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not improperly to one, who was much more ready to punish than to praise ; and who, fretted by the folly or the incivility of a few individuals, let fly his unmerciful lash upon the whole community of mankind.
SOCRATES. My friend let me advise you to be a little more cautious in forming your opinions, and more guarded in your expression; at any rate be not so eager to deserve the reproach you are bestowing upon another :-do not, offended by a little superstition, or disgusted with a little unpoliteness, attack indiscriminately á man adorned with so many excellencies both moral and intellectual. I am somewhat apprehensive, that you might, on this occasion, be convicted of misrepresentation, as well as partiality. Have not many writers, instead of despising or resenting the chastisements of Johnson, been at pains even to collect every fragment of his lash (if I may refer to your own allusion) and to twist them, interwoven with flowers, into an ornament for the head of their master ?
Into a scourge for his back, I suppose you mean, good Socrates. Johnson has been compared to Acteon, who was worried by his own dogs: or, if you will have my allegory in the form of a garland, I must declare myself of opinion, that those blundering biographers have girt their wreathe about the neck of their favourite character, instead of the brows, and so strangled what they were impatient to adorn.*
JOHNSON Sir, if I were still relaxed by the imbecility, or agitated with the passions, of mortal life, I might answer your folly with the severity it deserves. Had those biographers been able to injure my character, they durst not; had they dared, they were not able. My infirmities I have ever acknowledged, and with humility and regret I still acknowledge. My abilities, surely, did not make me the object of contempt, or my virtues of abhorrence ; either, I hope, I did not overrate : I have endeavoured fairly to estimate, and candidly to declare, my excellencies (if any thing human may be so called) and my defects. Of both these, to him who would distinguish himself, or improve others, the knowledge is necessary : of his defects, that confidence may not swell into pride ; of his excellencies, that the modesty of distrust may not shrink into the torpor of timidity. If I was subject to the frailties of humanity, what does it prove, but that I was a man? If I recommended, by the subtlety of argument, if I supported, by the impudence of example, if I decorated with the splendour of wit, or enforced by. vehemence of declamation, doctrines hostile to religion and to goodness, brand me with all the infamy that language can express or malevolence contrive : but if my ability, such as it was, I exerted in the defence of virtue and the discomfiture of vice, I apprehend no danger from the assiduity and eloquence, either of you, Sir, or of my biographers.
* This was written several years before the publication of Mr. Boswell's Life of Johnson, which the Author never saw.
And yet, before I left the upper world no fewer than three volumes had been published concerning your sentiments and behaviour; which volumes, as several people of fashion have assured me, can do little credit to your principles and candour, in the opinion of the present age, or of posterity.
JOHNSON. Yes, Sir, I have been told, I shall not say by people of fashion, but I will say by persons of veracity, that some writers have been very industrious to record Anecdotes of Johnson ; and to represent as serious and solemn philosophy what I might have retorted hastily, in the moment of fretfulness, perhaps under the pressure of disease, or ironically hinted in the confidence of playful conversation. This is an age, Sir, of ignorance and loquacity; all are very willing to talk, and almost all are very unable to think ; and they who have nothing to say of their own, are glad to say something that has been said by others. Thus my sayings have been inquired after with curiosity, and collected with avidity. The preference usually given of obloquy to praise may be unpleasant, but is not unaccountable: what was most agreeable to the biographer himself, and what he knew would be most agreeable to his readers, he readily observed, was careful to remember, and willingly told; and the harsh features of my character became most remarkable, not because they were the most numerous, but because, being somewhat prominent, they were by the firebrand of malicious inquiry most strongly illuminated. No man of sense needs be told, that of the little railleries, which gave flavour and poignancy to familiar conversation, more must be judged from the manner in which they are delivered, than from the words: the latter my biographers have been studious to record; the former they have been no less studious to conceal, or perhaps they had not skill to exhibit. But, let the rabble, both small and great, affix to the words Samuel Johnson any idea they please ; of such I scorn alike the applause and the disapprobation. I seek the praise of the good, the judicious, and the learned ; and he who has prudence, erudition, or charity, must be willing to gather my principles rather from what I have written, than from the prattle of a gossip ; who is more anxious that a story be entertaining, than that it be true; whose observation may be erroneous, and whose narrative may of course be imperfect. From the sentiments of posterity I have little apprehension. I trust my writings will be read and esteemed, when those of some of my biographers (I do not say all) shall no where be found.