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presented almost in the state in
in which they were jotted down.
But it is in the somewhat novel arrangement of such notes and illustrations, as do not belong to the author, that the admirers of Boswell will find satisfaction. His work-text, notes, and alterations-will now, for the first time, be given complete, distinct, and fenced off, as it were, from all notes and illustrations supplied from other sources. Thus the author, with the results of his labour, is preserved from that "encumbering with help,” with which the zeal, and, perhaps, sense of self-importance, of friendly coadjutors has hitherto oppressed him.
Now, in illustrating a book of the character of Boswell's 'Johnson” for the use of a generation living subsequent to the author's time, it would seem that, at the outset, certain limitations for illustration should be fixed, and a certain principle sought for. Otherwise, in a large work of the kind, filled with names and local allusions, the stock of newly-discovered information, gathering as it goes, will become inexhaustible. If all that can be told about such subjects is to be told, or even abstracted, the tide of commentary will rise higher and higher, until it at last will fairly submerge, or at least inundate, the text. A simple rule would be to put the question—Is the particular allusion or passage sufficiently intelligible as regards the purpose for which it was introduced, viz., to illustrate not so much Johnson's life as Mr. Boswell's view of that life? Would the information, or details, have been adopted by the biographer himself? These tests, fairly applied, would dispose of a vast amount of useful, but, as it would seem, impertinent, information which has adhered to the sides and bottom of Mr. Boswell's fine vessel, and has certainly impeded its sailing powers. Thus the biographies, years of birth and death, of numberless obscure individuals, or of writers quoted in the text, the contemporary accounts or illustrations of a transaction, which add little to the version in the text, with, above all, controversy, or refutation of opinions of Boswell or Johnson, which forms so important a portion of Mr. Croker's notes – would certainly be found excluded by putting the questions just given. Further, passages in Johnson's life omitted by Boswell should not, on the same principle, be supplied, or should at most be touched in the lightest and
briefest fashion. For the fallacy that has misled so many editors is, that they believe themselves called on to supply a life of Johnson, not Mr. Boswell’s “Life of Johnson’—a fallacy founded on an inartistic appreciation of the nature of a written “life,” which consists of the selection of particular materials, the rejection of others, and the extraction of an orderly purpose, harmony, or theory by a single mind.
Having thus dwelt on Mr. Croker's deficiencies, it would be unjust not to allow him all credit for his extraordinary diligence and the unwearied labour he has expended on his work. No obscure point or allusion but has been, if not cleared up, at least sufficiently illustrated, while many of his discoveries are valuable contributions to the secret history of the time. Indeed, all his faults arise out of overdoing, not from leaving things undone, and every editor of Boswell must be under weighty obligations to him.
The notes have been selected from all the latest sources. Some are from original MS., and a large portion has never made its appearance in any edition of Boswell's “Johnson.” As Mr. Croker has drawn exhaustively on such well-known books as Miss Burney's “Diary,” Miss Hawkins’s “Memoirs,” Mrs. Piozzi's “Anecdotes,” &c., I have resorted to these familiar sources as little as possible, as most readers will know where they are collected, in most abundant fashion, viz., in Mr. Croker's edition. The editor has been careful to note every change made in the various editions of “The Life; ” but, as regards the “Tour,” he has collated the three editions, line by line, and noted every change made. The reasons for such changes are often entertaining enough, and in most instances have been furnished. To make the reproduction complete, the original portrait and all the various facsimiles have been added.
In conclusion, I have to acknowledge great obligations to the Rev. Dr. Evans, the present Master of Pembroke College, for some interesting matter referring to Johnson's stay at Oxford; as well as to Professor Chandler, of the same college, for the curious entries of Johnson's commons. I have also been assisted by my friend Mr. Forster, and more particularly by the Rev. Whitwell Elwin, whose critical sagacity has helped to clear up many difficulties.
London, May, 1874.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.
THIRTEEN years ago, when this edition was first published, there was but little interest in commentaries, as we may call them, on Boswell's great book. No edition of pretension had appeared since Mr. Croker's—except, perhaps, Mr. Carruthers' illustrated one, in four volumes. Since the present work appeared, at least two highly-important editions have appeared—that of the Rev. Mr. Napier, based upon Croker's, but minus the Croker speculations and comments; and Dr. Birkbeck Hill's, recently published. It is difficult to do justice to the enormous industry exhibited in this work, and the editor seems to have emulated Boswell himself in his laborious exertions after accuracy. Yet, with all this labour, it may be questioned if Dr. Birkbeck Hill's edition of Boswell has reached the true ideal. It seems to be overloaded. There could be no bounds to the dimensions of a work, arranged on his plan of illustration, parallel passages, and the like, which would expand it endlessly, after the fashion of what is called a “Grangerised” edition. Nor is it difficult to supply the proper limitation. The task before an editor is not to furnish illustrations or explanations of Johnson's Life, but of Boswell's Life of Johnson, and all that is called for is the aiding, or making clearer, Boswell's narrative. Otherwise, as I have said, a new editor actually finds himself trying to fashion an altogether new Life from Boswell's and other heterogeneous materials. This seems to have been the principle that guided Dr. Hill. As, when Johnson gives utterance to certain reflections, we are told that “he may have had in his mind a passage” in some other author, which is then given in full. A further objection is that Boswell's notes become merely a portion of a series of notes, instead of holding a leading and pre-eminent place; while the addition of a headline to every page— often of a jocular kind—is scarcely warrantable. There is not space here for a detailed review of the work, but it may be said that there are many theories, explanation of blanks, and obscure allusions, which are not to be accepted. Such was the idea that Johnson was little over a year at Oxford, though Boswell states positively he was three. Boswell was himself at Oxford, obtained all details of Johnson's Oxford life from Dr. Adams, his tutor; and often, he tells us, received from Dr. Johnson the full story of his Oxford career. Would not his first question have been : “And how long, sir, did you remain at Oxford?” Against this are put certain blanks in the Buttery books. Again, there is an allusion of Boswell's to “an eminent friend,” who lived laxly in the world, and who, Johnson coarsely said, would not “scruple to pick up a wench.” Dr. Birkbeck Hill seems to think Burke was intended ! Had he turned to the present volumes he would have found a suggestion that Windham was meant, who was “eminent,” “a friend,” and “lived laxly" in the world.
I am fairly entitled to dwell on these points here, as there has been a distinct and constant connection between Dr. Hill and my humble Boswellian labours, which he has followed and noted steadily, at least up to the appearance of his own edition. When my first edition was published, it was reviewed with much detail and knowledge by specialists, as they might be called, who had devoted their studies to Boswell. Thus, the Rev. Mr. Napier, who himself later issued an edition, devoted some columns in the Times to a searching and learned analysis of the book. There were reviews in a rather grudging and less cordial spirit in the Saturday Review, St. James' Gazette, and such journals, which, to my astonishment, I found were written by one person—viz., Dr. Hill. When later I published Croker's Boswell and Boswell, or studies on the same interesting subject, I found Dr. Hill again busy in the same journals. This throws some curious light on the mode in which criticism is conducted, since we find a single writer responsible for what appears to be a series of distinct reviews. These, as I say, were not in the most friendly spirit; but this was, perhaps, not unnatural, as the critic now confesses he was at the time planning an edition of Boswell himself; and any other edition, however inferior, would disincline publishers to make a new venture. More extraordinary still, with this intimate knowledge of myself and my works, I was surprised to find them quite ignored in Dr. Hill's own edition. I venture to say that any editor would have found, with, of course, many faults, much curious information in these pages, there for the first time collected.
In the pleasant task of commentating and illustrating this great work it is often forgotten there are two performers in the piece, the Doctor and “James Boswell, Esq.,” and that a large portion of the interest is excited by the latter. It is admitted that the entertainment supplied is owing to the vivacity and happy dramatic arrangement of the biographer. It is to his personal view of events, as well as his selection and ordering of what he observed and collected, that the unique narrative owes its attraction. Had Boswell died before he was able to cast his materials into the shape of a narrative, and had some other “eminent hand” employed them for a well-written life of the sage, we can conceive at once what the result would have been. It would have now ranked among the numerous “Lives and Times " that have come down to us, and as a laborious and meritorious work. It is the figure of Boswell moving everywhere in the shadow of his idol—his naive and natural comments, his amusing speculations, his revelation of his own character and absurdities, that lends his memoir its charm.
Hence we talk of “students” of Boswell's “Life,” and find so many scholars, critics, men of letters, drawn by a sort of fascination to supply their commentaries. Even any one who should go through this edition, noting the variations in the text, will find an entertainment quite apart from what is furnished by the narrative itself. He will see Boswell's vanity displayed, as well as his inordinate belief in the “sacredness” of his text, as his seeming ignorance of what made him ridiculous; his little passions of envy and malice; with those other acts and oddities which have often seriously raised the question whether he was really an inspired idiot or a man of sense and wisdom. We certainly owe it to his foolishness that he was so outspoken, and put in print, without restraint as to names or persons, so many things that must have excited annoyance and given pain. There was no attempt at delicacy. Where he found himself, on a rare occasion, compelled to suppress the name, under the disguise of “an eminent person,” or “a literary friend of his,” the person thus dealt with could be readily identified.
But though suffered to take his course without being inconvenienced, he found himself obliged for various reasons to make alterations in his great work, having embroiled himself with various persons who clamoured loudly against the too open statements that affected their reputation. For it does seem as though Mr. Boswell had been guided in his revelations by a sort of graduated measure, such as fear of consequences; he