Page:Studies of a Biographer 1.djvu/138

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STUDIES OF A BIOGRAPHER

Boswell; though it is now chiefly interesting as a measure of Boswell's skill. We need not inquire whether the anecdotes told by both are given most accurately by one or the other; whether he told Hannah More to consider what her flattery was worth, before she choked him with it, or more gently entreated the 'dearest lady,' after many deprecations, to consider its value before she 'bestowed it so freely'; or whether he told Mrs. Piozzi that the world would be none the worse, or that she would not herself be much concerned, if all her relations were spitted like larks and roasted for Presto's supper. Was he ridiculing her feeling or reproving her levity? We can never know for certain, but we can see clearly enough in other cases which reporter can tell a story most artistically. Some of Boswell's critics speak as though his only merit were in his accuracy. He had the courage, though his contemporaries gave it uglier names, to take out his notebook and set down the words at the instant when they dropped from Johnson's lips. He realised, though in a queer way, the immense value of a contemporary note, and was as great a reformer in biography as Gibbon in history. That undoubtedly was a merit, especially at the