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PREFACE.

BOSWELL'S LIFE OF JOHNSON not only holds an undisputed place among the classical achievements of English Literature, but belongs to that group within the classical group which may be distinguished as consisting of works both well-reputed and read, the other classics being well-reputed and unopened. No one who has this book is content to have it on his shelves, a mere respectability in calf-gilt-one of Charles Lamb's favourite aversions, “a book which no gentleman's library should be without." If it is on his shelves, it is often on his table. It is handled with fond familiarity, and taken down from time to time to be dipped into or consulted. It belongs to the intimate circle: is neither a grand acquaintance, nor a poor relation.

relation. It is a book which he quotes in conversation; and when sympathetic listeners are at hand he will now and then read from it passage after passage, laughing over and over again at the well-known quips and retorts, as if they were novelties. He is intolerant of people who do not share his admiration for the “dear old Doctor”-thin liberals who scorn Johnson's toryism, prim rationalists who despise his superstition, and literati reared under modern influences who are amazed at his want of poetic insight. From all such unsympathetic minds he turns impatiently

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bad one.

to the more agreeable listeners who have no opinion, whom he regards as possible converts ; and with suasive eagerness urges them to lose no time in “ forming a judgment for themselves"—the plain translation of this exhortation being, “Read Boswell, and you will agree with me."

I will not deny that I too am one of those who are impatient of any lukewarmness on this point. BOSWELL'S JOHNSON is for me a sort of test-book : according to a man's judgment of it, I am apt to form my judgment of him. It may not always be a very good test, but it is never a very

In spite, however, of its great reputation, the book is less read now-a-days than its admirers imagine ; and I have often been surprised to find how many cultivated men and women, who would assuredly be able to do it full justice, were satisfied with vague second-hand knowledge of it, simply because they had allowed the idle trash of the hour to come between them and it-preferring to read what "every one" is reading to-day, and no one will read to-morrow. This neglect of a work which has delighted generations, and will continue to delight posterity, is partly due to the mental enervation produced by a constantly increasing solicitation of the attention to new works, mostly of the mushroom type, springing up in a night to disappear in a day; and partly to the fact that BOSWELL'S LIFE, besides its own defects resulting from the author's deficiencies, has the impersonal defect of belonging to a period of literary culture in many respects unlike, and even opposed to our own—so that what in his day would pass for literary graces, in our day pass as artificial flowers, and those faded. Many passages which had their interest then, are now remorselessly skipped. The size of the work is also an obstacle to its acceptance. Readers so

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tolerant of trash in the language of to-day yawn over the langueurs et longueurs tolerated by our fathers. Even the staunchest admirer of BOSWELL'S LIFE must admit that it is three times as long as it need be.

On my observing that many were discouraged by its length, and that others found it too dull to be read through, the idea occurred to me several years ago in 1855 or 56) that it would be a feasible scheme to detach from these volumes all that gave them perennial interest and compress it into a single volume, without sacrificing anything but the thin soup of Boswellian narrative and comment, in which the solid meat of Johnson was dished up. But on reflection this scheme of an abridgment of Boswell appeared less and less attractive.

General experience has declared that abridgments are rarely successful. And there are good reasons why this should be SO. In making an abridgment we select only what is essential, expecting the reader to supply the rest from his own stores. But no reliance is more treacherous than reliance on the reader's co-operation : if he is not ignorant, he is probably indolent : very often he has not got the cement which will bind your bricks into a wall, or if he has got the cement he is too lazy to apply it.

Still, although I gave up my scheme of an abridgment, the original suggestion which prompted it recurred from time to time, under various aspects, and at length shaped itself into the scheme of a new LIFE OF JOHNSON, founded on Boswell, but entirely rewritten. As a collection of data Boswell's narrative could be gratefully used, and his inimitable reports of the conversations, stripped of their superfluous garnish, might be preserved. The four volumes of the original might thus be essentially reproduced in one.

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The charm and value of such a work must lie in the delightfully dramatic conversations, crowded with wit, humour, and wisdom, and in the moral significance of the picture thus presented of a noble soul struggling with difficulties, moral and physical, a strong and affluent nature in which many infirmities were blended.

No one has ever reported conversations with a skill comparable to that of Boswell--a skill which appears marvellous when compared with the attempts of others; and although there may have been talkers as good as Johnson, no man's reported talk has the variety and force of his. The conversations of Goethe, reported by Eckermann, are no doubt the outpourings of a much greater mind and a much wider culture ; but they are not properly to be accepted as conversations, they are incidental remarks and utterances intended for publication ; they are fragments of monologues, not flashes of talk. In Boswell's pages we have the animation, the abruptness, the wandering and harkingback of conversation ; the shuttlecock Aies from battledore to battledore, and often drops between them; the mood, the whim, the prejudice of years suddenly gives place to the paradox of the moment; the rising laughter at the passing jest is arrested by striking the chord of some solemn conviction ; the rising anger of contention disappears in some burst of laughter clearing the air. The very nonsense of these talks has its significance : it helps to paint the speakers and their time. And Johnson, though he towers above them all, is only the central figure of a remarkable group. We see him most distinctly ; but we also get delightful glimpses of Burke and Reynolds, Garrick and Goldsmith, Topham Beauclerk and Bennet Langtonwith Boswell himself, a memorable figure, and pompous

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