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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.
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 showed 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, that when in one of his leisure hours he was unbending himself with a few friends in the most playful and frolick some manner, he observed Beau Nash approaching; upon which he suddenly stopped:-" My boys," said he, "let us be grave: here comes a fool." The world, my friend, I have found
a "The perverseness of mankind," says Johnson, "makes it often mischievous in men of eminence to give way to merriment. The idle and illiterate will often shelter themselves under what they say in those moments."-Life of BLACKMORE.
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; 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.
London, April 20, 1791.
My dear sir,
Your much obliged friend,
And faithful humble servant,
I AT last deliver to the world a work which I have long promised, and of which, I am afraid, too high expectations have been raised. The delay of its publication must be imputed, in a considerable degree, to the extraordinary zeal which has been shown, by distinguished persons in all quarters, to supply me with additional information concerning its illustrious subject; resembling in this the grateful tribes of ancient nations, of which every individual was eager to throw a stone upon the grave of a departed hero, and thus to share in the pious office of erecting an honourable monument to his memory.
The labour and anxious attention with which I have collected and arranged the materials of which these volumes are composed, will hardly be conceived by those who read them with careless facility. The stretch of mind and prompt assiduity by which so many conversations were preserved, I myself, at some distance of time, contemplate with wonder; and I must be allowed to suggest, that the nature of the work, in other respects, as it consists of innumerable detached particulars, all which, even the most minute, I have spared no pains to ascertain with a scrupulous authenticity, has occasioned a degree of trouble far beyond that of any other species of composition. Were I to detail the books which I have consulted, and the enquiries which I have found it necessary to make by various channels, I should probably be thought ridiculously ostentatious. Let me only observe, as a specimen of my trouble, that I have sometimes been obliged to run half over London, in order to fix a date correctly; which, when I
had accomplished, I well knew would obtain me no praise, though a failure would have been to my discredit. And after all, perhaps, hard as it may be, I shall not be surprised if omissions or mistakes be pointed out with invidious severity. I have also been extremely careful as to the exactness of my quotations; holding that there is a respect due to the publick, which should oblige every author to attend to this, and never to presume to introduce them with," I think I have read ;"-or-" If I remember right;" when the originals may be examined.
I beg leave to express my warmest thanks to those who have been pleased to favour me with communications and advice in the conduct of my work. But I cannot sufficiently acknowledge my obligations to my friend Mr. Malone, who was so good as to allow me to read to him almost the whole of my manuscript, and made such remarks as were greatly for the advantage of the work; though it is but fair to him to mention, that upon many occasions I differed from him, and followed my own judgement. I regret exceedingly that I was deprived of the benefit of his revision, when not more than one half of the book had passed through the press; but after having completed his very laborious and admirable edition of Shakspeare, for which he generously would accept of no other reward but that fame which he has so deservedly obtained, he fulfilled his promise of a long-wished-for visit to his relations in Ireland; from whence his safe return ‘finibus Atticis' is desired by his friends here, with all the classical ardour of Sic te Diva potens Cypri;' for there is no man in whom more elegant and worthy qualities are united; and whose society, therefore, is more valued by those who know him.
It is painful to me to think, that while I was carrying on this work, several of those to whom it would have been most interesting have died. Such melancholy disappointments we know to be incident to humanity; but we do not feel them the less. Let me particularly lament the reverend Thomas Warton, and the reverend Dr. Adams.
Mr. Warton, amidst his variety of genius and learning, was an excellent biographer. His contributions to my collection are highly estimable; and as he had a true relish of my Tour to the Hebrides, I trust I should now have been gratified with a larger share of his kind approbation. Dr. Adams, eminent as the head of a college, as a writer, and as a most amiable man, had known Johnson from his early years, and was his friend through life. What reason I had to hope for the countenance of that venerable gentleman to this work, will appear from what he wrote to me upon a former occasion from Oxford, November 17, 1785" Dear sir, I hazard this letter, not knowing where it will find you, to thank you for your very agreeable Tour, which I found here on my return from the country, and in which you have depicted our friend so perfectly to my fancy, in every attitude, every scene and situation, that I have thought myself in the company, and of the party almost throughout. It has given very general satisfaction; and those who have found most fault with a passage here and there, have agreed that they could not help going through, and being entertained with the whole. I wish, indeed, some few gross expres sions had been softened, and a few of our hero's foibles had been a little more shaded; but it is useful to see the weaknesses incident to great minds; and you have given us Dr. Johnson's authority that in history all ought to be told."
Such a sanction to my faculty of giving a just representation of Dr. Johnson I could not conceal. Nor will I suppress my satisfaction in the consciousness, that by recording so considerable a portion of the wisdom and wit of "the brightest ornament of the eighteenth century a " I have largely provided for the instruction and entertainment of mankind.
London, April 20, 1791.
a See Mr. Malone's preface to his edition of Shakspeare.