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FIELDING, it is said, drank confusion to the man who invented the fifth act of a play. He who has edited an extensive work, and has concluded his labours by the preparation of a copious index, might well be pardoned, if he omitted to include the inventor of the Preface among the benefactors of mankind. The long and arduous task that years before he had set himself to do is done, and the last thing that he desires is to talk about it. Liberty is what he asks for, liberty to range for a time wherever he pleases in the wide and fair fields of literature. Yet with this longing for freedom comes a touch of regret and a doubt lest the 'fresh woods and pastures new' may never wear the friendly and familiar face of the plot of ground within whose narrower confines he has so long been labouring, and whose every corner he knows so well. May-be he finds hope in the thought that should his new world seem strange to him and uncomfortable, ere long he may be called back to his old task, and in the preparation of a second edition find the quiet and the peace of mind that are often found alone in 'old use and wont.'
With me the preparation of these volumes has, indeed, been the work of many years. Boswell's Life of Johnson I read for the first time in my boyhood, when I was too young for it to lay any hold on me. When I entered Pembroke College, Oxford, though I loved to think that Johnson had been
been there before me, yet I cannot call to mind that I ever opened the pages of Boswell. By a happy chance I was turned to the study of the literature of the eighteenth century. Every week we were required by the rules of the College to turn into Latin, or what we called Latin, a passage from The Spectator. Many a happy minute slipped by while, in forgetfulness of my task, I read on and on in its enchanting pages. It was always with a sigh that at last I tore myself away, and sat resolutely down to write bad Latin instead of reading good English. From Addison in the course of time I passed on to the other great writers of his and the succeeding age, finding in their exquisitely clear style, their admirable common sense and their freedom from all the tricks of affectation, a delightful contrast to so many of the eminent authors of our own time. Those troublesome doubts, doubts of all kinds, which since the great upheaval of the French Revolution have harassed mankind, had scarcely begun to ruffle the waters of their life. Even Johnson's troubled mind enjoyed vast levels of repose. The unknown world alone was wrapped in stormy gloom; of this world all the complaints which were made were unjust'.' Though I was now familiar with many of the great writers, yet Boswell I had scarcely opened since my boyhood. A happy day came just eighteen years ago when in an old book-shop, almost under the shadow of a great cathedral, I bought a second-hand copy of a somewhat early edition of the Life in five well-bound volumes. Of all my books none I cherish more than these. In looking at them I have known what it is to feel Bishop Percy's ' uneasiness at the thoughts of leaving his books in death'.' They became my almost inseparable companions. Before long I began to note the parallel passages and allusions not only in their pages, but in the various authors whom I studied. Yet in these early * Post, iii. 355.
1 Post, iv. 198.
days I never dreamt of preparing a new edition. It fell to my lot as time went on to criticise in some of our leading publications works that bore both on Boswell and Johnson. Such was my love for the subject that on one occasion, when I was called upon to write a review that should fill two columns of a weekly newspaper, I read a new edition of the Life from beginning to end without, I believe, missing a single line of the text or a single note. At length, 'towering in the confidence' of one who as yet has but set his foot on the threshold of some stately mansion in which he hopes to find for himself a home, I was rash enough more than twelve years ago to offer myself as editor of a new edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson. Fortunately for me another writer had been already engaged by the publisher to whom I applied, and my offer was civilly declined. From that time on I never lost sight of my purpose but when in the troubles of life I well-nigh lost sight of every kind of hope. Everything in my reading that bore on my favourite author was carefully noted, till at length I felt that the materials which I had gathered from all sides were sufficient to shield me from a charge of rashness if I now began to raise the building. Much of the work of preparation had been done at a grievous disadvantage. My health more than once seemed almost hopelessly broken down. Nevertheless even then the time was not wholly lost. In the sleepless hours of many a winter night I almost forgot my miseries in the delightful pages of Horace Walpole's Letters, and with pencil in hand and some little hope still in heart, managed to get a few notes taken. Three winters I had to spend on the shores of the Mediterranean. During two of them my malady and my distress allowed of no rival, and my work made scarcely any advance. The third my strength was returning, and in the six months that I spent three 1 Post, i. 375.
years ago in San Remo I wrote out very many of the notes which I am now submitting to my readers.
An interval of some years of comparative health that I enjoyed between my two severest illnesses allowed me to try my strength as a critic and an editor. In Dr. Johnson: His Friends and his Critics, which I published in the year 1878, I reviewed the judgments passed on Johnson and Boswell by Lord Macaulay and Mr. Carlyle, I described Oxford as it was known to Johnson, and I threw light on more than one important passage in the Life. The following year I edited Boswell's Journal of a Tour to Corsica and his curious correspondence with the Hon. Andrew Erskine. The somewhat rare little volume in which are contained the lively but impudent letters that passed between these two friends I had found one happy day in an old book-stall underneath the town hall of Keswick. I hoped that among the almost countless readers of Boswell there would be many who would care to study in one of the earliest attempts of his joyous youth the man whose ripened genius was to place him at the very head of all the biographers of whom the world can boast. My hopes were increased by the elegance and the accuracy of the typography with which my publishers, Messrs. De La Rue & Co., adorned this reprint. I was disappointed in my expectations. These curious Letters met with a neglect which they did not deserve. Twice, moreover, I was drawn away from the task that I had set before me by other works. By the death of my uncle, Sir Rowland Hill, I was called upon to edit his History of the Penny Postage, and to write his Life. Later on General Gordon's correspondence during the first six years of his government of the Soudan was entrusted to me to prepare for the press. In my Colonel Gordon in Central Africa I attempted to do justice to the rare genius, to the wise and pure enthusiasm, and to the exalted beneficence of that
great man. The labour that I gave to these works was, as regards my main purpose, by no means wholly thrown away. I was trained by it in the duties of an editor, and by studying the character of two such men, who, though wide as the poles asunder in many things, were as devoted to truth and accuracy as they were patient in their pursuit, I was strengthened in my hatred of carelessness and error.
With all these interruptions the summer of 1885 was upon me before I was ready for the compositors to make a beginning with my work. In revising my proofs very rarely indeed have I contented myself in verifying my quotations with comparing them merely with my own manuscript. In almost all instances I have once more examined the originals. 'Diligence and accuracy,' writes Gibbon, are the only merits which an historical writer may ascribe to himself; if any merit indeed can be assumed from the performance of an indispensable duty'.' By diligence and accuracy I have striven to win for myself a place in Johnson's school-'a school distinguished,' as Sir Joshua Reynolds said, 'for a love of truth and accuracy'.' I have steadily set before myself Boswell's example where he says:- Let me only observe, as a specimen of my trouble, that I have sometimes been obliged to run half over London, in order to fix a date correctly; which, when I had accomplished, I well knew would obtain me no praise, though a failure would have been to my discredit'. When the variety and the number of my notes are considered, when it is known that a great many of the authors I do not myself possess, but that they could only be examined in the Bodleian or the British Museum, it will be seen that the labour of revising the proofs was, indeed, unusually severe. In the course of the eighteen months during which they have been passing through the press, 1 History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. 1807, vol. i. * Post, iii. 260. › Post, i. 7.