?
So widely removed from the doubtful, the tentative;
So truly—and in the best sense—argumentative?
You may talk of your Burkes and your Gibbons so clever
But I hark back to him with a ‘Johnson for ever!’
And I feel as I muse on his ponderous figure,
Tho’ he’s great in this age, in the next he’ll grow bigger;
And still while his Pembroke takes sunlight upon her,
New dons shall assemble, and dine in his honour!
1. These, or like rhymes, are to be found in Edwin and Angelina and in Retaliation itself.
Dobson, Austin. “A Postscript to ‘Retaliation’.” The Pageant, 1897, pp. 1-2. Pageant Digital Edition, edited by Frederick King and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2021. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021. https://1890s.ca/pag2-dobson-postscript/