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The editor of this text hopes not to be found guilty of the charge made by Carlyle against Croker, who published an edition of Boswell's Life of John
"The editor will punctually explain what is already sun clear; and then anon, not without frankness, declare frequently enough that 'the Editor does not understand,' that 'the Editor cannot guess,' -while, for the most part, the Reader cannot help both guessing and seeing. The Reader becomes bewildered with so much elucidation that he exclaims, 'Where we are, we know; whither we are going, no man knoweth.'”
The purpose of this "anecdotico-biographic" work is to serve as a gateway to eighteenth century life and letters, when conversation and letter-writing were numbered among the fine arts and scholarship a leisurely grace.
S. S. C.
LIFE OF JAMES BOSWELL
James Boswell was a biographical genius. When his Tour in Corsica appeared, Gray said, "Any fool may write a valuable book by chance." If Boswell were a fool, then his great biography is due to his particular brand of folly. His Life of Johnson is superior to the work of the other two great English biographers, Lockhart and Froude. Boswell is not an attractive figure. If we should meet such a character to-day, we should avoid him as a disagreeable bore; yet the very qualities that made him socially undesirable enabled him to write the greatest biography in the English language. Johnson's life, from 1763 to 1784, is better known to us than that of any other man in history or literature.
For Boswell a new word has been coined-Boswellize; to use his own phrase, he "Johnsonized" Britain. His meeting with Johnson turned his life. from failure to success. He was an excellent reporter and interviewer; he sought the popular idols, arranged interviews, was disheartened by no rebuffs, and could report unerringly the spirit of a conversation. Johnson and Boswell were complementary natures: Johnson liked "to fold his legs under the table and have his talk," and Boswell's ambition was to elicit memorable conversation.
The comments of Boswell's family and acquaintances on the friendship make interesting reading. Boswell's father, the sturdy laird of Auchinleck and a rigid Presbyterian Whig, remarked that Jamie was.
'gone clean gyte And whose tail do ye think he has pinned himself to now, mon? A dominie's, an auld dominie, that keepit a schule and ca'd it an academy!" Some one asked, "Who is this Scotch cur at Johnson's heels?" "He is not a cur, replied Goldsmith, "he is only a burr. Tom Davis flung him at Johnson in sport, and he has the faculty of sticking." Mrs. Boswell called him a bear, and objected to Johnson's habit of turning lighted candles upside down in the parlor to make them burn better.
James Boswell was born in Edinburgh in 1740. He was "a fine boy, wore a white cockade, and prayed for King James until his uncle Cochrane gave him a shilling to pray for King George, which he accordingly did." Johnson, who held the Whigs, the Scotch, and all Americans in equal contempt, on hearing this, remarked, "Whigs of all ages are made in the same way.' The most striking events of his college days are his acquaintance in Edinburgh with William Johnson Temple, his future friend and correspondent, and his sitting at Glasgow under Adam Smith, who lectured on moral philosophy and rhetoric.
In 1760, he went to London, and his head was so turned by the prospect of entering London society that he was reclaimed from his rakish companions with difficulty by his uncompromising father, who urged him to study law in Edinburgh. Here he forced his acquaintance upon the celebrities, Kames, Blair, Robertson, Hume, and Sir David Dalrymple. So he began to follow his main vocation, Boswellizing, not the practice of law.
Boswell's acquaintance with Johnson began on