Boswell's Life of Johnson (1904)/Volume 1/Advertisement to the First Edition

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ADVERTISEMENT

TO THE

FIRST EDITION.

 

I AT last deliver to the world a Work which I have long promised, and of which, I am afraid, too high expectations have been raised[1].' The delay of its publication must be imputed, in a considerable degree, to the extraordinary seal which has been shewn by distinguished persons in all quarters to supply me with additional information concerning its illustrious subject; resembling in this the grateful tribes of ancient nations, of which every individual was eager to throw a stone upon the grave of a departed Hero, and thus to share in the pious office of erecting an honourable monument to his memory.[2] The labour and anxious attention with which I have collected and arranged the materials of which these volumes are composed, will hardly be conceived by those who read them with careless facility.[3] The stretch of mind and prompt assiduity by which so many conversations were preserved[4] I myself, at

some distance of time, contemplate with wonder; and I must be allowed to suggest, that the nature of the work, in other respects, as it consists of innumerable detached particulars, all which, even the most minute, I have spared no pains to ascertain with a scrupulous authenticity, has occasioned a degree of trouble far beyond that of any other species of composition. Were I to detail the books which I have consulted, and the inquiries which even have I found it necessary to make by various channels, I should probably be thought ridiculously ostentatious. Let me only observe, as a specimen of my trouble, that I have sometimes been obliged to run half over London, in order to fix a date correctly; which, when I had accomplished, I well knew would obtain me no praise, though a failure would have been to my discredit. And after all, perhaps, hard as it may be, I shall not be surprised if omissions or mistakes be pointed out with invidious severity. I have also been extremely careful as to the exactness of my quotations; holding that there is a respect due to the publick which should oblige every Author to attend to this, and never to presume to introduce them with,—'I think I have read;'—or,—'If I remember right;'—when the originals may be examined[5].

I beg leave to express my warmest thanks to those who have been pleased to favour me with communications and advise in the conduct of my Work. But I cannot sufficiently acknowledge my obligations to my friend Mr. Malone, who was so good as to allow me to read to him almost the whole of my manuscript, and make such remarks as were greatly for the advantage of the Work[6]; though it is but fair to him to mention, that upon many occasions I differed from him, and followed my own Judgement. I regret exceedingly that I was deprived of the benefit of his revision, when not more than one half of the book had passed through the press; but after having; completed his very laborious and admirable edition of Shakespeare, for which he; generously would accept of no other reward but that fame which he has so deservedly obtained, he fulfilled his promise of a long-wished-for visit to his relations in Ireland; from whence his safe return finibus Atticis is desired by his friends here, with all the classical ardour of Sic te Diva potens Cypri[7]; for there is no man in whom more elegant and worthy qualities are united; and whose society, therefore, is more valued by those who know him.

It is painful to me to think, that while I was carrying on this Work, several of those to whom it-would have been most interesting have died. Such melancholy disappointments we know to be incident to humanity: but we do not feel them the

less. Let me particularly lament the Reverend Thomas Warton, and Reverend Dr. Adams. Mr Warton, amidst his great variety of genius and learning, was an excellent Biographer. His contributions to my Collection are highly estimable; and asv he had a true relish of my tour to the Hebrides, I trust I should now have been gratified with a larger share of his kind approbation. Dr. Adams, eminent as Head of a College as a writer[8]and as a most amiable man, had known Johnson from his early years, and was his friend through life. What reason I had to hope for the countenance of that venerable Gentleman to this Work, will appear from what he wrote to me upon a former occasion from Oxford, November 17, 1785:—'Dear Sir, I hazard this letter, not knowing where it will find you, to thank you for your very agreeable Tour, which you have depicted our friend so perfectly to my fancy, in every attitude, every scene and situation, that I have thought myself in the company, and of the party almost throughout. It has given very general satisfaction; and those who have found they could not help going through, and being entertained with the whole. I wish, indeed some few gross expressions had been softened, and a few of our hero's foibles had been a little more shaded; but it is useful to see the weaknesses incident to great minds; and you have given us Dr. Johnson's authority that in history all ought to be told[9]

Such a sanction to my faculty of giving a just representation of Dr. Johnson I could not conceal. Nor will I suppress my satisfaction in consciousness, that by recording so considerable a portion of wisdom and wit of 'the brightest ornament of the eighteenth century[10],' I have largely provided for the instruction and entertainment of mankind.

London, April 20, 1791[11].

  1. How much delighted would Boswell have been, had he been shewn the following passage, recorded by Miss Burney, in an account she gives of a conversation with the Queen:—The Queen:—'Miss Burney, have you heard that Boswell is going to publish a life of your friend Dr. Johnson?' 'No, ma'am!' 'I tell you as I heard, I don't know for the truth of it, and I can't tell what he will do. He is so extraordinary a man that perhaps he will devise something extraordinary.' Mme. D'Arblays Diary, ii. 400. 'Dr. Johnson's history,' wrote Horace Walpole. on June 20, 1785, 'though he is going to have as many lives as a cat, might be reduced to four lines; but I shall wait to extract the quintessence till Sir John Hawkins, Madame Piozzi, and Mr. Boswell have produced their quartos.' Horace Walpole's Letters, viii. 557.
  2. The delay was in part due to Boswell's dissipation and place-hunting, as is shewn by the following passages in his Letters to Temple:— Feb. 24, 1788, I have been wretchedly dissipated, so that I have not written a line for a fortnight.' p. 266. 'Nov. 28, 1789. Malone's hospitality, and my other invitations, and particularly my attendance at Lord Lonsdale's, have lost us many evenings.' lb. p. 311. 'June 21. l790. How unfortunate to be obliged to interrupt my work! Never was a poor ambitious projector more mortified. I am suffering without any prospect of reward, and only from my own folly.' lb. p. 326.
  3. You cannot imagine what labour, what perplexity, what vexation I have endured in arranging a prodigious multiplicity of materials, in supplying omissions, in searching for paper. buried in different masses, and all this besides the exertion of composing and polishing: many a time have I thought of giving it up.' letters of Boswell, p. 311
  4. Boswell writing to Temple in 1775, says:—"I try to keep a journal, and shall shew you that I have done tolerably; but it is hardly credible what ground I go over, and what a variety of men and manners I contemplate in a day; and all the time I myself am Pars magna, for my exuberant spirits will not let me listen enough.' lb. p. 188. Mr. Barclay, said that 'he had seen Boswell lay down his knife and fork, and take out his tablets, in order to register a good anecdote.' Crokcr's Boswell. p. 837. The account given by Paoli to Miss Burney. shows that very early in life Boswell took out his tablets:—'He came to my country, and he fetched me some letter of recommending him: but I was of the belief he might be an impostor, and I supposed in my minte he was an espy; for I look away from him, and in a moment I took to him again, and I behold his tablets. Oh! he was to the work of writing down all I say. Indeed I was angry. But soon I discover he was no impostor and no espy: and I only find I was myself the monster he had come to discern. Oh! he is a very good man; I love him indeed; so cheerful, so gay. so pleasant! but at the first, oh! I was indeed angry.' Mme. D'Arblay's Diary, ii. 155. Boswell not only recorded the conversations, he often stimulated them. On one occasion 'he assumed,' he said, 'an air of ignorance to incite Dr. Johnson to talk, for which it was often necessary to employ some address.' See post, April 12. 1776. 'Tom Tyers.' said Johnson, 'described me the best. He once said to me, "Sir. you are like a ghost: you never speak till you are spoken to."' Boswell's Hebrides. Aug. 20. 1773. Boswell writing of this Tour said:—'I also may be allowed to claim some merit in leading the conversation; I do not mean leading, as in an orchestra, by playing the first fiddle; but leading as one does in examining a witness—starting topics, and making him pursue them.' lb. Sept. 28. One day he recorded:—'I did not exert myself to get Dr. Johnson to talk, that I might not have the labour of writing down his conversation.' lb. Sept. 7. His industry grew much less towards the close of Johnson's life. Under May 8, 1781. he records:—'Of his conversation on that and other occasions during this period. I neglected to keep any regular record.' On May 15. 1783:—'I have no minute of any interview with Johnson [from May 1] till May 15.' May is. 1784:— 'Of these days and others on which I saw him I have no memorials.'
  5. 'It is an interesting question how far Boswell derived his love of truth from himself, and how far from Johnson's training. He was one of Johnson's school. He himself quotes Reynolds's observation. 'that all who were of his school are distinguished for a love of truth and accuracy, which they would not have possessed in the same degree if they had not been acquainted with Johnson' (post, under March 30. 1778). Writing to Temple in 1789. he said:—'Johnson taught me to cross-question in common life.' Letters of Boswell, p. 280. His quotations, nevertheless, are not unfrequently inaccurate. Yet to him might fairly be applied the words that Gibbon used of Tillemont:—'His inimitable accuracy almost assumes the character of genius.' Gibbon's Misc. Works, i. 213.
  6. The revision of my Life of Johnson, by so acute and knowing a critic as Mr. Malone, is of most essential consequence, especially as he is Johnsonianissimus.' Letters of Boswell. p. 310. A few weeks earlier he had written:—'Yesterday afternoon Malone and I made ready for the press thirty pages of Johnson's Life:he is much pleased with it; but I feel a sad indifference [he had lately lost his wife], and he says I have not the use of my faculties.' lb. p. 308.
  7. Horace. Odes, i. 3. I.
  8. He had published and answer to Hume's Essay on miracles. see Post. March 20. 1776.
  9. Macleod asked if it was not wrong in Orrery to expose the defects of a man [Swift] with whom he lived in intimacy. Johnson "Why no, Sir, after a man is dead; for then it is done historically"' Boswell's Hebrides, Sept. 22, 1773. see also Post, Sept, 17, 177,
  10. See Mr. Malone's Preface to his edition of Shakespeare. Boswell.
  11. 'April 6, 1791.

    'My Life of Johnson is at last drawing to a close . . . I really hope to publish it on the 25th current . . . I am at present in such bad spirits that I have every fear concerning it—that I may get no profit, nay, may lose—that the Public may be disappointed, and think that I have done it poorly—that I may make many enemies, and even have quarrels. Yet perhaps the very reverse of all this may happen.' Letters of Boswell, p. 335.

    'August 22, 1791.

    'My magnum opus sells wonderfully; twelve hundred are now gone, and we hope the whole seventeen hundred may be gone before Christmas.' lb. p. 342.

    Malone in his Preface to the fourth edition, dated June 20, 1804, says that 'near four thousand copies have been dispersed.' The first edition was in 2 vols., quarto; the second (1793) in 3 vols., octavo ; the third (1799), the fourth (1804), the fifth (1807). and the sixth (1811), were each in 4 vols., octavo. The last four were edited by Malone, Boswell having died while he was preparing notes for the third edition.