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PREFACE*

“Give me your hand ; I have taken a liking to you.” Such was the impulsive, good-humoured remark to which we probably owe the most vivid, entertaining, and enduring piece of biography in the English language. Johnson little knew that he sealed his own fate by this very uncharacteristic reception of a volatile Scottish laird. We are, however, so accustomed to associate the great Doctor with Boswell that we are apt to overlook many other friends who both formed, and expressed, their own impressions of him. Any view of such a man could hardly escape being interesting, however secondary it might seem after Boswell. Sir John Hawkins, Murphy, Kearsley, may all be studied with profit. Mrs. Piozzi and Madame D'Arblay, and extracts from some thirty or forty other writers also make up a considerable collection of Johnsoniana ; and while all serve to correct the fallacy that Johnson owed his fame to Boswell's “ Life,” they illustrate and enhance, rather than detract from, Bozzy's unique gifts as a biographer. Johnson's other friends must have met him far more frequently than Boswell did, but they lacked his remarkable curiosity, his carefully trained powers of observation, and his dogged pertinacity. I will revert to Boswell's gifts as a biographer later, but acknowledging his genius for this kind of work, one must admit that in the choice of Johnson as a subject he was singularly happy. Compare, for instance, Johnson's utterances with the recorded table-talk of Dr. Samuel Parr, a man who enjoyed no little reputation in his day for his conversational powers, and see how feebly Parr compares with Johnson. It is hardly possible that Boswell with all his powers could have done much with such a subject as pompous old Dr. Parr, or even with Johnson's greater contemporaries--Burke, for instance, or Reynolds, or Gibbon. What other public character of the time could have survived the ordeal as Johnson has ? Who would have combined so much wit with so much piety, such eccentricity with such stability of mind, such unfaltering candour with such unfeigned tenderness of heart ? He alone of his time seemed to know how to say something worth saying when there appeared to be little or nothing to say, and he also managed to say that something well. Read, for example, his dedications, or look into his chronicles of the smaller fry of versifiers in the “Lives of the Poets,” and there you will find a host of the things that have become a part of our common speech. He could compose a studied rebuke to Lord Chesterfield, unequalled in our language for its manly independence and dignified yet devastating phrase. Yet he it was who wrote those most affecting letters to his dying mother, kept up a long and lively correspondence with Mrs. Thrale, and sent to little Jane Langton one of the simplest and most beautiful letters ever written to a child. If he wrote “ Irene,” his verses on his old friend Levett must not be forgotten, and although he feared death all his life, when at last stricken with palsy and bereft of

For an excellent account of Samuel Johnson and the literature of his times, see “ The Age of Johnson,” by Thomas Seccombe, 8vo, 3rd ed. revised, 1907. Sir Leslie Stephen's “ Life of Johnson" in the “ English Men of Letters," published thirty years ago, is not only a model of what a short biography should be, but is one of the best of the many studies of Johnson we have.

It was

speech, he composed a Latin prayer to test the power of his mind. characteristic that with his last breath he should have asked a blessing for the young girl who came to seek it of him on the day of his death. Macaulay's famous saying seems to me only partly true: “The memory of other authors is kept alive by their books, but the memory of Johnson keeps many of his books alive.” There is much of Johnson's work, the interest of which has survived and will continue to survive, and it is strange that most of this work was composed after he received his pension and when he was supposed to have been living a life of idleness. The works especially worth reading are Johnson's Letters to Mrs. Thrale, “ The Lives of the Poets,” and the “ Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland.” Besides which there are, belonging to the pre-pension days, “ The Life of Savage,” some of the Ramblers and Idlers, and a few smaller pieces, especially his letter to Lord Chesterfield. For those who enjoy reading dictionaries, like Walter Pater, Johnson's folio edition will be found to be among the best.

Boswell has given us a complete history of his hero during the years when he was enjoying fame, a comfortable pension, and the admiration of a goodly circle of friends. But of those other years when, an unknown toiler in Grub Street, he was struggling with poverty, we know comparatively nothing. That period of his life when he was picking up all that odd gossip with which he afterwards enlivened the pages of his “Lives of the Poets," when he was walking the streets with Richard Savage, or sitting in an ale-house with George Psalmanazar—that is the period of which an intimate account would perhaps have proved even more interesting, than a record of Johnson's later days. When men write their own lives, they usually dwell longest on their earlier years. Who knows what was destroyed, when Johnson committed to the flames those two quarto volumes which Boswell says contained “a full, fair and most particular account of his own life from his earliest recollections.” It is the habit, perhaps the fate, of biographers to be in at the death, and to make up for their lack of particulars of the early years of their victims, by spinning out the history of their declining days. We must, however, be content with what has been given, and it is at least certain that for the last twenty years of Johnson's life Boswell gathered every crumb relating to his hero that came within his reach. He collected his letters, and drew him into correspondence, he noted his conversation and incited him to talk and argue, and even to bully, not minding much who was to be the object of attack, even if it were himself. He took the greatest pains to draw his character and habits, to record his opinions and his sturdy common sense, and to reveal his kindness of heart, his charity and loyalty to his friends. Macaulay has summarized the scope of Boswell's book in the well-known passage :

Johnson grown old, Johnson in the fulness of his fame and in the enjoyment of a competent fortune, is better known to us than any other man in history. Everything about him, his coat, his wig, his figure, his face, his scrofula, his St. Vitus's dance, his rolling walk, his blinking eye, the outward signs which too clearly marked his approbation of his dinner, his insatiable appetite for fish-sauce and veal-pie with plums, his inextinguishable thirst for tea, his trick of touching the posts as he walked, his mysterious practice of treasuring up scraps of orange-peel, his morning slumbers, his midnight disputations, his contortions, his mutterings, his gruntings, his puffings, his vigorous, acute, and ready eloquence, his sarcastic wit, his vehemence, his insolence, his fits of tempestuous rage, his queer inmates, old Mr. Levett, and blind Mrs. Williams, the cat Hodge and the negro Frank, all are as familiar to us as the objects by which we have been surrounded from childhood. But we have no minute information respecting those years of Johnson's life during

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which his character and his manners became immutably fixed. We know him, not as he was known to the men of his own generation, but as he was known to men whose father he might have been.”

Of how many men can we say that every scrap of all that relates to their lives is worthy of preservation ? Yet this is so with Johnson, and no one surely, not even Napoleon, was ever put to such a searching ordeal as was Johnson by Boswell in the life of his old friend. Boswell possessed no special opportunities for his task: indeed, circumstances were almost entirely against him. A resident in Edinburgh, and bound to his native country by strong family ties and his profession as an advocate, this man who had “such a gust for London was only able to visit the metropolis in vacation. Croker states that during his friendship with Johnson, Boswell made but a dozen visits to England, and met Johnson only one hundred and eighty times, exclusive of the Scottish Tour, when they were together from the 18th August to 22nd November, 1773, in the whole about two hundred and seventy-six days.

II

JAMES BOSWELL* was born at Edinburgh on October 18, 1740, the eldest son of Lord Auchinleck (pronounced Affleck), a judge in the Court of Session, and was educated at the High School, Edinburgh, and the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. As a boy he kept a journal and wrote poems and prologues. In 1760 he visited London and Newmarket, and mixed freely with the gamesters and rakes of the town. During his second visit to London in 1763, “on Monday, the 16th of May,” as he carefully records it, he gained the much-desired introduction to Samuel Johnson, the author of the Rambler, the Great Dictionary of the English Language, and the happy recipient of a Government pension. The incident is admirably described in the “Life of Johnson,” Boswell at the time was twenty-three, and Johnson fifty-four. Boswell's Scottish birth was not a recommendation in his favour, Johnson's prejudice against that race being notorious. Johnson, however, very kindly “ took up” the young man, who spent as much of his time as possible in the company of the Sage, although he had, on his first meeting, been promptly snubbed. Some one asked,

Who is this Scotch cur at Johnson's heels ?” He is not a cur," replied Goldsmith, “he is only a bur. Tom Davies flung him at Johnson in sport, and he has the faculty of sticking.” A month after his first meeting with Johnson, Boswell went to Utrecht with the ostensible purpose of studying law, but his real object was to make a tour of Europe in search of amusement and celebrities. He remained abroad about three years, and while absent he managed to see Voltaire and Rousseau, John Wilkes, and Pascal Paoli, the Corsican Patriot. Shortly after his return to England he was admitted Advocate, and two years later his “ Tour in Corsica ' appeared with much success. In 1769 he married his cousin, Margaret Boswella sensible woman, but she did not share her husband's admiration for the great lexicographer. Johnson's rough habits distressed her ; housewives less prim than Mrs. Boswell might even now object to his parlour trick of turning lighted candles upside down to make them burn better. Her husband's idolatry provoked the caustic remark that she had seen a man leading a bear, but had never before observed a bear leading a man.

Lord Auchinleck henceforth allowed his son £300 a year, but the frequency with which he was called upon to fill the paternal office of paying his debts, strained the little sympathy that remained between father and son. It was not until 1773, after he had known Johnson ten years, that Boswell was admitted to the privileges of the famous Literary Club, and later in that year he induced Johnson to accompany him on a tour through the Hebrides, which lasted ninety-four days. Johnson enjoyed the journey and he spoke highly of Boswell as a travelling companion in the outcome of his tour, “ A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland," published January, 1775. For the next few years Boswell managed to pay several visits to London. The year 1776 is remarkable for the famous dinner that took place at the Dillys', when Boswell brought together Johnson and John Wilkes. In 1775 he entered the Inner Temple, but was not called to the English Bar until 1786. By his father's death, which occurred in 1782, Boswell inherited a fortune of £1,600 a year. Johnson's health was severely impaired in 1783 and 1784, and in June of the latter year Boswell attempted to arrange for his friend to winter in Italy by obtaining a grant of money from the Government, but his purpose unhappily failed. His last meeting with Johnson took place on June 30; he did not see him during his last illness, nor was he present at his burial in Westminster Abbey. In 1789 Mrs. Boswell died, and from that time Boswell gave way to habits of intemperance and folly, from which even the engrossing work of preparing his “Life of Johnson " did not rescue him ; he died on May 19, 1795.

* There is a detailed “Life of Boswell," by Mr. Percy Fitzgerald (2 vols., 8vo, 1891).

Of the various estimates of Boswell's character, none, unfortunately, is better known than Macaulay's scornful attack. Sir Leslie Stephen, however, has not only done him justice, but given a generous study of this extraordinary man. He points out that, in the “Life of Johnson,” Boswell originated a new form of Biography which, although often imitated, has never been equalled, thus proving obviously that Boswell was a man of much higher intellectual capacity than has been generally admitted. “Boswell,” he says, “ though his qualities were too much those of the ordinary 'good fellow,' was not without virtues, and still less without remarkable talents. He was, to all appearance, a man of really generous sympathies, and capable of appreciating proofs of a warm heart and a vigorous understanding. Foolish, vain, and absurd in every way, he was yet a far kindlier and more genuine man than many who laughed at him. His singular gifts as an observer could only escape notice from a careless or inexperienced reader. Boswell has a little of the true Shakspearian secret. He lets his characters show themselves without obtruding unnecessary comment. He never misses the point of a story, though he does not ostentatiously call our attention to it. He gives just what is wanted to indicate character, or to explain the full meaning of a repartee. It is not till we compare his reports with those of less skilful hearers, that we can appreciate the skill with which the essence of a conversation is extracted, and the whole scene indicated by a few telling touches. We are tempted to fancy that we have heard the very thing, and rashly infer that Boswell was simply the mechanical transmitter of the good things uttered. Anyone who will try to put down the pith of a brilliant conversation within the same space, may soon satisfy himself of the absurdity of such an hypothesis, and will learn to appreciate Boswell's powers not only of memory, but artistic representation. Such a feat implies not only admirable quickness of appreciation, but a rare literary faculty. Boswell's accuracy is remarkable ; but it is the least part of his merit.” Of Boswell's care to tell the truth about his hero, it is related that when Hannah More implored him to tone down some of the roughness in Johnson's character, he said, “I will not make my tiger a cat to please anybody.”

III The first edition of Boswell's “ Life of Johnson was published in two quarto volumes in an edition of 1,700 copies, on May 16th, 1791. The book had been

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