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not many men who have practised so much self-examination as to know themselves as well as every reader knows Dr. Johnson.
“ We must recollect that it is not his table-talk or his literary conversations only that have been published: all his most private and most trifling correspondence — all his most common as well as his most confidential intercourses - all his most secret communion with his own conscience and even the solemn and contrite exercises of his piety, have been divulged and exhibited to the garish eye' of the world without reserve
I had almost said, without delicacy. Young, with gloomy candour, has said
• Heaven's Sovereign saves all beings but himself
What a man must Johnson have been, whose heart, having been laid more bare than that of any other mortal ever was, has passed almost unblemished through so terrible an ordeal !
“ But, while we contemplate with such interest this admir. able and perfect portrait, let us not forget the painter : pupils and imitators have added draperies and backgrounds, but the head and figure are by Mr. Boswell.
“ Mr. Burke told Sir James Mackintosh, that he thought Johnson showed more powers of mind in company than in his writings, and on another occasion said, that he thought Johnson appeared greater in Mr. Boswell's volumes than even in his
“ It was a strange and fortunate concurrence, that one so prone to talk and who talked so well, should be brought into such close contact and confidence with one so zealous and so able to record. Dr. Johnson was a man of extraordinary powers, but Mr. Boswell had qualities, in their own way, almost as rare. He united lively manners with indefatigable diligence, and the volatile curiosity of a man about town with the drudging patience of a chronicler. With a very good opinion of himself, he was quick in discerning, and frank in applauding, the excellencies of others. Though proud of his own name and lineage, and ambitious of the countenance of the great, he was yet so cordial an admirer of merit, wherever found, that much public ridicule, and something like contempt, were excited by the modest assurance with which he pressed his acquaintance on all the notorieties of his time, and by the ostentatious (but, in the main, laudable) assiduity with which he attended the exile Paoli and the low-born Johnson! These were amiable, and, for us, fortunate inconsistencies. His contemporaries indeed, not without some colour of reason, occasionally complained of him as vain, inquisitive, troublesome, and giddy; but his vanity was inoffensive — his curiosity was commonly directed towards laudable objects — when he meddled, he did so, generally, from good-natured motives - and his giddiness was only an exuberant gaiety, which never failed in the respect and reverence due to literature, morals, and religion; and posterity gratefully acknowledges the taste, temper, and talents with which he selected, enjoyed, and described that polished and intellectual society which still lives in his work, and without his work had perished!
* Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona
Nocte, carent quia vate sacro.'(1) - HOR. Such imperfect though interesting sketches as Ben Jonson s visit to Drummond, Selden's Table Talk, Swift's Journal, and Spence's Anecdotes, only tantalise our curiosity and excite our regret that there was no Boswell to preserve the conversation and illustrate the life and times of Addison, of Swift himself, of Milton, and, above all, of eare! We can hardly refrain from indulging ourselves with the imagination of works so instructive and delightful; but that were idle ; except as it may tend to increase our obligation to the faithful and fortunate biographer of Dr. Johnson. (1) (“Before great Agamemnon reign'd
Reign'd kings as great as he, and brave,
In the small compass of a grave;
“ Mr. Boswell's birth and education familiarised him with the highest of his acquaintance, and his good-nature and conviviality with the lowest. He describes society of all classes with the happiest discrimination. Even his foibles assisted his curiosity; he was sometimes laughed at, but always well received; he excited no envy, he imposed no restraint. It was well known that he made notes of every conversation, yet no timidity was alarmed, no delicacy demurred; and we are perhaps indebted to the lighter parts of his character for the patient indulgence with which every body submitted to sit for their pictures.
“ Nor were his talents inconsiderable. He had looked a good deal into books, and more into the world. The narrative portion of his work is written with good sense, in an easy and perspicuous style, and without (which seems odd enough) any palpable imitation of Johnson. But in recording conversations he is unrivalled : that he was eminently accurate in substance, we have the evidence of all his contemporaries ; but he is also in a high degree characteristic — dramatic. The in, cidental observations with which he explains or enlivens the dialogue, are terse, appropriate, and picturesque — we not merely hear his company, we see them!
“ Yet his father was, we are told, by no means satisfied with the life he led, nor his eldest son with the kind of reputation he attained : neither liked to hear of his connexion even with Paoli or Johnson ; and both would have been better pleased if he had contented himself with a domestic life of sober respectability.
“ The public, however, the dispenser of fame, has judged differently, and considers the biographer of Johnson as the most eminent part of the family pedigree. With less activity, less indiscretion, less curiosity, less enthusiasm, he might, perhaps, have been what the old lord would, no doubt, have thought more respectable ; and have been pictured on the walls of Auchinleck (the very name of which we never should have heard) by some stiff, provincial painter, in a lawyer's wig or a squire's hunting cap; but his portrait, by Reynolds, would not have been ten times engraved; his name could never have
become — as it is likely to be as far spread and as lasting as the English language ; and the world had wanted' a work to which it refers as a manual of amusement, a repository of wit, wisdom, and morals, and a lively and faithful history of the manners and literature of England, during a period hardly second in brilliancy, and superior in importance, even to the Augustan age of Anne.”
To these masterly strictures of Mr. Croker we now append some of the passages in which other writers have recorded their estimation of Boswell ; concluding with a few extracts from the periodical literature of our own times.
“ Highly as this work is now estimated, it will, I am confident, be still more valued by posterity a century hence, when the excellent and extraordinary man, whose wit and wisdom are here recorded, shall be viewed at a still greater distance; and the instruction and entertainment they afford will at once produce reverential gratitude, admiration, and delight.” Preface, 1804.
Sir William Forbes. • The circle of Mr. Boswell's 'acquaintance among the learned, the witty, and indeed among men of all ranks and professions, was extremely extensive, as his talents were considerable, and his convivial powers made his company much in request. His warmth of heart towards his friends was very great; and I have known few men who possessed a stronger sense of piety, or more fervent devotion (tinctured, no doubt with some little share of superstition; which had, probably in some degree, been fostered by his habits of intimacy with Dr. Johnson), perhaps not always sufficient to regulate his imagination, or direct his conduct, yet still genuine, and founded both in his understanding and his heart. His Life of that extraordinary man must be allowed to be one of the most characteristic and entertaining biographical works in the English language.”—Life of Beattie, vol. ii. p. 166.
“ Under the hospitable roof of Mr. Dilly, the biographer of Johnson passed many jovial, joyous hours : here he has located some of the liveliest scenes and most brilliant passages in his entertaining anecdotes of his friend Samuel Johnson, who yet lives and speaks in him. The book of Boswell is, ever as the year comes round, my winter-evening's entertainment. I loved the man: he had great convivial powers, and an inexhaustible fund of good-humour in society; no body could detail the spirit of a conversation in the true style and character of the parties more happily than my friend James Boswell.” Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 227.
Farrington. • Of those who were frequently at Sir Joshua Reynolds's parties, Mr. Boswell was very acceptable to him. He was a man of excellent temper, and with much gaiety of manner, possessed a shrewd understanding, and close observation of character. He had a happy faculty of dissipating that reserve, which too often damps the pleasure of English society. His good-nature and social feeling always inclined him to endeavour to produce that effect; which was so well known, that when he appeared, he was hailed as the harbinger of festivity. Sir Joshua was never more happy than when, on such occasion, Mr. Boswell was seated within his hearing. The Royal Society gratified Sir Joshua by electing Mr. Boswell their Secretary of Foreign Correspondence; which made him an Honorary Member of that body." — Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds, p. 83.
Sir Walter Scott. “ Of all the men distinguished in this or any other age, Dr. Johnson has left upon posterity the strongest and most