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THIRTY-EIGHT years are now elapsed since the death of Dr. Johnson, during which his character and talents have been scrutinized with a severity unprecedented in literary biography. There never, indeed, was a man of distinction of whom more may be known by those who have had no opportunity of personal acquaintance; and perhaps never was a man whose failings, after having been exposed by imprudence or exaggerated by malice, were sooner forgotten in the esteem excited by his superior talents and steady virtues.
His early works came slowly into notice. They owed nothing to the tricks of popularity now so coinmon; but their intrinsic merit gradually acquired for them a firm establishment. During his life, his individual pieces were frequently reprinted; and since his death, sıx large editions of his collected works have been bought up by the Publick. A SEVENTH, which has been loudly called for, is now completed; and with the recommendation of very important additions. What Lord Chesterfield said of Swift may be as truly applied to our author, “Whoever in the three kingdoms has any books at all, has JOHNSON."
Research, not very painful or recondite, but which was neglected by Hawkins and Murphy, the preceding editors of Johnson's Works, has enabled me to add more than THIRTY articles, none of which have hitherto appeared in any edition. These appeared to me to have unquestionable claims on the attention of his readers, and to be absolutely necessary to exhibit the variety of his powers at different periods of his life. Of their authenticity, I trust there can be no question ; internal evidence, as well as biographical authority, are too strongly in their favour to admit of ally.
By the permission of the proprietor, the whole of the “PRAYERS and MediTATIONS” are now added. I have, however, given only a specimen of Dr. Johnson's “SERMONS,” fearful lest the confidential purpose for which they were written, and the changes which they probably underwent in the hands of the preacher, may afford an argument against their forming a legitimate portion of those works which the author would have consented to give to the press. Nor perhaps have they ever been considered as adding much to his fame. In the powers of moral suasiou, Johnson was unrivalled, but in divinity he was seldom more than a moralist.
Illustrative notes have been appended, where certain events and circumstances required explanation, and dates and authorities were wanting. These were originally supplied by Johnson's first editor, Sir John Hawkins ; afterwards by John Nichols, Esq. and Mr. Isaac Reed; and more recently by Mr. Malone, Mr. James Boswell, Jun., and the present Editor.
London, Feb. 1823.