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It were superfluous to expatiate on the merits, at least as a source of amusement, of Boswell's LIFE OF JOHNSON. Whatever doubts may have existed as to the prudence or the propriety of the original publication-however naturally private confidence was alarmed, or individual vanity offended, the voices of criticism and complaint were soon drowned in the general applause. And no wonder: the work combines within itself the four most entertaining classes of writing-biography, memoirs, familiar letters, and that assemblage of literary anecdotes which the French have taught us to distinguish by the termination Ana.
It was originally received with an eagerness and relished with a zest which undoubtedly were sharpened by the curiosity which the unexpected publication of the words and deeds of so many persons still living could not but excite. But this motive has gradually become weaker, and may now be said to be extinct; yet we do not find that the popularity of the work, though somewhat changed in quality, is really diminished; and as the interval which separates us from the actual time and scene increases, so appear to increase the interest and delight which we feel at being introduced, as it were, into that distinguished society of which Dr. Johnson formed the centre, and of which his biographer is the historian.
But though every year thus adds something to the interest and instruction which this work affords, something is, on the other hand, deducted from the amusement which it gives, by the gradual obscurity that time throws over the persons and incidents of private life: many circumstances known to all the world when Mr. Boswell wrote, are already obscure to the best informed, and wholly forgotten by the rest of mankind'.
For instance, when he relates (vol. i. p. 90.) that a great personage" called the English Divines of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries " Giants, guess that George III. was the great personage; but all the editor's inquiries (and some of His Majesty's illustrious family have condescended to permit these inquiries to extend even to them) have failed to ascertain to what person or on what occasion that happy expression was used.
Again: When Mr. Boswell's capricious delicacy induced him to suppress names and to substitute such descriptions as an eminent friend," "
a young gentleman," "a distinguished orator," these were well understood by the society of the day; but it is become necessary to apprize the reader of our times, that Mr. Burke, Mr. Sheridan, and Mr. Fox, were respectively meant. Nor is it always easy to appropriate Mr. Boswell's circumlocutory designations. It will be seen in the course of this work, that several of them have become so obsure that even the surviving members of the Johnsonian society are unable to recollect who were meant, and it was on one of these occasions that Sir James Mackintosh told the editor that “his work had, at least, not come too soon.”
Mr. Boswell's delicacy is termed capricious, because he is on some occasions candid even to indiscretion, and on others unaccountably mysterious. In the
!“ Dr. Johnson talked with approbation of an intended edition of the Spectator, with notes. He observed that all works which describe manners require notes in sixty or seventy years or lesz." Post, vol. i. pp. 304-5. And Dean Swift wrote to Pope on the subject of the Dunciad, “ ] could wish the notes to be very large in what relates to the persons concerned; for I have long oteered, that twenty miles from London nobody understands hints, initial letters, or town facts or pessages, and in a few years not even those who live in London.” Lett. 16, July, 1728.—ED.)
report of a conversation he will clearly designate half the interlocutors, w the other half, without any apparent reason, he casts into studied obscurity.
Considering himself to be (as he certainly has been to a greater degree he could have contemplated) one of the distributors of fame, he has someti indulged his partialities or prejudices' by throwing more or less light, and li more or less favourable, on the different persons of his scene ; some of w he obtrudes into broad day, while others he only “ adumbrates” by imperfec lusions. But many, even of those the most clearly designated and spoke as persons familiar to every ear, have already lived their day, and are ha to be heard of except in these volumes. Yet these volumes must be read imperfect pleasure, without some knowledge of the history of those more half forgotten persons.
Facts, too, fade from memory as well as names; and fashions and follies still more transient. But, in a book mainly composed of familiar conversa how large a portion must bear on the facts, the follies, and the fashions of time !
To clear up these obscurities—to supply these deficiencies—to retrieve a lete and to collect scattered circumstances—and so to restore to the worl much as possible of its original clearness and freshness, have been the mail jects of the editor. He is but too well aware how unequal he is to the and how imperfectly he has accomplished it. But as the time was rapidly i ing away in which any aid could be expected from the contemporaries of j son, or even of Boswell, the editor determined to undertake the work-belic that, however ill he might perform it, he should still do it better than, tw years hence, it could be done by any diligence of research or any felicit conjecture.
But another and more striking object of this edition is the incorporation Boswell's Life of numerous other authentic works connected with the biogr of Johnson: as this is, as far as the editor knows, a novel attempt, and as it give his work somewhat of a confused and heterogeneous appearance, he ti it necessary to state some of the reasons which induced him to adopt so un a course.
The first and most cogent is the authority of Mr. Boswell himself; w his original edition inserted, and in his subsequent editions continued to letters, memoranda’, notes, and anecdotes collected from every quarter; the appearance of his work was so long delayed, that Sir John Hawkins, Piozzi, Dr. Strahan, Mr. Tyers, Mr. Nichols, and many others, had antici much of what he would have been glad to tell. Some squabbles about right had warned him that he must not avail himself of their publications ?;
Mr. Boswell confesses that he has sometimes been influenced by the subsequent conduct sons in exhibiting or suppressing Dr. Johnson's unfavourable opinion of them.—See the ca: Lord Monboddo, vol. i. p. 255, and of Mr. Sheridan, vol. i. p. 260; and it is to be feared he has som done so without confessing, perhaps without being conscious of the prejudice. On the other he is sometimes more amiably guilty of extenuation, as in the instances of Doctors Robertso Beattie, vol. i. p. 237, 247, 299, and 314.
It is not easy to explain why Mr. Bosvell was unfavourably disposed towards Sheridan and smith, though the bias is obvious; but wholly unaccountable are the frequent ridicule and c which he delighted to provoke and to record against his inoffensive and amiable frien Langton.
Those who knew Mr. Boswell intimately, inform us (as indeed be himself involuntarily that his vanity was very sensitive, and there can be no doubt that personal pique tinged mai sages of his book, whichi, whenever the editor could trace it, he has not failed to notice.-En.
On the use of this Latinism, the editor ventures to repeat a pleasant anecdote told Bishop of Ferns. The late Lord Avonmore, giving evidence relative to certain certific: degrees in the University of Dublin, called them (as they are commonly called) “ Teste ums." As the clerk was writing down the word, one of the counsel said, “Should it not be testimonia ?” “Yes," replied Lord Avonmore, “if you think it better English !” This antry contains a just grammatical criticism; but memoranda has of late been so generally an English plural that the editor has ventured to retain it.-ED.
3 It is a curious proof of these jealousies, that Mr. Boswell entered at Stationers' Hall as
he was on such bad terms with his rival biographers that he could not expect any assistance or countenance from them. He nevertheless went as far as he though: the law would allow in making frequent quotations from the preceding publications; but as to all the rest, which he did not venture to appropriate to his own use, the grapes were sour—and he took every opportunity of representing the anecdotes of his rivals as extremely inaccurate and generally undeserving of credit.
It is certain that none of them have attained_indeed they do not pretend to that extreme verbal accuracy with which Mr. Boswell had, by great zeal and diligence, learned to record conversations; nor in the details of facts are they 90 precise as Mr. Boswell with good reason claims to be.
Mr. Boswell took, indeed, extraordinary and most laudable pains to attain accuracy'. Not only did he commit to paper at night the conversation of the day, but even in general society he would occasionally take a note of any thing remarkable that occurred; and he afterwards spared no trouble in arranging and supplying the inevitable deficiencies of these hasty memoranda. But, after all, Mr. Boswell himself is not exempt from those errors
quas aut incuria fudit,
Aut humana parum cavit natura; and an attentive examination and collation of the authorities (and particularly of Mr. Boswell's own) have convinced the editor that the minor biographers are entitled not merely to more credit than Mr. Boswell allows them, but to as much as any person writing from recollection, and not from notes made at the moment, can be.
As Mr. Boswell had borrowed much from Sir J. Hawkins and Mrs. Piozzi, the editor has thought himself justified in borrowing more; and he has therefore (as he thinks Mr. Boswell would have done if he could) incorporated with the frat nearly the whole of Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes, and such passages of Hawkins' “ Life” and “ Collection of Anecdotes" as relate to circumstances which Mr. Boswell had either not mentioned at all, or touched upon imperfectly.
The same use has been made of several other publications, particularly Murphr's Essay on the Life of Dr. Johnson, Mr. Tyers' eccentric but amusing Sketch, and Mr. Nichols' contributions to the Gentleman's Magazine, a publication which, under that gentleman's superintendence, was of peculiar authority in all that relates to Dr. Johnson.
The editor had another important object in adopting this incorporation. Notwithstanding the diligence and minuteness with which Mr. Boswell detailed what he sair of Dr. Johnson's life, his work left large chasms. It must be recollected that they never resided in the same neighbourhood, and that the detailed account of Johnson's domestic life and conversation is limited to the opportunities afforded by Mr. Boswell's occasional visits to London-by the Scottish Tour-and by one meeting at Dr. Taylor's, in Derbyshire. or above twenty years, therefore, grabinations, Dr. Johnson's Letter to Lord Chesterfield, and the account of his Conversatien rith George III., which occupy a few pages of the Life.—ED.
Mr. Wordsworth has obligingly furnished the editor with the following copy of a note in a blank Most of his copy of Boswell's work, dictated and signed in Mr. Wordsworth's presence by the late Se George Beaumont, whose own accuracy was exemplary, and who lived very much in the society of Jolinson's latter days.
“ Rydal Mount, 12th Sept. 1826. Sir Joshua Reynolds told me at his table, immediately after the publication of this book, that erery word of it might be depended upon as if given on oath. Boswell was in the habit of bringing the proof sheets to his house previously to their being struck off, and if any of the company happened to have been present at the conversation recorded, he requoted him or them to correct any error; and not satisfied with this, he would run over all London for the sake of verifying any single word which might be disputed.
“ G. H. BEAUMONT." Although it cannot escape notice, that Sir Joshua is here reported to nave drawn a somewhat wider inference than the premises warranted, the general testimony is satisfactory, and it is to a Forsiderable extent corroborated by every kind of evidence, external and internal. En
s bohed valeat in the whole to about threethes
2. botice of Boswell—and thus has -, a Palau tas out now, alas, quite irreparable !
u bil up these chasms as well as he could i
a wide rk is; but much the largest, and, for this
Jis currespondence, was out of his reach; Hur wenty years maintained with Mrs. Thrale,
* 22 two volumes octavo. For the copyright of #vue et admiring envy, “she received five hun
Siwala tua, however, was not very successful—it never windvit, sikh is now almost forgotten. But through these letvon dibuat only information we have relative to Johnson during no diverse Mr. Boswell's visits; and from them he has occasion
wird, Raving the fear of the copyright law before his eyes) made inimesters being now public property, the editor has been at liberty to fol
Mr. Baswell's imperfect example, and he has therefore made numerous di copious selections from them, less as specimens of Johnson's talents for leiter-writing, than as notices of his domestic and social life during the intervals
urBuswell's narrative. Indeed, as letters, few of Johnson's can have any gieds charm for the common reader; they are full of good sense and good-nafure, but in forms too didactic and ponderous to be very amusing. If the editor could have ventured to make so great an alteration in Mr. Boswell's original plan, he would—instead of adding so many letters' have been inclined to have omitted all, except those which might be remarkable for some peculiar merit, or which might tend to complete the history of Johnson's life. In the large extracts which have been made from Mrs. Thrale’s correspondence, he has been guided entirely by this latter object.
The most important addition, however, which the editor has made, is one that needs no apology-he has incorporated with the Life the whole of the Tour to the HEBRIDES, which Mr. Boswell published in one volume in 1785, and which, no doubt, if he could legally have done so, he would himself have incorporated in the Life—of which indeed he expressly tells us, he looks on the Tour but as a portion. It is only wonderful, that since the copyright has expired, any edition of the Life of Johnson should have been published
without the addition of this, the most original, curious, and amusing portion of the whole biography
The Prayers and Meditations, published with rather too much haste after Johnson's death by Dr. Strahan, have also been made use of to an extent which was forbidden to Mr. Boswell. What Dr. Strahan calls Meditations are, in fact,
It appears from the Life, that Mr. Boswell visited England a dozen times during his acquaintance with Dr. Johnson, and that the number of days on which they met were about 180, to wbich is to be added the time of the Tour, during which they met daily from the 18th August, to the 22d November, 1773; in the whole about 276 days. The number of pages in the late editions of the two works is 2528, of which, 1320 are occupied by the history of these 276 days; so that little less than an hundredth part of Dr. Johnson's life occupies above one half of Mr. Boswell's works. Every one must regret that his personal intercourse with his great friend was not more frequent or more continued; but the editor could do but little towards rectifying this disproportion, except by the insertion of the correspondence with Mrs. Thrale.—En.
The number of original letters in this edition is about 100—the number of those collected from various publications (including the extracts from Mrs. Piozzi's) is about 200.-Ed.
3 These Meditations have been the cause of much ridicule and some obloquy, which would be not wholly undeserved if it were true, as Dr. Strahan thoughtlessly gave the world to suppose, that they were arranged by Dr. Johnson, and delivered to Dr. Strahan for the express purpose of pubiication. An inspection of the original manuscripts (now properly and fortunately lodged in Pembroke College) has convinced the editor (and, as he is glad to find, every body else who has examined them), that the opinion derived from Dr. Strahan's statement echoed by Mr. Boswell, is wholly unfounded. In the confusion of a mind which the approach of death was beginning to affect, and in the agitation which a recent attempt to spoliate two of his note books had occasioned, Dr. Johnson seems to bmve given Dr. Strahan a confused bundle of loose papers scraps, half-sheets, and a few leaves nothing but Diaries of the author's moral and religious state of mind, intermixed with some notices of his bodily health and of the interior circumstances of his domestic life. Mr. Boswell had ventured to quote some of these: the present edition contains all that appear to offer any thing of interest.
The editor has also incorporated in this work a small volume, published in 1802, but now become scarce, containing an Account of Dr. Johnson's Early Life, written by himself, and a curious correspondence with Miss Boothby, of which Mr. Boswell had given one, and Mrs. Piozzi three or four lettersi.
Mr. Duppa published in 1806, with copious explanatory notes, a diary which Johnson had kept during a Tour through North Wales, made, in 1775, in compaDy with Mr. Thrale and his family. Mr. Boswell had, it appears, inquired in vain for this diary: if he could have obtained it, he would, no doubt, have inserted it, as he did the similar notes of the Tour in France in the succeeding year. By the liberality of Mr. Duppa, the editor has been enabled to incorporate this volume with the present edition.
The editor will now recapitulate the publications which will be found, in the whole or in part, in the volumes of the present edition.
1. The whole of Mr. Malone's edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson, 4 vols. 8vo.
2. The whole of the first and most copious edition of Boswell's Tour to the Hebrides, 1 vol. 8vo.
3. The whole (though differently arranged) of Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes of Dr Johnson, 1 vol. sm. 8vo.
4. The whole of Dr. Johnson's Tour in Wales, with notes, by R. Duppa, Esq., 1 vol. 12mo.
5. The whole of an Account of the Early Life of Dr. Johnson, with his Correspondence with Miss Boothby, 1 vol. 16mo.
6. A great portion of the Letters to and from Dr. Johnson, published by H. L. Piozzi, 2 vols. 8vo.
7. Large extracts from the Life of Dr. Johnson, by Sir J. Hawkins, 1 vol. 8vo.
8. All, that had not been already anticipated by Mr. Boswell or Mrs. Piozzi, of the “ Apophthegms, Sentiments, and Opinions of Dr. Johnson,” published by Sir J. Hawkins, in his edition of Johnson's works.
9. Extracts from Sketches of Dr. Johnson, by Thomas Tyers, Esq., a pamphlet, in 8vo.
10. Extracts from Murphy's Essay on the Life of Dr. Johnson, from Mr. Nichols' and Mr. Stevens' contributions to the Gentleman's and London Magazines, and from the Lives and Memoirs of Cumberland, Cradock, Miss Hawkins, Lord Charlemont, the Wartons, and other friends and acquaintances of Dr. Johnson.
11. The whole of a Poetical Review of the Character of Dr. Johnson, by John Courtenay, Esq., in 4to.
But besides these printed materials, the editor has been favoured with many papers connected with Dr. Johnson, his life, and society, hitherto unpublished. Of course, his first inquiries were directed towards the original manuscript of Ms. Boswell's Journal, which would no doubt have enabled him to fill up all the blanks and clear away much of the obscurity that exist in the printed Life. It was to be hoped that the archives of Auchinleck, which Mr. Boswell frequently and pompously mentions, would contain the original materials of these works, which he himself, as well as the world at large, considered as his best claims to stsrhed together. The greater part of these papers were the Prayers, the publication of which, no doabt (for Dr. Strahan says so), Dr. Johnson sanctioned; but mixed with them were those Diaries to which it is probable that Dr. Johnson did not advert, and which there is every reason to suppose he Lever could have intended to submit to any human eye but his own. Well understood, as the secret confessions of his own contrite conscience, they do honour to Dr. Johnson's purity and piety; but very different would be their character, if it appeared that he had ostentatiously prepared them for to pres. See more on this subject in the notes, vol. i. p. 97, and vol. ii. November 16, 1784. -ED.
This correspondence will be foand in the Appendix to vol. i.-Ed. * Mr. Boswell, in his subsequent edition itted some and softened down other passages, which, the reason for the alterations having gone by, are restored.—Ed.