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what he himself recommended, both by his precept and his example :—

"If the biographer writes from personal knowledge, and makes haste to gratify the public curiosity, there is danger lest his interest, his fear, his gratitude, or his tenderness, overpower his fidelity, and tempt him to conceal, if not to invent. There are many who think it an act of piety to hide the faults or failings of their friends, even when they can no longer suffer by their detection; we therefore see whole ranks of characters adorned with uniform panegyric, and not to be known from one another but by extrinsic and casual circumstances. 'Let me remember,' says Hale, ' when I find myself inclined to pity a criminal, that there is likewise a pity due to the country.' If we owe regard to the memory of the dead, there is yet more respect to be paid to knowledge, to virtue, and to truth." [Rambler, No. 60.]

What I consider as the peculiar value of the following work, is the quantity it contains of Johnson's Conversation; which is universally acknowledged to have been eminently instructive and entertaining; and of which the specimens that I have given upon a former occasion (') have been received with so much approbation, that I have good grounds for supposing that the world will not be indifferent to more ample communications of a similar nature.

That the conversation of a celebrated man, if his talents have been exerted in conversation, will best

(1) [Boswell alludes to his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, separately published in 1785, but now given, according to the natural order of time, and the universally-approved example of Mr. Croker, as a constituent and important part of the author's Life of Johnson. See volumes iii. and iv. post.]

display his character (1), is, I trust, too well established in the judgment of mankind, to be at all shaken by a sneering observation of Mr. Mason, in his Memoirs of Mr. William Whitehead, in which there is literally no Life, but a mere dry narrative of facts. I do not think it was quite necessary to attempt a depreciation of what is universally esteemed, because it was not to be found in the immediate object of the ingenious writer's pen; for in truth, from a man so still and so tame, as to be contented to pass many years as the domestic companion of a superannuated lord and lady (2), conversation could no more be expected, than from a Chinese mandarin on a chimney-piece, or the fantastic figures on a gilt leather skreen.

If authority be required, let us appeal to Plutarch, the prince of ancient biographers:— Οὔτε ταῖς ἐπιφα

νεστάταις πράξεσι πάντως ἔνεστι δήλωσις ἀρετῆς ἡ κακίας, ἀλλὰ πρᾶγμα βραχὺ πολλάκις, καὶ ῥῆμα, καὶ παιδιά τις ἔμφασιν ἤθους ἐποίησεν μᾶλλον ἢ μάχαι μυριόνεκροι, παρατάξεις αἰ μέγισται, καὶ πολιορκία πόλεων : "Nor is it always in the most distinguished achievements that men's virtues or vices may be best discerned; but very often an action of small note, a short saying, or a jest, shall distinguish a person's real character more than the greatest sieges, or the most important battles." (3)

(1) [Johnson expresses a somewhat contrary opinion (post, 1780); and every one must be aware, that his own circle furnishes exceptions to Boswell's remark.]

(2) [Whitehead lived with William, third Earl of Jersey, and Anne Egerton, his countess.]

(3) Plutarch's Life of Alexander; Langhorne's translation.

To this may be added the sentiments of the very man whose life I am about to exhibit:

"The business of the biographer is often to pass slightly over those performances and incidents which produce vulgar greatness, to lead the thoughts into domestic privacies, and display the minute details of daily life, where exterior appendages are cast aside, and men excel each other only by prudence and by virtue. The account of Thuanus is, with great propriety, said by its author to have been written, that it might lay open to posterity the private and familiar character of that man, cujus ingenium et candorem ex ipsius scriptis sunt olim semper miraturi, whose candour and genius will, to the end of time, be by his writings preserved in admiration.

"There are many invisible circumstances, which, whether we read as enquirers after natural or moral knowledge, whether we intend to enlarge our science or increase our virtue, are more important than public Occurrences. Thus, Sallust, the great master of nature, has not forgot, in his account of Catiline, to remark, that his walk was now quick, and again slow, as an indication of a mind revolving with violent commotion. (1) Thus, the story of Melancthon affords a striking lecture on the value of time, by informing us, that when he had made an appointment, he expected not only the hour, but the minute to be fixed, that the day might not run out in the idleness of suspense; and all the plans and enterprises of De Witt are now of less importance to the world, than that part of his personal

(1) [

"You may sometimes trace

A feeling in each footstep, as disclosed
By Sallust in his Catiline, who, chased
By all the demons of all passions, show'd
Their work, even by the way in which he trode.".

BYRON, vol. xvi. p. 171.]

character, which represents him as careful of his health, and negligent of his life.

"But, biography has often been allotted to writers, who seem very little acquainted with the nature of their task, or very negligent about the performance. They rarely afford any other account than might be collected from public papers, but imagine themselves writing a life, when they exhibit a chronological series of actions or preferments; and have so little regard to the manners or behaviour of their heroes, that more knowledge may be gained of a man's real character, by a short conversation with one of his servants, than from a formal and studied narrative, begun with his pedigree, and ended with his funeral.

"There are, indeed, some natural reasons why these narratives are often written by such as were not likely to give much instruction or delight, and why most accounts of particular persons are barren and useless. If a life be delayed till interest and envy are at an end, we may hope for impartiality, but must expect little intelligence; for the incidents which give excellence to biography are of a volatile and evanescent kind, such as soon escape the memory, and are rarely transmitted by tradition. We know how few can portray a living acquaintance, except by his most prominent and observable particularities, and the grosser features of his mind; and it may be easily imagined how much of this little knowledge may be lost in imparting it, and how soon a succession of copies will lose all resemblance of the original." [Rambler, No. 60.]

I am fully aware of the objections which may be made to the minuteness, on some occasions, of my detail of Johnson's conversation, and how happily it is adapted for the petty exercise of ridicule, by men of superficial understanding, and ludicrous

fancy; but I remain firm and confident in my opinion, that minute particulars are frequently characteristic, and always amusing, when they relate to a distinguished man. I am therefore exceedingly unwilling that any thing, however slight, which my illustrious friend thought it worth his while to express, with any degree of point, should perish. For this almost superstitious reverence, I have found very old and venerable authority, quoted by our great modern prelate, Secker, in whose tenth sermon there is the following passage:·


"Rabbi David Kimchi (1), a noted Jewish commentator, who lived about five hundred years ago, explains that passage in the first Psalm, 'His leaf also shall not wither,' from Rabbins yet older than himself, thus: That even the idle talk,' so he expresses it, of a good man ought to be regarded;' the most superfluous things, he saith, are always of some value. And other ancient authors have the same phrase nearly in the same sense."

Of one thing I am certain, that, considering how highly the small portion which we have of the table-talk, and other anecdotes, of our celebrated writers is valued, and how earnestly it is regretted that we have not more, I am justified in preserving rather too many of Johnson's sayings, than too few; especially as, from the diversity of dispositions, it cannot be known with certainty beforehand, whether what may seem trifling to some, and perhaps to the collector himself, may not be most agreeable to

(1) [David Kimchi, a Spanish Rabbi, died, at an advanced age, in 1240, leaving several works still held in high estimation by the learned Jews.]

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