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from the Mitre, from Fleet Street, the Oxford coach, and Lichfield, if the burly figure were withdrawn from them; or what charm and illumination of the man himself would have been lost apart from these settings. It is the unseen hand of the artist Boswell that has wrought them inseparably into this reciprocal effect.
The single scenes and pictures which Boswell has given us will all of them bear close scrutiny for their precision, their economy of means, their lifelikeness, their artistic effect. None was wrought more beautifully, nor more ardently, than that of Johnson's interview with the King. First we see the plain massive figure of the scholar amid the elegant comfort of Buckingham House. He is intent on his book before the fire. Then the approach of the King, lighted on his way by Mr. Barnard with candles caught from a table; their entrance by a private door, with Johnson's unconscious absorption, his sudden surprise, his starting up, his dignity, the King's ease with him, their conversation, in which the King courteously draws from Johnson knowledge of that in which Johnson is expert, Johnson's manly bearing and voice throughout-all is set forth with the unadorned vividness and permanent effect which seem artless enough, but which are characteristic of only the greatest art.
Boswell's Life of Johnson is further a masterpiece of art in that it exerts the vigorous energy of a masterpiece, an abundance of what, for want of a better word, we call personality. It is Boswell's confessed endeavor to add this quality to the others, because he perceived that it was an essential quality of Johnson himself, and he more than once laments his inability to transmit the full force and vitality of his original. Besides artistic perception and skill it required in him admiration and enthusiasm to seize this characteristic and impart it to his work. His admiration he confesses unashamed: 'I said I worshipped him .. I cannot help worshipping him, he is so much superior to other men.' He studied his subject intensely. During all the course of my long intimacy with him, my respectful attention never abated.' Upon such intensity and such ardor and enthusiasm depend the energy and animation of his portrait.
But it exhibits other personal qualities than these, which, if less often remarked, are at any rate unconsciously enjoyed. Boswell had great social charm. His friends are agreed upon his liveliness and good nature. Johnson called him 'clubbable,' 'the best traveling companion in the world,' 'one Scotchman who is cheerful,' 'a man whom everybody likes,' 'a man who I believe never left a house without leaving a wish for his return. His vivacity, his love of fun, his passion for good company and friendship, his sympathy, his amiability, which made him acceptable everywhere, have mingled throughout with his own handiwork, and cause it to radiate a kind of genial warmth. This geniality it may be which has attracted so many readers to the book. They find themselves in good company, in a comfortable, pleasant place, agreeably stimulated with wit and fun, and cheered with friendliness. They are loth to leave it, and would ever enter it again. This rare charm the book owes in large measure to its creator.
The alliance of author with subject in Boswell's Johnson is one of the happiest and most sympathetic the world has known. So close is it that one cannot easily discern what great qualities the work owes to each. While it surely derives more of its excellence than is commonly remarked from the art of Boswell, its greatness after all is ultimately that of its subject. The noble qualities of Johnson have been well discerned by Carlyle, and his obvious peculiarities and prejudices somewhat magnified and distorted in Macaulay's brilliant refractions. One quality only shall I dwell upon,
though that may be the sum of all the rest. Johnson bad a supreme capacity for human relationship. In him this capacity amounted to genius.
In all respects he was of great stature. His contemporaries called him a colossus, the literary Goliath, the Giant, the great Cham of literature, a tremendous companion. His frame was majestic; he strode when he walked, and his physical strength and courage were heroic. His mode of speaking was 'very impressive,' his utterance deliberate and strong. His conversation was compared to 'an antique statue, where every vein and muscle is distinct and bold.' From boyhood throughout his life his companions naturally deferred to him, and he dominated them without effort. But what overcame the harshness of this autocracy, and made it reasonable, was the largeness of a nature that loved men and was ever hungry for knowledge of them. “Sir,' said he, 'I look upon every day lost in which I do not make a new acquaintance.' And again: ‘Why, Sir, I am a man of the world. I live in the world, and I take, in some degree, the color of the world as it moves along.' Thus he was a part of all that he met, a central figure in his time, with whose opinion one must reckon in considering any important matter of his day.
His love of London is but a part of his hunger for men. 'The happiness of London is not to be conceived but by those who have been in it.' 'Why, Sir, you find no man at all intellectual who is willing to leave London: No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.' As he loved London, so he loved a tavern for its sociability. “Sir, there is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern.' 'A tavern chair is the throne of human felicity.'
Personal words are often upon his lips, such as 'love' and 'hate,' and vast is the number, range, and variety of people who at one time or another had been in some degree personally related with him, from Bet Flint and his black servant Francis, to the adored Duchess of Devonshire and the King himself. To no one who passed a word with him was he personally indifferent. Even fools received his personal attention. Said one: ‘But I don't understand you, Sir.' 'Sir, I have found you an argument. I am not obliged to find you an understanding.' 'Sir, you are irascible,' said Boswell; 'you have no patience with folly or absurdity.'
But it is in Johnson's capacity for friendship that his greatness is specially revealed. Keep your friendships in good repair.' As the old friends disappeared, new ones came to him. For Johnson seems never to have sought out friends. He was not a common 'mixer.' He stooped to no devices for the sake of popularity. He pours only scorn upon the lack of mind and conviction which is necessary to him who is everybody's friend.
His friendships included all classes and all ages. He was a great favorite with children, and knew how to meet them, from little four-months-old Veronica Boswell to his godchild Jane Langton. 'Sir,' said he, 'I love the acquaintance of young people, young men have more virtue than old men; they have more generous sentiments in every respect.' At sixty-eight he said: 'I value myself upon this, that there is nothing of the old man in my conversation.' Upon women of all classes and ages he exerts without trying a charm the consciousness of which would have turned any head less constant than his own, and with their fulsome adoration he was pleased none the less for perceiving its real value.
But the most important of his friendships developed between him and such men of genius as Boswell, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Edmund Burke. Johnson's genius left no fit testimony of itself from his own hand. With all the greatness of his mind he
had no talent in sufficient measure by which fully to express himself. He had no ear for music and no eye for painting, and the finest qualities in the creations of Goldsmith were lost upon him. But his genius found its talents in others, and through the talents of his personal friends expressed itself as it were by proxy. They rubbed their minds upon his, and he set in motion for them ideas which they might use. But the intelligence of genius is profounder and more personal than mere ideas. It has within it something energic, expansive, propulsive from mind to mind, perennial, yet steady and controlled; and it was with such force that Johnson's almost superhuman personality inspired the art of his friends. Of this they were in some degree aware. Reynolds confessed that Johnson formed his mind, and 'brushed from it a great deal of rubbish.' Gibbon called Johnson 'Reynolds' oracle.' In. one of his Discourses Sir Joshua, mindful no doubt of his own experience, recommends that young artists seek the companionship of such a man merely as a tonic to their art. Boswell often testifies to the stimulating effect of Johnson's presence. Once he speaks of 'an animating blaze of eloquence, which roused every intellectual power in me to the highest pitch'; and again of the 'full glow' of Johnson's conversation, in which he felt himself 'elevated as if brought into another state of being.' He says that all members of Johnson's 'school’ are distinguished for a love of truth and accuracy which they would not have possessed in the same degree if they had not been acquainted with Johnson.' He quotes Johnson at length and repeatedly as the author of his own large conception of biography. He was Goldsmith's 'great master,' Garrick feared his criticism, and one cannot but recognize the power of Johnson's personality in the increasing intelligence and consistency of Garrick's interpretations, in the growing vigor and firmness of Goldsmith's stroke, in the charm, finality, and exuberant life of Sir