Boswell Papers are used by Mr. Scott in his Making of the Life of Johnson, already referred to, where examples are given of the development of the material from its fragmentary state in the journals to its finished form in the Life of Johnson.

The final stage of the biographer's work consisted of the transfer of his material to the permanence of print. It was at this point that he permitted himself the subtle privilege, which he knew he must use with all possible care, of occasionally touching up a Johnsonian phrase, submitting it to that Johnsonian 'ether' with which, he asserts in a famous passage, his mind had gradually become impregnated. It was at this point, too, that he elaborated the background and the setting of the conversation which he was to give; and it is in these processes that his genius is most clearly seen at work. In the following example (again from the MS of Boswelliana), he was dealing with an incident which, in the judgement of many readers, could reflect no credit on the character of Dr. Johnson. Rogers, in editing Boswelliana, suppressed it as indecent. Yet it is vivid, not only in its unusual circumstances, but in its realistic glimpse into the river-life of the mid-eighteenth century. This is the anecdote as set down in Boswelliana:

Mr. Samuel Johnson was one day upon the Thames when the fashion of people on the river trying_who should give each the worst language prevailed. Johnson's figure was a good subject for an attack of this kind from a rude fellow. Johnson thought he would for once try to give a Broadside, which he did thus, 'Sir, your wife under pretence of keeping a Bawdy-house, is a receiver of stolen goods'.

The story, derived from Bennet Langton, was certainly submitted to him for revision before being printed, and he may have assisted Boswell in 'writing it up'.

This is the form it assumes in the Life of Johnson :

It is well known that there was formerly a rude custom for those who were sailing upon the Thames, to




accost each other as they passed, in the most abusive language they could invent, generally, however, with as much satirical humour as they were capable of producing. Addison gives a specimen of this ribaldry in Number 383 of the Spectator, when Sir Roger de Coverly and he are going to Spring-garden. Johnson was once eminently successful in this species of contest; a fellow having attacked him with some coarse raillery, Johnson answered him thus, 'Sir, your wife, under pretence of keeping a bawdy-house, is a receiver of stolen goods.' One evening when he and Mr. Burke and Mr. Langton were in company together, and the admirable scolding of Timon of Athens was mentioned, this instance of Johnson's was quoted, and thought to have at least equal excellence.

Here, then, is an example of Boswell's capacity for working up his material. There is no alteration in the core of the story, no attempt to paint the lily, but a most careful attention to the disposal of the flower in the midst of the foliage used to set it off. It would be erroneous to assume that this instance is typical. It is a somewhat unpleasant anecdote in need of amelioration before it can be committed to posterity. Hence it is dignified by a preliminary reference to Addison, supported by the deliberate approval of the mighty Burke, and dismissed with a comparison from Shakespeare. But there were whole pages of the Journal which could be used without alteration; so that we may say that this third step in the composition could at times be reduced to a mere copying out of what already existed.

Much more important than such a threefold analysis of composition is the proper estimate of the two great powers possessed by the biographer. These are, respectively, the faculty of enjoyment and the power of bringing order out of chaos. The first of these, a sheer delight in the comédie humaine, impelled James Boswell perpetually to seek in social life his keenest enjoyment. Gifted with a flowing gaiety of disposition (which a chronic



hypochondria periodically defeated), of gentle birth, with its accompanying privileges of moderate leisure and moderate wealth, he knew from his youth onward that such social pleasures as he loved could be his for the seeking. He roamed over Holland, Germany, and Italy in his grand tour, seeking and gaining such social experiences. Rousseau and Voltaire, General Paoli and John Wilkes, German princes and Italian blue-stockings he could claim as his acquaintance, if not as his intimate friends. He constantly held before himself-as his own self-appointed Mentor the ideal of infectious spirits, united with that calm dignity which he regarded as appropriate in an 'ancient baron of Scotland'. This combination of opposites was of course for ever eluding him, and he died at last without having effected it, but it was both a serious and a fine aspiration. When it made him ridiculous, he knew that he had crashed on the rocks of Scylla; when it made him pompous, he knew that he had sunk in the whirlpool of Charybdis, but nevertheless he was convinced of the essential rightness of his aim. One cannot know life by the adoption and rigorous practice of rationalism. It is to repudiate two-thirds of existence. 'Without being in all humours', he wrote to John Wilkes, ‘it is impossible to know human nature'. And James Boswell's ambition was to know human nature.

It is this exuberance of spirit which accounts for much that we like and much that we deplore in the character of the biographer. Here is the explanation of his recurrent lapses from decency, his hungry search for pleasure of the fleshly sort, his resulting animalism, and his tiresome vows of sobriety. And hence, also, his ridiculousness-his amusing counsel addressed to James Boswell the erring: 'Be retenu', 'Be Lord Marischal', 'Be Addison', and even 'Be Rock of Gibraltar'! Perhaps we should say that the sheer variety of life was responsible, in some measure, for the destruction of that pleasure-loving soul; but he did not leave the crowded scene without having bequeathed to posterity an account of the delights he had known and the truths he had illustrated.




That Boswell should have carried unspoiled through three decades of social activity, mixed with perpetual dissipation, his splendid endowment is the real miracle of his literary career. He knew that his greatest labourthe task that he often despaired of being able to conclude -was to bring the order characteristic of a work of art out of the chaos of materials he had at hand. Some realization of the tremendous he had submerged himself may be had from a casual examination of the Boswell Papers; but only such critics as derive from that examination a notion of the whole extent of the original deposit can understand the magnitude of the undertaking. To this must be added his restless struggle towards completeness which went on (as we know from Miss Burney) up to the eve of publication, and, for that matter, after the appearance of the two famous quarto volumes.

mass of documents in which

The proof of Boswell's great power in ordering his materials is in the readability of his book. It is a long and complicated narrative that he has to set forth, nothing less, indeed, than a 'view of literature and literary men in Great Britain, for near half a century'. A quotation on the title-page from the Satires of Horace indicated his ambition to present the reader with 'omnis vita senis'. readable; to re

To pursue such an aim and yet remain omnis vita senis'.

cord, with legal precision and fulness, all the facts which he had been able to gather, and yet hold the reader's attention, to include material almost unreadable, such as the case of the Scotch Schoolmaster and the variant readings from the Lives of the Poets, and yet leave the appetite unsated this was the daring task which he set himself and which, with labour indescribable, he discharged. He had the assistance of Edmond Malone, the first great friend and admirer, as he later was the first editor, of the Life; but though he gave counsel at every point, particularly in the final stages of revision, his work is not to be overestimated. It would be an error to consider him as the co-author with Boswell. It is Boswell's book. It was as an enthusiastic listener that Malone proved most useful.



He cheered the drooping spirits of the biographer, and endued him with the courage to proceed. 'His conversation', wrote Boswell in November, 1787, 'never fails to console and cheer me. He encourages me to go on with Johnson's Life. One morning we revised a part of it, which he thought well of, and dispelled my vapourish diffidence'. And in October of the next year, 'Breakfasted with Malone and read to him some of the Life which I had lately done. He animated me by commending it. Home and continued. I do not know that anyone has pointed out that Malone provided Boswell with that aid and comfort in his great task that is commonly supplied by a wife. Mrs. Boswell was dying; and her husband's melancholia was becoming chronic. He was now a drunkard, and, what was if possible worse, he was losing confidence in himself. He had risked all in order to practise at the English bar, and the experiment had failed. His Scottish origin and his dissipations made that failure inevitable. It was when he was most in need of help that Malone supplied it. His Irish friend must have had, from the beginning, a conviction of the greatness of Boswell's opportunity; and when Boswell fell to lamenting his failure to get into Parliament and be a Great Man, delivering orations and influencing cabinets, Malone patiently drew him back to his biographical work. Without Malone, we should never have had the Life.

The publication of the book on the sixteenth of May, 1791, marked the anniversary of Boswell's first meeting with Samuel Johnson, twenty-eight years before. Its reception by the public was what the author's experience with the Tour to the Hebrides might have led him to expect. It was read with avidity by all, was eulogized by many, and bitterly attacked by others. Boswell did not escape the charge of treachery to the memory of his 'illustrious friend'. Again the press teemed with satire, with poetical addresses to the biographer, and with caricatures of himself and Johnson. But these only spread the fame of the book. In 1793, Boswell published a quarto pamphlet of Additions and Corrections; and, in the same year, a second edition of the Life in three octavo volumes.

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