Boswell's Life of Johnson (1904)/Volume 1/Dedication to Sir Joshua Reynolds

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DEDICATION.

 

TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.

 

My Dear Sir,

Every liberal motive that can actuate an Authour in the dedication of his labours, concurs in directing me to you, as the person to whom the following Work should be inscribed.

If there be a pleasure in celebrating the distinguished merit of a contemporary, mixed with a certain degree of vanity not altogether inexcusable, in appearing fully sensible of it, where can I find one, in complimenting whom I can with more general approbation gratify those feelings? Your excellence not only in the Art over which you have long presided with unrivalled fame, but also in Philosophy and elegant Literature, is well known to the present, and will continue to be the admiration of future ages. Your equal and placid temper[1], your variety of conversation, your true politeness, by which you are so amiable in private society, and that enlarged hospitality which has long made your house a common centre of union for the great, the accomplished, the learned, and the ingenious; all these qualities I can, in perfect confidence of not being accused of flattery, ascribe to you.

If a man may indulge an honest pride, in having it known to the world, that he has been thought worthy of particular attention by a person of the first eminence in the age in which he lived, whose company has been universally courted, I am justified in availing myself of the usual privilege of a Dedication, when I mention that there has been a long and uninterrupted friendship between us.

If gratitude should be acknowledged for favours received, I have this opportunity, my dear Sir, most sincerely to thank you for the many happy hours which I owe to your kindness,—for the cordiality with which you have at all times been pleased to welcome me,—for the number of valuable acquaintances to whom you have introduced me,—for the noctes cœnæque Deûm[2], which I have enjoyed under your roof[3].

If a work should be inscribed to one who is master of the subject of it, and whose approbation, therefore, must ensure it credit and success, the Life of Dr. Johnson is, with the greatest propriety, dedicated to Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was the intimate and beloved friend of that great man; the friend, whom he declared to be 'the most invulnerable man he knew; whom, if he should quarrel with him, he should find the most difficulty how to abuse[4].' You, my dear Sir, studied him, and knew him well: you venerated and admired him. Yet, luminous as he was upon the whole, you perceived all the shades which mingled in the grand composition; all the little peculiarities and slight blemishes which marked the literary Colossus. Your very warm commendation of the specimen which I gave in my Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, of my being able to preserve his conversation in an authentick and lively manner, which opinion the Publick has confirmed, was the best encouragement for me to persevere in my purpose of producing the whole of my stores[5].

In one respect, this Work will, in some passages, be different from the former. In my Tour, I was almost unboundedly open in my communications, and from my eagerness to display the wonderful fertility and readiness of Johnson's wit, freely shewed to the world its dexterity, even when I was myself the object of it. I trusted that I should be liberally understood, as knowing very well what I was about, and by no means as simply unconscious of the pointed effects of the satire. I own, indeed, that I was arrogant enough to suppose that the tenour of the rest of the book would sufficiently guard me against such a strange imputation. But it seems I judged too well of the world; for, though I could scarcely believe it, I have been undoubtedly informed, that many persons, especially in distant quarters, not penetrating enough into Johnson's character, so as to understand his mode of treating his friends, have arraigned my judgement, instead of seeing that I was sensible of all that they could observe.

It is related of the great Dr. Clarke[6], that when in one of his leisure hours he was unbending himself with a few friends in the most playful and frolicksome manner, he observed Beau Nash approaching; upon which he suddenly stopped:—'My boy's. (said he,) let us be grave: here comes a fool.' The world, my friend, I have found to be a great fool, as to that particular. on which it has become necessary to speak very plainly. I have, therefore, in this Work been more reserved[7], and though I tell nothing but the truth, I have still kept in my mind that the whole truth is not always to be exposed. This, however, I have managed so as to occasion no diminution of the pleasure which my book should afford; though malignity may sometimes be disappointed of its gratifications.

I am,
My dear Sir,
Your much obliged friend,
And faithful humble servant,
JAMES BOSWELL.

London,

April 20, 1791.

  1. Johnson said of him:—'Sir Joshua Reynolds is the same all the year round;' post, March 28, 1776. Boswell elsewhere describes him as 'he who used to be looked upon as perhaps the most happy man in the world.' Letters of Boswell, p. 344.
  2. 'O noctes cœnæque Deum!'
    'O joyous nights! delicious feasts!
    At which the gods might be my guests'
    Francis. Horace. Sat. ii. 6. 65.

  3. Six years before this Dedication Sir Joshua had conferred on him another favour. 'I have a proposal to make to you.' Boswell had written to him. 'I am for certain to be called to the English bar next February. Will you now do my picture? and the price shall be paid out of the first fees which I receive as a barrister in Westminster Hall. Or if that fund should fail, it shall be paid at any rate five years hence by myself or my representatives.' Boswell told him at the same time that the debts which he had contracted in his father's lifetime would not be cleared off for some years. The letter was endorsed by Sir Joshua:—'I agree to the above conditions;' and the portrait was painted. Taylor's Reynolds, ii. 477.
  4. See Boswell's Hebrides. Aug. 24, 1773.
  5. 'I surely have the art of writing agreeably. The Lord Chancellor [Thurlow] told me he had read every' word of my Hebridian Journal;' he could not help it; adding, 'could you give a rule how to write a book that a man must read? I believe Longinus could not.' Letters of Boswell, p. 322.
  6. Boswell perhaps quotes from memory the following passage in Goldsmith's Life of Nash:—'The doctor was one day conversing with Locke and two or three more of his learned and intimate companions with that freedom, gaiety, and cheerfulness, which is ever the result of innocence. In the midst of their mirth and laughter, the doctor, looking from the window, saw Nash's chariot stop at the door. "Boys, boys," cried the philosopher, "let us now be wise, for here is a fool coming,"' Cunningham's Goldsmith's Works, iv. 96. Dr. Warton in his criticism on Pope's line

    'Unthought of frailties cheat us in the wise,'

    (Moral Essays, i. 69)

    says:—'For who could imagine that Dr. Clarke valued himself for his agility, and frequently amused himself in a private room of his house in leaping over the tables and chairs.' Warton's Essay on Pope. ii. 125. 'It is a good remark of Montaigne's,' wrote Goldsmith, 'that the wisest men often have friends with whom they do not care how much they play the fool.' Forster's Goldsmith, i. 166. Mr. Seward says in his Anecdotes, ii. 320, that 'in the opinion of Dr. Johnson, Dr. Clarke was the most complete literary' character that England ever produced.' For Dr. Clarke's sermons stc post, April 7, 1778.

  7. See Post, Oct, 16, 1769, note.