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enter into its huge and glorious inheritance of literature. The number of persons who have never read Boswell's Life of Johnson, and who yet are capable of enjoying it to the tips of their fingers, is enormous, and yearly increases. To get hold of these people, to thrust Boswell into their hands, to obtrude him upon their notice, and thus to capture their intelligence and engage their interest, is the work of the missionary of letters, who does not need to encumber himself with the commentators, but only to do all that he can to circulate the original text in the most convenient and attractive form. It is not laziness or indifference which prompts me to say this, but holy zeal and the most absolute conviction.
After all, the book is the thing. meant to give pleasure, to excite interest, to banish solitude, to make the fireside more attractive than the tavern, to give joy to those who are still capable of joy, and-why should we not admit it?—to drug sorrow and divert thought.
There is a pestilent notion abroad, at least so it seems to me, that all our best books, our classics, were written either for children or for learned or halflearned editors and teachers, or it may be even for lecturers; and yet Dr. Swift did not originally intend Gulliver's Travels for the nursery, nor did Sir Walter Scott, when he published most of the Waverley novels in three volumes octavo at the price of thirty-one shillings and sixpence, think he was competing with good Mr. Newbery's successor in St. Paul's Churchyard.
Children are all very well, and the sooner they are introduced to Shakespeare and Scott the better; but it is men and women who bear the burden of life and the heat of the day, and it was for them that literature was intended.
As for the learned editors who load the page of their author with notes and references and crossreferences, personally I delight in their labours and reverence their devotion; but in the first instance, at all events (I repeat), the book is the thing. Leave Boswell alone to tell his own tale, to make his own impression. This once done, the commentators will march in through the breach Boswell has made.
But for teachers and examiners, I hold the whole tribe in abhorrence. I hate to see them annexing fresh domains to their gloomy empire. Examiners! hands off!' is surely a natural exclamation as their spears blacken the horizon. Our lives do not terminate in the torture-chambers of the examiner, and we shall sorely need the solace of books like Boswell's long after we have bidden class-room and senatehouse an eternal farewell. I never could bring myself to take any pleasure in Calverley's famous Imaginary Examination Paper on Pickwick. It made me uneasy, since it showed dull fools how the thing might be done in deadly earnest.
There is perhaps no book in the whole range of English literature so richly endowed with those qualities of interest, charm, humour, and life which go to make up enjoyment, as Boswell's Life of Johnson. To begin
with, it is a big book. It is all well enough in sundry moods to love to be confined within a scanty plot of ground-and who can be otherwise than alive to the fascination of such a short story as La Grande Bretêche, or of such a short autobiography as Gibbon's?—but amidst the ups and downs of life, for all the days of the week and the years of one's days, there is nothing so attractive, so provocative of affection, as a big book— that is, a long book, a crowded gallery, a busy thoroughfare, with all its fleeting figures, its chance references, its waifs and strays of character. Nothing else so stirs our sluggish imagination or so penetrates us with the 'stir of existence,' with the sweet, sad music of humanity.
No writer I know of has brought out the fascination of these large canvases with more moving effect than the man whose name I have already mentioned with the respect due to the greatest author the century has seen, Thomas Carlyle. With what a devouring eye had he read his Clarendon and his Boswell!-his own pages are rich with their recollections.
'We ourselves can remember reading in Lord Clarendon with feelings perhaps somehow accidentally opened to it certainly with a depth of impression strange to us then and now-that insignificant-looking passage where Charles, after the battle of Worcester, glides down with Squire Careless from the Royal Oak at nightfall, being hungry; how, making a shift to get over hedges and ditches, after walking at least eight or nine miles, which were the more grievous to the
king by the weight of his boots, before morning they came to a poor cottage, the owner whereof being a Roman Catholic was known to Careless. How this poor drudge, being knocked up from his snoring, carried them into a little barn full of hay, which was a better lodging than he had for himself, and by-and-by, not without difficulty, brought his Majesty "a piece of bread and a great pot of butter-milk," saying candidly that "he himself lived by his daily labour, and that what he had brought him was the fare he and his wife had," on which nourishing diet his Majesty, "staying upon the hay mow," feeds thankfully for two days, and then departs under new guidance, having first changed clothes, down to the very shirt and old pair of shoes, with his landlord, and so, as worthy Bunyan has it, "goes on his way and sees him no more. Singular enough, if we will think of it! This, then, was a genuine flesh-and-blood rustic of the year 1651; he did actually swallow bread and butter-milk (not having ale and bacon) and do field labour; with these hobnailed shoes has sprawled through mud roads in winter, and, jocund or not, driven his team afield in summer; he made bargains, had chafferings and hagglings, now a sore heart, now a glad one, was born, was a son, was a father, toiled in many ways, being forced to it, till the strength was all worn out of him, and then lay down "to rest his galled back," and sleep there till the long-distant morning! How comes it, that he alone of all the British rustics who tilled and lived along with him, on whom the blessed
sun on that same "fifth day of September" was shining, should have chanced to rise on us, that this poor pair of clouted shoes, out of the million million hides that have been tanned and cut and worn, should still subsist and hang visibly together? We see him but for a moment; for one moment the blanket of the night is rent asunder, so that we behold and see, and then closes over him-for ever.'
Carlyle was at heart a sentimentalist, and there may be some stern critics who think this particular piece of sentimentalism of his a little rank; but be that as it may, it is only from big books and from large canvases that pleasure of the kind I am referring to can be obtained, and Boswell's Johnson is full of such pleasure-giving, such fancy-stirring passages, revealing to us the actual life of man.
Though it would be ridiculous to profess to enumerate one by one the delights of a biography it has become impertinent to praise, yet next to its generous scale, one may harmlessly refer to the perfection of its method. This was no happy chance, no mere bit of good fortune, but the result of a real genius for portraiture, coupled with that infinite capacity for taking pains which is found allied to genius so often that it has sometimes been mistaken for it. That Boswell loved Johnson is plain enough, but that he loved himself still better, and was endlessly ambitious of literary fame, is at least equally certain. His genius prompted him what he could do, and told him that in the famous Doctor he had a subject made for