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, mortalized and glorified by the brush of Reynolds, so his wisdom and his wit, his roughness and his tenderness, have been depicted for us by Boswell.
With these masterpieces of bodily and mental portraiture before us, we may often say, “No more! the picture is perfect, the biography complete, we care for no inferior touch!" But there are other moods in which we feel that different aspects of both body and mind might have been shown. We have his portrait in repose, thoughtful, almost sublime, but we sometimes feel, “Would that an artist eye had seen him at Uttoxeter doing penance in passionate repentance ! Would that someone had noted the tender pathos of the farewell look on his dying servant, Catherine Chambers; or the glee with which, when almost penniless himself, he hid pennies in the hands of sleeping children in the London streets, lest they should awake breakfastless !"
So with regard to his life and character. We sometimes fancy that another hand might give a different, not a better or a fuller representation than Boswell's. To afford satisfaction to this feeling, and gratify the desire to know all that can be known about so great a man, the different articles in this volume are brought together. In former Johnsoniana, this has been done in the form of anecdotes and sayings. Extracts from various writers were cut up into short pieces, supplied with more or less appropriate headings, and called Anecdotes or Sayings of John
We have preferred where we could to give each author's article whole and intact. Where this was not possible or desirable, and extracts must be resorted to, each passage is complete in itself, and no liberties have been taken with the original text, to which full reference is given.
In making the selection and arranging the order of the various
pieces, there was no difficulty. After Boswell, who so able to describe Johnson as Mrs. Piozzi ? Her “ Anecdotes," now a scarce book, are here given exactly as she herself gave them to the world. Their best praise is, that after reading Boswell we can yet read them with pleasure. Indeed, if we had had no Boswell, we should still have obtained from Mrs. Piozzi's lively pages, a good notion of Johnson—a notion, however, that would have been more tender and true if it had been given by Mrs. Thrale instead of Mrs. Piozzi, who writes with something of the bitterness arising from consciousness of wrongdoing. Lord Macaulay has described Mrs. Thrale, “ at the height of her prosperity and popularity, with gay spirits, quick wit, showy though superficial accomplishments, pleasing though not refined manners, a singularly amiable temper, and a loving heart." True words, to their fullest extent, excepting only the last and most important of all. A singularly amiable temper Mrs. Thrale certainly had, but a loving heart was surely the one thing wanting: the possession of this would have preserved her loyal to her husband's memory and the claims of friendship, and saved her from an infatuation that deteriorated her own character and alienated her best friends.
Next to these “ Anecdotes,” we place the letters from and to Miss Hill Boothby, showing Johnson in a sad and pathetic light, as the shades of life's evening were drawing round him. These letters are especially valued from having been collected and arranged by Johnson himself. They were first published by Mr. Wright of Lichfield, in a little volume (now scarce), together with the autobiographical sketch called “ Annals,” which in the present edition of Boswell forms part of the Appendix to the first volume.
The biographical sketch by Tom Tyers finds a place here, because it was almost the first public tribute to Johnson at the time of his death, having been published in the “Gentleman's Magazine” only a few days after that event. Boswell calls it
an entertaining little collection of fragments,” and says that Tyers “had lived with Dr. Johnson in as easy a manner as almost any of his very numerous acquaintance.” Tyers himself modestly claims to have “worked his little bit of gold into as much gold leaf as he could.”
The recollections of Johnson by Richard Cumberland are the pleasant memories of a gentleman and a scholar, refined and
genial like their writer. They are extracted from the most amusing and interesting “ Memoirs of Richard Cumberland, written by himself.” The charming description of Johnson and Reynolds at Mrs. Cumberland's tea-table is a refreshing contrast to the coarse and unsympathetic character of the observations of some of Johnson's contemporaries; notably, of the Irish Dr. Campbell, the brutality of whose remarks on Johnson's appearance detract greatly from the pleasure we should otherwise have had in presenting to our readers that very interesting literary curiosity, “ The Diary of a Visit to England in 1775.” This Diary, after reposing behind an old press in one of the offices of the Supreme Court of New South Wales for no one knows how long, was discovered and published at Sydney in 1854 by Mr. Raymond (see vol. ii., p. 396-403), and is now for the first time printed in England. Dr. Campbell gave out that his chief object ir visiting London at this time was to see the “lions,” of whom Johnson was the chief. He describes many of the same dinners and conversations as Boswell, and some of them even more fully. It is curious to trace the agreements and differences; but the whole Diary is vigorous and amusing.
Dr. Campbell is especially interested in two very different classes, the clergy and the play-actors. He visits all the principal churches and theatres, and remarks on sermons and plays with the same freedom of speech. He describes Johnson's outer man, as we have said, with much coarse exaggeration, but his accounts of some conversations are excellent, and we are greatly indebted to him for the report of Johnson's views on Irish affairs as given in the Diary (“ Johnsoniana,” p. 273), and at greater length in his “Strictures on the History of Ireland” (p. 336-8).
Johnson evidently received Dr. Campbell's advances with kindness and courtesy; and that the acquaintanceship ripened into regard is shown by the fact, that when Dr. Campbell, in 1778, published his “Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland,” Johnson gave for publication in it his Epitaph on Goldsmith, then in manuscript, but afterwards inscribed on the monument in Westminster Abbey.
The discovery of this Diary has also done much to dispel the ludicrous confusion of the “ Irish Dr. Campbell ” with“ a flashy friend” of Mrs. Thrale's, for it shows decisively that when Mrs. Thrale wrote of this friend (doubtless Mr. Musgrave) from Bath, in May, 1776, Dr. Campbell was not at Bath, but in Ireland.
Extracts from Hannah More's letters and Fanny Burney's diary, are also included in this collection, because the picture of Johnson cannot be complete without the lively sallies of Hannah, and the droll touches of Fanny, and for the sake of the vigorous sketches they contain of life and manners in Johnson's time. Happily, both these ladies knew and described Johnson in their early days, before Hannah's native sense and fun had been cramped and dulled, and before Fanny's style was ruined by affectation.
Of all Johnson's friends, we should naturally, perhaps, look most eagerly to Sir Joshua and Miss Reynolds for notices of him. Sir Joshua was, Boswell tells us, Johnson's “dulce decus, with whom he maintained an uninterrupted intimacy to the last hour of his life.” Opportunities for observation must have been endless, for there seems to have been hardly a day when the friends did not meet in the painting room or in general society; and that Reynolds's conception of Johnson's character was lofty in the extreme, is proved by the portrait from his hand. But we must confess that when Reynolds exchanges his brush for the pen,
he fills us with disappointment and surprise, while the “Recollections of Johnson by Miss Reynolds, though containing some few touches not to be met with elsewhere, will not bear comparison with those of Mrs. Piozzi, Hannah More, or Miss Burney. Both these articles are included in this volume more from respect to the claims of their writers than from their own intrinsic merit or interest.
From the lips and pen of Burke, little regarding Johnson has, alas ! been preserved. We regret
this the more because through twenty-seven years of uninterrupted friendship we trace his affectionate respect and admiration, and the touching and beautiful “ Character” Burke drew of Reynolds shows what we might have had of Johnson.
This collection of contemporary opinion is closed by an essay from the pen of Arthur Murphy, whose uninterrupted intimacy with Johnson for thirty years, and keen appreciation of the wit and humour which he thought Johnson's chief characteristic, entitle him to a respectful hearing. But this Essay is in itself most interesting-it may repeat a few of the current mistakes of the time, but it contains information not found elsewhere ; for instance, in the account of the acknowledgment by Johnson of the authorship of the “ Parliamentary Debates.” In this Essay also is
given (pp. 398-400) what we know not where else to find, Murphy's fine translation or imitation of Johnson's Latin Poem, written in discouragement and despair after revising the Dictionary, and for the reproduction of this touching self-portraiture we claim, and believe we shall gain, the gratitude of all lovers of Johnson.
ROBINA NAPIER. Holkham Vicarage,
Nov. 26th, 1883.