« AnteriorContinuar »
At laft 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 confiderable degree, to the extraordinary zeal which has been fhewn by diftinguished perfons in all quarters to fupply me with additional information concerning its illuftrious Subject; refembling in this the grateful tribes of ancient nations, of which every individual was eager to throw a to throw a ftone upon the grave of a departed Hero, and thus to share in the pious office of erecting an konourable monument to his memory.
The labour and anxious attention with which I have collected and arranged the materials of which thefe volumes are compofed, will hardly be conceived by those who read them with careless facility. The firetch of mind and prompt affiduity by which fo many conversations were preferved, I myself, at fome diftance of time, contemplate with wonder and I must be allowed to fuggeft, that the nature of the work in other respects, as it confifts of innumerable detached particulars, all which, even the most minute, I have spared no pains to ascertain with a Scrupulous
fcrupulous authenticity, has occafioned a degree of trouble far beyond that of any other species of compofition. Were I to detail the books which I have confulted, and the inquiries which I have found it neceffary to make by various channels, I should probably be thought ridiculously oftentatious. Let me only obferve, as a specimen of my trouble, that I have fometimes had 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 difcredit. And after all perhaps, hard as it may be, I shall not be furprized if omiffions or mistakes be pointed out with invidious feverity. 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 Authour to attend to this, and never to prefume 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 pleafed to favour me with communications and advice in the conduct of my Work.. But I cannot fufficiently acknowledge my obligations to my friend Mr. Malone,. who was fo good as to allow me to read to him almost the whole of my manufcript, and made fuch remarks as were greatly for the advantage of the Work; though it is but fair to him to mention, that upon many occafions I differed from him, and followed my own judgement. I regret exceedingly that I was deprived of the benefit of his revifion, when but about one half of the book had paffed through the prefs;. 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 fo defervedly obtained, he fulfilled his promife of a long-wished-for vifit to his relations in Ireland; from whence his fafe return finibus Atticis is defired by his friends here, with all the claffical ardour of Sic te Diva potens Cypri; for there is no man in whom more elegant and worthy qualities are united; and whofe fociety therefore is more valued by those who know him.
It is painful to me to think, that while I was carrying on this Work, feveral 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 lefs. 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 eftimable; 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 reafon 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 occafion from Oxford, November 17, 1785:—“ Dear Sir, I hazard this letter, not knowing where it will find you you, to thank for your very agreeable 'Tour,' which I found here on my return from the country, and in which you have depicted our friend fo perfectly to my fancy, in every attitude, every scene and fituation, that I have thought myself in the
company, and of the party almoft throughout. It has given very general fatisfaction; and those who have found moft fault with a paffage here and there, have agreed that they could not help going through, and being entertained through the whole. I wish, indeed, fome few grofs expreffions had been foftened, and a few of our hero's foibles had been a little more fhaded; but it is useful to fee the weakneffes incident to great minds; and you have given us Dr. Johnson's authority that in history all ought to be told."
Such a fanction to my faculty of giving a just reprefentation of Dr. Johnson I could not conceal. Nor will I fupprefs my fatisfaction in the consciousness, that by recording fo confiderable a portion of the wisdom and wit of "the brightest ornament of the eighteenth century *,” I have largely provided for the inftruction and entertainment of mankind.
London, April 20, 1791.
* See Mr. Malone's Preface to his edition of Shakspeare.