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When Boswell died in May, 1795, work upon a third edition had already begun-a labour that was completed in 1799 by Malone, who remained the editor of the work as long as he lived. With the dawn of the nineteenth century, and with the gradual decay of old prejudices, it became evident that Boswell had published much more than a parcel of literary gossip. He had indeed preserved his friend in his habit as he lived, without suppressions and without that 'mitigation' which the taste of the age demanded. Johnson's reputation as a heroic soul rose serenely over the record of his peculiarities and his littleness. Indeed, his reputation was enlarged and authenticated by the utter truthfulness of the portrait. His is a living influence even to-day, and that result was made possible by James Boswell.
Boswell himself has had to wait longer for a just estimate of his genius. For a century he was laughed at as a fool and a busybody, and it was freely asserted that the success which he had attained was the accidental result of these defects of character. The notion that Boswell was a great author because he was a great fool is equivalent to announcing that figs may be plucked from thistles. It would seem inevitable that readers should come to admit that if Boswell's book is a work of genius, it can proceed only from a still larger genius residing in the breast of the author, no matter how much folly and self-conceit exist together with it. So Professor Raleigh contended long ago, and so Messrs. Scott, Stauffer, Pottle, and Bennett in our own day.
Those who dislike the biographer may reflect on the irony of his fate. He has been hoist with his own petard. His revelation of himself in diaries, letters, and reminiscences is now seen to be more amazing than his revelation of Johnson. As a stark exposé of what goes on in the human mind Boswell has equalled Pepys. The publication of the Malahide papers has revived the old attacks upon him. For Johnson and Boswell have in truth one conspicuous trait in common: to create violent emotions in the reader. It is impossible to remain indifferent to either: one smiles and forgives, or frowns and detests. But the essential
greatness of the man's endowment cannot be permanently obscured.
However long this concession may be in arriving, the Life of Johnson will remain a classic, in subject at once heroic and picturesque, in method at once novel and definitive, triumphant over the age which produced it,-a contribution to the literature of the world.
New Haven, June, 1933, August, 1945.
DEDICATION 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 cœnæque Deûm, which I have enjoyed under your roof.
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 abuse.' 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 to persevere in my purpose of producing the whole of my stores.
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 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 a fool.' 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.
London, April 20, 1791.
I am, my dear Sir,
Your much obliged friend,
And faithful humble servant,