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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.
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 canæque Deûm3, which I have enjoyed under your roof2.
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 abuse3. 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
''O noctes cœnæque Deum!' 'O joyous nights! delicious feasts! At which the gods might be my guests.'
Francis. Horace, Sat. ii. 6. 65. * Six years before this Dedication Sir Joshua had conferred on him another favour. I have a proposal to make to you,' Boswell had written to him, I am for certain to be called to the English barnext February. Will you now do my picture? and the price shall be paid out of the first fees which I receive as a barrister in
to persevere in my purpose of producing the whole of my
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
'I surely have the art of writing agreeably. The Lord Chancellor [Thurlow] told me he had read every word of my Hebridian Journal;' he could not help it; adding, 'could you give a rule how to write a book that a man must read? I believe Longinus could not.' Letters of Boswell, p. 322.
2 Boswell perhaps quotes from memory the following passage in Goldsmith's Life of Nash:-'The doctor was one day conversing with Locke and two or three more of his learned and intimate companions, with that freedom, gaiety, and cheerfulness, which is ever the result of innocence. In the midst of their mirth and laughter, the doctor, looking from the window, saw Nash's chariot stop at the door. "Boys, boys," cried the philosopher, "let us now be wise, for here is a fool
coming." Cunningham's Goldsmith's Works, iv. 96. Dr. Warton in his criticism on Pope's line
'Unthought of frailties cheat us in the wise,'
(Moral Essays, i. 69)
For who could imagine that Dr. Clarke valued himself for his agility, and frequently amused himself in a private room of his house in leaping over the tables and chairs.' Warton's Essay on Pope, ii. 125. 'It is a good remark of Montaigne's,' wrote Goldsmith, 'that the wisest men often have friends with whom they do not care how much they play the fool.' Forster's Goldsmith, i. 166. Mr. Seward says in his Anecdotes, ii. 320, that 'in the opinion of Dr. Johnson, Dr. Clarke was the most complete literary character that England ever produced.' For Dr. Clarke's sermons see post, April 7, 1778.
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 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 gratifications.
My dear Sir,
Your much obliged friend,
And faithful humble servant,
London, April 20, 1791.
'See post, Oct. 16, 1769, note.
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 memory2.
The labour and anxious attention with which I have collected
1 How much delighted would Boswell have been, had he been shewn the following passage, recorded by Miss Burney, in an account she gives of a conversation with the Queen :THE QUEEN:-'Miss Burney, have you heard that Boswell is going to publish a life of your friend Dr. Johnson?' 'No, ma'am' 'I tell you as I heard, I don't know for the truth of it, and I can't tell what he will do. He is so extraordinary a man that perhaps he will devise something extraordinary.' Mme. D'Arblay's Diary, ii. 400. 'Dr. Johnson's history,' wrote Horace Walpole, on June 20, 1785, though he is going to have as many lives as a cat, might be reduced to four lines; but I shall wait to extract the quintessence till Sir John Hawkins, Madame Piozzi,
and Mr. Boswell have produced their quartos.' Horace Walpole's Letters, viii. 557.
2 The delay was in part due to Boswell's dissipation and place-hunting, as is shewn by the following passages in his Letters to Temple :'Feb. 24, 1788, I have been wretchedly dissipated, so that I have not written a line for a fortnight.' p. 266. 'Nov. 28, 1789, Malone's hospitality, and my other invitations, and particularly my attendance at Lord Lonsdale's, have lost us many evenings.' Ib. p. 311. 'June 21, 1790, How unfortunate to be obliged to interrupt my work! Never was a poor ambitious projector more mortified. I am suffering without any prospect of reward, and only from my own folly.' Ib. p. 326.