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may have been the cause or causes--as to which point, however, we have sufficiently hinted our opinion—it certainly does not appear that he lived, during the period of established fame, in habits of warm, thorough, intimate friendship with any one of the great contemporaries that delighted in his company, and with whom he also delighted to eat, drink, and talk. In their highly intellectual and exciting society, he displayed his even among them unrivalled talents for conversation, and escaped from those darker thoughts that continued to haunt his solitary hours. But we have strong doubts whether he ever unbosomed himself to any one of them with real brotherly confidence. In so far as we can presume to judge, his feeling towards Mr. Thrale was one of more affectionate attachment than belonged to any other of his later connexions ; but there appears no reason to suppose that that good kind man could ever have been at all qualified to hold with Johnson anything like that sort of communion, which alone could have elevated respectful gratitude into what must be the sublimest as well as most beautiful of human sentiments, the friendship of genius. Thrale was but a worthy citizen-having nothing in common with Johnson, on almost any of those subjects that filled a large space in the great author's upper mind; and-must it be added ?—the obligations under which his munificence laid Johnson were perhaps too constant to be considered without some painful fings of that proud pulse.
In Boswell, if there was little to command respect, except indeed his position as a man of long descent and fair fortunewhich was never, probably, throughout their intercourse, without its own effect on the doctor's mind, and which, no doubt, had originally a great share in Johnson's acceptance of him—there was, on the other hand, almost everything that could have been imagined most likely to soothe and disarm the habitual demon of distrust. His youth, being accompanied with most perfect good nature, threw into the sage's feelings towards him a something of paternal gentleness and protection. All ideas of jealousy, rivalry, envy, were out of the question—there was no pretension of any sort that could even for a moment be suspected of thrusting itself out — every motion, gesture, and accent proclaimed the profoundest humility of the undoubting worshipper; and, as have already hinted, Boswell rarely lived in London more than a few weeks on end; so that the object of this homage and adoration had never time to get heartily sick of its fulsome profusion, before the fond disciple had carried his veneration, as well as other less palatable foibles, far out of the reach of rising fastidiousness.
A curious chapter in the history of the human mind would be VOL. XLVI. NO, XCI.
that of the friendships of genius ; but perhaps it would bring out few instances in which, after all, something of this kind of paternal feeling did not mingle. As to Dr. Johnson, the result certainly was, that he opened himself to Boswell on more important subjects, and in a more purely serious spirit, than, as far as we have any means of seeing, to any other of his circle of admirers. Another hand might, perhaps, have been found to record the play of his wit, knowledge, sagacity, and strong English humour, as elicited amidst the contending gladiators of the Turk's Head; but what could have atoned for those quiet têtes-à-tétes in which Johnson discoursed to Boswell of man and society, of this world and of the world to come, gravely, solemnly, in the total absence of temptation to sophistry or false brilliancy, and, above all, under the feeling of which, on these occasions, the influence is unfailingly obvious, that he was addressing an affectionate and well-disposed, but weak and unsteady nature, soon to be removed five hundred miles from his chair, and with which he might never again be brought into contact on this side of eternity. Of as much of the emotions of genius as it ever will reveal, the true and proper confidants are the world and posterity; but wisdom may be said to cry aloud in vain in general maxims, when we consider its efficacy where it has been distinctly applied to individual cases and circumstances, by the master himself, man to man, and friend to friend.
The Boswellian style of biography was quite new; and while the book was devoured with universal eagerness, many of the manlier order of minds no doubt thought what Lord Thurlow expressed to the author himself: I have read it?-Yes, d-n you, every word--but I could not help it;'—were ashamed of themselves, in short, for having condescended to be amused with such a world of details, so many of them, taken separately, mean and insignificant. The example, however, once set, the curiosity of the public having been so gratified as to a single illustrious man, and their satisfaction made so apparent in the boundless popularity of the performance, the evil, if evil it were, was done, and could not be repaired. From that time a new spirit animated all this department of composition; and to the influence of Boswell we owe probably three-fourths of what is de fucto most entertaining, as well as no inconsiderable portion of whatever is most instructive, in all the books of memoirs that have subsequently appeared. The garrulous gentleman has often been reproached with having departed so widely from the model of his master, in the Lives of the Poets; yet if we compare the Life of Savage, the only one where Johnson had large access to materials of the minuter cast, with any other of the series, we shall see abundant evidence that
the Doctor himself had a lively feeling of the value of petty details, in giving characteristic, graphic, vigorous effect to such delineations, so much so that, in Mr. Croker's language, the piece we have named, like Murillo's Beggar, gives pleasure as a work of art, though the original could only have excited disgust.' But the true answer is, that Dr. Johnson read, as it was written, Boswell's Journal of the tour to the Hebrides, and well knowing not only that that journal was meant for publication, but that its author designed to depict the whole of his life, in as far as he could get at the materials, in precisely the same style, did not only not exert his authority for the suppression of what he read, but continued, from time to time, to furnish Boswell with anecdotes and hints respecting the earlier parts of his career. This conduct on Dr. Johnson's part was clearly to sanction Boswell's design, as to all that has subjected it to grave criticism ; if serious blame is to lie anywhere, it must attach not to the frivolous painter, but the solemn original, of the elaborate portraiture. Nay, the little specimen of autobiography which the Doctor has left, is completely Boswellian in the minuteness of its details, and a world more entertaining than any page in Boswell, from the contrast which the massive strength of its language every now and then presents to the humble nature of the matters it records : e.g.
"" This Whitsuntide (1719), I and my brother were sent to pass some time at Birmingham ; I believe a fortnight. Why such boys were sent to trouble other homes, I cannot tell. My mother had some opinion that much improvement was to be had by changing the mode of life. My uncle Harrison was a widower; and his house was kept by Sally Ford, a young woman of such sweetness of temper, that I used to say she had no fault. We lived most at uncle Ford's, being much caressed by my aunt, a good-natured, coarse woman, easy of converse, but willing to find something to censure in the absent. My uncle Harrison did not much like us, nor did we like him. He was a very mean and vulgar man, drunk every night, but drunk with little drink ; very peevish, very proud, very ostentatious, but, luckily, not rich.” (What a complete portrait does this one sentence present!) At my aunt Ford's I ate so much of a boiled leg of mutton, that she used to talk of it. My mother, who had lived in a narrow sphere, and was then affected by little things, told me seriously that it would be hardly ever forgotten. Her mind, I think, was afterwards very much enlarged, or greater evils wore out the care of less.'—Vol. i., p. 6. Again,
“ We went in the stage-coach, and returned in the waggon, as my mother said, because my cough was violent. The hope of saving a few shillings was no slight motive ; for she, not having been accustomed to money, was afraid of such expenses as now seem very small. She sewed two guineas in her petticoat, lest she should be robbed.
6 66 We
• “ We were troublesome to the passengers; but to suffer such inconveniences in the stage-coach was common in those days to persons in much higher rank. She bought me a small silver
and spoon, marked SAM, J., lest, if they had been marked S. J., (Sarah being her name,) they should, upon her death, have been taken from
She bought me a speckled linen frock, which I knew afterwards by the name of my London frock. The cup was one of the last pieces of plate which dear Tetty sold in our distress. I have now the spoon. She bought at the same time two tea-spoons, and till my manhood she had no more.” '- vol. i., pp. 16, 17.
That Johnson could never have persisted in writing the life of himself, or of any other person, in this fashion, is probable. He stopped soon, impressed, no doubt, with the conviction that to bestow such an intinity of pains and space upon a single human individual, no matter how distinguished, was a thing below him. Had Titian, however, seen a masterpiece of Teniers, he would not have altered his own style in consequence, but he would have enjoyed the piece, probably, as much as those who could neither comprehend nor enjoy things of a higher order, and no doubt encouraged the microscopic genius of a tamer soil to proceed as nature had prompted him to begin.
Voltaire, indeed, has said, no man that ever lived deserved a quarto to himself;' and one illustrious writer of our own time has lately protested against the copious style of biography, with reference especially to poets, in language which, were it but for the beauty of it, our readers would thank us for transcribing. Commenting on some cruel details in Dr. Currie's Life of Burns, Mr. Wordsworth, in his letter to Mr. James Gray,* thus expresses himself:
• Your feelings, I trust, go along with mine; and, rising from this individual case to a general view of the subject, you will probably agree with me in opinion that biography, though differing in some essentials from works of fiction, is nevertheless, like them, an art,--an art, the laws of which are determined by the imperfections of our nature, and the constitution of society. Truth is not here, as in the sciences, and in natural philosophy, to be sought without scruple, and promulgated for its own sake, upon the mere chance of its being serviceable ; but only for obviously justifying purposes, moral or intellectual.
• Silence is a privilege of the grave, a right of the departed : let him, therefore, who infringes that right, by speaking publicly of, for, or against those who cannot speak for themselves, take heed that he opens not his mouth without a suficient sanction. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, is a rule in which these sentiments have been pushed to an extreme that proves how deeply humanity is interested in maintaining them. And it was wise to announce the precept thus absolutely; both because there exist in that same nature, by which it has been dictated, so many temptations to disregard it, and because there are powers and influences, within and without us, that will prevent its being literally fulfilled-to the suppression of profitable truth. Penalties of law, conventions of manners, and personal fear, protect the reputation of the living; and something of this protection is extended to the recently dead,—who survive, to a certain degree, in their kindred and friends. Few are so insensible as not to feel this, and not to be actuated by the feeling. But only to philosophy enlightened by the affections does it belong justly to estimate the claims of the deceased on the one hand, and of the present age and future generations, on the other; and to strike a balance between them.-Such philosophy runs a risk of becoming extinct among us, if the coarse intrusions into the recesses, the gross breaches upon the sanctities, of domestic life, to which we have lately been more and more accustomed, are to be regarded as indications of a vigorous state of public feeling-favourable to the maintenance of the liberties of our country. Intelligent lovers of freedom are from necessity bold and hardy lovers of truth; but, according to the measure in which their love is intelligent, is it attended with a finer discrimination, and a more sensitive delicacy. The wise and good (and all others being lovers of licence rather than of liberty are in fact slaves) respect, as one of the noblest characteristics of Englishmen, that jealousy of familiar approach, which, while it contributes to the maintenance of private dignity, is one of the most efficacious guardians of rational public freedom.
* Longman and Co. London, 1816.
• The general obligation upon which I have insisted, is especially binding upon those who undertake the biography of authors. Assuredly, there is no cause why the lives of that class of men should be pried into with the same diligent curiosity, and laid open with the same disregard of reserve, which may sometimes be expedient in composing the history of men who have borne an active part in the world. Such thorough knowledge of the good and bad qualities of these latter, as can only be obtained by a scrutiny of their private lives, conduces to explain not only their own public conduct, but that of those with whom they have acted. Nothing of this applies to authors, considered merely as authors. Our business is wilh their books,—to understand and to enjoy them. And, of poets more especially, it is true—that, if their works be good, they contain within themselves all that is necessary to their being comprehended and relished. It should seem that the ancients thought in this manner; for of the eminent Greek and Roman poets, few and scanty memorials were, I helieve, ever prepared ; and fewer still are preserved. It is delightful to read what, in the happy exercise of his own genius, Horace chooses to communicate of himself and his friends ; but I confess I am not so much a lover of knowledge, independent of its quality, as to make it likely that it would much rejoice me, were I to hear that records of the Sabine poet and his contemporaries, composed upon the Boswellian plan, had been unearthed among the ruins of Herculaneum. You will interpret what I am writing, liberally.