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I have not confined myself to the order of the “ Lives,” in making my few remarks. Indeed a different order is observed in the original publication, and in the collection of Johnson's works. And should it be objected, that many of my various readings are inconsiderable, those who make an objection will be pleased to consider, that such small particulars are intended for those who are nicely critical in composition, to whom they will be an acceptable selection.
“Spence's Anecdotes," which are frequently quoted and referred to in Johnson's “Lives of the Poets,” are in a manuscript collection, made by the Reverend Mr. Joseph Spence,2 containing a number of particulars concerning eminent men. To each anecdote is marked the name of the person on whose authority it is mentioned. This valuable collection is the property of the Duke of Newcastle, who, upon the application of Sir Lucas Pepys, was pleased to permit it to be put into the hands of Dr. Johnson, who I am sorry to think made but an awkward return. “Great assistance," says he, “has been given me by Mr. Spence's Collection, of which I consider the communication as a favour worthy of public acknowledgement:” vut he has not owned to whom he was obliged; so that the acknowledgment is unappropriated to his grace.
While the world in general was filled with admiration of
1 Mr. Chalmers here records a curious literary anecdote—that when a new and enlarged edition of the Lives of the Poets was published in 1783, Mr. Nichols, in justice to the purchasers of the preceding editions, printed the additions in a separate pamphlet, and advertised that it might be had gratis. Not ten copies were called for. It may be presumed that the owners of the former editions had bound their sets; but it must also be observed, that the alterations were not considerable.-Croker.
2 The Rev. Joseph Spence, A.M., Rector of Great Harrvood, in Buck inghamshire, and Prebendary of Durham, died at Byfleet in Surrey, August 20, 1768. He was a fellow of New College in Oxford, and held the office of Professor of Poetry in that University from 1728 to 1738.Malone.
These Anecdotes were first published in 1820 (London, Murray), under the title : Observations, Anecdotes, and Characters of Books and Men, by the Rev. Joseph Spence; arranged with notes, by the late Edmund Malone, Esq. Another Edition, with notes and a life of the author, by Samuel Weller Singer, appeared in the same year. Lond., W. H. Carpenter.-Editor.
Johnson's “Lives of the Poets,” there were narrow circles in which prejudice and resentment were fostered, and from which attacks of different sorts issued against him. By some violent Whigs he was arraigned of injustice to Milton; by some Cambridge men, of depreciating Gray; and his expressing with a dignified freedom what he really thought of George, Lord Lyttelton, gave offence to some of the friends of that nobleman, and particularly produced a declaration of war against him from Mrs. Montagu, the ingenious essayist on Shakspeare, between whom and his lordship a commerce of reciprocal compliments had long been carried on. In this war the smaller powers in alliance with him were of course led to engage, at least on the defensive, and thus I for one was excluded from the enjoyment of “a Feast of Reason,” such as Mr. Cumberland has described, with a keen yet just and delicate pen, in his “Observer.” These minute inconveniences gave not the least disturbance to Johnson. He nobly said, when I talked to him of the feeble though shrill outcry which had been raised, “Sir, I considered myself as entrusted with a certain portion of truth. I have given my opinion sincerely; let them show where they think me wrong.”
While my friend is thus contemplated in the splendour derived from his last and perhaps most admirable work, I introduce him with peculiar propriety as the correspondent of Warren Hastings ! a man whose regard reflects dignity even upon Johnson; a man, the extent of whose abilities was equal to that of his power; and who, by those who are fortunate enough to know him in private life, is admired for his literature and taste, and beloved for the candour, moderation, and mildness of his character. Were I capable of paying a suitable tribute of admiration to him, I should certainly not withhold it a moment when it is not possible
1 From this disreputable class, I except an ingenious, though not satisfactory, defence of Hammond, which I did not see till lately, by the favour of its author, my amiable friend, the Reverend Mr. Bevil, who published it without his name. It is a juvenile performance, but elegantly written, with classical enthusiasm of sentiment, and yet witb a becoming modesty, and great respect for Dr. Johnson.
2 January, 1791.
At this date Mr. Hasting's impeachment was still lingering on, but with a certainty of his ultimate acquittal. - Croker.
that I should be suspected of being an interested flatterer. But how weak would be my voice after that of the millions whom he governed ! His condescending and obliging compliance with my solicitation, I with humble gratitude acknowledge; and while by publishing his letter to me, accompanying the valuable communication, I do eminent honour to my great friend, I shall entirely disregard any invidious suggestions, that, as I in some degree participate in the honour, I have, at the same time, the gratification of my own vanity in view.
TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
“ Park Lane, Dec. 2, 1790." “Sir,
“I have been fortunately spared the troublesome suspense of a long search, to which, in performance of my promise, I had devoted this morning, by lighting upon the objects of it among the first papers that I laid my hands on; my veneration for your great and good friend, Dr. Johnson, and the pride, or I hope something of a better sentiment, which I indulge in possessing such memorials of his good will towards me, having induced me to bind them in a parcel containing other select papers, and labelled with the titles appertaining to them. They consist but of three letters, which I believe were all that I ever received from Dr. Johnson. Of these, one, which was written in quadruplicate, under the different dates of its respective despatches, has already been made public, but not from any communication of mine. This, however, I have joined to the rest; and have now the pleasure of sending them to you, for the use to which you informed me it was your desire to destine them.
“My promise was pledged with the condition, that if the letters were found to contain anything which should render them improper for the public eye, you would dispense with the performance of it. You will have the goodness, I am sure, to pardon my recalling this stipulation to your recollection as I shall be loth to appear negligent of that obligation which is always implied in an epistolary confidence. In the reservation of that right I have read them over with the most scrupulous attention, and have not seen in them the slightest cause on that ground to withhold them from you. But, though not on that, yet on another ground, I own I feel a little, yet but a little, reluctance to part with them : I mean on that of my own credit, which I fear will suffer by the information conveyed by them, that I was early in possession of such valuable instructions for the beneficial employment of the influence of my late station, and (as it may seem) have so little availed myself of them. Whether I could, if it were necessary, defend myself against such an imputation, it little concerns the world to know. I look only to the effect which these relics may produce, considered as evidences of the virtues of their author; and believing that they will be found to display an uncommon warmth of private friendship, and a mind ever attentive to the improvement and extension of useful knowledge, and solicitous for the interests of mankind, I can cheerfully submit to the little sacrifice of my own fame, to contribute to the illustration of so great and venerable a character. They cannot be better applied, for that end, than by being intrusted to your hands. Allow me, with this offering, to infer from it a proof of the very great esteem with which I have the honour to profess myself, Sir, your, &c.,
“ WARREN HASTINGS."
“P.S. At some future time, and when you have no further occasion for these papers, I shall be obliged to you if you will return them.”
The last of the three letters thus graciously put into my hands, and which has already appeared in public, belongs to this year; but I shall previously insert the first two in the order of their dates. They altogether form a grand group in my biographical picture.
TO THE HONOURABLE WARREN HISTINGS, ESQ.
“ March 30, 1774.
“Though I have bad but little personal knowledge of you, I have had enough to make me wish for more; and though
it be now a long time since I was honoured by your visit, I had too much pleasure from it to forget it. By those whom we delight to remember, we are unwilling to be forgotten; and therefore I cannot omit this opportunity of reviving myself in your memory by a letter which you will receive from the hands of my friend Mr. Chambers ; ' a man whose purity of manners and vigour of mind are sufficient to make every thing welcome that he brings.
“ That this is my only reason for writing will be too apparent by the uselessness of my letter to any other purpose. I have no questions to ask ; not that I want curiosity after either the ancient or present state of regions in which have been seen all the power and splendour of wide-extended empire; and which as by some grant of natural superiority, supply the rest of the world with all that pride desires and luxury enjoys. But my knowledge of them is too scanty to furnish me with proper topics of inquiry : I can only wish for information and hope that a mind comprehensive like yours will find leisure, amidst the cares of your important station, to inquire into many subjects of which the European world either thinks not at all, or thinks with deficient intelligence and uncertain conjecture. I shall hope that he who once intended to increase the learning of his country by the introduction of the Persian language will examine nicely the traditions and histories of the East; that he will survey the wonders of its ancient edifices and trace the vestiges of its ruined cities; and that, at his return, we shall know the arts and opinions of a race of men from whom very little has been hitherto derived.
“You, Sir, have no need of being told by me how much may be added by your attention and patronage to experimental knowledge and natural history. There are arts of manufacture practised in the countries in which you preside, which are yet very imperfectly known here, either to artificers or philosophers. Of the natural productions, animate and inanimate, we yet hare so little intelligence, that our books are filled, I fear, with conjectures about things which an Indian peasant knows by his senses.
“Many of those things my first wish is to see; my second,
? Afterwards Sir Robert Chambers, one of his majesty's judges in