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_LIFE OF JOHNSON_
_INCLUDING BOSWELL'S JOURNAL OF A TOUR TO THE HEBRIDES
AND JOHNSON'S DIARY OF A JOURNEY INTO NORTH WALES_
GEORGE BIRKBECK HILL, D.C.L.
PEMBROKE COLLEGE, OXFORD
IN SIX VOLUMES
VOLUME I.--LIFE (1709-1765)
M DCCC LXXXVII
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
AN ACCOUNT OF HIS STUDIES
AND NUMEROUS WORKS,
IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER;
A SERIES OF HIS EPISTOLARY CORRESPONDENCE
AND CONVERSATIONS WITH MANY EMINENT PERSONS;
VARIOUS ORIGINAL PIECES OF HIS COMPOSITION,
NEVER BEFORE PUBLISHED:
THE WHOLE EXHIBITING A VIEW OF LITERATURE AND
LITERARY MEN IN GREAT-BRITAIN, FOR NEAR
HALF A CENTURY, DURING WHICH
_BY JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ_.
--_Quo fit ut_ OMNIS
_Votiva pateat veluti descripta tabella_
THE THIRD EDITION, REVISED AND AUGMENTED,
IN FOUR VOLUMES.
PRINTED BY H. BALDWIN AND SON,
FOR CHARLES DILLY, IN THE POULTRY.
* * * * *
M DCC XCIX.
THE REVEREND BENJAMIN JOWETT, M.A.,
MASTER OF BALLIOL COLLEGE
REGIUS PROFESSOR OF GREEK IN THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
HONORARY LL.D. OF THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH
HONORARY D.D. OF THE UNIVERSITY OF LEYDEN
WHO IS NOT ONLY
'AN ACUTE AND KNOWING CRITIC'
IN GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT
KINDLY INTEREST THAT HE HAS THROUGHOUT TAKEN
IN THE PROGRESS OF THIS WORK
BOSWELL'S LIFE OF JOHNSON
CONTENTS OF VOL. I.
DEDICATION TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
ADVERTISEMENT TO THE FIRST EDITION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
ADVERTISEMENT TO THE SECOND EDITION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
ADVERTISEMENT TO THE THIRD EDITION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
CHRONOLOGICAL CATALOGUE OF THE PROSE WORKS OF
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON (SEPT. 18, 1709-OCTOBER 1765) . . . . 1-500
A. JOHNSON'S DEBATES IN PARLIAMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . 501
B. JOHNSON'S LETTERS TO HIS MOTHER AND MISS PORTER
IN 1759 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 512
C. JOHNSON AT CAMBRIDGE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 517
D. JOHNSON'S LETTER TO DR. LELAND . . . . . . . . . . . . . 518
E. JOHNSON'S 'ENGAGING IN POLITICKS WITH H----N'. . . . . . 518
F. JOHNSON'S FIRST ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE THRALES
AND HIS SERIOUS ILLNESS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 520
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS, &c.
1. SAMUEL JOHNSON, after the Picture by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . _Frontispiece_ to VOL. I.
2. FACSIMILE OF JOHNSON'S HANDWRITING IN HIS 20TH YEAR
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . VOL. I, p. 60.
3. FACSIMILE OF A LETTER OF JOHNSON relating to _Rasselas_
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . VOL. I, p. 340.
4. SAMUEL JOHNSON, from the Portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . VOL. I, p. 392.
5. SAMUEL JOHNSON, after the Bust by Nollekens
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . _Frontispiece_ to VOL. II.
6. FACSIMILE OF JOHNSON'S HANDWRITING IN HIS 54TH YEAR
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . VOL. II, _to follow Frontispiece_.
7. SAMUEL JOHNSON, after the Painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1770
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . _Frontispiece to_ VOL. III.
8. FACSIMILE OF THE ROUND ROBIN ADDRESSED TO DR. JOHNSON
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . VOL. III, p. 82.
9. OPIE'S PORTRAIT OF JOHNSON, from the Engraving in the Common
Room of University College
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . VOL. III, _to face_ p. 245.
10. FACSIMILE OF DR. JOHNSON'S HANDWRITING A MONTH BEFORE
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . VOL. IV, _to face_ p. 377.
11. JAMES BOSWELL OF AUCHINLECK, Esq., from the painting by Sir
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . _Frontispiece to_ VOL. V.
12. FACSIMILE OF BOSWELL'S HANDWRITING, 1792, from a Letter in the
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . VOL. V, _to follow Frontispiece_.
13. MAP OF JOHNSON AND BOSWELL'S TOUR THROUGH SCOTLAND AND
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . VOL. V, _to face_ p. 5.
14. CHART OF JOHNSON'S CONTEMPORARIES
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece to VOL. VI.
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 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 thesc. 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 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 fall 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 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, 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,
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 Reynolds'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 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 wheel, 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 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_ I have compressed 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
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 researches. Certain 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
abound I have not thought it needful in the Index to refer to the book
unless the eminence of the author required a separate and a second
entry. My labour would have been increased beyond all endurance and my
Index have been swollen almost into a monstrosity had I always referred
to the book as well as to the matter which was contained in the passage
that I extracted. Though in such a variety of subjects there must be
many omissions, yet I shall be greatly disappointed if actual errors are
discovered. Every entry I have made myself, and every entry I have
verified in the proof-sheets, not by comparing it with my manuscript,
but by turning to the reference in the printed volumes. Some indulgence
nevertheless may well be claimed and granted. If Homer at times nods, an
index-maker may be pardoned, should he in the fourth or fifth month of
his task at the end of a day of eight hours' work grow drowsy. May I
fondly hope that to the maker of so large an Index will be extended the
gratitude which Lord Bolingbroke says was once shown to lexicographers?
'I approve,' writes his Lordship, 'the devotion of a studious man at
Christ Church, who was overheard in his oratory entering into a detail
with God, and acknowledging the divine goodness in furnishing the world
with makers of dictionaries.'
In the list that I give in the beginning of the sixth volume of the
books which I quote, the reader will find stated in full the titles
which in the notes, through regard to space, I was forced to compress.
The Concordance of Johnson's sayings which follows the Index will be
found convenient by the literary man who desires to make use of his
strong and pointed utterances. Next to Shakespeare he is, I believe,
quoted and misquoted the most frequently of all our writers. 'It is not
every man that can _carry_ a _bon-mot_.' Bons-mots that are
miscarried of all kinds of good things suffer the most. In this
Concordance the general reader, moreover, may find much to delight him.
Johnson's trade was wit and wisdom, and some of his best wares are
here set out in a small space. It was, I must confess, with no little
pleasure that in revising my proof-sheets I found that the last line in
my Concordance and the last line in my six long volumes is Johnson's
quotation of Goldsmith's fine saying; 'I do not love a man who is
zealous for nothing.'
In the 'forward' references in the notes to other passages in the book,
the reader may be surprised at finding that while often I only give the
date under which the reference will be found, frequently I am able to
quote the page and volume. The explanation is a simple one: two sets of
compositors were generally at work, and two volumes were passing through
the press simultaneously.
In the selection of the text which I should adopt I hesitated for some
time. In ordinary cases the edition which received the author's final
revision is the one which all future editors should follow. The second
edition, which was the last that was brought out in Boswell's life-time,
could not, I became convinced, be conveniently reproduced. As it was
passing through the press he obtained many additional anecdotes and
letters. These he somewhat awkwardly inserted in an Introduction and an
Appendix. He was engaged on his third edition when he died. 'He had
pointed out where some of these materials should be inserted,' and 'in
the margin of the copy which he had in part revised he had written
notes.' His interrupted labours were completed by Edmond Malone, to
whom he had read aloud almost the whole of his original manuscript, and
who had helped him in the revision of the first half of the book when it
was in type. 'These notes,' says Malone, 'are faithfully preserved.'
He adds that 'every new remark, not written by the author, for the sake
of distinction has been enclosed within crotchets.' In the third
edition therefore we have the work in the condition in which it would
have most approved itself to Boswell's own judgment. In one point only,
and that a trifling one, had Malone to exercise his judgment. But so
skilful an editor was very unlikely to go wrong in those few cases in
which he was called upon to insert in their proper places the additional
material which the author had already published in his second edition.
Malone did not, however, correct the proof-sheets. I thought it my duty,
therefore, in revising my work to have the text of Boswell's second
edition read aloud to me throughout. Some typographical errors might, I
feared, have crept in. In a few unimportant cases early in the book I
adopted the reading of the second edition, but as I read on I became
convinced that almost all the verbal alterations were Boswell's own.
Slight errors, often of the nature of Scotticisms, had been corrected,
and greater accuracy often given. Some of the corrections and additions
in the third edition that were undoubtedly from his hand were of
I have retained Boswell's spelling in accordance with the wish that he
expressed in the preface to his _Account of Corsica_. 'If this work,' he
writes, 'should at any future period be reprinted, I hope that care will
be taken of my orthography.' The punctuation too has been preserved.
I should be wanting in justice were I not to acknowledge that I owe much
to the labours of Mr. Croker. No one can know better than I do his great
failings as an editor. His remarks and criticisms far too often deserve
the contempt that Macaulay so liberally poured on them. Without being
deeply versed in books, he was shallow in himself. Johnson's strong
character was never known to him. Its breadth and length, and depth and
height were far beyond his measure. With his writings even he shows few
signs of being familiar. Boswell's genius, a genius which even to Lord
Macaulay was foolishness, was altogether hidden from his dull eye. No
one surely but a 'blockhead,' a 'barren rascal,' could with scissors
and paste-pot have mangled the biography which of all others is the
delight and the boast of the English-speaking world. He is careless in
small matters, and his blunders are numerous. These I have only noticed
in the more important cases, remembering what Johnson somewhere points
out, that the triumphs of one critic over another only fatigue and
disgust the reader. Yet he has added considerably to our knowledge of
Johnson. He knew men who had intimately known both the hero and his
biographer, and he gathered much that but for his care would have been
lost for ever. He was diligent and successful in his search after
Johnson's letters, of so many of which Boswell with all his persevering
and pushing diligence had not been able to get a sight. The editor of
Mr. Croker's _Correspondence and Diaries_ goes, however, much too
far when, in writing of Macaulay's criticism, he says: 'The attack
defeated itself by its very violence, and therefore it did the book no
harm whatever. Between forty and fifty thousand copies have been sold,
although Macaulay boasted with great glee that he had smashed it.' The
book that Macaulay attacked was withdrawn. That monstrous medley reached
no second edition. In its new form all the worst excrescences had been
cleared away, and though what was left was not Boswell, still less was
it unchastened Croker. His repentance, however, was not thorough. He
never restored the text to its old state; wanton transpositions of
passages still remain, and numerous insertions break the narrative. It
was my good fortune to become a sound Boswellian before I even looked at
his edition. It was not indeed till I came to write out my notes for the
press that I examined his with any thoroughness.
'Notes,' says Johnson, 'are often necessary, but they are necessary
evils.' To the young reader who for the first time turns over
Boswell's delightful pages I would venture to give the advice Johnson
gives about Shakespeare:--
'Let him that is yet unacquainted with the powers of Shakespeare, and
who desires to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, read
every play from the first scene to the last with utter negligence of all
his commentators. When his fancy is once on the wing, let it not stoop
at correction or explanation. When his attention is strongly engaged let
it disdain alike to turn aside to the name of Theobald and of Pope. Let
him read on through brightness and obscurity, through integrity and
corruption; let him preserve his comprehension of the dialogue and his
interest in the fable. And when the pleasures of novelty have ceased let
him attempt exactness and read the commentators.'
So too let him who reads the _Life of Johnson_ for the first time read
it in one of the _Pre-Crokerian_ editions. They are numerous and good.
With his attention undiverted by notes he will rapidly pass through one
of the most charming narratives that the world has ever seen, and if his
taste is uncorrupted by modern extravagances, will recognise the genius
of an author who, in addition to other great qualities, has an admirable
eye for the just proportions of an extensive work, and who is the master
of a style that is as easy as it is inimitable.
Johnson, I fondly believe, would have been pleased, perhaps would even
have been proud, could he have foreseen this edition. Few distinctions
he valued more highly than those which he received from his own great
University. The honorary degrees that it conferred on him, the gown that
it entitled him to wear, by him were highly esteemed. In the Clarendon
Press he took a great interest. The efforts which that famous
establishment has made in the excellence of the typography, the quality
of the paper, and the admirably-executed illustrations and facsimiles to
do honour to his memory and to the genius of his biographer would have
highly delighted him. To his own college he was so deeply attached that
he would not have been displeased to learn that his editor had been
nursed in that once famous 'nest of singing birds.' Of Boswell's
pleasure I cannot doubt. How much he valued any tribute of respect from
Oxford is shown by the absurd importance that he gave to a sermon which
was preached before the University by an insignificant clergyman more
than a year and a half after Johnson's death. When Edmund Burke
witnessed the long and solemn procession entering the Cathedral of St.
Paul's, as it followed Sir Joshua Reynolds to his grave, he wrote:
'Everything, I think, was just as our deceased friend would, if living,
have wished it to be; for he was, as you know, not altogether
indifferent to this kind of observances.' It would, indeed, be
presumptuous in me to flatter myself that in this edition everything is
as Johnson and Boswell would, if living, have wished it. Yet to this
kind of observances, the observances that can be shown by patient and
long labour, and by the famous press of a great University, neither man
was altogether indifferent.
Should my work find favour with the world of readers, I hope again to
labour in the same fields. I had indeed at one time intended to enlarge
this edition by essays on Boswell, Johnson, Mrs. Thrale, and perhaps on
other subjects. Their composition would, however, have delayed
publication more than seemed advisable, and their length might have
rendered the volumes bulky beyond all reason. A more favourable
opportunity may come. I have in hand a _Selection of the Wit and Wisdom
of Dr. Johnson_. I purpose, moreover, to collect and edit all of his
letters that are not in the _Life_. Some hundreds of these were
published by Mrs. Piozzi; many more are contained in Mr. Croker's
edition; while others have already appeared in _Notes and Queries_.
Not a few, doubtless, are still lurking in the desks of the collectors
of autographs. As a letter-writer Johnson stands very high. While the
correspondence of David Garrick has been given to the world in two large
volumes, it is not right that the letters of his far greater friend
should be left scattered and almost neglected. 'He that sees before him
to his third dinner,' says Johnson, 'has a long prospect.' My
prospect is still longer; for, if health be spared, and a fair degree of
public favour shown, I see before me to my third book. When I have
published my _Letters_, I hope to enter upon a still more arduous task
in editing the _Lives of the Poets_.
In my work I have received much kind assistance, not only from friends,
but also from strangers to whom I had applied in cases where special
knowledge could alone throw light on some obscure point. My
acknowledgments I have in most instances made in my notes. In some
cases, either through want of opportunity or forgetfulness, this has not
been done. I gladly avail myself of the present opportunity to remedy
this deficiency. The Earl of Crawford and Balcarres I have to thank for
so liberally allowing the original of the famous Round Robin, which is
in his Lordship's possession, to be reproduced by a photographic process
for this edition. It is by the kindness of Mr. J.L.G. Mowat, M.A.,
Fellow and Bursar of Pembroke College, Oxford, that I have been able to
make a careful examination of the Johnsonian manuscripts in which our
college is so rich. If the vigilance with which he keeps guard over
these treasures while they are being inspected is continued by his
successors in office, the college will never have to mourn over the loss
of a single leaf. To the Rev. W.D. Macray, M.A., of the manuscript
department of the Bodleian, to Mr. Falconer Madan, M.A., Sub-Librarian
of the same Library, and to Mr. George Parker, one of the Assistants, I
am indebted for the kindness with which they have helped me in my
inquiries. To Mr. W.H. Allnutt, another of the Assistants, I owe still
more. When I was abroad, I too frequently, I fear, troubled him with
questions which no one could have answered who was not well versed in
bibliographical lore. It was not often that his acuteness was baffled,
while his kindness was never exhausted. My old friend Mr. E.J. Payne,
M.A., Fellow of University College, Oxford, the learned editor of the
_Select Works of Burke_ published by the Clarendon Press, has allowed
me, whenever I pleased, to draw on his extensive knowledge of the
history and the literature of the eighteenth century. Mr. C.G. Crump,
B.A., of Balliol College, Oxford, has traced for me not a few of the
quotations which had baffled my search. To Mr. G.K. Fortescue,
Superintendent of the Reading Room of the British Museum, my most
grateful acknowledgments are due. His accurate and extensive knowledge
of books and his unfailing courtesy and kindness have lightened many a
day's heavy work in the spacious room over which he so worthily
presides. But most of all am I indebted to Mr. C.E. Doble, M.A., of the
Clarendon Press. He has read all my proof-sheets, and by his almost
unrivalled knowledge of the men of letters of the close of the
seventeenth and of the beginning of the eighteenth centuries, he has
saved my notes from some blunders and has enriched them with much
valuable information. In my absence abroad he has in more instances than
I care to think of consulted for me the Bodleian Library. It is some
relief to my conscience to know that the task was rendered lighter to
him by his intimate familiarity with its treasures, and by the deep love
for literature with which he is inspired.
There are other thanks due which I cannot here fittingly express. 'An
author partakes of the common condition of humanity; he is born and
married like another man; he has hopes and fears, expectations and
disappointments, griefs and joys like a courtier or a statesman.' In
the hopes and fears, in the expectations and disappointments, in the
griefs and joys--nay, in the very labours of his literary life, if his
hearth is not a solitary one, he has those who largely share.
I have now come to the end of my long labours. 'There are few things not
purely evil,' wrote Johnson, 'of which we can say without some emotion
of uneasiness, _this is the last_.' From this emotion I cannot feign
that I am free. My book has been my companion in many a sad and many a
happy hour. I take leave of it with a pang of regret, but I am cheered
by the hope that it may take its place, if a lowly one, among the works
of men who have laboured patiently but not unsuccessfully in the great
and shining fields of English literature.
G. B. H.
_March_ 16, 1887.
Vol. I, page 140, _n_. 5, l. 2, _read 'of.'_
" " 176, _n_. 2, l. 22, _for_ 1774 _read_ 1747.
" " 262, _n_. 3 of p. 261, l. 3, _for_ guineas _read_ pounds.
" " 480, l. 20, _for_ language, _read_ language.'
Vol. II, page 34, _n_. 1, l. 40, _for_ proper. _read_ proper.'
" " 445, l. 8, _for_ Masters _read_ Master
Vol. III, page 18, l. 13, _read_ accessary.
" " 81, _n_. 1, l. 2, _for_ 1784, _read_ 1784.
" " 312, _n_. 1, l. 1, _for_ Mrs. Burney _read_ Miss Burney
Vol. IV, page 323, _n_. 1, l. 21, _for_ Wharton _read_ Warton
" " 379, l. 19, _read_ after
Vol. V, page 49, _n_. 4, l. 2, _for 'Boswell' read 'Johnson.'_
Vol. VI. " 74, col. 2, _insert_ Eccles, Rev. W., i. 360.
_TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS_.
MY DEAR SIR,
Every liberal motive that can actuate an Authour in the dedication of
his labours, concurs in directing me to you, as the person to whom the
following Work should be inscribed.
If there be a pleasure in celebrating the distinguished merit of a
contemporary, mixed with a certain degree of vanity not altogether
inexcusable, in appearing fully sensible of it, where can I find one, in
complimenting whom I can with more general approbation gratify those
feelings? Your excellence not only in the Art over which you have long
presided with unrivalled fame, but also in Philosophy and elegant
Literature, is well known to the present, and will continue to be the
admiration of future ages. Your equal and placid temper, your variety
of conversation, your true politeness, by which you are so amiable in
private society, and that enlarged hospitality which has long made your
house a common centre of union for the great, the accomplished, the
learned, and the ingenious; all these qualities I can, in perfect
confidence of not being accused of flattery, ascribe to you.
If a man may indulge an honest pride, in having it known to the world,
that he has been thought worthy of particular attention by a person of
the first eminence in the age in which he lived, whose company has been
universally courted, I am justified in availing myself of the usual
privilege of a Dedication, when I mention that there has been a long and
uninterrupted friendship between us.
[Page 2: Dedication.]
If gratitude should be acknowledged for favours received, I have this
opportunity, my dear Sir, most sincerely to thank you for the many happy
hours which I owe to your kindness,--for the cordiality with which you
have at all times been pleased to welcome me,--for the number of
valuable acquaintances to whom you have introduced me,--for the _noctes
coenaeque Deum_, which I have enjoyed under your roof.
If a work should be inscribed to one who is master of the subject of it,
and whose approbation, therefore, must ensure it credit and success, the
_Life of Dr. Johnson_ is, with the greatest propriety, dedicated to Sir
Joshua Reynolds, who was the intimate and beloved friend of that great
man; the friend, whom he declared to be 'the most invulnerable man he
knew; whom, if he should quarrel with him, he should find the most
difficulty how to abuse.' You, my dear Sir, studied him, and knew him
well: you venerated and admired him. Yet, luminous as he was upon the
whole, you perceived all the shades which mingled in the grand
composition; all the little peculiarities and slight blemishes which
marked the literary Colossus. Your very warm commendation of the
specimen which I gave in my _Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides_, of my
being able to preserve his conversation in an authentick and lively
manner, which opinion the Publick has confirmed, was the best
encouragement for me to persevere in my purpose of producing the whole
of my stores.
In one respect, this Work will, in some passages, be different from the
former. In my _Tour_, I was almost unboundedly open in my
communications, and from my eagerness to display the wonderful fertility
and readiness of Johnson's wit, freely shewed to the world its
dexterity, even when I was myself the object of it. I trusted that I
should be liberally understood, as knowing very well what I was about,
and by no means as simply unconscious of the pointed effects of the
satire. I own, indeed, that I was arrogant enough to suppose that the
tenour of the rest of the book would sufficiently guard me against such
a strange imputation. But it seems I judged too well of the world; for,
though I could scarcely believe it, I have been undoubtedly informed,
that many persons, especially in distant quarters, not penetrating
enough into Johnson's character, so as to understand his mode of
treating his friends, have arraigned my judgement, instead of seeing
that I was sensible of all that they could observe.
It is related of the great Dr. Clarke, that when in one of his
leisure hours he was unbending himself with a few friends in the most
playful and frolicksome manner, he observed Beau Nash approaching; upon
which he suddenly stopped:--'My boys, (said he,) let us be grave: here
comes a fool.' The world, my friend, I have found to be a great fool, as
to that particular, on which it has become necessary to speak very
plainly. I have, therefore, in this Work been more reserved; and
though I tell nothing but the truth, I have still kept in my mind that
the whole truth is not always to be exposed. This, however, I have
managed so as to occasion no diminution of the pleasure which my book
should afford; though malignity may sometimes be disappointed of its
[Page 4: Dedication.]
My dear Sir,
Your much obliged friend,
And faithful humble servant,
April 20, 1791.
I at last deliver to the world a Work which I have long promised, and of
which, I am afraid, too high expectations have been raised. The delay
of its publication must be imputed, in a considerable degree, to the
extraordinary zeal which has been shewn by distinguished persons in all
quarters to supply me with additional information concerning its
illustrious subject; resembling in this the grateful tribes of ancient
nations, of which every individual was eager to throw a stone upon the
grave of a departed Hero, and thus to share in the pious office of
erecting an honourable monument to his memory.
[Page 6: Advertisement to the First Edition.]
The labour and anxious attention with which I have collected and
arranged the materials of which these volumes are composed, will hardly
be conceived by those who read them with careless facility. The
stretch of mind and prompt assiduity by which so many conversations were
preserved, I myself, at some distance of time, contemplate with
wonder; and I must be allowed to suggest, that the nature of the work,
in other respects, as it consists of innumerable detached particulars,
all which, even the most minute, I have spared no pains to ascertain
with a scrupulous authenticity, has occasioned a degree of trouble far
beyond that of any other species of composition. Were I to detail the
books which I have consulted, and the inquiries which I have found it
necessary to make by various channels, I should probably be thought
ridiculously ostentatious. 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. And after all, perhaps, hard as it may be, I shall not be
surprized if omissions or mistakes be pointed out with invidious
severity. I have also been extremely careful as to the exactness of my
quotations; holding that there is a respect due to the publick which
should oblige every Authour to attend to this, and never to presume to
introduce them with,--'_I think I have read_;'--or,--'_If I remember
right_;'--when the originals may be examined.
I beg leave to express my warmest thanks to those who have been pleased
to favour me with communications and advice in the conduct of my Work.
But I cannot sufficiently acknowledge my obligations to my friend Mr.
_Malone_, who was so good as to allow me to read to him almost the whole
of my manuscript, and make such remarks as were greatly for the
advantage of the Work; though it is but fair to him to mention, that
upon many occasions I differed from him, and followed my own judgement.
I regret exceedingly that I was deprived of the benefit of his revision,
when not more than one half of the book had passed through the press;
but after having completed his very laborious and admirable edition of
_Shakspeare_, for which he generously would accept of no other reward
but that fame which he has so deservedly obtained, he fulfilled his
promise of a long-wished-for visit to his relations in Ireland; from
whence his safe return _finibus Atticis_ is desired by his friends here,
with all the classical ardour of _Sic te Diva potens Cypri_; for
there is no man in whom more elegant and worthy qualities are united;
and whose society, therefore, is more valued by those who know him.
It is painful to me to think, that while I was carrying on this Work,
several of those to whom it would have been most interesting have died.
Such melancholy disappointments we know to be incident to humanity; but
we do not feel them the less. Let me particularly lament the Reverend
_Thomas Warton_, and the Reverend Dr. _Adams_. Mr. _Warton_, amidst his
variety of genius and learning, was an excellent Biographer. His
contributions to my Collection are highly estimable; and as he had a
true relish of my _Tour to the Hebrides_, I trust I should now have been
gratified with a larger share of his kind approbation. Dr. _Adams_,
eminent as the Head of a College, as a writer, and as a most amiable
man, had known _Johnson_ from his early years, and was his friend
through life. What reason I had to hope for the countenance of that
venerable Gentleman to this Work, will appear from what he wrote to me
upon a former occasion from Oxford, November 17, 1785:--'Dear Sir, I
hazard this letter, not knowing where it will find you, to thank you for
your very agreeable _Tour_, which I found here on my return from the
country, and in which you have depicted our friend so perfectly to my
fancy, in every attitude, every scene and situation, that I have thought
myself in the company, and of the party almost throughout. It has given
very general satisfaction; and those who have found most fault with a
passage here and there, have agreed that they could not help going
through, and being entertained with the whole. I wish, indeed, some few
gross expressions had been softened, and a few of our hero's foibles had
been a little more shaded; but it is useful to see the weaknesses
incident to great minds; and you have given us Dr. Johnson's authority
that in history all ought to be told.'
Such a sanction to my faculty of giving a just representation of Dr.
_Johnson_ I could not conceal. Nor will I suppress my satisfaction in
the consciousness, that by recording so considerable a portion of the
wisdom and wit of '_the brightest ornament of the eighteenth
century_.' I have largely provided for the instruction and
entertainment of mankind.
London, April 20, 1791.
That I was anxious for the success of a Work which had employed much of
my time and labour, I do not wish to conceal: but whatever doubts I at
any time entertained, have been entirely removed by the very favourable
reception with which it has been honoured. That reception has excited
my best exertions to render my Book more perfect; and in this endeavour
I have had the assistance not only of some of my particular friends, but
of many other learned and ingenious men, by which I have been enabled to
rectify some mistakes, and to enrich the Work with many valuable
additions. These I have ordered to be printed separately in quarto, for
the accommodation of the purchasers of the first edition. May I be
permitted to say that the typography of both editions does honour to the
press of Mr. _Henry Baldwin_, now Master of the Worshipful Company of
Stationers, whom I have long known as a worthy man and an obliging
In the strangely mixed scenes of human existence, our feelings are often
at once pleasing and painful. Of this truth, the progress of the present
Work furnishes a striking instance. It was highly gratifying to me that
my friend, Sir _Joshua Reynolds_, to whom it is inscribed, lived to
peruse it, and to give the strongest testimony to its fidelity; but
before a second edition, which he contributed to improve, could be
finished, the world has been deprived of that most valuable man; a
loss of which the regret will be deep, and lasting, and extensive,
proportionate to the felicity which he diffused through a wide circle of
admirers and friends.
[Page 11: Advertisement to the Second Edition.]
In reflecting that the illustrious subject of this Work, by being more
extensively and intimately known, however elevated before, has risen in
the veneration and love of mankind, I feel a satisfaction beyond what
fame can afford. We cannot, indeed, too much or too often admire his
wonderful powers of mind, when we consider that the principal store of
wit and wisdom which this Work contains, was not a particular selection
from his general conversation, but was merely his occasional talk at
such times as I had the good fortune to be in his company; and,
without doubt, if his discourse at other periods had been collected with
the same attention, the whole tenor of what he uttered would have been
found equally excellent.
His strong, clear, and animated enforcement of religion, morality,
loyalty, and subordination, while it delights and improves the wise and
the good, will, I trust, prove an effectual antidote to that detestable
sophistry which has been lately imported from France, under the false
name of _Philosophy_, and with a malignant industry has been employed
against the peace, good order, and happiness of society, in our free and
prosperous country; but thanks be to _GOD_, without producing the
pernicious effects which were hoped for by its propagators.
It seems to me, in my moments of self-complacency, that this extensive
biographical work, however inferior in its nature, may in one respect be
assimilated to the _ODYSSEY_. Amidst a thousand entertaining and
instructive episodes the _HERO_ is never long out of sight; for they are
all in some degree connected with him; and _HE_, in the whole course of
the History, is exhibited by the Authour for the best advantage of his
'--Quid virtus et quid sapientia possit,
Utile proposuit nobis exemplar Ulyssen.'
Should there be any cold-blooded and morose mortals who really dislike
this Book, I will give them a story to apply. When the great _Duke of
Marlborough_, accompanied by _Lord Cadogan_, was one day reconnoitering
the army in Flanders, a heavy rain came on, and they both called for
their cloaks. _Lord Cadogan's_ servant, a good humoured alert lad,
brought his Lordship's in a minute. The Dukes servant, a lazy sulky dog,
was so sluggish, that his Grace being wet to the skin, reproved him, and
had for answer with a grunt, 'I came as fast as I could,' upon which the
Duke calmly said, '_Cadogan_, I would not for a thousand pounds have
that fellow's temper!'
There are some men, I believe, who have, or think they have, a very
small share of vanity. Such may speak of their literary fame in a
decorous style of diffidence. But I confess, that I am so formed by
nature and by habit, that to restrain the effusion of delight, on having
obtained such fame, to me would be truly painful. Why then should I
suppress it? Why 'out of the abundance of the heart' should I not
speak? Let me then mention with a warm, but no insolent exultation,
that I have been regaled with spontaneous praise of my work by many and
various persons eminent for their rank, learning, talents and
accomplishments; much of which praise I have under their hands to be
reposited in my archives at _Auchinleck_. An honourable and reverend
friend speaking of the favourable reception of my volumes, even in the
circles of fashion and elegance, said to me, 'you have made them all
talk Johnson.'--Yes, I may add, I have _Johnsonised_ the land; and I
trust they will not only _talk_, but _think_, Johnson.
To enumerate those to whom I have been thus indebted, would be tediously
ostentatious. I cannot however but name one whose praise is truly
valuable, not only on account of his knowledge and abilities, but on
account of the magnificent, yet dangerous embassy, in which he is now
employed, which makes every thing that relates to him peculiarly
interesting. Lord MACARTNEY favoured me with his own copy of my book,
with a number of notes, of which I have availed myself. On the first
leaf I found in his Lordship's hand-writing, an inscription of stick
high commendation, that even I, vain as I am, cannot prevail on myself
to publish it.
July 1, 1793.
Several valuable letters, and other curious matter, having been
communicated to the Author too late to be arranged in that chronological
order which he had endeavoured uniformly to observe in his work, he was
obliged to introduce them in his Second Edition, by way of _ADDENDA_, as
commodiously as he could. In the present edition these have been
distributed in their proper places. In revising his volumes for a new
edition, he had pointed out where some of these materials should be
inserted; but unfortunately in the midst of his labours, he was seized
with a fever, of which, to the great regret of all his friends, he died
on the 19th of May, 1795. All the Notes that he had written in the
margin of the copy which he had in part revised, are here faithfully
preserved; and a few new Notes have been added, principally by some of
those friends to whom the Author in the former editions acknowledged his
obligations. Those subscribed with the letter _B_ were communicated by
Dr. _Burney_: those to which the letters _J B_ are annexed, by the Rev.
_J. Blakeway_, of Shrewsbury, to whom Mr. _Boswell_ acknowledged himself
indebted for some judicious remarks on the first edition of his work:
and the letters _J B-O_. are annexed to some remarks furnished by the
Author's second son, a Student of Brazen-Nose College in Oxford. Some
valuable observations were communicated by _James Bindley_, Esq., First
Commissioner in the Stamp-Office, which have been acknowledged in their
proper places. For all those without any signature, Mr. _Malone_ is
answerable.--Every new remark, not written by the Author, for the sake
of distinction has been enclosed within crotchets: in one instance,
however, the printer by mistake has affixed this mark to a note relative
to the Rev. _Thomas Fysche Palmer_, which was written by Mr. Boswell.
and therefore ought not to have been thus distinguished.
[Page 15: Advertisement to the Third Edition.]
I have only to add, that the proof-sheets of the present edition not
having passed through my hands, I am not answerable for any
typographical errours that may be found in it. Having, however, been
printed at the very accurate press of Mr. _Baldwin_, I make no doubt it
will be found not less perfect than the former edition; the greatest
care having been taken, by correctness and elegance to do justice to one
of the most instructive and entertaining works in the English language.
April 8, 1799.
_PROSE WORKS OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D_.
[N.B. To those which he himself acknowledged is added _acknowl_. To
those which may be fully believed to be his from internal evidence, is
added _intern. evid_.]
1735. Abridgement and translation of Lobo's Voyage to Abyssinia,
1738. Part of a translation of Father Paul Sarpi's History of the
Council of Trent. _acknowl_.
[N.B. As this work after some sheets were printed, suddenly stopped, I
know not whether any part of it is now to be found.]
_For the Gentleman's Magazine_.
Preface. _intern. evid_.
Life of Father Paul. _acknowl_.
1739. A complete vindication of the Licenser of the Stage from the
malicious and scandalous aspersions of Mr. Brooke, authour of Gustavus
_Marmor Norfolciense_: or, an Essay on an ancient prophetical
inscription in monkish rhyme, lately discovered near Lynne in Norfolk;
by PROBUS BRITANNICUS. _acknowl_.
[Page 17: A Chronological Catalogue of Prose Works]
_For the Gentleman's Magazine_.
Life of Boerhaave. _acknowl_.
Address to the Reader. _intern. evid_.
Appeal to the Publick in behalf of the Editor. _intern. evid_.
Considerations on the case of Dr. Trapp's Sermons; a plausible attempt
to prove that an authour's work may be abridged without injuring his
1740. _For the Gentleman's Magazine_.
Preface. _intern. evid_.
Life of Admiral Drake. _acknowl_.
Life of Admiral Blake. _acknowl_.
Life of Philip Barretier. _acknowl_.
Essay on Epitaphs. _acknowl_.
1741. _For the Gentleman's Magazine_.
Preface. _intern. evid_.
A free translation of the Jests of Hierocles, with an introduction.
Debate on the _Humble Petition and Advice_ of the Rump Parliament to
Cromwell in 1657, to assume the Title of King; abridged, methodized and
digested. _intern. evid_.
Translation of Abbe Guyon's Dissertation on the Amazons. _intern. evid_.
Translation of Fontenelle's Panegyrick on Dr. Morin. _intern. evid_.
1742. _For the Gentleman's Magazine_.
Preface. _intern. evid_.
Essay on the Account of the Conduct of the Duchess of Marlborough.
An Account of the Life of Peter Burman. _acknowl_.
The Life of Sydenham, afterwards prefixed to Dr. Swan's Edition of his
Proposals for printing Bibliotheca Harleiana, or a Catalogue of the
Library of the Earl of Oxford, afterwards prefixed to the first Volume
of that Catalogue, in which the Latin Accounts of the Books were written
by him. _acknowl_.
Abridgement intitled, Foreign History. _intern. evid_.
Essay on the Description of China, from the French of Du Halde. _intern.
1743. Dedication to Dr. Mead of Dr. James's Medicinal Dictionary.
_For the Gentleman's Magazine_.
Preface, _intern. evid_.
Parliamentary Debates under the Name of Debates in the Senate of
Lilliput, from Nov. 19, 1740, to Feb. 23, 1742-3, inclusive. _acknowl_.
Considerations on the Dispute between Crousaz and Warburton on Pope's
Essay on Man. _intern. evid_.
A Letter announcing that the Life of Mr. Savage was speedily to be
published by a person who was favoured with his Confidence. _intern.
Advertisement for Osborne concerning the Harleian Catalogue. _intern.
1744. Life of Richard Savage. _acknowl_.
Preface to the Harleian Miscellany. _acknowl_.
_For the Gentleman's Magazine_.
Preface. _intern. evid_.
1745. Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth, with remarks
on Sir T.H.'s (Sir Thomas Hanmer's) Edition of Shakspeare, and proposals
for a new Edition of that Poet. _acknowl_.
1747. Plan for a Dictionary of the ENGLISH LANGUAGE, addressed to Philip
Dormer, Earl of Chesterfield. _acknowl_.
_For the Gentleman's Magazine_.
1748. Life of Roscommon. _acknowl_.
Foreign History, November. _intern. evid_.
_For Dodsley's_ PRECEPTOR.
Vision of Theodore the Hermit. _acknowl_.
1750. The RAMBLER, the first Paper of which was published 20th of March
this year, and the last 17th of March 1752, the day on which Mrs.
Johnson died. _acknowl_.
Letter in the General Advertiser to excite the attention of the Publick
to the Performance of Comus, which was next day to be acted at
Drury-Lane Playhouse for the Benefit of Milton's Grandaughter.
Preface and Postscript to Lauder's Pamphlet intitled, 'An Essay on
Milton's Use and Imitation of the Moderns in his Paradise Lost.'
1751. Life of Cheynel in the Miscellany called 'The Student.' _acknowl_.
Letter for Lauder, addressed to the Reverend Dr. John Douglas,
acknowledging his Fraud concerning Milton in Terms of suitable
Dedication to the Earl of Middlesex of Mrs. Charlotte Lennox's 'Female
Quixotte.' _intern. evid_.
1753. Dedication to John Earl of Orrery, of Shakspeare Illustrated, by
Mrs. Charlotte Lennox. _acknowl_.
During this and the following year he wrote and gave to his much loved
friend Dr. Bathurst the Papers in the Adventurer, signed T. _acknowl_.
1754. Life of Edw. Cave in the Gentleman's Magazine. _acknowl_.
1755. A DICTIONARY, with a Grammar and History, of the ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
An Account of an Attempt to ascertain the Longitude at Sea, by an exact
Theory of the Variations of the Magnetical Needle, with a Table of the
Variations at the most remarkable Cities in Europe from the year 1660 to
1860. _acknowl_. This he wrote for Mr. Zachariah Williams, an ingenious
ancient Welch Gentleman, father of Mrs. Anna Williams whom he for many
years kindly lodged in his Housc. It was published with a Translation
into Italian by Signor Baretti. In a Copy of it which he presented to
the Bodleian Library at Oxford, is pasted a Character of the late Mr.
Zachariah Williams, plainly written by Johnson. _intern. evid_.
1756. An Abridgement of his Dictionary. _acknowl_.
Several Essays in the Universal Visitor, which there is some difficulty
in ascertaining. All that are marked with two Asterisks have been
ascribed to him, although I am confident from internal Evidence, that we
should except from these 'The Life of Chaucer,' 'Reflections on the
State of Portugal,' and 'An Essay on Architecture:' And from the same
Evidence I am confident that he wrote 'Further Thoughts on Agriculture,'
and 'A Dissertation on the State of Literature and Authours.' The
Dissertation on the Epitaphs written by Pope he afterwards acknowledged,
and added to his 'Idler.'
Life of Sir Thomas Browne prefixed to a new Edition of his Christian
_In the Literary Magazine; or, Universal Review_, which began in January
His _Original Essays_ are
Preliminary Address, _intern. evid_..
An introduction to the Political State of Great Britain, _intern.
Remarks on the Militia Bill, _intern. evid_..
Observations on his Britannick Majesty's Treaties with the Empress of
Russia and the Landgrave of Hesse Cassel. _intern. evid_..
Observations on the Present State of Affairs. _intern. evid_..
Memoirs of Frederick III. King of Prussia. _intern. evid_..
In the same Magazine his Reviews_ are of the following Books:
'Birch's History of the Royal Society.'--'Browne's Christian
Morals.'--'Warton's Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope, Vol.
I.'--'Hampton's Translation of Polybius.'--'Sir Isaac Newton's Arguments
in Proof of a Deity.'--'Borlase's History of the Isles of
Scilly.'--'Home's Experiments on Bleaching.'--'Browne's History of
Jamaica.'--'Hales on Distilling Sea Waters, Ventilators in Ships, and
curing an ill Taste in Milk.'--'Lucas's Essay on Waters.'--'Keith's
Catalogue of the Scottish Bishops.'--'Philosophical Transactions, Vol.
XLIX.'--'Miscellanies by Elizabeth Harrison.'--'Evans's Map and Account
of the Middle Colonies in America.'--'The Cadet, a Military
Treatisc.'--'The Conduct of the Ministry relating to the present War
impartially examined.' _intern. evid_..
'Mrs. Lennox's Translation of Sully's Memoirs.'--'Letter on the Case of
Admiral Byng.'--'Appeal to the People concerning Admiral
Byng.'--'Hanway's Eight Days' Journey, and Essay on Tea.'--'Some further
Particulars in Relation to the Case of Admiral Byng, by a Gentleman of
Mr. Jonas Hanway having written an angry Answer to the Review of his
Essay on Tea, Johnson in the same Collection made a Reply to it.
_acknowl_. This is the only Instance, it is believed, when he
condescended to take Notice of any Thing that had been written against
him; and here his chief Intention seems to have been to make Sport.
Dedication to the Earl of Rochford of, and Preface to, Mr. Payne's
Introduction to the Game of Draughts, _acknowl_.
Introduction to the London Chronicle, an Evening Paper which still
subsists with deserved credit. _acknowl_.
1757. Speech on the Subject of an Address to the Throne after the
Expedition to Rochefort; delivered by one of his Friends in some publick
Meeting: it is printed in the Gentleman's Magazine for October 1785.
The first two Paragraphs of the Preface to Sir William Chambers's
Designs of Chinese Buildings, &c. _acknowl_.
1758. THE IDLER, which began April 5, in this year, and was continued
till April 5, 1760. _acknowl_.
An Essay on the Bravery of the English Common Soldiers was added to it
when published in Volumes. _acknowl_.
1759. Rasselas Prince of Abyssinia, a Tale. _acknowl_.
Advertisement for the Proprietors of the Idler against certain Persons
who pirated those Papers as they came out singly in a Newspaper called
the Universal Chronicle or Weekly Gazette. _intern. evid_.
For Mrs. Charlotte Lennox's English Version of Brumoy,--'A Dissertation
on the Greek Comedy,' and the General Conclusion of the Book. _intern.
Introduction to the World Displayed, a Collection of Voyages and
Three Letters in the Gazetteer, concerning the best plan for Blackfriars
1760. Address of the Painters to George III. on his Accession to the
Throne. _intern. evid_.
Dedication of Baretti's Italian and English Dictionary to the Marquis of
Abreu, then Envoy-Extraordinary from Spain at the Court of
Great-Britain. _intern. evid_.
Review in the Gentleman's Magazine of Mr. Tytler's acute and able
Vindication of Mary Queen of Scots. _acknowl_.
Introduction to the Proceedings of the Committee for Cloathing the
French Prisoners. _acknowl_.
1761. Preface to Rolfs Dictionary of Trade and Commerce. _acknowl_.
Corrections and Improvements for Mr. Gwyn the Architect's Pamphlet,
intitled 'Thoughts on the Coronation of George III.' _acknowl_.
1762. Dedication to the King of the Reverend Dr. Kennedy's Complete
System of Astronomical Chronology, unfolding the Scriptures, Quarto
Concluding Paragraph of that Work. _intern. evid_.
Preface to the Catalogue of the Artists' Exhibition. _intern. evid_.
Character of Collins in the Poetical Calendar, published by Fawkes and
Dedication to the Earl of Shaftesbury of the Edition of Roger Ascham's
English Works, published by the Reverend Mr. Bennet. _acknowl_.
The Life of Ascham, also prefixed to that edition. _acknowl_.
Review of Telemachus, a Masque, by the Reverend George Graham of Eton
College, in the Critical Review. _acknowl_.
Dedication to the Queen of Mr. Hoole's Translation of Tasso. _acknowl_.
Account of the Detection of the Imposture of the Cock-Lane Ghost,
published in the Newspapers and Gentleman's Magazine. _acknowl_.
Part of a Review of Grainger's 'Sugar Cane, a Poem,' in the London
Review of Goldsmith's Traveller, a Poem, in the Critical Review.
The Plays of William Shakspeare, in eight volumes, 8vo. with Notes.
The Fountains, a Fairy Tale, in Mrs. Williams's Miscellanies. _acknowl_.
Dedication to the King of Mr. Adams's Treatise on the Globes. _acknowl_.
Character of the Reverend Mr. Zachariah Mudge, in the London Chronicle.
The False Alarm. _acknowl_.
Thoughts on the late Transactions respecting Falkland's Islands.
Defence of a Schoolmaster; dictated to me for the House of Lords.
Argument in Support of the Law of _Vicious Intromission_; dictated to me
for the Court of Session in Scotland. _acknowl_.
Preface to Macbean's 'Dictionary of Ancient Geography.' _acknowl_.
Argument in Favour of the Rights of Lay Patrons; dictated to me for the
General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. _acknowl_.
The Patriot. _acknowl_.
A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland. _acknowl_.
Proposals for publishing the Works of Mrs. Charlotte Lennox, in Three
Volumes Quarto. _acknowl_.
Preface to Baretti's Easy Lessons in Italian and English. _intern.
Taxation no Tyranny; an Answer to the Resolutions and Address of the
American Congress. _acknowl_.
Argument on the Case of Dr. Memis; dictated to me for the Court of
Session in Scotland. _acknowl_.
Argument to prove that the Corporation of Stirling was corrupt; dictated
to me for the House of Lords. _acknowl_.
Argument in Support of the Right of immediate, and personal reprehension
from the Pulpit; dictated to me. _acknowl_.
Proposals for publishing an Analysis of the Scotch Celtick Language, by
the Reverend William Shaw. _acknowl_.
Dedication to the King of the Posthumous Works of Dr. Pearce, Bishop of
Additions to the Life and Character of that Prelate; prefixed to those
Various Papers and Letters in Favour of the Reverend Dr. Dodd.
Advertisement for his Friend Mr. Thrale to the Worthy Electors of the
Borough of Southwark. _acknowl_.
The first Paragraph of Mr. Thomas Davies's Life of Garrick, _acknowl_.
Prefaces Biographical and Critical to the Works of the most eminent
English Poets; afterwards published with the Title of Lives of the
English Poets. _acknowl_.
Argument on the Importance of the Registration of Deeds; dictated to me
for an Election Committee of the House of Commons. _acknowl_.
On the Distinction between TORY and WHIG; dictated to me. _acknowl_.
On Vicarious Punishments, and the great Propitiation for the Sins of the
World, by JESUS CHRIST; dictated to me. _acknowl_.
Argument in favour of Joseph Knight, an African Negro, who claimed his
Liberty in the Court of Session in Scotland, and obtained it; dictated
to me. _acknowl_.
Defence of Mr. Robertson, Printer of the Caledonian Mercury, against the
Society of Procurators in Edinburgh, for having inserted in his Paper a
ludicrous Paragraph against them; demonstrating that it was not an
injurious Libel; dictated to me. _acknowl_.
The greatest part, if not the whole, of a Reply, by the Reverend Mr.
Shaw, to a Person at Edinburgh, of the Name of Clark, refuting his
arguments for the authenticity of the Poems published by Mr. James
Macpherson as Translations from Ossian. _intern. evid_.
1784. List of the Authours of the Universal History, deposited in the
British Museum, and printed in the Gentleman's Magazine for December,
this year, _acknowl_.
Letters to Mrs. Thrale. _acknowl_.
Prayers and Meditations, which he delivered to the Rev. Mr. Strahan,
enjoining him to publish them, _acknowl_.
Sermons _left for Publication_ by John Taylor, LL.D. Prebendary of
Westminster, and given to the World by the Reverend Samuel Hayes, A.M.
Such was the number and variety of the Prose Works of this extraordinary
man, which I have been able to discover, and am at liberty to mention;
but we ought to keep in mind, that there must undoubtedly have been many
more which are yet concealed; and we may add to the account, the
numerous Letters which he wrote, of which a considerable part are yet
unpublished. It is hoped that those persons in whose possession they
are, will favour the world with them.
* * * * *
'After my death I wish no other herald,
No other speaker of my living actions,
To keep mine honour from corruption,
But such an honest chronicler as Griffith.'
SHAKSPEARE, _Henry VIII. [Act IV. Sc. 2_.]
THE LIFE OF
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
To write the Life of him who excelled all mankind in writing the lives
of others, and who, whether we consider his extraordinary endowments, or
his various works, has been equalled by few in any age, is an arduous,
and may be reckoned in me a presumptuous task.
Had Dr. Johnson written his own life, in conformity with the opinion
which he has given, that every man's life may be best written by
himself; had he employed in the preservation of his own history, that
clearness of narration and elegance of language in which he has embalmed
so many eminent persons, the world would probably have had the most
perfect example of biography that was ever exhibited. But although he at
different times, in a desultory manner, committed to writing many
particulars of the progress of his mind and fortunes, he never had
persevering diligence enough to form them into a regular composition.
Of these memorials a few have been preserved; but the greater part was
consigned by him to the flames, a few days before his death.
[Page 26: The Author's qualifications.]
As I had the honour and happiness of enjoying his friendship for upwards
of twenty years; as I had the scheme of writing his life constantly in
view; as he was well apprised of this circumstance, and from time to
time obligingly satisfied my inquiries, by communicating to me the
incidents of his early years; as I acquired a facility in recollecting,
and was very assiduous in recording, his conversation, of which the
extraordinary vigour and vivacity constituted one of the first features
of his character; and as I have spared no pains in obtaining materials
concerning him, from every quarter where I could discover that they were
to be found, and have been favoured with the most liberal communications
by his friends; I flatter myself that few biographers have entered upon
such a work as this, with more advantages; independent of literary
abilities, in which I am not vain enough to compare myself with some
great names who have gone before me in this kind of writing.
[Page 27: The Life by Sir J. Hawkins.]
Since my work was announced, several Lives and Memoirs of Dr. Johnson
have been published, the most voluminous of which is one compiled for
the booksellers of London, by Sir John Hawkins, Knight, a man, whom,
during my long intimacy with Dr. Johnson, I never saw in his company, I
think but once, and I am sure not above twice. Johnson might have
esteemed him for his decent, religious demeanour, and his knowledge of
books and literary history; but from the rigid formality of his manners,
it is evident that they never could have lived together with
companionable ease and familiarity; nor had Sir John Hawkins that
nice perception which was necessary to mark the finer and less obvious
parts of Johnson's character. His being appointed one of his executors,
gave him an opportunity of taking possession of such fragments of a
diary and other papers as were left; of which, before delivering them up
to the residuary legatee, whose property they were, he endeavoured to
extract the substance. In this he has not been very successful, as I
have found upon a perusal of those papers, which have been since
transferred to me. Sir John Hawkins's ponderous labours, I must
acknowledge, exhibit a _farrago_, of which a considerable portion is not
devoid of entertainment to the lovers of literary gossiping; but besides
its being swelled out with long unnecessary extracts from various works
(even one of several leaves from Osborne's Harleian Catalogue, and those
not compiled by Johnson, but by Oldys), a very small part of it relates
to the person who is the subject of the book; and, in that, there is
such an inaccuracy in the statement of facts, as in so solemn an authour
is hardly excusable, and certainly makes his narrative very
unsatisfactory. But what is still worse, there is throughout the whole
of it a dark uncharitable cast, by which the most unfavourable
construction is put upon almost every circumstance in the character and
conduct of my illustrious friend; who, I trust, will, by a true and
fair delineation, be vindicated both from the injurious
misrepresentations of this authour, and from the slighter aspersions of
a lady who once lived in great intimacy with him.
[Page 28: Warburton's view of biography.]
[Page 29: The author's mode of procedure.]
There is, in the British Museum, a letter from Bishop Warburton to Dr.
Birch, on the subject of biography; which, though I am aware it may
expose me to a charge of artfully raising the value of my own work, by
contrasting it with that of which I have spoken, is so well conceived
and expressed, that I cannot refrain from here inserting it:--
'I shall endeavor, (says Dr. Warburton,) to give you what satisfaction I
can in any thing you want to be satisfied in any subject of Milton, and
am extremely glad you intend to write his life. Almost all the
life-writers we have had before Toland and Desmaiseaux, are indeed
strange insipid creatures; and yet I had rather read the worst of them,
than be obliged to go through with this of Milton's, or the other's life
of Boileau, where there is such a dull, heavy succession of long
quotations of disinteresting passages, that it makes their method quite
nauseous. But the verbose, tasteless Frenchman seems to lay it down as a
principle, that every life must be a book, and what's worse, it proves a
book without a life; for what do we know of Boileau, after all his
tedious stuff? You are the only one, (and I speak it without a
compliment) that by the vigour of your stile and sentiments, and the
real importance of your materials, have the art, (which one would
imagine no one could have missed,) of adding agreements to the most
agreeable subject in the world, which is literary history.'
'Nov. 24, 1737.'
[Page 30: Not a panegyrick, but a Life.]
Instead of melting down my materials into one mass, and constantly
speaking in my own person, by which I might have appeared to have more
merit in the execution of the work, I have resolved to adopt and enlarge
upon the excellent plan of Mr. Mason, in his Memoirs of Gray.
Wherever narrative is necessary to explain, connect, and supply, I
furnish it to the best of my abilities; but in the chronological series
of Johnson's life, which I trace as distinctly as I can, year by year, I
produce, wherever it is in my power, his own minutes, letters, or
conversation, being convinced that this mode is more lively, and will
make my readers better acquainted with him, than even most of those were
who actually knew him, but could know him only partially; whereas there
is here an accumulation of intelligence from various points, by which
his character is more fully understood and illustrated.
Indeed I cannot conceive a more perfect mode of writing any man's life,
than not only relating all the most important events of it in their
order, but interweaving what he privately wrote, and said, and thought;
by which mankind are enabled as it were to see him live, and to 'live
o'er each scene' with him, as he actually advanced through the
several stages of his life. Had his other friends been as diligent and
ardent as I was, he might have been almost entirely preserved. As it is,
I will venture to say that he will be seen in this work more completely
than any man who has ever yet lived.
And he will be seen as he really was; for I profess to write, not his
panegyrick, which must be all praise, but his Life; which, great and
good as he was, must not be supposed to be entirely perfect. To be as he
was, is indeed subject of panegyrick enough to any man in this state of
being; but in every picture there should be shade as well as light, and
when I delineate him without reserve, I do what he himself recommended,
both by his precept and his example.
[Page 31: Conversation best displays character.]
'If the biographer writes from personal knowledge, and makes haste to
gratify the publick curiosity, there is danger lest his interest, his
fear, his gratitude, or his tenderness overpower his fidelity, and tempt
him to conceal, if not to invent. There are many who think it an act of
piety to hide the faults or failings of their friends, even when they
can no longer suffer by their detection; we therefore see whole ranks of
characters adorned with uniform panegyrick, and not to be known from one
another but by extrinsick and casual circumstances. "Let me remember,
(says Hale,) when I find myself inclined to pity a criminal, that there
is likewise a pity due to the country." If we owe regard to the memory
of the dead, there is yet more respect to be paid to knowledge, to
virtue and to truth.'
What I consider as the peculiar value of the following work, is, the
quantity it contains of Johnson's conversation; which is universally
acknowledged to have been eminently instructive and entertaining; and of
which the specimens that I have given upon a former occasion, have
been received with so much approbation, that I have good grounds for
supposing that the world will not be indifferent to more ample
communications of a similar nature.
That the conversation of a celebrated man, if his talents have been
exerted in conversation, will best display his character, is, I trust,
too well established in the judgment of mankind, to be at all shaken by
a sneering observation of Mr. Mason, in his _Memoirs of Mr. William
Whitehead_, in which there is literally no _Life_, but a mere dry
narrative of facts. I do not think it was quite necessary to attempt
a depreciation of what is universally esteemed, because it was not to be
found in the immediate object of the ingenious writer's pen; for in
truth, from a man so still and so tame, as to be contented to pass many
years as the domestick companion of a superannuated lord and lady,
conversation could no more be expected, than from a Chinese mandarin on
a chimney-piece, or the fantastick figures on a gilt leather skreen.
[Page 32: Dr. Johnson on biography.]
If authority be required, let us appeal to Plutarch, the prince of
ancient biographers. [Greek: Oute tais epiphanestatais praxesi pantos
enesti daelosis aretaes ae kakias, alla pragma brachu pollakis, kai
raema, kai paidia tis emphasin aethous epoiaesen mallon ae machai
murionekroi, kai parataxeis ai megistai, kai poliorkiai poleon.] Nor is
it always in the most distinguished atchievements that men's virtues or
vices may be best discerned; but very often an action of small note, a
short saying, or a jest, shall distinguish a person's real character
more than the greatest sieges, or the most important battles.'
To this may be added the sentiments of the very man whose life I am
about to exhibit.
'The business of the biographer is often to pass slightly over those
performances and incidents which produce vulgar greatness, to lead the
thoughts into domestick privacies, and display the minute details of
daily life, where exteriour appendages are cast aside, and men excel
each other only by prudence and by virtue. The account of Thuanus is
with great propriety said by its authour to have been written, that it
might lay open to posterity the private and familiar character of that
man, _cujus ingenium et candorem ex ipsius scriptis sunt olim semper
miraturi_, whose candour and genius will to the end of time be by his
writings preserved in admiration.
'There are many invisible circumstances, which whether we read as
enquirers after natural or moral knowledge, whether we intend to enlarge
our science, or increase our virtue, are more important than publick
occurrences. Thus Sallust, the great master of nature, has not forgot in
his account of Catiline to remark, that his walk was now quick, and
again slow, as an indication of a mind revolving with violent
commotion. Thus the story of Melanchthon affords a striking lecture on
the value of time, by informing us, that when he had made an
appointment, he expected not only the hour, but the minute to be fixed,
that the day might not run out in the idleness of suspence; and all the
plans and enterprises of De Witt are now of less importance to the world
than that part of his personal character, which represents him as
careful of his health, and negligent of his life.
'But biography has often been allotted to writers, who seem very little
acquainted with the nature of their task, or very negligent about the
performance. They rarely afford any other account than might be
collected from publick papers, but imagine themselves writing a life,
when they exhibit a chronological series of actions or preferments;
and have so little regard to the manners or behaviour of their
heroes, that more knowledge may be gained of a man's real character, by
a short conversation with one of his servants, than from a formal and
studied narrative, begun with his pedigree, and ended with his funeral.
[Page 33: Reply to possible objections.]
'There are indeed, some natural reasons why these narratives are often
written by such as were not likely to give much instruction or delight,
and why most accounts of particular persons are barren and useless. If a
life be delayed till interest and envy are at an end, we may hope for
impartiality, but must expect little intelligence; for the incidents
which give excellence to biography are of a volatile and evanescent
kind, such as soon escape the memory, and are transmitted by
tradition. We know how few can pourtray a living acquaintance, except by
his most prominent and observable particularities, and the grosser
features of his mind; and it may be easily imagined how much of this
little knowledge may be lost in imparting it, and how soon a succession
of copies will lose all resemblance of the original.'
I am fully aware of the objections which may be made to the minuteness
on some occasions of my detail of Johnson's conversation, and how
happily it is adapted for the petty exercise of ridicule, by men of
superficial understanding and ludicrous fancy; but I remain firm and
confident in my opinion, that minute particulars are frequently
characteristick, and always amusing, when they relate to a distinguished
man. I am therefore exceedingly unwilling that any thing, however
slight, which my illustrious friend thought it worth his while to
express, with any degree of point, should perish. For this almost
superstitious reverence, I have found very old and venerable authority,
quoted by our great modern prelate, Secker, in whose tenth sermon there
is the following passage:
'_Rabbi David Kimchi_, a noted Jewish Commentator, who lived about five
hundred years ago, explains that passage in the first Psalm, _His leaf
also shall not wither_, from Rabbins yet older than himself, thus: That
_even the idle talk_, so he expresses it, _of a good man ought to be
regarded_; the most superfluous things he saith are always of some
value. And other ancient authours have the same phrase, nearly in the
[Page 34: Johnson's birth and baptism. A.D. 1709.]
Of one thing I am certain, that considering how highly the small portion
which we have of the table-talk and other anecdotes of our celebrated
writers is valued, and how earnestly it is regretted that we have not
more, I am justified in preserving rather too many of Johnson's sayings,
than too few; especially as from the diversity of dispositions it cannot
be known with certainty beforehand, whether what may seem trifling to
some and perhaps to the collector himself, may not be most agreeable to
many; and the greater number that an authour can please in any degree,
the more pleasure does there arise to a benevolent mind.
To those who are weak enough to think this a degrading task, and the
time and labour which have been devoted to it misemployed, I shall
content myself with opposing the authority of the greatest man of any
age, JULIUS CAESAR, of whom Bacon observes, that 'in his book of
Apothegms which he collected, we see that he esteemed it more honour to
make himself but a pair of tables, to take the wise and pithy words of
others, than to have every word of his own to be made an apothegm or an
Having said thus much by way of introduction, I commit the following
pages to the candour of the Publick.
* * * * *
SAMUEL JOHNSON was born at Lichfield, in Staffordshire, on the 18th
of September, N.S., 1709; and his initiation into the Christian Church
was not delayed; for his baptism is recorded, in the register of St.
Mary's parish in that city, to have been performed on the day of his
birth. His father is there stiled _Gentleman_, a circumstance of which
an ignorant panegyrist has praised him for not being proud; when the
truth is, that the appellation of Gentleman, though now lost in the
indiscriminate assumption of _Esquire_, was commonly taken by those
who could not boast of gentility. His father was Michael Johnson, a
native of Derbyshire, of obscure extraction, who settled in Lichfield
as a bookseller and stationer.
[Page 35: His parentage. A.D. 1709]
His mother was Sarah Ford, descended of an ancient race of substantial
yeomanry in Warwickshire. They were well advanced in years when they
married, and never had more than two children, both sons; Samuel, their
first born, who lived to be the illustrious character whose various
excellence I am to endeavour to record, and Nathanael, who died in his
[Page 36: Character of Michael Johnson. A.D. 1709]
Mr. Michael Johnson was a man of a large and robust body, and of a
strong and active mind; yet, as in the most solid rocks veins of unsound
substance are often discovered, there was in him a mixture of that
disease, the nature of which eludes the most minute enquiry, though the
effects are well known to be a weariness of life, an unconcern about
those things which agitate the greater part of mankind, and a general
sensation of gloomy wretchedness. From him then his son inherited,
with some other qualities, 'a vile melancholy,' which in his too strong
expression of any disturbance of the mind, 'made him mad all his life,
at least not sober.' Michael was, however, forced by the narrowness
of his circumstances to be very diligent in business, not only in his
shop, but by occasionally resorting to several towns in the
neighbourhood, some of which were at a considerable distance from
Lichfield. At that time booksellers' shops in the provincial towns of
England were very rare, so that there was not one even in Birmingham, in
which town old Mr. Johnson used to open a shop every market-day. He was
a pretty good Latin scholar, and a citizen so creditable as to be made
one of the magistrates of Lichfield; and, being a man of good sense,
and skill in his trade, he acquired a reasonable share of wealth, of
which however he afterwards lost the greatest part, by engaging
unsuccessfully in a manufacture of parchment. He was a zealous
high-church man and royalist, and retained his attachment to the
unfortunate house of Stuart, though he reconciled himself, by
casuistical arguments of expediency and necessity, to take the oaths
imposed by the prevailing power.
[Page 37: An incident in his life. A.D. 1709]
There is a circumstance in his life somewhat romantick, but so well
authenticated, that I shall not omit it. A young woman of Leek, in
Staffordshire, while he served his apprenticeship there, conceived a
violent passion for him; and though it met with no favourable return,
followed him to Lichfield, where she took lodgings opposite to the house
in which he lived, and indulged her hopeless flame. When he was informed
that it so preyed upon her mind that her life was in danger, he with a
generous humanity went to her and offered to marry her, but it was then
too late: her vital power was exhausted; and she actually exhibited one
of the very rare instances of dying for love. She was buried in the
cathedral of Lichfield; and he, with a tender regard, placed a stone
over her grave with this inscription:
Here lies the body of
Mrs. ELIZABETH BLANEY, a stranger.
She departed this life
20 of September, 1694.
[Page 38: Sarah Johnson. A.D. 1712.]
Johnson's mother was a woman of distinguished understanding. I asked his
old school-fellow, Mr. Hector, surgeon of Birmingham, if she was not
vain of her son. He said, 'she had too much good sense to be vain, but
she knew her son's value.' Her piety was not inferiour to her
understanding; and to her must be ascribed those early impressions of
religion upon the mind of her son, from which the world afterwards
derived so much benefit. He told me, that he remembered distinctly
having had the first notice of Heaven, 'a place to which good people
went,' and hell, 'a place to which bad people went,' communicated to him
by her, when a little child in bed with her; and that it might be the