In the history of Mr. Croker's reputation the year 1831 will ever form a remarkable epoch. Till then, however adequately his talents and acquirements may have been appreciated within the range of personal familiarity, the impression actually received among the nation at large does not, certainly, appear to have been such as is now on all sides acknowledged. Within a few months, the "clever, sharp man of subordinate official details" has raised himself in the House of Commons to the rank of a first-rate parliamentary debater, and been received among their foremost leaders-equally qualified for the station by industry, perspicacity, extent of knowledge, vigour of intellect, courage, and decision — by one of the great conflicting parties in the state. And precisely in the midst of those unparalleled exertions, which have thus astonished friendly and confounded hostile politicians, appears a work which, by all but universal consent, lifts the same person into a literary position, not less enviably superior to what he had previously seemed to occupy in that earlier field of his distinction. Judging from the casual gossip of contemporary journals, the vulgar notion had been, that he held undoubtedly the pen of a most shrewd dialectician and cutting satirist, but would grapple in vain, if he should be rash enough to make such an attempt, with any of the "weightier matters" either of moral or of critical scrutiny. In these volumes the double question has been put to the test, and the result may teach some of our "public instructors," as well as more important persons, to pause a little on future occasions, ere, perceiving and admitting the existence of genius, they presume to determine the range of its capacity — upon uncertain data, — in the exercise, with all due respect be it said, of imperfect powers of discrimination — and even under, perhaps, to a certain extent, the unconscious influence of something like jealousy. Meantime, the mist being once thoroughly dispelled, we entertain no apprehension of seeing it again gather. His hostages have at length been given and accepted, and, as Voltaire says—
On en vaut mieux quand on est regarde:
L'oeil du public est aiguillon de gloire.
That a book overflowing with personal anecdotes and allusions, published by one who, with all his ineffable follies, was a gentleman of birth, station, and unsullied honour, while almost all the individuals concerned in its stories or glanced at in its hints were living, the greater part of them too in much the same circles with its author — that such a book would have need of a diligent and skilful annotator, after the lapse of nearly half a century, was sufficiently obvious. Had the task been much longer deferred, hardly a single individual that had ever moved in the society of Johnson and his worshipping biographer would have remained. Even the generation that had fed in youth upon the table-talk of the great doctor's surviving associates, were beginning to be thinned among us. Mr. Croker's character and position offered, of course, the readiest access to such living sources of information as could still be appealed to; and probably few would have questioned his sagacity in detecting the proper points of inquiry — his prompt and unwearied diligence in following out hints and suggestions; in short, his abundant qualifications for discharging, in regard to such a book, all the editorial functions which were likely to have occurred to the mind of a Malone. But if Mr. Croker had only done in the most satisfactory manner what was thus looked for at his hands, we should have had a far different book before us, and his general reputation would have owed little, if anything, to the achievement. He has gone a long way, indeed, beyond the usual scope and purpose of anecdotical note-makers. Not satisfied with hunting out whatever facts could be explained as to detail, or added to the already enormous mass, from the dust of forgotten pamphlets, the scattered stores of manuscript correspondence, and the oral communications of persons of all ranks and conditions, from Lord Stowell, Sir Walter Scott, Sir James Mackintosh, Mr. D'Israeli, and Mr. Markland, down to the obscurest descendants of Johnson's connexions in early provincial life; — not satisfied with equalling, to all appearance, in this sort of diligence the utmost exertions of any commentator that ever staked his glory on the rectification of a date, he has brought his own piercing, strong, and liberal understanding, enriched with most multifarious knowledge of books, more especially of literary and political biography, and expanded by as extensive observation of men and manners, as has fallen to the lot of any living person-he has brought, in a word, the whole vigour of his own mental resources to bear upon this, at first sight, sufficiently unostentatious field of labour — and produced, in consequence, a book which, were every correction of detail it contains, every hiatus it fills up as to mere matters of fact, every name, every date, even every new anecdote it gives, all obliterated at a stroke, would still keep its place and its worth; — nay, which, if it actually had omitted all and every one of these things, would, perhaps, have done more for Mr. Croker's estimation with the general mob of readers, than it has done, or must do, in its present more complete condition.
The world measures excellence with a narrow eye; and when forced to admit that one thing has been well done by any given individual, will seldom, without extreme reluctance, believe him to have been equally successful in another, even if it were not a higher, way. How flattering to the indolence and the envy, alike characteristic of the present tone of intellect, the off-hand decision, that he who writes a dozen of letters, all to discover whether it was on a Thursday or a Friday that a certain human being dined sixty years ago with a certain club, must be incapable of entering with a liberal and philosophic spirit, into any given question of moral weight, naturally springing up in the course of long and painful study of the details of that individual's life, whether as a man or as an author. It would, we have no doubt, have been more agreeable to the multitude of our literati, if Mr. Croker had not urged pretensions of so many sorts at one and the same time upon their candour. We may flatter ourselves, if we will, that we are geniuses, but we all know pretty well whether we really are or are not students. To any real superiority in the intellectual gifts of nature we may oppose the phantoms of our own vanity; but we are forced to acknowledge "labor improbus," wherever exerted; and many of us are apt to regard with the least satisfaction that part of our neighbour's excellence, which upbraiding conscience tells us we might have rivalled had we pleased. Hence, however, the prevailing fashion — the fruit of laziness, self-love, and jealous spleen — of at least affecting to consider the display of extraordinarily minute and persevering diligence as proof of the absence of comprehensive original faculties. The doctrine is, perhaps, started under merely a vague and distinct half-hope of deceiving the million, as to points concerning which the heresiarch sees the truth clearly enough himself. But what is said once, in a tone at all pleasing to human weakness, is sure to be lustily re-echoed; and this particular specimen of mystification to which we are alluding appears now to have worked its way so widely into the actual "bona fide" creed of those who make up perhaps nineteen-twentieths of the blind, drowsy mass commonly styled "the reading public," that we see no reason for retracting the expression of our belief, that if Mr. Croker had put forth his philosophical reflections on Johnson's character and genius, without adding a tittle to what the children of Martinus had formerly accumulated as to the "quaesto vexata", whether J. B. in a given page of Boswell mean John Brown or James Black, and the like — the popular disposition to give his edition credit for what
The cant of the hour
Has taught babes to call power,
would have been considerably more on the alert.
Many, again, who think, like ourselves, of the style in which Mr. Croker has acquitted himself of the higher part of his task, will perhaps wish that he may never in future undertake any such task at all, but exercise his talents in original works alone. Heartily concurring, however, in the hope that many purely original works may hereafter proceed from his pen, we cannot but express, nevertheless, our earnest desire that we may have him from time to time before us in the editorial capacity also. The English library has hitherto been poorer in nothing than in this department. We are inclined to attribute the lamentable neglect into which a vast array of our true classics have already fallen, to no one cause, — not even the infantine rage for what pretends to be novelty — so much as the stupid, perplexing, soul-tantalizing method in which the best existing editions of them have been prepared; and entertain, in fact, considerable doubts whether at this time of day a liberal scholar, uniting strong natural judgment, sound taste, extensive information, and industrious habits, with some spice of the practical tact of the man of business and the world, could in any way whatever render more important service to the literature of his country, or even achieve, in the long run, a more distinguished reputation for himself, than by devoting his time and energies to a series of English editions. Of our great old dramatists we have no editions that can be called tolerable, except those of the late Mr. Gifford; and even their faults are obvious, numerous, and some of them of an offensive description. He has not indeed handed down his venerable favourites burdened, after the fashion of their master, Shakspeare, with the accumulated rubbish of a sixty years' succession of obtuse, purblind, wrangling pedants — some incapable of understanding the plainest of common-sense, expressed in the clearest of English; almost all of them as incapable of comprehending the rapid flashing felicities of a soaring inspiration, as poor Omai was of understanding upon what principle his English friend thought of ascending in a balloon when he might have called a hackney coach at the next corner; — perpetually abusing each other, at the bottom of the page of a godlike poet, about some nonsense of colons or semicolons, and overlaying us with their clumsy officiousness where nobody but one of their own narrow-browed breed could have discovered a difficulty. Such abominations as the Shakspeares of Stevens, Malone, and last, and of course worst of all the younger Boswell, could never have been re-ushered into the world by Mr. Gifford; but he fell into two or three pervading errors which have rendered even his editions very far inferior to what might have been expected. He could not somehow, with all his strong faculties, raise himself to his poet, so as to imbibe the desirable calmness of contempt for the poet's preceding commentators. He could not be satisfied with writing his "dele" by the side of the grossest blunder; he too must stop to anatomize, expatiate, vituperate, and exult. On the other hand, he could not — as how many men of even the greatest talents have failed to do? — take home to himself, kind-hearted, feeble in health, and variable in spirits as he was, a sufficiently firm sense of the vast superiority of his own understanding over the understandings of persons with whom he had been constantly in the habits of familiar intercourse. Ruthless and relentless to dead strangers, he certainly seems to have had a most extraordinary measure of tolerant milkiness at the service of living friends, not a bit more brilliant perhaps than the dullest of his victims; and has accordingly suffered the close, terse shrewdness of his own annotations to be continually mixed tip and contrasted with the mawkish common-place of some of the heaviest prosers of his generation. New editions of Spenser, Milton, and Pope are now, indeed, announced; — but how long have the two former continued to groan in fellowship under the merciless "incubism" of "omne quod exit in Todd;" while the third, the lightest, brightest, and most tasteful of English poets, has been dragging with his every airy sparkling couplet a whole Scribleriad of random guesses, mid-day gropings, and misty dreamy excursus, forsooth, such as might have been well enough placed in sonic appendix to Jacob Behmen or Jeremy Bentham? Even Swift and Dryden, though they have found in our own time an editor whom posterity will rank at least as high as either of them for extent and variety of original talents, have, we are constrained to say, been dealt with by him in a fashion by no means favourable to the living popularity of their collective works. Sir Walter Scott's lives of these two great men will always keep their place among the most fascinating of his narratives; but valuable, indeed wonderful, as is the mass of knowledge he has poured out in his notes on their writings, it must be admitted he never seems to have even suspected that if information be the first requisite in an annotator, a second, and scarcely, in the case of a voluminous author, a less important one, is compression.
We might easily extend our list of poets, dramatists, and others who have been, at best, imperfectly and hastily edited, but what is to be said as to those really great writers who, from the nature of their productions most especially demanding annotation, have never received it at all? On the whole body of our later comedians, from Congreve to Foote, crammed as they of course are, more than any other series of authors in the language, with passages the very soul and spirit of which depend on evanescent allusions, it may we believe be asserted, that not one single scrap of annotation has, down to this time, been bestowed! Very nearly the same thing may be said of the great comic novelists, dramatists in all but name and form — and more than dramatists will ever again be in power — of the days of George II. But all these omissions are trivial as compared to graver cases still; take, for one example out of at least twenty, Hume's History of England. That book has taken its place as the classical record, and can no more be supplanted by anything else on the same subject than Macbeth, or the Paradise Lost, or the Dunciad. Yet though new lights as to the details of many of the most important periods have been pouring on the world in floods since Hume wrote, it is only now, at the close of 1831, that any one seems to have opened his eyes to the propriety of condensing the pith and essence of this information at the foot of Hume's beautiful pages. In place of this we have had ever and anon some new "History of England," which, after at best tumbling half seen in the wake of the good ship David for a few years, has sunk for ever, to be replaced by some equally short-lived specimen of book-craft. To drive Hume out of the market is impossible. The nation is no more disposed to welcome a new history than a new constitution; but in the former case, at all events, the application of a firm, though respectful hand, to correct admitted errors, and fill up inconvenient blanks, will be sure of a zealous reception. Admiring, as we do, the many graces of thought and diction scattered over Sir James Mackintosh's recent volumes, and the profound learning and, here and there, original and masterly conceptions of Mr. Palgrave, we hope to be pardoned for expressing our opinion that even pens like theirs would have been better employed in annotating and commenting on Hume, than in anything like an attempt to re-write the immortal history of Great Britain. With respect to Dr. Lingard and the others who have been labouring with more solemn pretensions in this vain walk, we are sure the best compliment they need look for at the hands of posterity will be the finding room for a few extracts and abridgments from their operose tomes at the end of the permanent and inimitable narrator's paragraphs or chapters.
The present miserable stagnation for which the book market, like most other markets, feels duly obliged to Lord Grey, will hardly, it is to be hoped, endure much longer; and as, when that terminates, the usual re-action, and even a redoubled spring, may be anticipated, we are anxious to avail ourselves of the temporary pause, to urge some of these matters on the consideration of the metropolitan publishers. They must all perceive that this business, owing principally to the application of steam to printing, is about to undergo a complete revolution; and whether that revolution shall end in great good, or in immeasurable evil, to the literature of the country, and the intellectual cultivation of the people, will as undoubtedly depend in no trivial measure upon them. If they persist in applying the new facilities for feeding an indefinitely extending market, to the forcing of new books, a few good new books may, no doubt, be elicited in the course of their exertions, but the general effect will be to swamp the solid classics of the land amidst a chaos of crude abridgments, and tasteless rifaccimentos. It was a saying of, if we recollect rightly, Bishop Warburton — "there are two things every man thinks himself fit for — managing a small farm and driving a whiskey." To write a compendious history of any given great man or nation—
Pour diriger et l'esprit et le coeur,
Avec preface et l'avis au lecteur—
would now appear to be an achievement within the reach of any individual, male or female, who has ever been permitted to scribble a page in a magazine, or report a speech in the House of Commons. The booksellers will, however, discover in the course of time, that this particular species of ambition may be indulged somewhat to their cost, and sooner or later arrive at the conclusion which we beg leave to recommend to their attention now — to wit, that it would be safer and better for themselves, as well as infinitely more conducive to the spread of real information, and the maintenance of manly tastes, were they to direct their thoughts to a more rational system of editing, in conjunction with their daily and hourly expanding means of circulating, the good books that are.
It is also probable, that many of those industrious persons who are now employed in the manufacture of flimsy novelties, might, in the end, be gainers in purse, as well as reputation, by having their field of exertion changed in the manner we have been now suggesting. We know, for instance, few English books of reference which might not be doubled in value, merely by that patient examination of works on similar subjects extant in the German alone, which any man of decent education and industry might accomplish. Even in this department, however, the modern Mecaenases must be on their guard, and not be too ready to consider that the best bargain which infers the least immediate outlay. To edit worthily any book, the chief value which lies elsewhere than in the mere accumulation of facts, will always demand talents very far above those which of late have presumed to trample so audaciously upon the difficult and delicate, though not, perhaps, dignified art, of epitomizing; and if the course we are recommending should be pursued by the booksellers, the fastidiousness of the public will, of necessity, be year after year, visibly on the increase. A few such specimens as that now on our table would, indeed, go far to banish from all that is worth consideration in this department, dull plodding drudgery on the one hand, and on the other, what is a worse, as well as now-a-days a more common thing, smart, impudent, jobbing shallowness.
We have no doubt, that to the early education and mental habits of the lawyer, we owe the chief merits, both of this edition of Boswell, and of its editor's late anti-revolutionary stand in the House of Commons. In either exertion we trace the same, perhaps, in these days, unrivalled combination of the patience that deems no detail too minute to be below notice, and the intellectual grasp that, clutching no matter how many apparently worldwide details together, can squeeze out of the mass results which hardly any one could have clearly anticipated, and yet in which, when once eliminated, no thinker can hesitate to acquiesce. And it will hardly be denied, that there was no book in the language more worthy of calling the latter at least of these qualifications into play. Though, in many respects, the best of biographers, Boswell was perhaps more utterly devoid of some of the most important requisites for that species of composition, in regard to such a subject as Dr. Johnson, than any other author of his class whose performance has obtained general approbation. Never did any man tell a story with such liveliness and fidelity, and yet contrive to leave so strong an impression that he did not himself understand it. This is, in one view, the main charm of his book. A person accustomed to exercise his mind in critical research feels, in reading it, as a practised juryman may be supposed to do, when the individual in the box is giving a clear and satisfactory evidence, obviously unconscious, all the while, of the real gist and bearing of the facts he is narrating. One of the oldest adages in Westminster-hall is, "in a bad case, the most dangerous of witnesses is a child;" and it holds not less true, that, in a good cause, a child is the best. But all jurymen cannot be expected to combine and apply for themselves, with readiness, or to much purpose, a long array of details, dropped threadless and unconnected from the lips of veracious simplicity. Comparatively few, in a difficult case, can turn such evidence to much use, until they have had their clue from the summing-up; and, if the judge happens to be a Wynford or a Lyndhurst, wielding strong intellectual energies with equal quickness, firmness, and fairness, the most accomplished of the assize will probably be not the least thankful for the benefit of his Notes.
If, however, this charming narrative had need of a commentator of a higher cast of mind than belonged to its penman, just as the nine books of Herodotus have gained immeasurably in solid value from the comprehensive resume in the first sections of Thucydides, no one, most assuredly, will wish that the original task of biographizing Dr. Johnson should have fallen to any hands but Boswell's, any more, if we may hazard so lofty a comparison, than that the immortal stories of Salamis and Marathon should have been reserved for some other spirit, no matter how much more profound, so it were also more ambitious, fastidious, and disposed to generalize, than that of the father of profane history. Who, to put the strongest possible case, would, with his Boswell before him, wish that the author had been too modest to grapple with a theme unquestionably worthy of the greatest talents, and that a humbler and really more just self-appreciation on his part, had devolved the task upon the only associate of Johnson, whom posterity classes in the same intellectual rank with himself, Mr. Burke? Happy indeed for the lovers of wit and wisdom, the students of human character, above all for those who are in any degree capable of sympathising with the struggles, the sorrows, and the triumphs of genius — happy for all such persons, were the day and the hour that first brought the unmeasuring enthusiasm, the omnivorous curiosity, the unblushing, utterly unconscious indelicacy, the ebullient self-love, combined with almost total negation of self-respect, and the perhaps unrivalled memory, of the young laird of Auchinleck, into contact with that man whom, of all living men, one would have a priori pronounced the least likely to tolerate those innumerable weaknesses, absurdities, and impertinencies, which rendered him, in the eyes of general society, at best a walking caricatura, and a harmless butt — only wanting a slight tinge of gravity — or perhaps in those days, a coronet might have served the turn — to take rank as the very beau-ideal of the genus Bore.
To that casual introduction at good Mr. Dilly's dinner-table, we owe, however, not only a more satisfactory style of record, than any other human being was at all likely to have adopted, but much also of what is most amusing, and even instructive, in the subject matter of the record itself. But for Boswell, Johnson would never have gone to the Hebrides — he would probably have died without having virtually extended his sphere of personal observation beyond Litchfield and London — certainly without having had any opportunity of enlarging his sympathies, by the contemplation of a totally and most picturesquely new system of natural scenery, and human manners. We should have lost the northern tour — the best and most characteristic, except the Lives of the Poets, of all his prose works. But it was not merely by taking his chief to the Ultima Thule that the most assiduous of henchmen rendered us good service in this way. We owe still more, perhaps, to the Scotch optics, which, whether in the Canongate of Edinburgh, or amid the wilds of Sky—
Ponti profundis clausa recessibus,
Strepens procellis, rupibus obsita—
or in the Mitre tavern (while Johnson took his ease in his inn), or in Mrs. Montague's boudoir, or in the kind brewer's warm dining room at Streatham, or amidst the sober repose of Dr. Taylor's rectory, — wherever, in short, another touch was to be added to the eternal picture, James Boswell could not help carrying about with himself. It is to this circumstance at least, that the readers of other countries, and distant times, will owe some of their weightiest obligations. Much about Johnson, which would have been passed over as too familiar for special notice, by any Englishman, was quite new, and, being Johnsonian, of grand importance to his Ostade — and of this much, not a little is already almost as remote from the actual observation of living Englishmen, as it could then have been note-worthy in the eyes of a Scotchman of Boswell's condition, in like manner, in talking with one whom, as being a Scotchman, he always assumed to be grossly ignorant of England, Johnson was naturally led to speak out his views and opinions on a thousand questions, which, under other circumstances, he might never in all probability have thought of stirring-questions nevertheless of lasting interest, and views and opinions, which were it but that they mark what could be said in regard to such questions by a man of genius and authority, at that particular time, would gain in historical value by every year that passes over the record. The interfusion of the three nations, as to manners, opinions, feelings, and in a word, character, has proceeded at so rapid a pace within the last half-century, and is so likely to go on, and to end in all but a complete amalgamation before another period of similar extent shall have expired, that if it were but for having given us, ere it was too late, a complete portrait of the real native uncontaminated Englishman, with all his tastes and prejudices fresh and strong about him, — even if it were possible to consider Boswehl's delineation of Samuel Johnson merely as a character in a novel of that period, the world would have owed him, and acknowledged, no trivial obligation.
But what can the best character in any novel ever be, compared to a full-length of the reality of genius? and what specimen of such reality will ever surpass the
OMNIS votiva veluti depicta tabella
—the first, and as yet by far the most complete picture of the whole life and conversation of one of that rare order of beings, the rarest, the most influential of all, whose mere genius entitles and enables them to act as great independent controlling powers upon the general tone of thought and feeling of their kind, and invests the very soil where it can be shown they ever set foot, with a living and sacred charm of interest, years and ages after the loftiest of the contemporaries, that did or did not condescend to notice them, shall be as much forgotten, even by the heirs of their own blood and honours, as if they had never strutted their hour on the glittering stage? Enlarged and illuminated, as we now have it, by the industrious researches and the sagacious running criticism of Mr. Croker, "Boswell's Johnson" is, without doubt, — excepting, yet hardly excepting, a few immortal monuments of creative genius, — that English book, which, were this island to be sunk tomorrow with all that it inhabits, would be most prized in other days and countries, by the students "of us and of our history." We may easily satisfy ourselves as to this point what is that Greek or Latin book which the most ardent scholar would not sacrifice, so he could evoke from some sepulchral palimpsest, a life of any intellectual giant of antiquity, a first rate luminary, both social and literary, of old Rome or Athens, conceived and executed after this model? Probably every one will answer "Homer:" but who will make three exceptions besides? or at all events, who are the three persons that will agree as to what the three other exceptions ought to be?
Mr. Croker has handled throughout with exquisite skill the character of Boswell himself, especially as elicited in the turn and colouring of particular statements with regard to which we have the means of comparing him with other witnesses. The result is, that while "the lively lady," Mrs. Piozzi, and some others, whom he could never altogether pardon for having poached on his manor, are often satisfactorily vindicated from the charge of wilful misrepresentation, and the biographer himself is shown to have relied, in certain instances, — in the sheer spirit of opposition to them, as it would seem, — on testimony of the most worthless description, especially. that of Miss Seward, whose faithless impertinence comes out n a style quite fatal to her reputation (if she ever had any) — in spite of all these things, the result is honourable to Mr. Boswell; and we quote the following passage from the Editor's preface, as a fair summary of his ultimate impressions:—
"It was a strange and fortunate concurrence, that one so prone to talk, and who talked so well, should be brought into such close contact and confidence with one so zealous and so able to record. Dr. Johnson was a man of extraordinary powers, but Mr. Boswell had qualities, in their own way, almost as rare. He united lively manners with indefatigable diligence, and the volatile curiosity of a man about town with the drudging patience of a chronicler. With a very good opinion of himself, he was quick in discerning, and frank in applauding, the excellence of others. Though proud of his own name and lineage, and ambitious of the countenance of the great, he was yet so cordial an admirer of merit, wherever found, that much public ridicule, and something like contempt, were excited by the modest assurance with which he pressed his acquaintance on all the notorieties of his time, and by the ostentatious (but, in the main, laudable) assiduity with which he attended the exile Paoli and the low-born Johnson! These were amiable, and, for us, fortunate inconsistencies. His contemporaries indeed, not without some colour of reason, occasionally complain of him as vain, inquisitive, troublesome, and giddy; but his vanity was inoffensive — his curiosity was commonly directed towards laudable objects — when he meddled, he did so, generally, from good-natured motives — and his giddiness was only an exuberant gaiety, which never failed in the respect and reverence due to literature, morals, and religion: and posterity gratefully acknowledges the taste, temper, and talents with which he selected, enjoyed, and described that polished and intellectual society which still lives in his work, and without his work had perished!
Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona
Multi: sed omnes illacrymabiles
Urgentur, ignotique longa
Nocte, carent quia vate sacro."
Such imperfect though interesting sketches as Ben Jonson's visit to Drummond, Selden's Table Talk, Swift's Journal, and Spence's Anecdotes, only tantalize our curiosity and excite our regret that there was no Boswell to preserve the conversation and illustrate the life and times of Addison, of Swift himself, of Milton, and, above all, of Shakspeare! We can hardly refrain from indulging ourselves with the imagination of works so instructive and delightful; but that were idle: except as it may tend to increase our obligation to the faithful and fortunate biographer of Dr. Johnson.
"Mr. Boswell's birth and education familiarized him with the highest of his acquaintance, and his good-nature and conviviality with the lowest. He describes society of all classes with the happiest discrimination. Even his foibles assisted his curiosity; he was sometimes laughed at, but always well received; he excited no envy, he imposed no restraint. It was well known that he made notes of every conversation, yet no timidity was alarmed, no delicacy demurred; and we are perhaps indebted to the lighter parts of his character for the patient indulgence with which every body submitted to sit for their pictures.
"Nor were his talents inconsiderable. He had looked a good deal into books, and more into the world. The narrative portion of his works is written with good sense, in an easy and perspicuous style, and without (which seems odd enough) any palpable imitation of Johnson. But in recording conversations he is unrivalled; that he was eminently accurate in substance, we have the evidence of all his contemporaries; but he is also in a high degree characteristic — dramatic. The incidental observations with which he explains or enlivens the dialogue, are terse, appropriate, and picturesque — we not merely hear his company, we see them!" — Preface, p. xxvii.
We cannot persuade ourselves to think quite so highly of Mr. Boswell as his editor appears to do; but we have already, perhaps, sufficiently intimated our notions on this head, and shall merely take the liberty to add one or two reflections more that have occurred to us, while re-perusing the most readable of books, in regard to Boswell's peculiar qualifications for his task. We have alluded above to his country as a favourable circumstance; and Mr. Croker elegantly and judiciously runs over certain advantages derived from the social position of the man, and the easy good-natured assurance of his manners. Perhaps, however, he owed most of all to his comparatively juvenile standing at the time when the acquaintance began; to the childlike and altogether unrivalled humility, in the midst of a world of froth and petulance, of his personal veneration for the doctor; and, last not least, to his never being, during the doctor's life, an habitual resident in London. The man who, by his own talents, raises himself in any signal and splendid degree above his original position, must in general, if he is to have intimate friends at all, seek them in his new sphere. To say nothing of his being, in most cases, removed from his earlier circles by physical obstacles, or at least by many intervening barriers of adopted manners, altered and enlarged views, opinions, tastes, and objects, and almost inextricable involvement in the thousand perplexities of a different system of social arrangements, he is apt, however strength of understanding, generosity of temper, and the tenderness of old recollections might lift him above attaching serious importance to any external changes, and dispose him to cling on as many points as possible to the connexions of his undistinguished years-however safe in the true inborn nobility of his intellect from all risk, either of imbibing an unmanly admiration for mere worldly greatness, or shrinking from the consciousness of having, in former times, contemplated its sphere from a hopeless distance — he is apt to find his inclinations on this score thwarted by the workings, possibly unconscious, of somewhat ungenial feelings on the part of those who have been surveying, from what was once his level as well as theirs, the unpartaken elevation of his fortune or fame. A touch of something too like envy is apt to mingle with their wonder; nay, many spirits are cast so earthy as to resent his rise only the more, that he seems willing to forget it himself in their presence. They cannot away with what, in spite of his frankest effort to resume the old relations, jealous feebleness keeps whispering is the condescension of the once equal associate. A half-incredulous confusion of awe and spleen poisons everything. We cannot fail to discover abundant traces of this in the history of Johnson's intercourse, during his brighter years, not merely, in casual glimpses, with his humble acquaintances of the Litchfield period, but with those (some of them, too, highly, though less illustriously, distinguished persons) with whom he had conversed familiarly during the earlier stages of his London career, — those woeful, toilsome years, in which, amidst humiliations which make it impossible to read certain pages of his story without blushing, this masculine but sad genius was laying the difficult foundations of an imperishable name. Alas for the weakness of the strongest! If Goldsmith could not repress a pang at the superior intellectual reputation and authority of Johnson, even this great and good man himself must plead guilty to having, on various occasions, betrayed a pitiable, and, as we now look back to the two persons, an almost incomprehensible uneasiness in the contemplation of David Garrick's plum and villa. But, indeed, we know of no eminent parvenu whose story is altogether undarkened by indications of the same creeping jealousy. They are rife, not to go farther back, in the memoirs of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Robert Burns, and Sir Humphry Davy; and the base feeling, indulged certainly to a demoniacal rancour, appears to have formed the main inspiration of the biography of Napoleon written by M. de Bourrienne.
But not only was Johnson in this way cut off from the intimacy of his earlier associates, in consequence of the mere splendour of his literary success. Before he attained that success, he himself had served a hard apprenticeship to reserve, and must, when it was achieved, have felt it no easy matter to open himself to the forming of new connexions, such as would ever have seemed to him worthy of the high name of friendship. His life continued one scene of harassing struggles for bread, relieved scarcely by a stray gleam of hope, until he had reached nearly the ripe age of forty. After a much earlier period than that, we have heard it remarked by one of the keenest of observers, few Englishmen ever form a real friendship, unless the strongest of our insular passions, politics, interfere, to melt down once more the hardened crust of their naturally shy and proud dispositions. This is, we hope, far too broad a statement. If, however, it were limited to Englishmen of remarkable talents and corresponding ambition, — still more to mounting spirits stamped with the deeper and darker seal of genius, — there would, perhaps, be little room for dissent. But what shall we say to genius at once energetic, impetuous, ambitious, grave, and haughty; long exercised, in obedience to Nature's own first impulse, in the task of tracing human actions to those remote springs which it is an instinct to keep in concealment; above all, in the habitual analysis, never untinged with shame and remorse, of its own heart's secret places; and thus exercised, too, in the midst of external privations and mean worldly misery, and weary, degrading drudgery; eating the hard-won bread of bitterness, and drinking the waters of sorrow, while fools and knaves are seen revelling in boundless luxuries all around, until the heyday of young blood is long past and gone, and years, that bring soberness even to the gayest temperament, have had leisure to plough their wrinkles also on the brow that even in infancy knew not smoothness? What wonder that the plant which has slowly risen, amidst such an atmosphere of coldness, and emerged late after being buffeted by such discipline of tempests, should have few tendrils ready to uncurl themselves at the first solicitation? What wonder if such a man as Burns should be found writing, in the midst of what the world thought the intoxication of success—
"I never thought mankind capable of anything very generous; but the stateliness of these patricians, and the servility of my plebeian brethren, (who, perhaps, formerly eyed me askance,) have nearly put me out of conceit with my species.... I have formed many intimacies and friendships, but I am afraid they are all of too tender a construction to bear carriage a hundred and fifty miles.... People? nice sensibility and generous minds have a certain intrinsic dignity which fires at being trifled with, or even too closely approached."
Johnson, too, long before the clouds began to break from about his path, had undergone an affliction, the impress of which haunted him to his grave, in the loss of his wife — the affectionate partner who never had separated from him in his hours of what he calls "our distress," except when their poverty was such, that she was obliged to seek refuge with some relations in the Tower Hamlets, while he walked the streets with Savage, and often had no bed but a bulk by some brick- kiln, or a truss of straw in a glass manufactory. And all this had been the fate of a man, the least of whose physical infirmities were, in Pope's words, "those convulsions that attack him sometimes so as to make him a sad spectacle;" — of him who, in writing of Collins to Warton, says, "I wrote him a letter which he never answered; I suppose writing is very troublesome to him. The moralists all talk of the uncertainty of fortune and the transitoriness of beauty; but it is yet more dreadful to consider that the powers of the mind are equally liable to change, that understanding may make its appearance and depart, that it may blaze and expire. Poor Collins! I have often been near his state." We shall not trust ourselves to dwell on this last and darkest topic, but leave it, with merely quoting one of the many notes in which Mr. Croker's delicate hand has touched it.
"One of the most curious and important chapters in the history of the human mind is still to be written, that of hereditary insanity. The symptomatic facts by which the disease might be traced are generally either disregarded from ignorance of their real cause and character, or, when observed, carefully suppressed by domestic or professional delicacy. This is natural and even laudable; yet there are several important reasons why the obscurity in which such facts are usually buried may be regretted. Morally, we should wish to know, as far as may be permitted to us, the nature of our own intellect, its powers and its weaknesses; — medically, it might be possible, by early and systematic treatment, to avert or mitigate the disease which, there is reason to suppose, is now often unknown or mistaken; — legally, it would be desirable to have any additional means of discriminating between guilt and misfortune, and of ascertaining with more precision the nice bounds which divide moral guilt from what may be called physical errors; and in the highest and most important of all the springs of human thought or action, it would be consolatory and edifying to be able to distinguish with greater certainty rational faith and judicious piety, from the enthusiastic confidence or the gloomy despondence of disordered imaginations. The memory of every man who has lived, not inattentively, in society, will furnish him with instances to which these considerations might have been usefully applied. But in reading the life of Dr. Johnson (who was conscious of the disease and of its cause, and of whose blood there remains no one whose feelings can now be offended), they should he kept constantly in view; not merely as a subject of general interest, but as elucidating and explaining many of the errors, peculiarities, and weaknesses of that extraordinary man." — vol. i., pp. 3, 4.
Johnson, from the beginning to the end of his career, was distinguished for the kindness of his heart, the tenderness of his compassion, and the generosity with which, out of never abundant and generally sorely straitened means, he was ready to relieve the more urgent wants of his weaker fellow mortals. But whatever may have been the cause or causes — as to which point, however, we have sufficiently hinted our opinion — it certainly does not appear that he lived, during the period of established fame, in habits of warm, thorough, intimate friendship with any one of the great contemporaries that delighted in his company, and with whom he also delighted to eat, drink, and talk. In their highly intellectual and exciting society, he displayed his even among them unrivalled talents for conversation, and escaped from those darker thoughts that continued to haunt his solitary hours. But we have strong doubts whether he ever unbosomed himself to any one of them with real brotherly confidence. In so far as we can presume to judge, his feeling towards Mr. Thrale was one of more affectionate attachment than belonged to any other of his later connexions; but there appears no reason to suppose that that good kind man could ever have been at all qualified to hold with Johnson anything like that sort of communion, which alone could have elevated respectful gratitude into what must be the sublimest as well as most beautiful of human sentiments, the friendship of genius. Thrale was but a worthy citizen — having nothing in common with Johnson, on almost any of those subjects that filled a large space in the great author's upper mind; and — must it be added? — the obligations under which his munificence laid Johnson were perhaps too constant to be considered without some painful flings of that proud pulse.
In Boswell, if there was little to command respect, except indeed his position as a man of long descent and fair fortune — which was never, probably, throughout their intercourse, without its own effect on the doctor's mind, and which, no doubt, had originally a great share in Johnson's acceptance of him — there was, on the other hand, almost everything that could have been imagined most likely to soothe and disarm the habitual demon of distrust. His youth, being accompanied with most perfect good nature, threw into the sage's feelings towards him a something of paternal gentleness and protection. All ideas of jealousy, rivalry, envy, were out of the question — there was no pretension of any sort that could even for a moment be suspected of thrusting itself out — every motion, gesture, and accent proclaimed the profoundest humility of the undoubting worshipper; and, as we have already hinted, Boswell rarely lived in London more than a few weeks on end; so that the object of this homage and adoration had never time to get heartily sick of its fulsome profusion, before the fond disciple had carried his veneration, as well as other less palatable foibles, far out of the reach of rising fastidiousness.
A curious chapter in the history of the human mind would be that of the friendships of genius; but perhaps it would bring out few instances in which, after all, something of this kind of paternal feeling did not mingle. As to Dr. Johnson, the result certainly was, that he opened himself to Boswell on more important subjects, and in a more purely serious spirit, than, as far as we have any means of seeing, to any other of his circle of admirers. Another hand might, perhaps, have been found to record the play of his wit, knowledge, sagacity, and strong English humour, as elicited amidst the contending gladiators of the Turk's Head; but what could have atoned for those quiet tetes-a-tetes in which Johnson discoursed to Boswell of man and society, of this world and of the world to come, gravely, solemnly, in the total absence of temptation to sophistry or false brilliancy, and, above all, under the feeling of which, on these occasions, the influence is unfailingly obvious, that he was addressing an affectionate and well-disposed, but weak and unsteady nature, soon to be removed five hundred miles from his chair, and with which he might never again be brought into contact on this side of eternity. Of as much of the emotions of genius as it ever will reveal, the true and proper confidants are the world and posterity; but wisdom may be said to cry aloud in vain in general maxims, when we consider its efficacy where it has been distinctly applied to individual cases and circumstances, by the master himself, man to man, and friend to friend.
The Boswellian style of biography was quite new; and while the book was devoured with universal eagerness, many of the manlier order of minds no doubt thought what Lord Thurlow expressed to the author himself: "I have read it? — Yes, d—n you, every word — but I could not help it;" — were ashamed of themselves, in short, for having condescended to be amused with such a world of details, so many of them, taken separately, mean and insignificant. The example, however, once set, the curiosity of the public having been so gratified as to a single illustrious man, and their satisfaction made so apparent in the boundless popularity of the performance, the evil, if evil it were, was done, and could not be repaired. From that time a new spirit animated all this department of composition; and to the influence of Boswell we owe probably three-fourths of what is de facto most entertaining, as well as no inconsiderable portion of whatever is most instructive, in all the books of memoirs that have subsequently appeared. The garrulous gentleman has often been reproached with having departed so widely from the model of his master, in the Lives of the Poets; yet if we compare the Life of Savage, the only one where Johnson had large access to materials of the minuter cast, with any other of the series, we shall see abundant evidence that the Doctor himself had a lively feeling of the value of petty details, in giving characteristic, graphic, vigorous effect to such delineations, so much so that, in Mr. Croker's language, the piece we have named, "like Murillo's Beggar, gives pleasure as a work of art, though the original could only have excited disgust." But the true answer is, that Dr. Johnson read, as it was written, Boswell's Journal of the tour to the Hebrides, and well knowing not only that that journal was meant for publication, but that its author designed to depict the whole of his life, in as far as he could get at the materials, in precisely the same style, did not only not exert his authority for the suppression of what he read, but continued, from time to time, to furnish Boswell with anecdotes and hints respecting the earlier parts of his career. This conduct on Dr. Johnson's part was clearly to sanction Boswell's design, as to all that has subjected it to grave criticism; if serious blame is to lie anywhere, it must attach not to the frivolous painter, but the solemn original, of the elaborate portraiture. Nay, the little specimen of autobiography which the Doctor has left, is completely Boswellian in the minuteness of its details, and a world more entertaining than any page in Boswell, from the contrast which the massive strength of its language every now and then presents to the humble nature of the matters it records: e.g.
"This Whitsuntide (1719), I and my brother were sent to pass some time at Birmingham I believe a fortnight. Why such boys were sent to trouble other homes, I cannot tell. My mother had some opinion that much improvement was to be had by changing the mode of life. My uncle Harrison was a widower; and his house was kept by Sally Ford, a young woman of such sweetness of temper, that I used to say she had no fault. We lived most at uncle Ford's, being much caressed by my aunt, a good-natured, coarse woman, easy of converse, but willing to find something to censure in the absent. My uncle Harrison did not much like us, nor did we like him. He was a very mean and vulgar man, drunk every night, but drunk with little drink; very peevish, very proud, very ostentatious, but, luckily, not rich." (What a complete portrait does this one sentence present!) "At my aunt Ford's I ate so much of a boiled leg of mutton, that she used to talk of it. My mother, who had lived in a narrow sphere, and was then affected by little things, told me seriously that it would be hardly ever forgotten. Her mind, I think, was afterwards very much enlarged, or greater evils wore out the care of less." — vol. i., p. 6.
"We went in the stage-coach, and returned in the waggon, as my mother said, because my cough was violent. The hope of saving a few shillings was no slight motive for she, not having been accustomed to money, was afraid of such expenses as now seem very small. She sewed two guineas in her petticoat, lest she should be robbed.
"We were troublesome to the passengers; but to suffer such inconveniences in the stage-coach was common in those days to persons in much higher rank. She bought me a small silver cup and spoon, marked SAM. J., lest, if they had been marked S. J., (Sarah being her name,) they should, upon her death, have been taken from me. She bought me a speckled linen frock, which I knew afterwards by the name of my London frock. The cup was one of the last pieces of plate which dear Tetty sold in our distress. I have now the spoon. She bought at the same time two teaspoons, and till my manhood she had no more." — vol. i., pp. 16, 17.
That Johnson could never have persisted in writing the life of himself, or of any other person, in this fashion, is probable. He stopped soon, impressed, no doubt, with the conviction that to bestow such an infinity of pains and space upon a single human individual, no matter how distinguished, was a thing below mm. Had Titian, however, seen a masterpiece of Teniers, he would not have altered his own style in consequence, but he would have enjoyed the piece, probably, as much as those who could neither comprehend nor enjoy things of a higher order, and no doubt encouraged the microscopic genius of a tamer soil to proceed as nature had prompted him to begin.
Voltaire, indeed, has said, "no man that ever lived deserved a quarto to himself;" and one illustrious writer of our own time has lately protested against the copious style of biography, with reference, especially to poets, in language which, were it but for the beauty of it, our readers would thank us for transcribing. Commenting on some cruel details in Dr. Currie's Life of Burns, Mr. Wordsworth, in his letter to Mr. James Gray, thus expresses himself:—
"Your feelings, I trust, go along with mine; and, rising from this individual case to a general view of the subject, you will probably agree with me in opinion that biography, though differing in some essentials from works of fiction, is nevertheless, like them, an art, — an art, the laws of which are determined by the imperfections of our nature, and the constitution of society. Truth is not here, as in the sciences, and in natural philosophy, to be sought without scruple, and promulgated for its own sake, upon the mere chance of its being serviceable; but only for obviously justifying purposes, moral or intellectual.
"Silence is a privilege of the grave, a right of the departed: let him, therefore, who infringes that right, by speaking publicly of, for, or against those who cannot speak for themselves, take heed that he opens not his mouth without a sufficient sanction. 'De mortuis nil nisi bonum,' is a rule in which these sentiments have been pushed to an extreme that proves how deeply humanity is interested in maintaining them. And it was wise to announce the precept thus absolutely; both because there exist in that same nature, by which it has been dictated, so many temptations to disregard it, — and because there are powers and influences, within and without us, that will prevent it being literally fulfilled — to the suppression of profitable truth. Penalties of law, conventions of manners, and personal fear, protect the reputation of the living; and something of this protection is extended to the recently dead, — who survive, to a certain degree, in their kindred and friends. Few are so insensible as not to feel this, and not to be actuated by the feeling. But only to philosophy enlightened by the affections does it belong justly to estimate the claims of the deceased on the one hand, and of the present age and future generations, on the other; and to strike a balance between them. — Such philosophy runs a risk of becoming extinct among us, if the coarse intrusions into the recesses, the gross breaches upon the sanctities, of domestic life, to which we have lately been more and more accustomed, are to be regarded as indications of a vigorous state of public feeling — favourable to the maintenance of the liberties of our country. Intelligent lovers of freedom are from necessity bold and hardy lovers of truth; but, according to the measure in which their love is intelligent, is it attended with a finer discrimination, and a more sensitive delicacy. The wise and good (and all others being lovers of licence rather than of liberty are in fact slaves) respect, as one of the noblest characteristics of Englishmen, that jealousy of familiar approach, which, while it contributes to the maintenance of private dignity, is one of the most efficacious guardians of rational public freedom.
"The general obligation upon which I have insisted, is especially binding upon those who undertake the biography of authors. Assuredly, there 'is no cause why the lives of that class of men should be pried into with the same diligent curiosity, and laid open with the same disregard of reserve, which may sometimes be expedient in composing the history of men who have borne an active part in the world. Such thorough knowledge of the good and bad qualities of these latter, as can only be obtained by a scrutiny of their private lives, conduces to explain not only their own public conduct, but that of those with whom they have acted. Nothing of this applies to authors, considered merely as authors. Our business is with their books, — to understand and to enjoy them.' And, of poets more especially, it is true — that, if their works be good, they contain within themselves all that is necessary to their being comprehended and relished. It should seem that the ancients thought in this manner; for of the eminent Greek arid Roman poets, few and scanty memorials were, I believe, ever prepared; and fewer still are preserved. It is delightful to read what, in the happy exercise of his own genius, Horace chooses to communicate of himself and his friends; but I confess I am not so much a lover of knowledge, independent of its quality, as to make it likely that it would much rejoice me, were I to hear that records of the Sabine poet and his contemporaries, composed upon the Boswellian plan, had been unearthed among the ruins of Herculaneum. You will interpret what I am writing, liberally. With respect to the light which such a discovery might throw upon Roman manners, there would be reasons to desire it; but I should dread to disfigure the beautiful ideal of the memories of those illustrious persons with incongruous features, and to sully the imaginative purity of their classical works with gross and trivial recollections. The least weighty objection to heterogeneous details is that they are mainly superfluous, and therefore an incumbrance."
We have marked by italics that part of the above passage in which we find it most difficult to believe that this wise, no less than eloquent man has expressed the settled and deliberate conviction of his mind. It is admitted that it may be expedient to submit to a minute scrutiny the private life of persons who have "borne an active part in the world," and asserted that "nothing of this applies to authors, merely as authors." Now, that "nothing of this applies" to some, or to many, or even to the case of most authors, may possibly be true (though we do not think so); but on what principle it should be said of authors who, though not bearing what is familiarly called "an active part in the world," have, as exerting their talents on practical questions, bringing understandings of remarkable strength to bear, in permanent shapes, on subjects of moral and political interest, and consequently filling a part, above all others, both active and influential, in determining the opinions, sentiments, and actual conduct of those of their fellow mortals who are immediately concerned in the great movements of public affairs, as well as of all who have to sit on judgment, whether at the time or ages afterwards, on these prominent actors of the busy stage of life — on what principle Mr. Wordsworth should conceive that "nothing of this applies" to such authors as the moralist or the poet, who, by his single pen, exercises perhaps wider and more lasting sway over the tone of thought and feeling throughout whole nations, than a regiment of kings and ministers put together; — this indeed is what we cannot pretend to understand. It is scarcely possible to put the question seriously — but where is the mere statesman of the last age who at this moment, even if Boswell had never written, would have filled so large a space in he contemplation of any considerable section of mankind, as Dr. Johnson himself — or the details of whose private life, had they been preserved with Boswellian fidelity, would have found one reader for fifty that are continually poring over the pages before us? If we measure either the importance or the interest of personal details, by the extent to which the individual recorded has influenced the intellect, the feelings, the character of his countrymen, and consequently in fact the fortunes of the nation itself, we shall assuredly place those connected with the man who, by exertions in whatever walk of literature — no matter at what a distance from the gaudy surface of external pomps and vanities these may have been conducted, no matter in how mean a hovel he may have wielded his quill — has achieved anything at all approaching to the authority of a Johnson, far and infinitely far above all that the prying diligence of either friend or foe could ever have accumulated concerning the private sayings and doings of the most eminent so called "public man" of the same generation. It is in vain, on questions of this kind, to oppose the suggestions of a refined meditative delicacy, such as breathes throughout the whole of the "Letter" we have quoted, to the broad instinctive impetus and determined taste of the species at large. Neither does it seem to us that Mr. Wordsworth is over happy in the cases be selects, or in the logic with which he applies them. It is by no means true, for example, but lamentably the reverse, that all the details which Horace gives us about the private proceedings of himself and his associates, are "delightful;" too many of them are loathsome and disgusting; but if the greater part be, as all must acknowledge, "delightful," upon what principle are we to decide that it would have been otherwise than delightful to have had a great deal more of the like quality? Mr. Wordsworth is enchanted with the "Iter ad Brundusium;" would he have regretted the circumstance had the poet, "in the happy exercise of his own genius," left us half-a-dozen more such "itenera"? or would he have been seriously displeased had either "rhetor comes Heliodorus" or "Fonteius — ad unguem factus homo," in the exercise of such ability as heaven had pleased to bestow, indited an account of the actual progress, bearing to Horace's the same sort of relation that Boswell's Hebridean Journal does to the Doctor's own immortal "Tour."
Surely the lamentable circumstance is, not that the Boswellian style should have been applied to the history of one great man, but that there should be so few even of the greatest men whose lives could be so dealt with without serious injury to their fame. "There never," says Mr. Croker, "has existed any human being, all the details of whose life, all the motives of whose actions, all the thoughts of whose mind, have been so unreservedly brought before the public; even his prayers, his most secret meditations, and his most scrupulous self-reproaches, have been laid before the world." They have all been sifted, too, and commented on, it may now be added, with as deliberate an exercise of studious acuteness as ever frightened a conscious imagination. All that curiosity could glean, or enthusiasm garner, philosophic penetration has bolted to the bran. "There are, perhaps," (Mr. Croker says elsewhere,) "not many men who have practised such self-examination as to know themselves as well as every reader knows Dr. Johnson." And what is the result? — that, in spite of innumerable oddities, and of many laughable and some few condemnable weaknesses, when we desire to call up the notion of a human being thoroughly, as far as our fallen clay admits the predication of such qualities, good and wise; in the whole of his mind lofty, of his temper generous, in the midst of misery incapable of shabbiness, "every inch a man," the name of Samuel Johnson springs to every lip. Whatever our habits of self-examination may have been, we certainly know him better than we are ever likely to do most of our own friends, and feel that, in one instance at least, the adage about heroes and their valets-de-chambre does not hold. The character is before us bare, and throughout it stands erect, sincere, great; the thoughts habitually turned on great things, and yet the observation of the world equally keen and broad; the sympathy with human passions, interests, and occupations almost boundless; and the charity for frailty, and feebleness, and sin, most Christian.
It is, indeed, sad to consider how few even of the first could, after such a process of dissection, lay claim to this high, pervading nobility. If we want a foil for Johnson in his own "order," we have but to pick and choose among the few of recent times who have descended to the grave after having commanded anything like the same measure of public attention. On all sides, with hardly an exception, what "follies of the wise!" — what jealousies, what meannesses, what intrigues, what petty ambitions, what degrading indulgences, what shameful subserviencies and panderings to the worser parts of that common nature which genius is sent down among us the appointed instrument of heaven to rebuke, charm, and elevate! What a worship of worldly idols, what hankerings after toys, what a want of sense, even in the midst of the most brilliant energy? the finest understandings, to comprehend the worth of their own place and destiny; what a maze of small vanity, and fierce self-love, and malice; how little either of moral repose, or even of intellectual pride! And what apologies are we called on to accept as quittance, when compared with those which, had he fallen as short of the right stature as tile most gifted and worst of these, might have been advanced for him? Who had stronger passions, who more besetting temptations, who more painful physical infirmities, or a darker enemy to struggle against in the very spring of his essence; who, with such exquisite sensibilities, had to withstand such abject penury, such chilling scorn, on the one hand; or, doubly dangerous for contrast, a more lavish excess of assentation, after the world had been pleased to smile? Truly, it is enough to make the most compassionate heart swell, when we are gravely desired, in judging of more than one career that we could mention, to take such and such sorrows and grievances, and blandishments and allurements, into our account-and remember, as who can forget? through what a sea of troubles this forlorn giant worked his way, — how Syrens, and Circes, and Calypsos assailed him in vain, — how safely he steered his heavy laden and labouring bark between the Scylla of disgust and the Charybdis of luxury, and with what calm self-possession he occupied the harbour he at last had found — "totus teres atque rotundus;" — a proud, melancholy, ambitious spirit; yet neither to be shattered by affronts, nor bruised down by the tedious anguish of neglect, nor sapped by adulations. We happen to have at our elbow as we write a certain "Correspondance Generale, et avec le Roi de Prusse," in twenty-one volumes, 8vo., and Mr. Moore's two recent quartos; but we should be sorry to trust ourselves in a detailed comparison of either Voltaire or Byron with "yours, impransus, Samuel Johnson."
Our readers probably remember that "Rasselas" and "Candide" came out exactly at the same time — if we recollect aright, in the same week; and that Dr. Johnson, on perusing Voltaire's piece, said, if time French novel had appeared ever so little before the English, or vice versa, it would have been impossible for the author that published second to have passed with the world for other than the plagiary of the first. Perhaps the coincidence of plan is not more extraordinary than the equal perfection, in two wholly different styles, of the execution. The two great masters of the age meet on the same field, each armed cap-a-pee in the strength and splendour of his faculties and acquirements; and, looking merely to the display of talent, it might be difficult to strike the balance. But if we consider the impression left as to the moral and intellectual character of the authors respectively, and remember also the different circumstances under which they had conceived and laboured, how clear is the triumph! The one man, in the gloom of sorrow and penury, tasks his strength for a rapid effort, that he may have the means to discharge the expenses of a dear parent's funeral; the other, surrounded by the blaze of universal fame, and in the midst of every luxury that wealth could bring to embellish a romantic retirement, sits down deliberately to indulge his spleen, ready to kick the world to pieces simply because his self-love has been galled by time out-breaking insolence of a despot, to whom, during twenty years, he had prostrated himself in the dirtiest abasement of flatteries. How soothing and elevating to turn from the bitter revelry of his cynicism to the solemn sadness of the rival work — its grave compassion for the vanities of mankind — its sympathy with our toils and perils-its indignation even at vice constantly softening into a humble and hopeful charity-its melancholy but majestic aspirations after the good and the great, philosophy sublimed by faith.
How close, even in minutiae, is the parallel — how wide, where they come nearest, the interval! Compare these two passages:
"Il y avait dans le voisinage un derviche tres fameux, qui passait pour le meilleur philosophe de la Turquie. Ils allerent le consulter. Pangloss porta la parole, et lui dit: Maitre, nous venons vous prier de vous dire pourquoi un aussi etrange animal que l'homme a ete forme?
"Do quoi te meles-tu, dit le derviche? est-ce-la ton affaire? Mais, mon reverend pere, dit Candide, il y a horriblement du mal stir la terre. Qu'importe, dit le derviche, qu'il y ait du mal ou du bien? Quand sa hautesse envoie un vaisseau en Egypte, s'embarrasse-t'elle si les souris qui sont dans le vaisseau sont a leur aise ou non? Que faut-il done faire? dit Pangloss. Te taire, dit le derviche. Je me flattai, dit Pangloss, de raisonner un peu avec vous des effets et des causes, du meilleur des mondes possibles, de l'origine du mal, de la nature de l'ame, et de l'harmonie preetablle. Le derviche a ces mots leur ferma la porte au nez."
"As they walked along the banks of the Nile, delighted with the beams of the moon quivering on the water, they saw, at a small distance, an old man, whom the prince had often heard in the assembly of the sages. 'Yonder,' said he, 'is one whose years have calmed his passions, but not clouded his reason; let us inquire what are his sentiments of his own state, that we may know whether youth alone is to struggle with vexation, and whether any better hope remains for the latter part of life?'
"Here the sage approached and saluted them. The old man was cheerful and talkative, and the way seemed short in his company. 'Sir,' said the princess, 'an evening's walk must give to a man of learning, like you, pleasures which ignorance and youth can hardly conceive. Everything must supply you with contemplation, and renew the consciousness of your own dignity.'
"'Lady,' answered he, 'let the gay and the vigorous expect pleasure in their excursions, it is enough that age can obtain ease. To me the world has lost its novelty; and I but see what I remember to have seen in happier days. I rest against a tree, and consider that in the same shade I once disputed on the annual overflow of the Nile with a friend who is now silent in the grave.'
"'You may, at least, recreate yourself,' said Imlac, 'with the recollection of an honourable and useful life, and enjoy the praise which all agree to give you.' 'Praise,' said the sage, with a sigh, 'is, to an old man, an empty sound. I have neither mother to be delighted with the reputation of her son, nor wife to partake the honours of her husband. I have outlived my friends and my rivals. Nothing is now of much importance for I cannot extend my interest beyond myself. Youth is delighted with applause, because it is considered as the earnest of some future good, and because the prospect of life is far extended; but to me, who am now declining to decrepitude, there is little to be feared from the malevolence of men, and yet less to be hoped from their affection or esteem. My mind is burdened with no heavy crime, and therefore I compose myself to tranquillity; endeavour to abstract my thoughts from hopes and cares, which, though reason knows them to be vain, still try to keep their old possession of the heart; expect, with humility, that hour which Nature cannot long delay; and hope to possess, in a better state, that happiness which here I cannot find, and that virtue which here I have not attained.'"
The same thought is elsewhere still more splendidly given.
Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate,
Roll darkling down the current of his fate?
Inquirer, cease-petitions yet remain
Which Heaven may hear — nor deem religion vain.
Still raise for good the supplicating voice,
But leave to Heaven the measure and the choice:
Safe in His power, whose eyes discern afar
The secret ambush of a specious prayer,
Implore His aid, on His decisions rest,
Secure, whate'er He gives, he gives the best.
Yet when the sense of sacred presence fires,
And strong devotion to the skies aspires,
Pour forth thy fervours for a healthful mind,
Obedient passions, and a will resign'd;
For Love, which scarce collective man can fill;
For Patience, sovereign o'er transmuted ill;
For Faith, that, panting for a happier seat,
Counts death kind Nature's signal of retreat.
These goods for man the laws of Heaven ordain,
These goods He grants who grants the power to gain;
With these celestial Wisdom calms the mind,
And makes the happiness she does not find.
We confess ourselves enthusiastic about Dr. Johnson; but, perhaps, after all, it may be worth while for some of those who smile at all the wisdom of our ancestors, and "inter alia" at him and his works, to consider whether, without calling for any assent to the abstract truth of his doctrines, the effect of them on the man himself as a man will not bear a comparison with the fruit of the other "sapientia," as developed in any personal history they may choose to place by the side of his. His political creed, of course, appears a sort of thing that requires only to be mentioned to be laughed at — infinitely more absurd even than anything that now-a-days passes under the same unhonoured name — a dreamy congeries of dark prejudice and childish sentiment, altogether unworthy of a moment's serious consideration from a person imbued with the sound rational systems of a more enlightened age. His Christianity, on the other hand, even his warmest admirers will admit, was tinged with weak and rueful superstition. Yet, take him with all his follies and Gothic ignorances on his head, — set beside him the brightest liberal that ever sneered at authority in things human or divine, — and we are willing to "set up our rest" with the Churchman and the Tory.
Johnson's lamentations over the decay of the feeling of loyally in England, which, indeed, he thought had received its death-wound in the change of dynasty, have often been quoted to be derided; so have his gloomy diatribes (especially that in Boswell's Hebridean journal) as to the altered source of constitutional danger — no longer on the side of royal encroachment, but on that of popular aggression. The time is, perhaps, not far off when both of these questions may be put to the proof — possibly together. In the meantime, let it be remembered that if Boswell smiled at his great friend's extravagant opinions on these domestic topics, the same Boswell received with still greater incredulity his suspicions that at the same period (1773) there was something rotten in the state of the French monarchy.
"I mentioned," says Boswell, describing the visit to Slains Castle, "the happiness of the French in their subordination, by the reciprocal benevolence and attachment between the great and those in lower rank. Mr. Boyd gave us an instance of their gentlemanly spirit. An old Chevalier de Malthe, of ancient noblesse, but in low circumstances, was in a coffee-house at Paris, where was Julien, the great manufacturer at the Gobelins, of the fine tapestry so much distinguished both for the figures and the colours. The chevalier's carriage was very old. Says Julien, with a plebeian insolence, 'I think, Sir, you had better have your carriage new painted.' The chevalier looked at him with indignant contempt, and answered, 'Well, Sir, you may take it home and dye it!' All the coffee-house rejoiced at Julien's confusion."
Mr. Croker's note on "reciprocal benevolence and attachment" is, "What a commentary on this opinion has the French revolution written!" This is brief, but pithy. The feeling on which Boswell chiefly relied for the safeguard of the old system in that country, was precisely that which, as at the touch of a poisoned wand, most suddenly and fatally gave place to its opposite — and one which will, most probably, never again exert any considerable influence on the conduct of that nation.
We must not, however, allow ourselves to be betrayed into polemics. To return to Johnson — whether the old system of opinions as to church and state was, in the main, right or wrong, there can be no doubt that the doctor was, in his day, their most effective champion and guardian. He did not live to stretch out his mighty hand by the side of Burke, as he assuredly would have done, in opposition to the deeds of the French liberals, in their hour of triumph, or the doctrines which their admirers took that opportunity to preach with such hopeful vigour here among ourselves. But the double leaven had been at work ere then; and it is impossible to forget what a "power in Europe" Voltaire was all through the period of Johnson's exertions, and how ably he and his encyclopedists were seconded in some parts of their assault general by English writers, who must have possessed an almost despotic influence in this country, and who, it can scarcely be doubted, would have exerted their sway with sufficient boldness and decision, had there been no such person as "the great Cham of literature."
So Smollett, who had, however, a profound respect for Johnson, was the first to call him; and Horace Walpole, and a hundred more, thought the joke too good to be dropped. — "Surly Sam," and "Ursa Major," and a long catalogue of less dignified soubriquets, still linger also in the public ear. Rough and surly, however, as he was on occasion, there was never any man, placed in the same species of literary eminence, whose actions, wherever lie had it in his power to serve a fellow-creature, were more completely swayed by the spirit of human kindness, or who, in spite of the haughty tone of his critical opinions, did so much to serve in his generation the weaker, or less fortunate, brethren of the pen. His paternal condescension, in particular, in advising inferior authors, and in correcting their works, indolent as he was, and disgusting above all other drudgeries as that labour is, will ever fill one of the brightest pages in his story.
His roughness of manner, his grotesque appearance, his huge, unwieldy, awkward bulk, and other circumstances that we need not recall, had, of course, their share in producing an effect, which Mr. Croker dwells on at some length, and with some apparent wonder, namely, his limited intercourse, great acknowledged lion of the day as he was, with the upper world of fashion. We are not, however, inclined to acquiesce in the explanation which such circumstances may seem to furnish, but to attribute the actual result, mainly and essentially, to Johnson's own scorn of those subserviencies, at the cost of which most plebeian lions, whether of the smooth or the rough breed (for there are plenty of both) have been fain to purchase the protracted tolerance of circles that originally welcome them under the influence of mere curiosity. He had "looked deep into the hearts of men;" and, though on principle the sturdiest of all the supporters of the monarchy and the aristocracy, perceived as clearly as any of their assailants, that political distinctions draw social lines, and that these rarely seem to be forgotten by the porphyrogeniti, except when they are in quest of amusement, or some equally selfish object. In the collision of masculine intellects he delighted; he was fully alive to the charms of feminine grace; but to be the show appendage of luxury came not within the range of his ambition. Keeping aloof from regions in which infantine wonder, and admiration on trust, and the gaze of soft eyes, and the blandishments of refined haughtiness, would have been ready and eager, yet as surely interspersed with indications of that sense of absolute inapproachable superiority which his spirit could not have endured, he also abstained from lowering, by any of his writings, the public sense of respect for external distinctions. He considered the gradation of ranks as an institution necessary for the good of all; and, neither envying nor despising others, was contented with that place of his own to which no man could dispute his title. One consequence of this abstinence may be noticed in a single word — he has left us none of those bitter pictures of high life of which we have had so many from persons who appear to have thought little in this world worthy of their acceptation, except such crumbs of its favour as flattery might conciliate from caprice.
We shall, perhaps, be thought to have indulged in a graver strain, in some of these observations, than was exactly called for by the appearance of a narrative so familiar as Boswell's, with certain notes and interpolations, which, after all, do not essentially interfere with the general impression left by the author himself. It may be so; and we shall endeavour, in selecting some specimens of the "cura Crokeriana," to keep as much as possible out of the way of temptation to more trespasses of the like kind. The liveliness of the editor's manner, the clearness of his mental optics, and the delicate nicety of truth with which his language reflects his thoughts, would render the business of selection a difficult one, even were there much less of novelty, and diverting novelty, in the information thus elegantly conveyed. His excellencies are various, and different readers will admire different things the most highly. All, however, will agree with us, that the following is a good specimen of that instinctive tact which, being accompanied with intrepid industry, furnishes the most solidly valuable qualification of the annotator.
Of Michael Johnson, the Doctor's father, we have this account in Boswell's text—
"He was a citizen so creditable as to be made one of the magistrates of Lichfield; and, being a man of good sense, and skill in his trade, he acquired a reasonable share of wealth, of which, however, he afterwards lost the greatest part, by engaging unsuccessfully in a manufacture of parchment." — vol. i., p. 7.
Now, see how Mr. Croker finds, in this casual hint, the clue for penetrating one of Johnson's hitherto most unintelligible prejudices:—
"Johnson, in his Dictionary, defines 'EXCISE, a hateful tax, levied upon commodities, and adjudged, not by the common judges of property, but by wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid;' and in the Idler (No. 65) he calls a Commissioner of Excise 'one of the lowest of all human beings.' This violence of language seems so little reasonable, that the editor was induced to suspect some cause of personal animosity; this mention of the trade in parchment (an exciseable article) afforded a clue, which has led to the confirmation of that suspicion. In the records of the Excise Board is to be found the following letter, addressed to the supervisor of excise at Lichfield: — 'July 25, 1725. — The Commissioners received yours of the 22d instant; and since the justices would not give judgment against Mr. Michael Johnson, the tanner, notwithstanding the facts were fairly against him, the Board directs, that the next time he offends, you do not lay an information against him, but send an affidavit of the fact, that he may be prosecuted in the Exchequer.' It does not appear whether he offended again, but here is a sufficient cause of his son's animosity against commissioners of excise, and of the allusion in the Dictionary to the special jurisdiction under which that revenue is administered. The reluctance of the justices to convict will appear not unnatural, when it is recollected, that Mr. Johnson was, this very year, chief magistrate of the city." — vol. i., pp. 7, 8, note.
Mr. Croker's close scrutiny as to dates brings out, perpetually, most satisfactory results. Take, for example, the story given by Boswell, on the authority of Miss Adye, of Litchfield, of Johnson, when not quite three years old, participating in the public enthusiasm about Dr. Sacheverel, and insisting on being tarried, on his father's back, to the cathedral, to hcar him preach. What says our editor?—
"The gossiping anecdotes of the Lichfield ladies are all apocryphal. Sacheverel, by his sentence pronounced in Feb. 1710, was interdicted for three years from preaching; so that he could not have preached at Lichfield while Johnson was under three years of age. But what decides the falsehood of Miss Adye's story is, that Sacheverel's triumphal progress through the midland counties was in 1710: and it appears by the books of the corporation of Lichfield, that he was received in that town and complimented by the attendance of the corporation, 'and a present of three dozen of wine,' on the 16th June, 1710: when the 'infant Hercules of Toryism' was just nine months old." — vol. i., p. 12.
On Friday, the 7th April, 1775, Johnson dines at the club, and Boswell records as follows:—
"Patriotism having become one of our topics, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many will start: 'Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.'" — vol. iii., p. 223.
The editor's note is a short one—
"This remarkable sortie, which has very much amused the world, will hereafter be still more amusing, when it is known, that it appears by the books of the club, that at the moment it was uttered Mr. Fox was in the chair." — vol. iii., p. 223.
It is difficult to understand how such a Secretary of the Admiralty as Mr. Croker was could ever have found time for pursuing out his own notions of editorial duty throughout such a book as Boswell's — but so it is. We could fill a dozen of our pages with instances not less remarkable than the three we have quoted. We shall now extract some notes of another class.
When Boswell tells us (sub anno 1737) that his hero "abstained entirely from fermented liquors, — a practice to which he rigidly conformed, for many years together, at different periods of his life," — Mr. Croker writes thus:—
"At this time his abstinence from wine may, perhaps, be attributed to poverty, but in his subsequent life he was restrained from that indulgence by, as it appears, moral, or rather medical considerations. He probably found by experience that wine, though it dissipated for a moment, yet eventually aggravated the hereditary disease under which he suffered; and perhaps it may have been owing to a long course of abstinence that his mental health seems to have been better in the latter than in the earlier portion of his life. He says, in his Prayers and Meditations, p. 73, 'By abstinence from wine and suppers I obtained sudden and great relief, and had freedom of mind restored to me; which I have wanted for all this year, without being able to find any means of obtaining it.' Selden had the same notion: for being consulted by a person of quality, whose imagination was strangely disturbed, he advised him 'not to disorder himself with eating or drinking; to eat very little supper, and say his prayers duly when he went to bed; and I (Selden) made but little question but he would be well in three or four days.' — Table Talk, p. 17. These remarks are important, because depression of spirits is too often treated on a contrary system, from ignorance of, or inattention to, what may be its real cause." — vol. i., p. 74.
We are at a loss, with this note before its, to understand Mr. Croker's criticism, at p. 333 of the same volume, on the following passage:—
"I always (says Boswell) remembered a remark made to me by a Turkish lady, educated in France: 'Ma foi, monsieur, notre bonheur depend de la facon que notre sang circule.'"
"Mr. Boswell (says his editor) no doubt fancied these words had some meaning, or he would hardly have quoted them; but what that meaning is, the editor cannot guess."
Dr. Johnson is commended for struggling against melancholy, by avoiding strong drinks at night, and yet Mr. Croker does not understand how human happiness should be talked of as in any way dependent on "la facon que notre sang circule." Disordered digestion is accompanied still more infallibly by irregularity of pulse than by troubled spirits.
"His 'Vanity of Human Wishes' has less of common life, but more of a philosophic dignity, than his 'London.' More readers, therefore, will he delighted with the pointed spirit of 'London,' than with the profound reflection of 'The Vanity of Human Wishes.' Garrick, for instance, observed in his sprightly mariner, with more vivacity than regard to just discrimination, as is usual with wits, 'When Johnson lived much with the Herveys, and saw a good deal of what was passing in life, he wrote his 'London,' which is lively and easy when he became more retired, he gave us his 'Vanity of Human Wishes,' which is as hard as Greek. Had he gone on to imitate another satire, it would have been as hard as Hebrew." — vol. i., p. 168.
Mr. Croker thus comments:—
"Garrick's criticism (if it deserves the name) and his facts are both unfounded. 'The Vanity of Human Wishes' is in a graver and higher tone than the London, but not harder to be understood. On the contrary, some classical allusions, inconsistent with modern manners, obscure passages of the latter; while all the illustrations, sentiments, and expressions of the former are, though wonderfully noble and dignified, yet perfectly intelligible, and almost familiar. Moreover, when Johnson wrote London, he was not living the gay and fashionable life which Mr. Garrick is represented as mentioning. Alas! he was starving in obscure lodgings on eightpence, and sometimes even fourpence a day; and there s in London nothing to show any intimacy with the great or fashionable world." — vol. i., p. 168.
He throws in, also, the following scrap from Mrs. Piozzi:—
"When Dr. Johnson, one day, read his own satire, in which the life of a scholar is painted, with the various obstructions thrown in his way to fortune and to fame, he burst into a passion of tears." — ibid.
When, in answer to those critics who censured the style of the Rambler as "involved, turgid, and abounding with hard words," and especially to Murphy's apt quotation from Dryden, viz. "if so many foreign words are poured in upon us, it looks as if they were designed not to assist the natives, but to conquer them" — when Boswell flies up at this, and asserts that "there is not the proportion of one hard word to each paper," Mr. Croker thus mediates:—
"Mr. Boswell's zeal carries him too far: Johnson's style, especially in the Rambler, is frequently turgid, even to ridicule; but he has been too often censured with a malicious flippancy, which Boswell may be excused for resenting; and even graver critics have sometimes treated him with inconsiderate injustice. For instance, the Rev. Dr. Burrowes (now Dean of Cork), in an 'Essay on the Style of Dr. Johnson,' published in the first volume of the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy (1787), observes: — 'Johnson says that he has rarely admitted any word not authorized by former writers; but where are we to seek authorities for 'resuscitation, orbity, volant, fatuity, divaricate, asinine, narcotic, vulnerary, empireumatic, papilionaceous,' and innumerable others of the same stamp, which abound in and disgrace his pages? — for 'obtund, disruption, sensory, or panoply,' all occurring in the short compass of a single essay in the Rambler; — or for 'cremation, horticulture, germination, and decussation,' — within a few pages in his Life of Browne? They may be found, perhaps, in the works of former writers, but they make no part of the English language. They are the illegitimate offspring of learning by vanity.' It is wonderful, that, instead of asking where these words were to be found, Dr. Burrowes did not think of referring to Johnson's own dictionary. He would have found good authorities for almost every one of them; for instance, for resuscitation, Milton and Bacon are quoted; for volant, Milton and Phillips; for fatuity, Arbuthnot; for asinine, Milton; for narcotic and vulnerary, Browne; for germination, Bacon; and so on. But although these authorities, which Dr. Burrowes might have found in the dictionary, are a sufficient answer to his question, let it be also observed, that many of these words were in use in more familiar authors than Johnson chose to quote, and that the majority of them are now become familiar, which is a sufficient proof that the English language has not considered them as illegitimate." — vol. i., p. 195.
Again, when Boswell quotes, as conclusive on this topic, Johnson's own dictum in the Idler, — "He that thinks with more extent than another, will want words of a larger meaning," the editor observes,—
"This is a truism in the disguise of a sophism. 'He that thinks with more extent will,' no doubt, 'want words of a larger meaning,' but the words themselves may be plain and simple; the number of syllables, and ore-rotundity (if one may venture to use the expression) of the sound of a word can never add much, and may, in some cases, do injury to the meaning. What words were ever written of a larger meaning than the following, which, however, are the most simple and elementary that can be found — 'God said, Let there be light, and there was light!' If we were to convert the proposition in the Idler, and say, that 'he who thinks feebly needs bigger words to cover his inanity,' we should he nearer the truth. But it must be admitted (as Mr. Boswell soon after observes) that Johnson (though he, in some of his works, pushed his peculiarities to an absurd extent) has been on the whole a benefactor to our language; he has introduced more dignity into our style, more regularity into our grammatical construction, and given a fuller and more sonorous sound to the march of our sentences and the cadence of our periods." — vol. i., p. 196.
It might have been added, that Johnson's style was getting more and more simple as he advanced; he himself, taking up the Rambler by accident, towards the close of his life, was heard to confess that the language seemed too artificial; and the later of his Lives of the Poets are in fact very plain and unambitious specimens of English prose.
We cannot, however, think Mr. Croker equally happy in all his criticisms, and are indeed sometimes extremely puzzled to comprehend what the difficulty he confesses to have found can be. For example, in talking of the Preface to the Dictionary, Boswell says—
"One of its excellencies has always struck me with peculiar admiration; I mean the perspicuity with which he has expressed abstract scientific notions. As an instance of this, I shall quote the following sentence: 'When the radical idea branches out into parallel ramifications, how can a consecutive series be formed of senses in their own nature collateral?'" — vol. i., p. 277.
Mr. Croker's note is,—
"Mr. Boswell's apprehension was much clearer than, or his ideas of perspicuity very different from those of the editor, who is not ashamed to confess that he does not understand this perspicuous passage. There seems, moreover, to be something like a contradiction in the terms: how can parallels be said to branch out?"
Now, with great deference, we think the doctor's meaning plain enough. When many different senses are affixed to the same word, and we have no direct evidence as to the dates of their respective — receptions into general use, — when in short we are unable to prove which of the oblique senses of a given vocable was adopted first, which second, which third, and so on, there opens a field of most complex and difficult conjecture; and it is, in fact, exactly in this exquisitely refined and laborious department, that Dr. Johnson's most serious errors and negligencies, as a lexicographer, are now universally recognised.
On occasion of some discussion between Johnson and Boswell, about the political purity of Mr. Burke, Mr. Croker gives this note—
"Mr. Green, the anonymous author of the 'Diary of a Lover of Literature' (printed at Ipswich), states, under the date of 13th June, 1796, that a friend whom he designates by the initial M (and whom I believe to be my able and obliging friend Sir James Mackintosh) talking to him of the relative ability of Burke and Gibbon, said, 'Gibbon might have been cut out of a corner of Burke's mind without his missing it.' I fancy, now that enthusiasm has cooled, Sir James would be inclined to allow Gibbon a larger share of mind, though his intellectual powers can never be compared with Burke's." — vol. iii., p. 223.
We cannot help thinking that the right honourable Editor, in this passage, lets out something of the prejudices of the Irishman, and more of those of the "public man." A hundred years hence, what will be the relative positions, in the eye of the world, of the certainly splendid genius that dictated the "Reflections," and the great author of the "Decline and Fall?" who will then talk about "cutting out of a corner?"
At vol. i., p. 451, we read,—
"JOHNSON — 'Pity is not natural to man. Children are always cruel. Savages are always cruel. Pity is acquired and improved by the cultivation of reason. We may have uneasy sensations from seeing a creature in distress, without pity; for we have not pity unless we wish to relieve them. When I am on my way to dine with a friend, and, finding it late, have bid the coachman make haste, if I happen to attend when he whips his horses, I may feel unpleasantly that the animals are put to pain, but I do not wish him to desist. No, Sir, I wish him to drive on.'"
On which Mr. Croker says,—
"Johnson's antithesis between pity and cruelty is not exact, and the argument (such as it is) drawn from it is therefore inconclusive. Pity is as natural to man as any other emotion of the mind. The Bishop of Ferns observes, that children are said to be cruel, when it would be more just to say that they are ignorant — they do not know that they give pain. Nor are savages cruel in the sense here used, for cruelty's sake; they use cruel means to attain an object, because they know no other mode of accomplishing the object; and so far is pity from being acquired solely by the cultivation of reason, that reason is one of the checks upon the pity natural to mankind." — vol. i., p. 451.
We are surprised that neither the doctor nor his commentators should have called to mind Aristotle's definition of pity, which gives in a few words the whole rationale of the matter. "Pity is a painful feeling excited by the contemplation of some distress, the like of which we know may befall ourselves." Children and savages have lively fancy, but little imagination: men are hard, generally, in proportion to their want of this last quality; and Plato does not hesitate to give as the measure of genius, the extent of sympathy.
At the same dinner, by the by, where this question of pity was started, Dr. Johnson is introduced as thus handling "a writer of deserved eminence":—
"Why, Sir, he is a man of good parts, but, being originally poor, he has got a love of mean company and low jocularity; a very bad thing, Sir. To laugh is good, and to talk is good. But you ought no more to think it enough if you laugh, than you are to think it enough if you talk. You may laugh in as many ways as you talk; and surely every way of talking that is practised cannot be esteemed." — vol. i., p. 462.
Mr. Croker's note is—
"It is not easy to say who was here meant. Murphy, who was born poor, was distinguished for elegance of manners and conversation; and Fielding, who could not have been spoken of as alive in 1763, was born to better prospects, though he kept low company; and had it been Goldsmith, Boswell would probably have had no scruple in naming him."
Will he allow us to suggest the name of Smollett? The conversation occurs July 20, 1763: Dr. Smollett had left London for Italy, in bad health, the month before, and might naturally be talked of. No one who recollects his own description of his Sunday dinners, in Humphry Clinker, the race for the pair of new boots between the fat bookseller and his poor translator, &c. &c., will dispute that the Novelist's tastes as to social diversion would appear low to the Rambler; and Boswell, being (as the Hebridean Tour shows) a personal friend of the Smollett family, would have been likely to suppress the "eminent writer's" name, even if lie had not been an eminent Scotchman.
Since we are at such small matters, — Mr. Croker sometimes "goes on refining." When Johnson and Boswell, e.g. visit Calder, or (according to the pronunciation) Cawdor Castle in Invernesshire, the Editor discovers in Shakspeare's adherence to the latter spelling, which he seems to consider peculiar to Shakspeare, a "strong, though minute instance of the general knowledge" of the author of Macbeth. Can Mr. Croker have forgotten that Shakspeare, in that first of tragedies, versifies numberless speeches, and two or three whole scenes, almost literatim, from Hollinshed? If he turns to the old chronicler, he will find him uniformly writing Cawdor. But enough of these notelings upon notes. Here is something better:—
"JOHNSON. — 'Wise married women don't trouble themselves about infidelity in their husbands.' BOSWELL. — 'To be sure there is a great difference between the offence of infidelity in a man and that of his wife.' JOHNSON — 'The difference is boundless. The man imposes no bastards upon his wife.'" — vol. iv., p. 280.
Mr. Croker's note on this passage is a capital compression of all that has been best said on the subject.
"This seems too narrow an illustration of a 'boundless difference.' The introduction of a bastard into a family, though a great injustice and a great crime, is only one consequence (and that an occasional and accidental one) of a greater crime and a more afflicting injustice. The precaution of Julia, alluded to ante, vol. iii., p. 390, did not render her innocent. In a moral and in a religious view, the guilt is no doubt equal in man or woman; but have not both Dr. Johnson and Mr. Boswell overlooked a social view of this subject? which is perhaps the true reason of the greater indulgence which is generally afforded to the infidelity of the man — I mean the effect on the personal character of the different sexes. The crime does not seem to alter or debase the qualities of the man, in any essential degree; but when the superior purity and delicacy of the woman is once contaminated, it is destroyed — 'facilis decensus Averni' — she generally falls into utter degradation, and thence, probably, it is that society makes a distinction conformable to its own interests — it connives at the offence of men, because men are not much deteriorated as members of general society by the offence; and it is severe against the offence of women, because women, as members of society, are utterly degraded by it. This view of the subject will be illustrated by a converse proposition — for instance: The world thinks not the worse, nay rather the better, of a woman for wanting courage; but such a defect in a man is wholly unpardonable, because, as Johnson wisely and wittily said, 'he who has not the virtue of courage has no security for any other virtue.' Society, therefore, requires chastity from women, as it does courage from men. The Editor, in suggesting this merely worldly consideration, hopes not to be misunderstood as offering any defence of a breach, on the part of a man, of divine and human laws; he by no means goes so far as Dr. Johnson does in the text, but he has thought it right to suggest a difference on a most important subject, which had been overlooked by that great moralist, or is, at least, not stated by Mr. Boswell."
One excellent point of Mr. Croker's editorship is the embodying of Boswell's Journal of the Tour to the Hebrides in the Life of Johnson: we only wonder how the two pieces, so obviously parts of the same design, and executed so entirely in the same style, should have been kept distinct so many years after all petty difficulties arising from questions of copyright had ceased. Assuredly they will never again be separated; and as surely, the long series of notes, furnished to Mr. Croker by Sir Walter Scott, on the Hebridean part, containing, as they do, the cream of that great writer's own observations during his tour to the Western isles, and so much curious traditional matter, that he found lingering in the wilderness, concerning the sayings and doings of the "Sassenagh More" (big Englishman), and his inimitable Cicerone, will never be divorced from the text which they so admirably illustrate, and indeed, invest with a new interest throughout. To us the expedition of 1773 appears by far the most entertaining episode of the doctor's life; and everything about it seems in harmony with the genial moment, so beautifully described, in which he first conceived the notion of his own account of his wanderings. "I sat down on a bank, such as a writer of romance might have delighted to feign. I had, indeed, no trees to whisper over my head, but a clear rivulet streamed at my feet. The day was calm, the air soft, and all was rudeness, silence, and solitude. Before me, and on either side, were high hills, which, by hindering the eye from ranging, forced the mind to find entertainment for itself. Whether I spent the hour well, I know not; for here I first conceived the thought of this narration."
We shall string together a few of Sir Walter Scott's contributions to this part of the undertaking; and begin with his note on that page of Boswell where "Mr. Nairne" is mentioned as accompanying Johnson from Edinburgh to Fife.
"Mr. William Nairne, afterwards Sir William, and a judge of the Court of Session, by the title, made classical by Shakspeare, of Lord Dunsinnan. He was a man of scrupulous integrity. When sheriff depute of Perthshire, he found, upon reflection, that he had decided a poor man's case erroneously; and as the only remedy, supplied — the litigant privately with money to carry the suit to the supreme court, where his judgment was reversed."
"Monday, 6th Sept. — Dr. Johnson being fatigued with his journey, retired early to his chamber, where he composed the following Ode, addressed to Mrs. Thrale:—
Permeo terras, ubi nuda rupes
Saxeas miscet nebulis ruinas,
Torva ubi rident steriles coloni
Rura labores, &c.
Note. "About fourteen years since, I landed in Sky, with a party of friends, and had the curiosity to ask what was the first idea on every one's mind at landing. All answered separately that it was this Ode."
Saturday, 18th Sept. — The Lady Macleod, complaining of the inconveniences of Dunvegan castle, and wishing that the family residence should be removed to the valley below, says to Boswell,
"'It is very well for you, who have a fine place, and everything easy, to talk thus, and think of chaining honest folks to a rock. You would not live upon it yourself.' BOSWELL — 'Yes, madam, I would live upon it, were I Laird of Macleod, and should be unhappy if I were not upon it.' JOHNSON (with a strong voice and most determined manner) — 'Madam, rather than quit the old rock, Boswell would live in the pit; he would make his bed in the dungeon."'
On Boswell's observing that it would be easy to improve the accommodation of the old chateau, so as to render it tolerably comfortable, Sir Walter adds,—
"Something has indeed been done, partly in the way of accommodation and ornament, partly in improvements yet more estimable, under the direction of the present beneficent Lady of Macleod. She has completely acquired the language of her husband's clan, in order to qualify herself to be their effectual benefactress. She has erected schools, which she superintends herself, to introduce among them the benefits, knowledge, and comforts of more civilised society; and a young and beautiful English woman has done more for the enlarged happiness of this primitive people than had been achieved for ages before."
At the same place they are shown a Latin inscription by Macleod's parish minister, in which the chief is styled, "Gentis suae philarchus;" on this Mr. Croker says:
"The minister seems to have been no contemptible Latinist. Is not Philarchus a very happy term to express the paternal arid kindly authority of the head of a clan?"
The editor does not seem to be aware, that Phylarchus [Greek characters], literally chief of a tribe, is the established phraseology of Buchanan and all who ever wrote in Latin about these Celtic reguli. The minister's mis-spelling has misled him.
We cannot leave Dunvegan without adverting to a most interesting fragment of autobiography by Johnson's Macleod, furnished to Mr. Croker by his son, the present chief, and which, besides throwing great light on Dr. Johnson's Hebridean proceedings, deserves to be attentively considered in a still more serious point of view. This phylarch of the Hebrid Isles, "Placed far amid the melancholy main," thus touchingly records his own behaviour — how unlike that of most of his brethren — at an epoch which will ever be miserably memorable in the history of those remote regions.
"In the year 1771, a strange passion for emigrating to America seized many of the middling and poorer sort of Highlanders. The change of manners in their chieftains, since 1745, produced effects which were evidently the proximate cause of this unnatural dereliction of their own, and appetite for a foreign, country. The laws which deprived the Highlanders of their arms and garb would certainly have destroyed the feudal military powers of the chieftains; but the fond attachment of the people to their patriarchs would have yielded to no laws. They were themselves the destroyers of that pleasing influence. Sucked into the vortex of the nation, and allured the capitals, they degenerated from patriarchs and chieftains to landlords; and they became as anxious for increase of rent as the new-made lairds — the 'novi homines' — the mercantile purchasers of the Lowlands. Many tenants, whose fathers, for generations, had enjoyed their little spots, were removed for higher bidders. Those who agreed, at any price, for their ancient 'lares,' were forced to pay an increased rent, without being taught any new method to increase their produce. In the Hebrides, especially, this change was not gradual, but sudden, — and sudden and baleful were its effects. The people, freed by the laws from the power of the chieftains, and loosened by the chieftains themselves from the bonds of affection, turned their eyes and their hearts to new scenes. America seemed to open its arms to receive every discontented Briton. To those possessed of very small sums of money, it offered large possessions of uncultivated but excellent land, in a preferable climate; — to the poor, it held out high wages for labour; — to all, it promised property and independence. Many artful emissaries, who had an interest in the transportation or settlement of emigrants, industriously displayed these temptations and the desire of leaving their country, for the new land of promise, became furious and epidemic. Like all other popular furies, it infected not only those who had reason to complain of their situation or injuries, but those who were most favoured and most comfortably settled. In the beginning of 1772, my grandfather, who had always been a most beneficent and beloved chieftain, but whose necessities had lately induced him to raise his rents, became much alarmed by this new spirit which had reached his clan. Aged and infirm, he was unable to apply the remedy in person; — he devolved the task on me, and gave me for an assistant our nearest male relation, Colonel Macleod, of Talisker. The duty imposed on us was difficult: the estate was loaded with debt, incumbered with a numerous issue from himself and my father, and charged with some jointures. His tenants had lost, in that severe winter, above a third of their cattle, which constituted their substance; their spirits were soured by their losses, and the late augmentations of rent; and their ideas of America were inflamed by the strongest representations, and the example of their neighbouring clans. My friend and I were empowered to grant such deductions in the rents as might seem necessary and reasonable; but we found it terrible to decide between the justice to creditors, the necessities of an ancient family which we ourselves represented, and the claims and distresses of an impoverished tennantry. To God I owe, and I trust will ever pay, the most fervent thanks that this terrible task enabled us to lay the foundation of circumstances (though then unlooked for) that I hope will prove the means not only of the rescue, but of the aggrandisement of our family. I was young, and had the warmth of the liberal passions natural to that age; I called the people of the different districts of our estate together; I laid before them the situation of our family — its debts, its burthens, its distress; I acknowledged the hardships under which they laboured; I described and reminded them of the manner in which they and their ancestors had lived with mine; I combated their passion for America by a real account of the dangers and hardships they might encounter there; I besought them to love their young chieftain, and to renew with him the ancient manners; I promised to live among them; I threw myself upon them; I recalled to their remembrance an ancestor who had also found his estate in ruin, and whose memory was held in the highest veneration; I desired every district to point out some of their oldest and most respected men, to settle with me every claim; and I promised to do every thing for their relief which in reason I could. My worthy relation ably seconded me, and our labour was not in vain. We gave considerable abatements in the rents, few emigrated, and the clan conceived the most lively attachment to me, which they most effectually manifested." — vol. ii., Appendix, pp. 557-559.
We must not, at present, enter into the painful subject to which this beautiful extract tempts us. To return to the text—
"Tuesday, 5th October. BOSWELL. I could now sing a verse of the song 'Hatyin foam'eri,' made in honour of Allan, the famous captain of Clanranald, who fell at Sherrif-muir; whose servant, who lay on the field watching his master's dead body, being asked next day who that was, answered, 'He was a man yesterday."'
Sir Walter Scott's note is—
"Hatyin foam. A very popular air in the Hebrides, written to the praise and glory of Allan of Muidartach, or Allan of Muidart, a chief of the Clanranald family. The following is a translation of it by a fair friend of mine:
Come, here's a pledge to young and old,
We quaff the blood-red wine;
A health to Allan Muidart bold,
The dearest love of mine.
Along, along, then haste along,
For here no more I'll stay;
I'll braid and bind my tresses long,
And o'er the hills away.
When waves blow gurly off the strand,
And none the bark may steer;
The grasp of Allan's strong right hand
Compels her home to veer.
Along, along, &c.
And when to old Kilphedar came
Such troops of damsels gay;
Say, came they there for Allan's fame,
Or came they there to pray?
Along, along, &c." — vol. ii., pp. 516, 517.
We presume, if Sir W. Scott had been writing his note now, he would have had a melancholy satisfaction in giving the name of the accomplished authoress of these elegant verses. They are popular in Scotland, and were written by Margaret (born Maclean Clephane), Marchioness of Northampton — lost to society and literature, too early, in 1830.
"Sunday, 17th October. — Being informed that there was nothing worthy of observation in Ulva, we took boat, and proceeded to Inch-kenneth."
SCOTT. — "Inchkenneth is a most beautiful little islet of the most verdant green, while all the neighbouring shores are as black as heath and moss can make them. The ruins of the huts, in which Dr. Johnson was received by Sir Allan M'Lean, were still to be seen, and some tatters of the paper-hangings were on the walls. Sir George Onesiphorus Paul was at Inchkenneth with the same party of which I was a member. He seemed to me to suspect many of the Highland tales which he heard, but he showed most incredulity on the subject of Johnson's having been entertained in the wretched huts of which we saw the ruins. He took me aside, and conjured me to tell him the truth of the matter. 'This Sir Allan,' said he, 'was he a regular baronet, or was his title such a traditional one as you find in Ireland?' I assured my excellent acquaintance that, for my own part, 'I would have paid more respect to a knight of Kerry, or knight of Glynn; yet Sir Allan M'Lean was a regular baronet by patent;' and, having given him this information, I took the liberty of asking him, in return, whether he would not in conscience prefer the worst cell in the jail at Gloucester (which he had been very active in overlooking while the building was going on) to those exposed hovels where Johnson had been entertained by rank and beauty. He looked round the little islet, and allowed Sir Allan had some advantage in exercising ground; but in other respects, he thought the compulsory tenants of Gloucester had greatly the advantage. Such was his opinion of a place, concerning which Johnson has recorded that 'it wanted little which palaces could afford."
"Friday, 22d October. — We bade adieu to Lochbuy, and to our very kind conductor, Sir Allan M'Lean."
SCOTT. — "Sir Allan M'Lean, like many Highland chiefs, was embarrassed in his private affairs, and exposed to unpleasant solicitations from attornies, called in Scotland writers (which, indeed, was the chief motive of his retiring to Inchkenneth.) Upon one occasion he made it visit to a friend, then residing at Carron lodge, on the banks of the Carron, where the banks of that river are studded with pretty villas; Sir Allan, admiring the landscape, asked his friend whom that handsome seat belonged to. 'M—, the writer to the signet,' was the reply. 'Umph!' said Sir Allan, but not with an accent of assent, 'I mean that other house.' 'Oh that belongs to a very honest fellow, Jamie —, also a writer to the signet.' 'Umph!' said the Highland chief of M'Lean, with more emphasis than before. 'And yon smaller house?' 'That belongs to a Stirling man: I forget his name, but I am sure he is a writer, too, for —' Sir Allan, who had recoiled a quarter of a circle backward at every response, now wheeled the circle entire, and turned his back on the landscape, saying, 'My good friend, I must own, you have a pretty situation here; but d—n your neighbourhood.'
"Friday, 29th October. Glasgow. — The professors of the University being informed of our arrival," &c.
SCOTT — "Mr. Boswell has chosen to omit, that Johnson and Adam Smith met at Glasgow; but I have been assured by Professor John Miller that they did so, and that Smith, leaving the party in which he had met Johnson, happened to come to another company where Miller was. Knowing that Smith had been in Johnson's society, they were anxious to know what had passed, and the more so, as Dr. Smith's temper seemed much ruffled. At first, Smith would only answer, 'He's a brute, he's a brute;' but on closer examination, it appeared that Johnson no sooner saw Smith than he attacked him for some point of his famous letter on the death of Hume. Smith vindicated the truth of his statement. 'What did Johnson say?' was the universal inquiry. 'Why, he said,' replied Smith, with the deepest impression of resentment, 'he said, you lie!' 'And what did you reply?' 'I said, you are a son of a —!' On such terms did these two great moralists meet and part, and such was the classical dialogue between two great teachers of philosophy."
We must take leave to express our strongest suspicion of this story.
"Saturday, 6th November. Auchinleck. — It would certainly be very unbecoming in me to exhibit my honoured father and my respected friend, as intellectual gladiators, for the entertainment of the public; and therefore I suppress what would, I dare say, make an interesting scene in this dramatic sketch, this account of the transit of Johnson over the Caledonian hemisphere." — Boswell.
"Old Lord Auchinleck was an able lawyer, a good scholar, after the manner of Scotland, and highly valued his own advantages as a man of good estate and ancient family, and, moreover, he was a strict presbyterian and whig, of the old Scottish cast. This did not prevent his being a terribly proud aristocrat; and great was the contempt he entertained and expressed for his son James, for the nature of his friendships and the character of the personages of whom he was engoue one after another. 'There's nae hope for Jamie, mon,' he said to a friend. 'Jamie is gaen clean gyte. — What do you think, mon? He's done wi' Paoli — he's off wi' the land-louping scoundrel of a Corsican; and whose tail do you think he has pinned himself to now, mon?' Here the old judge summoned up a sneer of most sovereign contempt. 'A dominie, mon — an auld dominie; he keeped a schule, and cau'd it an acaadamy.' Probably if this had been reported to Johnson, he would have felt it more galling, for he never much liked to think of that period of his life: it would have aggravated his dislike of Lord Auchinleck's whiggery and presbyterianism. These the old lord carried to such an unusual height, that once when a countryman came in to state some justice business, and being required to make his oath declined to do so before his lordship, because he was not a covenanted magistrate, "Is that a' your objection, mon?' said the judge; come your ways in here, and we'll baith of us tak the solemn league and covenant together.' The oath was accordingly agreed and sworn to by both, and I dare say it was the last time it ever received such homage. It may be surmised how far Lord Auchinleck, such as he is here described, was likely to suit a high tory and episcopalian like Johnson. As they approached Auchinleck, Boswell conjured Johnson by all the ties of regard, and in requital of the services he had rendered him upon his tour, that he would spare two subjects in tenderness to his father's prejudices; the first related to Sir John Pringle, president of the royal society, about whom there was then some dispute current; the second concerned the general question of Whig and tory. Sir John Pringle, as Boswell says, escaped, but the controversy between tory and covenanter raged with great fury, and ended in Johnson's pressing upon the old judge the question, what good Cromwell, of whom he had said something derogatory, had ever done to his country; when, after being much tortured, Lord Auchinleck at last spoke out, 'God, doctor! he gart kings ken that they had a lith in their neck.' He taught kings they had a joint in their necks. Jamie then set to mediating between his father and the philosopher, and availing himself of the judge's sense of hospitality, which was punctilious, reduced the debate to more order. — Walter Scott." Vol. iii. pp. 78, 79.
It is much to be regretted that some notes on the Hebridean tour, which Lord Stowell (who accompanied Johnson as far as Edinburgh) had dictated to Mr. Croker, and which the latter transmitted by post to Sir Walter Scott, that he might have them before him while writing his own observations, should have, by some (in the days of Sir Francis Freeling unexampled) accident, never reached their destination, nor to this hour been recovered. Various fragments, however, of the venerable peer's information are embodied in the editor's own notes; and we shall conclude with one specimen:—
"The Editor asked Lord Stowell in what estimation he found Boswell amongst his countrymen. 'Generally liked as a good-natured, jolly fellow,' replied his Lordship. 'But was he respected?' 'Why, I think he had about the proportion of respect that you might guess would he shown to a jolly fellow.' His Lordship evidently thought that there was more regard than respect."
Respect indeed! Mr. Croker informs us (vol. ii. p. 71) that at Garrick's Shakspeare Jubilee at Stratford-upon-Avon, Mr. Boswell, "lest he should not be sufficiently distinguished, wore the words CORSICA BOSWELL, in large letters, round his hat;" and where the biographer makes solemn mention (vol. iv. p. 317) of his "esteemed friend Mr. Akerman, the keeper of Newgate," we have the following note:—
"Why Mr. Boswell should call the keeper of Newgate his 'esteemed friend' has puzzled many readers; but besides his natural desire to make the acquaintance of every body who was eminent or remarkable, or even notorious, his strange propensity for witnessing executions probably brought him into more immediate intercourse with the keeper of Newgate."
On the whole, in spite of a few trivial mistakes and inadvertencies, easy to be corrected hereafter, we may safely pronounce this "Boswell" the best edition of an English book that has appeared in our time. It is set forth, as might be supposed, with all the luxury of modern embellishment. The engravings are exquisitely beautiful; and one wholly new thing in this way, viz. a Boswell, after a dashing early drawing of Lawrence (much in the style of a sketch by 'H. B.') is, to our fancy, more satisfactory, in the case of such a person, than the most elaborate portrait, done under the fear of the proprieties, could ever have been. We ought not to omit, that a really good index has now, for the first time, been given with a book that, above almost any other, wanted such an appendage. Boswell's Life of Johnson is, we suspect, about the richest dictionary of wit and wisdom any language can boast, and its treasures may now be referred to with infinitely greater ease than heretofore.