« ElőzőTovább »
fresh reading has given fresh information, and caused many an addition, and not a few corrections moreover to be made, in passages which I had previously presumed to think already complete. Had it been merely the biography of a great man of letters that I was illustrating, such anxious care would scarcely have been needful. But Boswell's Life of Johnson, as its author with just pride boasts on its title-page, 'exhibits a view of literature and literary men in Great Britain, for near half a century during which Johnson flourished.' Wide, indeed, is the gulf by which this half-century is separated from us. The reaction against the thought and style of the age over which Pope ruled in its prime, and Johnson in its decline,-this reaction, wise as it was in many ways and extravagant as it was perhaps in more, is very far from having spent its force. Young men are still far too often found in our Universities who think that one proof of their originality is a contempt of authors whose writings they have never read. Books which were in the hands of almost every reader of the Life when it first appeared are now read only by the curious. Allusions and quotations which once fell upon a familiar and a friendly ear now fall dead. Men whose names were known to every one, now often have not even a line in a Dictionary of Biography. Over manners too a change has come, and as Johnson justly observes, all works which describe manners require notes in sixty or seventy years, or less'.' But it is not only Boswell's narrative that needs illustration. Johnson in his talk ranges over a vast number of subjects. In his capacious memory were stored up the fruits of an almost boundless curiosity, and a wide and varied reading. I have sought to follow him wherever a remark of his required illustration, and have read through many a book that I might trace to its source a reference or an allusion. I have examined,
1 Post, ii. 243.
moreover, all the minor writings which are attributed to him by Boswell, but which are not for the most part included in his collected works. In some cases I have ventured to set my judgment against Boswell's, and have refused to admit that Johnson was the author of the feeble pieces which were fathered on him. Once or twice in the course of my reading I have come upon essays which had escaped the notice of his biographer, but which bear the marks of his workmanship. To these I have given a reference. While the minute examination that I have so often had to make of Boswell's narrative has done nothing but strengthen my trust in his statements and my admiration of his laborious truthfulness, yet in one respect I have not found him so accurate as I had expected. I have,' he says, 'been extremely careful as to the exactness of my quotations'.' Though in preparing his manuscript he referred in each case 'to the originals,' yet he did not, I conjecture, examine them once more in revising his proof-sheets. At all events he has allowed errors to slip in. These I have pointed out in my notes, for in every case where I could I have, I believe, verified his quotations.
I have not thought that it was my duty as an editor to attempt to refute or even to criticise Johnson's arguments. The story is told that when Peter the Great was on his travels and far from his country, some members of the Russian Council of State in St. Petersburgh ventured to withstand what was known to be his wish. His walking-stick was laid upon the table, and silence at once fell upon all. In like manner, before that editor who should trouble himself and his readers with attempting to refute Johnson's arguments, paradoxical as they often were, should be placed Reynold's portrait of that 'labouring working mind'.' It might make him reflect that if the mighty reasoner could rise up and meet him face to face, he would be sure, on 1 Post, i. 7. 2 Post, iv. 511.
which ever side the right might be, even if at first his pistol missed fire to knock him down with the butt-end of it'. I have attempted therefore not to criticise but to illustrate Johnson's statements. I have compared them with the opinions of the more eminent men among his contemporaries, and with his own as they are contained in other parts of his Life, and in his writings. It is in his written works that his real opinion can be most surely found. He owned he sometimes talked for victory; he was too conscientious to make error permanent and pernicious by deliberately writing it'.' My numerous extracts from the eleven volumes of his collected works will, I trust, not only give a truer insight into the nature of the man, but also will show the greatness of the author to a generation of readers who have wandered into widely different paths.
In my attempts to trace the quotations of which both Johnson and Boswell were somewhat lavish, I have not in every case been successful, though I have received liberal assistance from more than one friend. In one case my long search was rewarded by the discovery that Boswell was quoting himself. That I have lighted upon the beautiful lines which Johnson quoted when he saw the Highland girl singing at her wheel3, and have found out who was 'one Giffard,' or rather Gifford, ‘a parson,' is to me a source of just triumph. I have not known many happier hours than the one in which in the Library of the British Museum my patient investigation was rewarded and I perused Contemplation.
Fifteen hitherto unpublished letters of Johnson'; his college composition in Latin prose'; a long extract from his manuscript diary; a suppressed passage in his Journey to the
Post, v. 133.
1 Post, ii. 115.
Post, iv. 495; v. 18.
* Post, i. 546, n. 4; iv. 300, n. 2; v. 461, n. 4, 518, n. 1; vi. xxi–xxxvii. Post, i. 70, n. 3. • Post, ii. 547. Western
Western Islands'; Boswell's letters of acceptance of the office of Secretary for Foreign Correspondence to the Royal Academy'; the proposal for the publication of a Geographical Dictionary issued by Johnson's beloved friend, Dr. Bathurst'; and Mr. Recorder Longley's record of his conversation with Johnson on Greek metres, will, I trust, throw some lustre on this edition.
In many notes I have been able to clear up statements in the text which were not fully understood even by the author, or were left intentionally dark by him, or have become obscure through lapse of time. I would particularly refer to the light that I have thrown on Johnson's engaging in politics with William Gerard Hamilton', and on Burke's 'talk of retiring'.' In many other notes I have established Boswell's accuracy against attacks which had been made on it apparently with success. It was with much pleasure that I discovered that the story told of Johnson's listening to Dr. Sacheverel's sermon is not in any way improbable', and that Johnson's 'censure' of Lord Kames was quite just'. The ardent advocates of total abstinence will not, I fear, be pleased at finding at the end of my long note on Johnson's wine-drinking that I have been obliged to show that he thought that the gout from which he suffered was due to his temperance. 'I hope you persevere in drinking,' he wrote to his friend, Dr. Taylor. My opinion is that I have
drunk too little'.'
In the Appendices I have generally treated of subjects which demanded more space than could be given them in the narrow limits of a foot-note. In the twelve pages of the essay on Johnson's Debates in Parliament 10 I have com
pressed the result of the reading of many weeks. In examining the character of George Psalmanazar' I have complied with the request of an unknown correspondent who was naturally interested in the history of that strange man, 'after whom Johnson sought the most'.' In my essay on Johnson's Travels and Love of Travelling' I have, in opposition to Lord Macaulay's wild and wanton rhetoric, shown how ardent and how elevated was the curiosity with which Johnson's mind was possessed. In another essay I have explained, I do not say justified, his strong feelings towards the founders of the United States'; and in a fifth I have examined the election of the Lord Mayors of London, at a time when the City was torn by political strife'. To the other Appendices it is not needful particularly to refer.
In my Index, which has cost me many months' heavy work, while I bore burdens with dull patience and beat the track of the alphabet with sluggish resolution,' I have, I hope, shown that I am not unmindful of all that I owe to men of letters. To the dead we cannot pay the debt of gratitude that is their due. Some relief is obtained from its burthen, if we in our turn make the men of our own generation debtors to us. The plan on which my Index is made will, I trust, be found convenient. By the alphabetical arrangement in the separate entries of each article the reader, I venture to think, will be greatly facilitated in his researchCertain subjects I have thought it best to form into groups. Under America, France, Ireland, London, Oxford, Paris, and Scotland, are gathered together almost all the references to those subjects. The provincial towns of France, however, by some mistake I did not include in the general article. One important but intentional omission I must justify. In the case of the quotations in which my notes
1 Post, iii. 503.
2 Post, iii. 357.
3 Post, iii. 510.
* Post, ii. 549, 550.
5 Post, iii. 521.
• Post, i. 219, n. I.