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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 History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. 1807, vol. i.
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
'Post, iii. 230.
* Post, i. 7.
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
Post, ii. 212.
Post, i. 7.
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 prose2; 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 10, 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 12'
In the Appendices I have generally treated of subjects which
1 Post, i. 472, n. 4; iv. 260, n. 2 ; v. 405, n. 1, 454, n. 2; vi. i-xxxvii,
2 Post, i. 60, n. 7.
3 Post, ii. 476.
Post, vi. xxxiv.
5 Post, iii. 462.
6 Post, vi. xxii.
8 Post, i. 489, 518.