1891 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Wilson Croker

Samuel Smiles, in A Publisher and his Friends: Memoir of John Murray (1891) 2:287-90.



At the beginning of 1829 Croker consulted Murray on the subject of an annotated edition of "Boswell's Johnson." Murray was greatly pleased with the idea of a new edition of the work by his laborious friend, and requested him to put his proposals in writing. Accordingly Croker, in a few days (9th January, 1829), sent Murray a long letter, stating the method he proposed to pursue in carrying out the work.

Mr. Murray at once closed with Croker's proposal, and in his answer wrote, "I shall be happy to give, as something in the way of remuneration, the sum of one thousand guineas." Mr. Croker accepted the offer, and proceeded immediately with the work.

Mr. Croker to John Murray.

DEAR MURRAY,

In reply to your letter of last night, which I received this morning, allow me to say that your pecuniary terms are offered in the same spirit of liberality (I had almost said of prodigality) which has marked all your transactions of that nature which have come to my knowledge. I, in return, am bound to do all I can to make my work not unworthy of such liberality. I think it will be better not to embarrass the pages with biographical notes, but to subjoin a biographical index, where each name will, once for all, tell its own story. I shall also endeavour to throw as much as I can into the text, and to make my notes as compendious as the nature of the explanation to be given will admit.

Yours, dear Murray, very sincerely,

J. W. CROKER.

Mr. Murray communicated to Mr. Lockhart the arrangement he had made with Croker. His answer was:—

Mr. Lockhart to John Murray.

Jan. 19th, 1829.

I am heartily rejoiced that this "Johnson," of which we had so often talked, is in such hands at whatever cost. Pray ask Croker whether Boswell's account of the Hebridean Tour ought not to be melted into the book. Sir Walter has many MS. annotations in his "Boswell," both "Life" and "Tour," and will, I am sure, give them with hearty good will.... He will write down all that he has heard about Johnson when in Scotland; and, in particular, about the amusing intercourse between him and Lord Auchinleck — Boswell's father — if Croker considers it worth his while.

Sir Walter Scott's offer of information, to a certain extent, delayed Croker's progress with the work. He wrote to Mr. Murray (17th Nov. 1829): — "The reference to Sir Walter Scott delays us a little as to the revises, but his name is well worth the delay. My share of the next volume (the 2nd) is quite done; and I could complete the other two in a fortnight."

While the work was passing through the press Lockhart again wrote:—

Mr. Lockhart to John Murray.

I am reading the new "Boswell" with great pleasure, though, I think, the editor is often wrong. A prodigious flood of light is thrown on the book assuredly; and the incorporation of the "Tour" is a great advantage. Now, do have a really good Index. That to the former edition I have continually found inadequate and faulty. The book is a dictionary of wisdom and wit, and one should know exactly where to find the "dictum magistri." Many of Croker's own remarks and little disquisitions will also be hereafter among the choicest of quotabilia."

Croker carried out the work with great industry and vigour, and it appeared in 1831. It contained numerous additions, notes, explanations, and memoranda, and as the first attempt to explain the difficulties and enigmas which lapse of time had created, it may not unfairly be said to have been admirably edited; and though Macaulay, according to his own account, "smashed" it in the Edinburgh, some fifty thousand of the "Life" have been sold.

It has been the fashion with certain recent editors of "Boswell's Johnson" to depreciate Croker's edition; but to any one who has taken the pains to make himself familiar with that work, and to study the vast amount of information there collected, such criticism cannot but appear most ungenerous. Croker was acquainted with, or sought out, all the distinguished survivors of Dr. Johnson's own generation, and by his indefatigable efforts was enabled to add to the results of his own literary research, oral traditions and personal reminiscences, which but for him would have been irrevocably lost.

The additions of subsequent editors are but of trifling value compared with the information collected by Mr. Croker, and one of his successors at least has not hesitated slightly to transpose or alter many of Mr. Croker's notes, and mark them as his own.

Mrs. Shelley, widow of the poet, on receiving a present of Croker's "Boswell," from Mr. Murray, said:—

Mrs. Shelley to John Murray.

I have read "Boswell's journal" ten times: I hope to read it many more. It is the most amusing book in the world. Besides that, I do love the kind-hearted, wise, and gentle Bear, and think him as lovable and kind a friend as a profound philosopher. I do not see, in your list of authors whose anecdotes are extracted, the name of Mrs. D'Arblay; her account of Dr. Johnson, Mrs. Thrale, &c., in her "Memoirs of Dr. Burney," are highly interesting and valuable."