Abbildungen der Seite
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small]




No memoirs were ever perhaps more anxiously expected by the publick, than those of the illustrious subject of the following pages; none have undergone a more rigid criticism; and few have been honoured with a more growing fame. The keenest shafts of ridicule were levelled against them on their first appearance; and whole classes of men, the most opposed in general sentiments and taste, concurred in censuring Boswell's Life of Johnson. It was decried by some as a breach of confidence likely to prove destructive of the future freedom of social intercourse. Other well intentioned men feared lest infidels might scoff when they saw the foibles, frailties, and passions to which even the christian Johnson was subject; and the pious seemed to shudder when the sanctity of the devotional closet was invaded, and the humble aspirations of a contrite spirit were published to the world. But in spite of the malice of its enemies and the fears of its friends, Boswell's biography soon took its rank among the most instructive books in our language; and highly as it is already valued, it will perhaps be perused by posterity with increased delight



when all the actors in the scene shall be numbered with the dead."

Such was the anticipation of its first editor, over whom the grave has now closed; and each succeeding year seems to confirm the accuracy of Malone's prediction. But the publick have so long expressed their approbation of the work now once more offered to their notice, that we feel ourselves relieved from the necessity of an elaborate introduction; and we are not so blindly partial as to willingly assume the office of panegyrists. Boswell professed (we use his own words) to give but a Flemish picture; and we do not affect to deny that, like those painters of workday life, he has frequently, in order to preserve their identity, admitted that into his sketches which fastidious delicacy would wish to have been concealed. But poor is the taste which can dwell on the grosser parts of the Flemish feast or fair; and corrupt, indeed, must that man be, who, uninfluenced by their virtues, selects the failings of the good to sanctify his own. How far we are justified in placing on record the vices of the great, or how much of their history we should prudentially hide, in the fear of holding up to the vulgar gaze a contagious example, are questions so momentous, and of such varied and extensive bearings, that we undertake not their discussion. On this subject, however, we cannot refrain from

quoting an answer made by the pious Baxter, who was an acute casuist, as well as a learned divine, to those who objected to him that one of his assertions, on a particular subject, might encourage sin: "I am not," replied the venerable man, "to tell a lie to prevent it." This wise reply places the duty of the biographer plain before him. Had Boswell been less explicit in his narrative, its moral influence would have been diminished; and we submit, that in the following anecdotes, injudicious as some of them may be confessed to be, Johnson's fame alone is sullied, while the interests of religion and virtue are never compromised to preserve the smartness of repartee, or the caustick severity of satire. Happy for many a reader would it have been, could a like eulogy be honestly pronounced on every memoir. And even Johnson's character, weighed in this exact balance, has not been found wanting. is unveiled before us; his every heedless word uttered under irritated feelings is recorded; his every foible is revealed; and, despite of all his imperfections, we venerate him as the "Guide, Philosopher, and Friend." Certainly few men could have borne the scrutiny of so injudicious an admirer as Boswell, whose excess of veneration led him into all the faults for which he has been so severely arraigned. Had he assumed the proud scorner's motto, "Nil admirari," he


« ZurückWeiter »