But, after all, Mr. Boswell himself is not exempt

from those errors

quas aut incuria fudit,

Aut humana parum cavit natura ;

and an attentive examination and collation of the authorities (and particularly of Mr. Boswell's own) have convinced the editor that the minor biographers are entitled not merely to more credit than Mr. Boswell allows them, but to as much as any person writing from recollection, and not from notes made at the moment, can be.

As Mr. Boswell had borrowed much from Sir J. Hawkins and Mrs. Piozzi, the editor has thought himself justified in borrowing more; and he has therefore (as he thinks Mr. Boswell would have done if he could) incorporated with the text nearly the whole of Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes, and such passages of Hawkins' "Life" and " Collection of anecdotes" as relate to circumstances which Mr. Boswell had either not mentioned at all, or touched upon imperfectly.

The same use has been made of several other publications, particularly Murphy's Essay on the Life of Dr. Johnson, Mr. Tyers' eccentric but amusing Sketch, and Mr. Nichols' contributions to the Gentleman's Magazine, a publication which, under that gentleman's superintendence, was of peculiar authority in all that relates to Dr. Johnson.

The editor had another important object in adopting this incorporation. Notwithstanding the diligence and minuteness with which Mr. Boswell detailed what he saw of Dr. Johnson's life, his work

left large chasms. It must be recollected that they never resided in the same neighbourhood, and that the detailed account of Johnson's domestic life and conversation is limited to the opportunities afforded by Mr. Boswell's occasional visits to London-by the Scottish Tour-and by one meeting at Dr. Taylor's in Derbyshire. Of above twenty years, therefore, that their acquaintance lasted, periods equivalent in the whole to about three-quarters of a year only fell under the personal notice of Boswell--and thus has been left many a long hiatus-valde deflendus, but now, alas, quite irreparable!

Mr. Boswell endeavoured, indeed, to fill up these chasms as well as he could with Johnson's letters to his absent friends; but much the largest, and, for this purpose, the most valuable part of his correspondence was out of his reach, namely, that which Dr. Johnson for twenty years maintained with Mrs. Thrale, and which she published in 1788, in two volumes octavo. For the copyright of these, Mr. Boswell says, in a tone of admiring envy, "she received five hundred pounds." The publication, however, was not very successful-it never reached a second edition, and is now almost forgotten. But

1 It appears from the LIFE, that Mr. Boswell visited England a dozen times during his acquaintance with Dr. Johnson, and that the number of days on which they met were about 180, to which is to be added the time of the TOUR, during which they met daily from the 18th August, to the 22d November, 1773; in the whole about 276 days. The number of pages in the late editions of the two works is 2528, of which, 1320 are occupied by the history of these 276 days; so that little less than an hundredth part of Dr. Johnson's life occu pies above one half of Mr. Boswell's works. Every one must regret that his personal intercourse with his great friend was not more frequent or more continued; but the editor could do but little towards rectifying this disproportion, except by the insertion of the correspondence with Mrs. Thrale.-ED.

[ocr errors]

through these letters are scattered almost the only information we have relative to Johnson during the long intervals between Mr. Boswell's visits; and from them he has occasionally but cautiously (having the fear of the copyright law before his eyes) made interesting extracts.

These letters being now public property, the editor has been at liberty to follow up Mr. Boswell's imperfect example, and he has therefore made numerous and copious selections from them, less as specimens of Johnson's talents for letter-writing, than as notices of his domestic and social life during the intervals of Mr. Boswell's narrative. Indeed, as letters, few of、 Johnson's can have any great charm for the common reader; they are full of good sense and goodnature, but in forms too didactic and ponderous to be very amusing. If the editor could have ventured to make so great an alteration in Mr. Boswell's original plan, he would-instead of adding so many letters'-have been inclined to have omitted all, except those which might be remarkable for some peculiar merit, or which might tend to complete the history of Johnson's life. In the large extracts which have been made from Mrs. Thrale's correspondence, he has been guided entirely by this latter object.

The most important addition, however, which the editor has made is one that needs no apology-he has incorporated with the LIFE the whole of the TOUR TO THE HEBRIDES, which Mr. Boswell published in

1 The number of original letters in this edition is about 100—the number of those collected from various publications (including the extracts from Mrs. Piozzi's) is about 200.-En.

one volume in 1785, and which, no doubt, if he could legally have done so, he would himself have incorporated in the LIFE-of which indeed he expressly tells us, he looks on the TOUR but as a portion. It is only wonderful, that since the copyright has expired, any edition of the life of Johnson should have been published without the addition of this, the most original, curious, and amusing portion of the whole biography.

The Prayers and Meditations, published with rather too much haste after Johnson's death by Dr. Strahan, have also been made use of to an extent which was forbidden to Mr. Boswell. What Dr. Strahan calls meditations1 are, in fact, nothing but diaries of the author's moral and religious state of mind, intermixed with some notices of his bodily health and of the interior circumstances of his domestic life. Mr. Boswell had ventured to quote some of these: the pre

1 These Meditations have been the cause of much ridicule and some obloquy, which would be not wholly undeserved if it were true, as Dr. Strahan thoughtlessly gave the world to suppose, that they were arranged by Dr. Johnson, and delivered to Dr. Strahan for the express purpose of publication. An inspection of the original manuscripts (now properly and fortunately lodged in Pembroke College) has convinced the editor, (and, as he is glad to find, every body else who has examined them), that the opinion derived from Dr. Strahan's statement echoed by Mr. Boswell, is wholly unfounded. In the confusion of a mind which the approach of death was beginning to affect, and in the agitation which a recent attempt to spoliate two of his note books had occasioned, Dr. Johnson seems to have given Dr. Strahan a confused bundle of loose papers-scraps, half-sheets, and a few leaves stitched together. The greater part of these papers were the Prayers, the publication of which, no doubt, (for Dr. Strahan says so) Dr. Johnson sanctioned; but mixed with them were those diaries to which it is probable that Dr. Johnson did not advert, and which there is every reason to suppose he never could have intended to submit to any human eye but his own. Well understood, as the secret confessions of his own contrite conscience, they do honour to Dr. Johnson's purity and piety; but very different would be their character, if it appeared that he had ostentatiously prepared them for the press. See more on this subject in the notes, vol. i. p. 213, and vol. v. p. 259.-Ed.

sent edition contains all that appear to offer any thing of interest.

The editor has also incorporated in this work a small volume, published in 1802, but now become scarce, containing an Account of Dr. Johnson's early life, written by himself, and a curious correspondence with Miss Boothby, of which Mr. Boswell had given one, and Mrs. Piozzi three or four letters 1.

Mr. Duppa published in 1806, with copious explanatory notes, a diary which Johnson had kept during a Tour through North Wales, made, in 1775, in company with Mr. Thrale and his family. Mr. Boswell had, it appears, inquired in vain for this diary if he could have obtained it, he would, no doubt, have inserted it, as he did the similar notes of the Tour in France in the succeeding year. By the liberality of Mr. Duppa, the editor has been enabled to incorporate this volume with the present edition.

The editor will now recapitulate the publications which will be found, in the whole or in part, in the five volumes of the present edition.

1. The whole of Mr. Malone's edition of Boswell's 4 vols. 8vo.

Life of Johnson,

2. The whole of the first and most copious edition of Boswell's Tour to the Hebrides, 1 vol. 8vo. 3. The whole (though differently arranged) of Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes of Dr. Johnson, 1 vol. sm. 8vo. 4. The whole of Dr. Johnson's Tour in Wales, with notes, by R. Duppa, Esq., 1 vol. 12mo.

This correspondence will be found in the Appendix to vol. iv.-Ed.

2 Mr. Boswell, in his subsequent editions, omitted some and softened down other passages, which, the reason for the alterations having gone by, are restored. -ED.

« VorigeDoorgaan »