James Boswell

Marshall Waingrow (ed.), The Yale Editions of the Private Papers of James Boswell: Research Edition: Correspondence, Vol. 2: The Correspondence and Other Papers of James Boswell relating to the Making of the Life of Johnson (Second Edition)

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pg 350To the Rev. Dr. Samuel Parr, Wednesday 14 December 1791

MS. Yale (L 1028). JB's copy, headed: 'To The Rev. Dr. Parr.'

London, 14 Decr. 1791

Dear Sir: You could not have done me a greater kindness than by communicating to me your very favourable opinion of my Life of Dr. Johnson. As I have full confidence in Dr. Parr's sincerity, such praise from him is a high gratification indeed. I trust it is unnecessary for me to do myself the honour of repeating how sensible I am of his other qualities. I return you my very sincere thanks for this spontaneous, full, and allow me to add hearty applause.

Let me hasten to make you perfectly easy with respect to the passage in my Book which I am not a little sorry has disturbed your sensibility, and I own with apparent good reason. In short I have expressed myself inaccurately. I should not have said that to write Johnson's Epitaph has excited the warmest competition of genius; but that it will no doubt excite—or must certainly excite;1 for though various sepulchral inscriptions for him appeared in the fugitive publications, no man of genius has been asked to write his epitaph, yourself excepted, who it was universally agreed would do it the best; nor is there to be any comparative examination, or any kind of rivalship. I ask pardon for assuming or rather carelessly expressing as in Esse what my imagination was filled with as in posse.

Keep your station, then Sir, as the Lapidicirist of Johnson, with I hope also a glowing sentiment of Paulo Majora canamus.2 A critical display of the various excellencies of his Works by your forcible pen will accumulate glories on my illustrious friend.

Sir Joshua Reynolds begs I will make his excuse to you for not writing. He has for a considerable time had such a depression of spirits, as to be almost unfit for any exertion. This most distressing of all states (as I have often sadly experienced it to be) has in his case been owing to an apprehension of losing his other eye by inflammation, and in consequence of that, reducing himself very low, which at sixty eight must not be done. I am happy to inform you that Dr. Warren is clear that his eye is in no danger, and has prevailed on him to live more generously, so that he is returning to us.3 I am very much with him to be of any service I can.

Mr. Courtenay sends you his best compliments. He says you are liberally orthodox. You will oblige me much if you will let me know that I have satisfied you. I am, Dear Sir, Your very faithful humble servant

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Editor’s Note
1 Changed in the second edition to: 'To compose his epitaph, could not but excite' etc. (Life iv. 423).
Editor’s Note
2 'Let us sing a somewhat higher strain' (Virgil, Eclogues iv. 1). 'Lapidicirist' (for 'lapidirist') appears to be a coinage of JB's.
Editor’s Note
3 Against his inclination Reynolds on 10 Dec. was re-elected President of the Royal Academy; on 23 Feb. the following year he died. See Letters of Sir Joshua Reynolds, ed. F. W. Hilles, 1929, p. 228 n. 1.
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