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James Boswell, the famous biographer of Doctor Samuel Jobason, was born in Edinburgh in the year 1740. He died in London, June 19th, 1795. After a course of study in civil law, be traveled over the continent. He, also, visited Corsica to see General Paoli, then fighting for freedom against Genoa. So takon was he with Corsica and Paoli, that he received the nickrames “ Paoli Boswoll” and “Corsica Boswell.” His journal of his tour to Ci rsica was received with considerable favor. In 1763 he became acquainted with Dr. Johnson, whom he seems ever afterwards to have idolized. In company with Johnson, he made a tour to the Western Isles of Scotland, a Journal of which, by the former, appeared in 1775. Notwithstanding the pungent portrait which follows, we think with a recent writer that “he could not have been the most contemptible of men, and the affection with which he inspired some of the greatest wits of his time, obliges us to believe that there was in him a vein of good sense and good fellowship.”
PORTRAIT OF JAMES BOSWELL.
MACAULAT. 1. Many of the greatest men that ever lived, have written biography. Boswell was one of the smallest men that ever lived; and he has beaten them all. He was, if we are to give any credit to his own account, or to the united testimony of all who knew him, a man of the meanest and feeblest intellect. Johnson described him as a fellow who had missed his only chance of immortality, by not having been alive when the Dunciad † was *written. Beauclerk used his name as a proverbial expression for a bore. He was the laughing-stock of the whole of that brilliant society which has owed to him the greater part of its fame. He was always laying himself at the feet of some eminent man, and begging to be spit upon and trampled upon.
2. He was always earning some ridiculous nickname, and then “binding it as a crown unto him,”—not merely in metaphor, but literally. He exhibited himself at the Shakspeare Jubilee, to all the crowd which filled Stratford-on-Avon, with a placard around his hat bearing the inscription of “ CORSICA BOSWELL.” In his Tour, he proclaimed to all the world, that
* See Note on Macaulay, over Exercise CI.
+ The Dunciad is a celebrated satirical work by Alexander Pope See Exercise CXLVIII.
at Edinburgh he was known by the appellation of “PAOLI BUSWELL."
3. Servile and impertinent—shallow and pedantic-a bigot and a sot-bloated with family pride, and eternally blustering about the dignity of a born gentleman, yet stooping to be a talebearer, and eaves-dropper, a common butt in the taverns of London-so curious to know everybody who was talked about, that, Tory and High Churchman as he was, he maneuvered, we have been told, for an introduction to Tom Paine—so vain of the most childish distinctions, that, when he had been to court, he drove to the office where his book was being printed, without changing his clothes, and summoned all the printer's devils to admire his new ruffles and sword;—such was this man: and such he was content and proud to be. Everything which another man would have hidden-everything, the publication of which would have made another man hang himself, was matter of gay and clamorous exultation to his weak and diseased mind.
4. What silly things he said what bitter retorts he provoked-how at one place he was troubled with evil presentiments which came to nothing—how at another place, on waking from a drunken doze, he read the Prayer-book, and took a hair of the dog that had bitten him—how he went to see men hanged, and came away maudlin-how he added five hundred pounds to the fortune of one of his babies, because she was not frightened at Johnson's ugly face-how he was frightened out of his wits at sea-and how the sailors quieted him as they would have quieted a child-how tipsy he was at Lady Cork's one evening, and how muck his merriment annoyed the ladies—how impertinent he was to the Duchess of Argyle, and with what stately contempt she put down his impertinence-how Colonel Macleod sneered to his face at his impudent obtrusiveness—how his father and she very wife of his bosom laughed and fretted at his fooleriesali these things he proclaimed to all the world, as if they had been subjects for pride and ostentatious rejoicing.
5. All the caprices of his temper, all the illusions of his vanity, all the hypochondriac whimsies, all his castles in the
air, he displayed with a cool self-complacency, a perfect uncon. sciousness that he was making a fool of himself, to which it is impossible to find a parallel in the whole history of mankind. He has used many people ill, but assuredly he has used nobody so ill as himself.
6. That such a man should have written one of the best books in the world, is strange enough. But this is not all. Many persons who have conducted themselves foolishly in active life, and whose conversation has indicated no superior powers of mind, have written valuable books. Goldsmith was very justly described by one of his contemporaries, as an inspired idiot, and by another as a being
“Who wrote like an angel, and talked like poor Poll.”
7. Without all the qualities which made him the jest and the torment of those among whom he lived—without the officiousness, the inquisitiveness, the effrontery, the toad-eating, the insensibility to all reproof, he never could have produced so excellent a book. He was a slave, proud of his servitude ; a Paul Pry, convinced that his own curiosity and garrulity were virtues; an unsafe companion, who never scrupled to repay the most liberal hospitality by the basest violation of confidence; a man without delicacy, without shame, without sense enough to know when he was hurting the feelings of others, or when he was exposing himself to derision; and because he was all this, he has, in an important department of literature, immeasurably surpassed such writers as Tacitus, Clarendon, Alfieri, and his · own idol Johnson.
8. Those weaknesses which most men keep covered up in the most secret places of the mind, not to be disclosed to the eye of friendship or of love, were precisely the weaknesses which Boswell paraded before all the world. He was perfectly frank, because the weakness of his understanding and the tumult of his spirit, prevented him from knowing when he made himself ridiculous.
9. His fame is great, and it will, no doubt, be lasting; but it
is a fame of a peculiar kind, and, indeed, marvelously resembles infamy. We remember no other case in which the world has made so great a distinction between a book and its author. In general, the book and the author are considered as one. To admire the book is to admire the author. The ouse of Boswelı is an exception, we think the only exception to this rule. His work is universally allowed to be interesting, instructive, eni. nently original; yet it has brought him nothing but contempt. All the world reads it, all the world delights in it; yet we do not remember ever to have read or even to have heard any expression of respect and admiration for the man to whom we owe 80 much instruction and amusement.
THE passages below are taken almost at random from Boswell's celebrated biography; the object being merely to show the general cast of the book, and to afford a good exercise in this kind of reading.
PASSAGES FROM BOSWELL'S LIFE OF JOHNSON. 1. Mr. Ogilvie was unlucky enough to choose for the topic of his conversation the praises of his native country. He began with saying, that there was very rich land around Edinburgh. Goldsmith, who had studied physic there, contradicted this very untruly with a sneering laugh. Disconcerted a little by this, Mr. Ogilvie then took a new ground, where, I suppose, he thought himself perfectly safe; for he observed, that Scotland had a great many noble wild prospects. Johnson: "I believe, sir, you have a great many. Norway, too, has noble wild prospects ;' and Lapland is remarkable for prodigious noble wild prospects ! But, sir, let me tell you, the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high-road that leads him to England !” This unexpected and pointed sally produced a roar of applause.
2. On the 14th, we had another evening by ourselves, at the Miter. It happened to be a very rainy night. I made some cummon-place observations on the relaxation of nerves and depression of spirits which such weather occasioned, adding, however, that it was good for the vegetable creation. Johnson, who denied that the temperature of the air had any influence on the human frame, answered, with a smile of ridicule,—“Why, yes, sir; it is good for vegetables, and for the animals who eat those vegetables, and for the animals who eat those animals.” This observation of his aptly enough introduced a good supper, and I soon forgot, in Johnson's company, the influence of a moist atmosphere.
3. When a gentleman had told him he had bought a suit of lace for his lady, he said :-“Well, sir; you have done a good thing and a wise thing.” “I have done a good thing." said the gentleman, “but I do not know that I have done a wise thing." Johnson: “Yes, sir; no money is better spent than what is laid out for domestic satisfaction. A man is pleased that his wife is dressed as well as other people, and a wife is pleased that she is dressed.”
4. This evening, while some of the tunes of ordinary compositions were played with no great skill, my frame was agitated, and I was conscious of a generous attachment to Dr. Johnson, as my preceptor and friend, mixed with an affectionate regret that he was an old man, whom I should probably lose in a short time. I thought I could defend him at the point of my sword. My reverence and affection for him were in full glow. I said to him, “My dear sir, we must meet every year, if you don't quarrel with me.” JOHNSON: “Nay, sir, you are more likely to quarrel with me, than I with you. My regard for you is greater than words can express; but I do not choose to be always repeating it; write it down in the first leaf of your pocket-book, and never doubt of it again.” .
5. Next morning, while we were at breakfast, Johnson gave a very earnest recommendation of what he himself practiced with the utmost conscientiousness : I mean strict attention to truth, even in the most minute particulars. “Accustom your children,” said he, “constantly to this; if a thing happened at