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Preceptor in English in Princeton University






Copyright, igoq, By HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY



One day at Mrs. Thrale's, Johnson remarked, in an 1 indulgent humor ' : ' I think there is no impropriety in a man's publishing as much as he chooses of any author, if he does not put the rest out of the way.' His words lend one perhaps the best excuse for a book of this kind. It is in the hope of putting the rest in the way that these selections have been gathered and edited; and enough will have been done, if they should prove the means of correcting some error of vision, or of helping to find life in that which has seemed dead.

The introduction may appear at times too emphatic and opinionated, or too condensed and barren of illus- tration. But opinion often creates opinion in others, if only by reaction; and such passages as those on Johnson's style or his theory of criticism, or on the poetry of his time, may suggest to teachers various useful and agreeable studies in quest of illustration and evidence.

Rasselas is unrepresented because it has been well edited in this series by Professor Emerson. The selec- tions are entire, except the Life of Addison, from which the long quotation of Dennis's tedious remarks on Cato has been in large part omitted. No biographical sketch of Johnson beyond a chronological outline has seemed necessary. If a shorter account than Boswell's is desired, it may be found in Sir Leslie Stephen's Life of Johnson (English Men of Letters), or, shorter still, in his article in the Dictionary of National Biography. Macaulay may be read with interest, but not for Johnson's sake.




The memory of Dr. G. Birkbeck Hill is, by his noble work as an editor and essayist, already insepar- able from that of Boswell and Johnson, and cannot but be affectionately honored by every devoted reader of their works. No man will ever have done so much and so well as he to make their companionship accessible and familiar to those who need it and enjoy it. An editor of Johnson must henceforth be deeply in debt to him; and while it is easy to acknowledge definite borrow- ings, it is hard to measure or describe the inspiration and insight which one owes to his labors.

I wish to thank Mr. A. Edward Newton for the portraits which accompany this edition; and Pro- fessor Lane Cooper for a careful criticism of the In- troduction. ;

Princeton, July 31, 1909.



Introduction ix

Chronological Outline of Johnson's Life . . lix

London . 3


**^ The Vanity of Human\Wishes 12

Prologue for the Opening, of Drury Lane Theatre 22

\i Letter to Lord Chesterfield e 26

Preface to the Dictionary.*- 29

^/^The Rambler

-f-No. 4. The modern Form of Romances preferable ^

to the ancient ? 61

No. 5. A Meditation on Springs .... 67 "No. 14. The Difference between an Author's Writ- ings and his Conversation 71

-•—No. 16. The Dangers and Miseries of Literary

Eminence 77

-i»No. 50. A virtuous Old Age always reverenced--. 82

^-No. 60. The Dignity and Usefulness of Biography 87

No. 72. The Necessity of XJood Humor-? 92

^"TNo. 93. The Prejudices and Caprices of Criticism-- 96*-'

No. 102. The Voyage of Life -.— .... 101

^ No. 108. Life sufficient to all Purposes if well

employed^ r 106

117. Tfr * ' dvantages of livjng in a Garret , 110

-No. 120. ' tory ol' Almamoulin, the Son of'

Nor- .116

r No. * mxious and miserable Stat* W

, x



135 140 144 149 155

N*No. 154. The Inefficacy of Genius without Learn- ing

No. 169. Labor necessary to Excellence . <r-"No. 170. The History of Misella .... -•No. 171. The History of Misella, concluded . No. 173. Unreasonable Fears of Pedantry . No. 188. Favor often gained with little Assistance

from the Understanding 159

No. 191. The Busy Life of a Young Lady .163 «^No. 203. The Pleasures to be sought in Futurity . 168 'm No. 204. The History of Ten Days of Seged, Em- peror of Ethiopia

^-No. 205. The History of Seged, concluded

The Adventurer

No. 102. Infelicities of Retirement to Men of Business

The Idlej^ ■=-No. 23. The Uncertainty of Friendship -r- On the Death of a Friend . Portraits defended Books fall into Neglect Minim, the Critic Minim, the Critic, .concluded What have ye done?

No. 41. No. 45. No. 59. No. 60. No. 61. No. 88.

No. 101. Omar's Plan of Life ^ The Life of Savage . ' .

Zzl The Life of Addison-^ On the Death of Levett


To William vStrahan

To Miss Boo\hby .

To Dr. Burney^

To Mrs. Johnson (his mother)

To Miss Porter .

To his Mother

To his Mother . . . .


172 177


18St 192 195 198 200 205 208 210




366 367 367 368 369 369 370 370 370



To a Lady 371

To the Earl of Bute 372

To Bennet Langton 373

To Mr. Boswell 374

To Mrs. Thrale ;!75

To James Macpherson 375

To Mrs. Thrale 376

To Mrs. Boswell 378

To the King 378

To Mrs. Boswell^ 379

To Mr. Boswell 380

To Mrs. Thrale 381

To Mr. Boswell , 382

To James Elphinston 383

To Mr. Boswell 384

To Mrs. Thrale 384

To Miss Porter 385

To Sir Joshua Reynolds 386

To Sir Joshua Reynolds 386

To Mrs. Thrale 387

«*To the Reverend Dr. Taylor 387

To Miss Jane Langton 388

To Mrs. Thrale 389

To the Lord High Chancellor 390

To Dr. Burney 391

Prayers and Meditations «~ 392

ISioTES 399


It has been a custom for nearly one hundred years to denounce the Eighteenth Century; and one of the loudest accusers is Carlyle. He was, to be sure, more deeply interested in that period than in any other, and he devoted to it the most brilliant and elaborate of his historical studies. But he did not approve of it. What- ever he disliked was to him characteristic of the Eigh- teenth Century; whatever he liked was an exception to it. He calls it ' the sceptical century ' ; * opulent in accumulated falsities ' ; t swindling/ ' spendthrift 9 ; * unheroic, godless ' ; * a time of quacks and quackery 9 ; 1 unbelieving ' ; l mechanical ' ; ' ' prosaic f ; * selfish ' ; ' trivial ' ; 'a decrepit, death-sick Era of Cant.' This clamor has flown from mouth to mouth, and reverberates even to the present in well-worn epithets and vain repeti- tions of criticism. Johnson's time is still spoken of as the Age of Doubt; the Age of Reason; the Age of Pseudo-classicism, or of Artificiality; with other nick- names of a like sort. Nicknames are perhaps never quite fair; they exaggerate, caricature, or disparage, but they never tell the whole truth, and often not the most im- portant part of it.

During such leisure, then, as we find for the study

1 References are often given to the Life (Dr. Hill's edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson; to Misc. (Johnsonian Miscellanies, edited by Hill) ; to Lett. (The Letters of Samuel Johnson, edited by Hill) ; and to the Lives (Johnson's LivfiB of the Poets, edited by Hill). /~"



of Johnson's time, it will be better to forget the nick- names and denunciations, and to contemplate with open mind some of the great achievements of that age ; nor will it be necessary to look for them far beyond Johnson's circle.

It was the time when Reynolds and Gainsborough were painting portraits full of inexhaustible beauty and charm; when Goldsmith was creating his exquisite mas- terpieces in genre; when Burke was expressing his noble thought in classic eloquence; when Gibbon led forth the gorgeous but fading pageant of ancient Rome. Little or none of their essential greatness do these achieve- ments owe to mere Reason, or Doubt, or Pseudo- classicism.

More notable than these are the deeds, opinions, and character of Johnson, together with his portrait from Boswell's hand. Modern haste and prejudice have done much to warp our notions of Boswell and Johnson. A passing glance at BoswelPs masterpiece, an amused impression of Macaulay's brilliant caricature, are about the sum of the common ignorance of Johnson. To most men he is a ponderous, uncouth, slovenly figure, gruff, ill-mannered, absent, unapproachable, unconsciously funny, blurting out his prejudices in unwieldy periods, and chiefly celebrated for sitting up late, drinking infinite tea, and writing an obsolete dictionary. And if aught else beside, he is a hide-bound Tory and Jacob- ite, hating all Whigs, Scots, French, and Americans, puffed up with insular pride, indifferent to the beauties of nature, to the arts, to all the finer things of life; venting himself in pedantic bombast and prosy moralistic abstractions, which have long since been relegated to the rubbish-heap of literature.

There is but one way to understand a great portrait, whether it be the work of pencil or pen. Sit down patiently and open-mindedly before it; return to it from time to time; consider it familiarly, as if it were


in the flesh as if, for example, you were yourself living in Johnson's time; imagine yourself in his place, or him in yours. Then the merely grotesque and whim- sical traits begin to fade, the superficial and illusory veil is slowly withdrawn, as a living man comes forth to meet us, full of life, strength, charm, and even of kindness and affection. He may indeed become what he has already been for many the advisor, consoler, and intimate friend. There lives, for example, in a large American city, a busy man of affairs, who has essentially educated himself through years of deepening familiarity with BoswelPs Life of Johnson. Since early manhood he has found for his scant leisure no other literary companion so responsive. At the age of thirty-one Stevenson wrote to a friend that he was reading Bos well 1 daily by way of a Bible; I mean to read Boswell now until the day I die/ 1 Sir Leslie Stephen said : i I had the good fortune when a boy, to read what is to me, I must confess, the most purely delightful of all books I mean BoswelPs Life of Johnson. I read it from cover to cover, backward and forward, over and over, through and through, till I nearly knew it by heart.' 2 * On his deathbed,' says his biographer, ' he suffered little pain. He could see a friend almost every day. He was' surrounded by the tenderest love and devotion, and he still could read.' Here follows a considerable list of authors. ' Then, when other books failed, he fell back upon the old, old story. Need I name it ? He told his nurse that his enjoyment of books had begun, and would end with BoswelPs Life of Johnson.' *


It is commonly said, after Macaulay, that Johnson lives only in Boswell, while his own books are dead,

1 Letters 2. 133.

8 Maitland, Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen, p. 39.

•im.t p. 486,




as they deserve to be; that had it not been for Boswell, Johnson would be now comparatively unheard of. Johnson's works are overshadowed by his conversations in the Life, but had the Life never been written, yet such is the vigor and sanity of his writings that they- must have found many readers who now know Johnson only as revealed by his devoted friend. At any rate they furnish the best commentary on Boswell's portrayal, and in many essential ways supplement it. Without them one's acquaintance is imperfect. Even Boswell, who knew Johnson's conversation better than any one else could, was a devoted student of his works; and an un- prejudiced reader must find in them as great a Johnson as Boswell has shown us, expressed with as much clear- ness, originality, and power, and often with greater eloquence.

In some sense every great man is greater than his works, and genius humbles itself to every form of ex- pression it employs. But Johnson's genius humbled itself more than that of most writers, both in his books and his conversation. At the conclusion of The Rambler he wrote : ' Though in every long work there are some joyous, intervals of self -applause, when the attention is recreated by unexpected facility, and the imagination soothed by incidental excellencies; yet that toil with which performance struggles after the idea is so irksome and disgusting, and so frequent is the necessity of rest- ing below the perfection we imagined within our reach, that seldom any man obtains more from his endeavors than a painful conviction of his defects, and a continual resuscitation of desires which he feels himself unable to gratify.' Johnson chose no one great literary form in which to excel; he wrote but little verse, nor was that his best work. He did not write for the love of it. ' No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.' x ' You may have pleasure from writing after it is over, if

* Life 3. 19.


you have written well; but you don't go willingly to it again/ x His actual writing was not the uncontrollable exuberance of pent-up feeling or conviction. It was done partly to earn his living, partly from sense of necessity that he should cast into some permanent form the exceptional gifts that he had received from nature. His superiority to his works no doubt owed something to his natural laziness. He praised others for long and careful elaboration of their works; his own were written with incredible speed, and often went to the press without his perusal.* But disappointing as they were to him, they are an opening, however con- lined, through which the full stature of the man is discernible.

Johnson was the man of letters, a literary Jack-of- all-trades reviewer, poet, dramatist, essayist, lexicog- rapher, narrator, critic, biographer, letter-writer, com- poser of prayers for himself, and of dedications, . pro- logues, and epitaphs for others; and if he did not succeed equally in all ways, yet each species of his composition is a facet of the whole, adding something to the lustre of his genius.

1 Life 4. 219.

2 ' His most excellent works were struck off at a heat, with )/ rapid exertion* {Life 1. 71). Malone makes this note: 'He

told Dr. Burney that he never wrote any of his works that were printed twice over. Dr. Burney's wonder at seeing several pages of his Lives of the Poets in manuscript, with scarce a blot or erasure, drew this observation from him.' To this Dr. Hill has added the following note : ' " He wrote forty-eight of, the printed octavo pages of the Life of Savage at a sit- ting " (Life 1. 166), and a hundred lines of the Vanity of Human Wishes in a day" (ibid. 2. 15). The Ramblers "were written in haste as the moment pressed, without even being read over by him before they were printed" (1. 203). In the second edition, however, he made corrections. " He composed. Rassela8 in the evenings of one week" (1. 341). " The False Alarm was written between eight o'clock on Wednesday night and twelve o'clock on Thursday night " (Piozzi's Anecdotes, p. 41). "The Patriot/' he says, "was called for on a Friday, was written on a Saturday"' (2. 288).



London and The Vanity of Human Wishes are the best known of Johnson's few attempts in verse. For some sixty or seventy years it had been the fashion to l imitate ' Latin writers of the Empire, that is, to adapt the ideas and illustrations of some selected poem to contemporary life. The practice was much stimulated by Pope's brilliant Imitations of Horace. Such a per- formance was of course purely academic, and in John- son's case, as in many another, it served only as a kind of test of his right to recognition in the literary world. ' No man ever became great by imitation,' says John- son,1 and his own imitations, so far as they imitate, exhibit only his cleverness. Nobody would recognize this sooner than he. Of poetic imitation in general his estimate was low. Thirty years later he must have had his own imitations in mind when he spoke thus in his Life of Pope: 'What is easy is seldom excellent; such imitations cannot give pleasure to common readers; the man of learning is sometimes surprised and de- lighted by an unexpected parallel; but the comparison requires knowledge of the original which will likewise often detect strained applications. Between Roman images and English manners there will be an irrec- oncilable dissimilitude, and the work will be generally uncouth and parti-colored; neither original nor trans- lated, neither ancient nor modern.'

Furthermore Johnson's imitations bear most of the external marks of l Eighteenth Century poetry.' For half a century and more poetry had suffered from the habit of proceeding from the abstract to the concrete, from the general to the particular. A poet chooses as his subject some general or abstract topic, and his poem must be made up of well-arranged concrete illustrations or ' images ' suggested by the general sub-

1 Below, 139. 16 : Rasselas, chap. 10.


ject. Hence poems on Women, Riches, Dunces, Seasons, and the Pleasures of Hope, each subject abundantly illus- trated by a collection of idylls, stories, or descriptions. On the other hand, Macbeth, Paradise Lost, and The Ring and the Book proceed in the opposite direction, choosing one concrete instance from human life, but leaving the hearer to generalize from the particular instance described. In Goldsmith's poems there is a conflict of the two methods. The Traveler recommended itself to contemporaries as a philosophic poem on Gov- ernment; The Deserted Village as a treatise on Luxury and Emigration. But Goldsmith's genius forsook him in the abstract parts of the poem, and spent itself with so much power on his illustrations, that they constitute the real poem, and through his landscapes in the Trav- eler, or his miniature of Auburn, or his portrait of the old parson, we discern elemental truths of life far deeper and greater than the professed theories of the poems. After the manner of the times, Johnson's Lon- don is on the general subject, London, and is composed of detailed illustrations of London as seen or imagined by the clever literary novice of 1738. The Vanity of " Human Wishes proceeds to illustrate its general subject with concrete examples suggested by those in the tenth satire of Juvenal.

To the poet of the Eighteenth Century arrangement and transition were very important. His examples must be neatly arranged in natural order, and joined by easy transitions. Hence such unity as his poem possessed.1 The real form and unity that arise only from one dominant and supreme emotion within they seldom show. Johnson's two imitations had only to follow Juvenal in each case to realize the artificial unity; but of the two, . "* _/^Jte Vanity of Human Wishes can be said to con- / ficiently deep and steady conviction and feeling

164)7 \ rea^ un^y-

<>346* jx cf. Johnson's criticism of Savage, p. 250.






Further traits of the times these poems show in their use of stock poetic words and phrases; of incessant personification that does not personify. Each noun ^ must have its epithet 'rosy' lips, * radiant' eyes, and ' modest ' innocence after the late classical manner. ) Each vowel must have its right place in the succession ' of sounds in the line; each thought and phrase and cadence must be confined within the balance of the rimed couplet.

This form of poetic composition cast a deep spell { upon five or six generations of our ancestors, but its r charm is now departed. No longer can it captivate the \ ear, or stir the imagination, as once it did. The modern [ reader makes nothing of it but a monotonous sing-song. We do injustice to the rimed couplet, and the chief reason is that the art of reading aloud, and the art of listening, have declined almost to extinction, so that the ear is no longer discerning. We read with the eye; in Johnson's time they read with the ear. To the eye Johnson's cadences mean nothing, and he who can make us hear them as Johnson could have done is not to be found. Only by the most practised and measured utter- ance of his numbers, with lively auricular imagination, can we begin to realize the sonorous power and rhythmic charm that lay in the rimed couplet as conceived by Dry den or Johnson. It was not, to be sure, an instru- ment for the tumultuous and intermittent feelings of modern poetry; but the constant, deep, and mature emo- tions that belong to the even temperament, or rest upon long experience, it conveys with great power.

When the inferior elements of imitation and manner- ism have been subtracted from Johnson's satires, there yet remains something nobly genuine. London is vitalised with a strong man's spirited resistance. He- ^itelsjTtlb*. obstacles which the age throws in the way of real i^ian- hood. He struggles to cast on* the weight whfcm is crushing many choice spirits of his time; and he clon-


tends neither in confidence nor in despair, but with indomitable energy. In London he did not discern the nature of his antagonists. The increasing foreign element, and the domination of Sir Robert Walpole, were not the real evils of the times, as he soon learned. But his energy and courage, however misdirected in this case, were permanent elements of nobleness in his character, which asserted themselves with greater effect on every right occasion throughout the rest of his life. v

The Vanity of Human Wishes is wiser, more natural, **" » more deeply impassioned than London. The harsh irritation of Johnson's earlier hardships has subsided; and his sympathy is broader and more profound. Its most original and greatest passages 1 are filled with tender pity for the weakness of even the strongest man, \ tj and for the futility" of unaTcled human effort to subdue ''; '

_ . - i ill -F- ^ ! ^

the dominant forces of the world. These lines came spontaneously from a full heart. As one grows familiar : with their solemn cadence, and touched with their feel- ing, he ceases to wonder that the poem was a favorite of the romanticists Scott and Byron, or that Johnson himself, as he was once reciting the lines on a young aspirant to a scholar's fame, faltered, and burst into tears.


While Johnson was engaged on his Dictionary, his mind found release and recreation from such exacting labor in the semi-weekly essays of The_ RamhUr^. Gold- smith spoke in the name of his own generation at least, when he said that Johnson's fame was based upon these essays. Though hurriedly written, for the imme- diate purpose of getting bread and butter, yet they are not slovenly or unfinished. But his well-known haste in composition is more apparent than real. He was

1 Those on patronage (73-82), on the pride of learning (135- 164), on military pride (191-222), on the helplessness of man (,346-356).




; above forty when, he began The Rambler. Up to this

; time his writings had been almost entirely of ephem-

i eral nature. There had been slothful lapses of his

energy, for which, even in the days of his poverty, he

! bitterly reproached himself. But these years had not

been so fruitlessly spent as he imagined; they were

really a period of slow elaboration through experience,

thought, and assimilation, and from these sprang his

permanent work, mature in energy and form. However

brief the time of execution, his writing was thus saved

; from shallowness, nonsense, or the impotence of a per-

: functory effort.

j^* As in his satires he imitated Juvenal, so in The ..Rambler he imitated Addison. His account of the origin" of the periodical essay in his Life of Addison, and his appreciation of The Spectator there expressed, show his great admiration of Addison's work. But his imitation of Addison is after all external. He chose the literary form which Addison perfected a choice de- termined more by material necessity, than by mere admiration or the affinity of genius. Beyond this Addi- son indicated the general range of topics for treatment, and now and then furnished him with a definite subject.1

1 Speaking of the origin of his essays Johnson says in The Rambler 184 : ' A careless glance upon a favorite author, or transient survey of the varieties of life, is sufficient to supply the first hint or seminal idea.' The most obvious hint that he got from earlier periodical writers came from Addison's series of criticisms on Paradise Lost in The Spectator. Milton was still a popular poet in the days of the Rambler (R.), and John- son wrote five essays on the versification of Milton, and two on Samson Agonistes. Other subjects which may have been wholly or in part suggested by The Tatler (T.) and The Spectator (8.) are: Pastoral Poetry (R. 36, 37; cf. T. 143; Guardian, passim); Death of Friends (R. 54, Idler (I). 90; cf. T. 114, 181 ; S. 349) ; Virtuosos (R. 82, 83; cf. T. 216, 221) ; Prostitu- tion (R: 107, 170, 171 ; cf. S. 190) ; Degeneracy of the Stage (R. 133; cf. T. 108; S. 446, 592) ; Beauty destroyed by Small- pox (R. 133 ; cf. S. 306) ; Epistolary Prose {R. 152 ; cf. Epis- tolary Verse, S. 618) ; Bashfulness (R. 157, 159; cf. S. 148) ; Test of Purity by Abraham's Magnet (R. 199 ; cf. S. 579) ; Characters in a Stage-Coach (Adventurer (A.) 84 ; cf. T. 192 $*


Johnson also employs many of the well-tried expedients of his predecessors, such as Oriental tales, allegory, dreams, letters, and frequent quotation from Seneca and 1 Tully/ authors for whom he seems not otherwise to haye had any especial liking; his citations from modern authors are much more extensive and varied than in the earlier periodicals. This rough sketch of Johnson's indebtedness to his forerunners will serve to show the ' general extent of his borrowings. It appears that The Rambler owelTmore to The TZfpelTtutor, and The^ Idler I to The TaUerj both in matter and manner; and that [ Steeds help was quite as important to Johnson as Addison's.

But Johnson's best jsapejs are on subjects spon- | taneously chosen. Now and then he cites a remark I from Addison, but Addison's influence upon him in this respect is no greater than that of Dryden, Bacon, Seneca, or many others whom he cites in the same casual manner.

The essays printed in this volume will illustrate the . # narrow range of Johnson's topics. For this and for f his prevailing seriousness he was constantly censured, j and he acknowledged the truth of both criticisms with !

8. 242) ; Itch of Writing (A. 115; cf. 8. 582) ; Singularity (A. 131 ; 8. 576) ; Amazons (/. 5 ; cf S. 433, 434) ; Newspapers (7. 7 ; cf. T. 18, 19, 42, 178 ; 8. 452) ; Experiences of Servants (7. 26, 29; cf. 8. 96, 137) ; Advertisements (7. 40; cf. T. 224, 228, 245) ; Terrific Diction (7. 36, 70; cf. T. 230, 244) ; Dick Minim (7. 60, 61 ; cf. Sir Timothy Tittle, T. 165) ; Indian's Opinion of the English (7. SI ; cf. 8. 50) ; Oratory (7. 9 ; cf. T. 66, 70, 72; 8. 407, 633) ; see also Notes. in this edition on the Essays. Other subjects are common to two essayists, the choice of which is more likely to have been determined by John- son's natural preoccupation with them, than from the mere suggestion of his predecessors. The following may be noted : Education, especially the Education of Women; Good Nature and Good Humor; Value of Time and Dangers of Idleness; Affectation; Marriage; Domestic Conditions; Poverty; Fame; Friendship ; Vanity of Human Wishes ; Retirement from Ac- tive Life ; Irksomeness of Country Life ; Political Newsmongery ; English Language.



his usual indifference; at the same time he realized that, to be anything at all, he must be himself and not affect the style or practice of another. In The Rambler his essays are longer than Addison's, and often slower in getting under way; not infrequently his first para- graph is superfluous. On the other hand he maintains stricter unity than his predecessors, who sometimes throw together in one essay letters and remarks on several unrelated subjects. Such informality was af- fected by Johnson but three or four times, and then under protest.1 The geniality and gaiety which have

j made Addison so popular are not characteristic of Johnson; even in the shorter and livelier papers of The Idler there is greater weight and moral significance than is common in Addison. The best, as well as the greatest number, of Johnson's \\ essays are generally confined to three subjects: char- acters and pictures of his time ; literature ; and the philosophy of life. Of these the first prevailingly deal

ilwith men and women of the middle class, wise and fool- ish. Merchants, housekeepers, servants, prisoners for debt, fops and flirts and matrons of a rich bourgeois society, country folk, squires, wits, critics, students, booksellers, shopkeepers, prostitutes all these and more he selects from the middle and lower range of life in London, which he had studied long and well. His interest in this class, often remarked by Boswell, was not the condescending observation or curiosity of a man of the world, but came from his heart. In the well- appointed households of the Burneys or the Thrales, Johnson is a familiar figure; more familiar still is he as the centre of a circle including most of the greatest English men of genius in his day. He is more than once seen accepting the tribute of attention amid an adoring little group of Blue Stockings, or in quiet dignity at the exalted dinner-table of Lady Craven.

1 Rambler 107, 126, 155, 156.


In such surroundings it is easy to overlook his deep longing for near and domestic companionship of an- other and humbler sort. Not only did he tolerate in his household, a lot of feeble, wrangling old women, and a blundering half-quack, but he could not easily have dispensed with them; he JLoyed them for J&eir very infirmities. To them he returned gladly from London --^S^Pflfe*, and with them found peculiar comfort and consolation.1

From such affections and associations as these came Johnson's studies of life and character in his essays. Unlike The Spectator, he seldom aimed to correct merely the superficial and rather harmless follies of his time; there is no flutter of fans and rustle of petticoats in his little scenes, no glamor or artificial illumination. Johnson saw everything in the merciless light of common day, yet with imagination; and, seeing thus soberly, he could but repeat his protest against all sham and pretense, and utter his pity for human triviality and disillusionment. Mainly by this trait of his genius he has drawn to himself his many pupils in the art of living.

If the essays seem monotonous in subject, the reason lies in their strongly autobiographical character. They came out of his own life, and, however abstract their style may become at times, they are capable of abundant

aTo this same group belonged his pompous and devoted little landlord, Allen, the printer. For nearly thirty years their friendship grew and deepened ; how it was nourished from Allen's side we can only wonder; but when he died, Johnson grieved many days for one of his best and tenderest friends (Life 4. 354). In the last years of Johnson's life, it was his custom, especially on his birthday, to give dinners at home for these lowly associates: He writes to his black protege", Barber : ' As Thursday is my birthday, I would have a dinner got, and would have you invite Mrs. Desmoulins, Mrs. Davis, that was about Mrs. Williams, and Mr. Allen, and Mrs. Gardiner.' Mrs. Davis, says Miss Burney, was * a good sort of woman,' * a charitable soul,' and Mrs. Gardiner was 'a tallow-chandler on Snow-hill ' (Life 3. 22), * not in the learned way, but a worthy good woman ' (Life 1. 242) .






j illustration from Boswell that will fill them with interest

j and significance. The discipline that qualifies for liter-

ary success; the struggle to free oneself from servility to rich patrons, or from slavish thirst for popularity; a manly and independent front to the enemy in the fight of life; courage, especially in defeat, disappoint- ment, infirmity, or bereavement; the futility of despair; the consolation of friends, or conversation, or books, or work, or resources within oneself; the transcendent consolation^ of faith these are Johnson's themes, whether he speaks "in the person of critic, moralist, humorist, story-teller, or impersonator.1

His greatest dignity, eloquence, and wit Johnson at- tains in his more abstract essays on the philosophy of life. At first they seem dry and hard to follow or remember the talk of a dull old man. But they should not be taken in too rapid succession; they should be read aloud, evenly and with feeling, for the sake of their broad undulation and cadence. Only thus can their music and their emotional power be appreciated. No one has fairly tested them unless he has read them as they were first written to be read one at a time and at intervals. Rasselas and The Rambler should lie on the library table, or drop easily into the pocket. In an odd moment, during a lull. in the ordinary pre- occupation of life, open the book by chance, and begin reading as the eye lights upon the page. Johnson's words, thus caught in passing, are nearly always instinct 'with freshness and sagacious sense.2

1 In these and all considerations of Johnson's essays Rasselas should not be forgotten, as it is really a series of moral essays strung on a rather slender thread of narrative.

2 So Ruskin thought. In his charming autobiography (chap. 12) he tells how ' on our foreign journeys, it being of course desirable to keep the luggage as light as possible, my father had judged that four little volumes of Johnson The Idler and The Rambler did, under names wholly appropriate to the circumstances, contain more substantial literary nourishment than could be, from any other author, packed into so portable


Johnson lived in an age of biography and portraiture which culminated in the great Life of which he was the subject, and which he directly inspired, and in part created. For, besides being its subject, he seems to have known Boswell's intention of writing his life, to have furnished him abundant material on request, and to have read over many of his notes. Furthermore, he was a frequent prompter of BoswelFs genius, in their discussions of the art and aim of biographical writing, and through his written opinions on that subject. If Johnson had a ruling literary passion, it was a passion for biography. The biographical part of literature, he says, ' is what I love most.' * His reason almost goes without saying. ' I esteem biography as giving us what comes near to ourselves, what we can turn to use.' 2 Only one biography of the first order can be written by one man. The execution requires such de- votion, affection, self-sacrifice, and contemplation of the subject, that it could not be otherwise. Johnson had too independent and dominant a nature to make the necessary surrender. Yet he believed that his literary strength lay especially in biographical writing. As achievements in literature his Lives of the Poets may not be compared with" such great single portraits as

compass. And accordingly, in spare hours, on wet days, the turns and returns of the reiterated Rambler and iterated Idler fastened themselves in my ears and mind.' ' I hold it more than happy that, during those continental journeys in which the vivid excitement of the greater part of the day left me glad to give spare half-hours to the study of a thoughtful book, Johnson was the one author accessible to me. No other writer could have secured me as he did, against all chance of being misled by my own sanguine and metaphysical tempera- ment. He taught me carefully to measure life, and distrust fortune, and he secured me, by his adamantine common sense, for ever, from being caught in the cobwebs of German meta- physics, or sloughed in the English drainage of them/ *Life 1, 425, a Life 5. 70.


BoswelTs or Lockhart's. No doubt they are as en- thusiastic; but BoswelTs enthusiasm was an enthusiasm for Johnson, and Lockhart's an enthusiasm for Scott, whereas Johnson's is rather an enthusiasm for biography in general. While he wrote no one great biography, yet his biographical writings are informed with true greatness. He valued biography chiefly as a commen- tary on life; the autobiographical element in his Lives is large, and the shadow of his own struggle as a man of letters falls heavily across them. They vary greatly in length and formality; some are mere jottings of scant information ; others, such as the Life of Addison, exhibit larger proportions and higher finish.

Johnson's intellectual habit throughout his life was .critical and. judicial, rather than creative or pictorial. H