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HE performances contained in the present
Volume, are such, as it is presumed, ought to have made a part of the Edition of Dr. Johnfon’s Works lately published. Their authenticity will need no other proof than the internal evidence they exhibit, though were such proof required, except in one or two instances, it might without much difficulty be produced. The merit of the several pieces will hardly be controverted. Why they were omitted is of no importance to enquire.
The reluctance which Dr. Johnson always shewed to giving any information concerning his anonymous works, and his filence to all enquiries on that subject, have left much to conjecture, and been the cause of some mistakes. It is incredible, that he should have assumed to himself the works of other writers, and therefore it is more probable, that he tacitly acquiesced to enquiries which he was resolved not to satisfy and would not contradict. Those who knew him best are convinced, that he left no directions behind him on the subject of any Edition of his A 2
Works, or such only as on a strict enquiry would be found to be too hastily admitted.
That this excellent Writer, in whose praise too much cannot be said, should have neglected to publish a complete Edition of his works in his life-time, will be a subject of regret with many, and not without reason; but when it is confidered with what care he wrote, how little he altered, and how little room there is for alteration, it will diminish some of our concern. It was very justly observed by a celebrated female writer, that were an angel to give the imprimatur, Dr. Johnson's works were among those
very few which would not be lessened by a line *. It may be further observed, that nothing really written by him has been yet brought to light which can in any degree disgrace his memory. Whatever injury his character has sustained, no part of it can with justice be imputed to his writings.
The publication of Pofthumous Works is liable to many objections : From the inequalities of some of our best writers, it has been often found injurious to their reputation, to collect every scattered fragment of their productions. Still more injurious may it be thought to revive such performances as the more mature judgment of an Author may deem proper to conlign to oblivion. The first of these objections, as has been already observed, will not apply to the works of Dr. Johnson. He always made it a rule, on no occasion, to relax his attention, and therefore will be found to require no indulgence on account of inaccuracies or negligence. To the other objection, the present Editor hardly conceives it incumbent on him to reply. It no where appears what Dr. Johnson's sentiments were on this subject, and were they known (though intitled to great deference) it would be still a question how far an Author is to be confidered, as the fole judge of what ought to be fuppressed of works already in print. Various circumstances may concur to place the sentiments of an Author and his reader at variance with each other. Were the determinations of writers on this subject considered as final, and without
* Piozzi's Anecdotes, p. 182.
appeal, many excellent pieces which confer honour on the nation, must in that case cease to be printed. It cannot however be denied, but there is some reason to believe, that had Dr. Johnson revised his own works for publication, the twelfth and thirteenth Volumes, containing those exquisite models of senatorial eloquence, and probably the first two pieces of the present Volume, would have been excluded. To ask whether the public
would have submitted to such an exclusion, is little short of an insult on taste, criticism and common sense.
In collecting the materials which compofe the present Volume, recourse has been had to the friends of Dr. Johnson now living, and from them the chief authorities for ascribing the several pieces to him have been derived. For the few notes marked E. the Editor is answerable. If they are not very important, they solicit no praise, and are too few to need a long apology.
To conclude, the Editor, on a final review of the Volume before it is delivered to the Public, perceives no reason to apprehend that the pieces here restored to their Author ought to have been fuppressed. Had he the flightest idea that the present publication would in the least affect the reputation of Dr. Johnson, no consideration would have induced him to have been any way accesary to it. On a subject of this kind he is sensible, opposite opinions will be held by well meaning persons. To the sense of the Public at large, however, all questions of this fort must ultimately be submitted, and he feels no reluctance to abide by the Public opinion, whether it shall end in cenfure or approbation.