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A R E PA C E
IN the Preface to the Letters of Samuel johnson I spoke of the hope I entertained that I should live to complete the main work of my life as a scholar by a new edition of the Lives of the Poets. I have been turned away from my purpose, at least for a time, by a letter which I received from Mr. Leslie Stephen. He asked me to edit all those writings which have long been included under the general title of Şohnsoniana. The task that he proposed seemed pleasant in itself. Even had it been irksome, I should have hesitated much before I declined such a request, coming as it did from a man to whom every student of the literature, biography, and history of our country is so deeply indebted. It gratified me greatly to know that my labours had been of real service to the first
editor of the Dictionary of National Biography. These two volumes of johnsonian Miscellanies would have been ready for publication three years earlier had I not been delayed by illness, and by the necessity I have been under of passing all my winters abroad. On the banks of the Lake of Geneva, or on the shores of the Mediterranean, an editor, however much he may be supported by the climate, has to struggle against difficulties which might almost overwhelm him. Many a day a day he ‘casts a long look’ towards the Bodleian and the British Museum. Many a day he thinks with idle regret of his own study, where he is surrounded by those books to which he has often to refer. The cost of carriage and the time lost in transport hinder him from taking backwards and forwards more than a few of the most needful works. Last year I sent off from London a box of books to Alassio, on the Italian Riviera, three weeks before I myself started for that pleasant little town. It was not till full five weeks after my arrival that they reached me. Fifty-nine days had they spent in traversing little more than a thousand miles. They had advanced at the rate of about three-quarters of a mile an hour. Towards Clarens, on the Lake of Geneva, where I passed three winters, they used to creep at a somewhat faster pace, for in every fourand-twenty hours they moved at least five-and-twenty miles. It is scarcely likely that Gibbon, when he transported his great library to Lausanne, had his patience as Sorely tried as mine. The Kentish carrier, who, leaving Rochester betimes, delivered that same day a gammon of bacon and two razes of ginger as far as Charing Cross, was certainly more expeditious. Had I been in England while the book was passing through the press the disadvantages which arose from my earlier absence would have been greatly lessened. It has so happened that of the eleven months during which it has been in the printer's hands I have spent nearly ten abroad. In the six volumes of the Life, and in the two volumes of the Letters, there is scarcely a quotation or a reference in my notes which I did not verify in the proof by a comparison with the original authority. I never trusted my own copy. The labour was great, but it was not more than a man should be ready to undergo who
ventures to edit an English classic. Tillemont's accuracy may, as Gibbon says, be inimitable; but none the less, inspired by the praise which our great historian bestows on mere accuracy, a scholar should never lose the hope of imitation. In such a variety of material as is comprised in these two volumes, where much the same ground is frequently travelled over by different writers, I have found it difficult to exclude idle repetitions. Wherever there are two original authorities for the same anecdote, repetition may not only be justifiable, but even necessary. In many cases, however, one writer borrows from another without owning the obligation. William Seward, for instance, who knew Johnson well, from whose Anecdotes of Distinguished Persons and Biographiana I have quoted, had
taken not a few passages from Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes without
the change of a single word. Some of these thefts I only discovered in correcting the proof-sheets. It might be thought
that plagiarism such as this would be easily detected by one who was so familiar with the subject. It was this very familiarity which made detection difficult. Every anecdote I had long known so well that frequently I could not be sure whether I was not for the second time including in my selection what had been included before. The imperfections of such a piece of work as this are often more clearly seen by the editor than even by the most sharpsighted reviewer. They are discovered too late for correction, but not for criticism. Were the whole book in type at the same time, and were the cost of correction of no moment, what improvements could be made I have never yet finished an index without wishing that by the help of it I could at once re-edit my own editing.
I had at first thought of giving extracts from Madame D'Arblay's Diary. Reflection soon convinced me that it is too good a piece of work to be hacked in pieces. He who wishes to see Johnson's 'fun, and comical humour, and love of nonsense, of which,' she says, 'he had about him more than almost anybody she ever saw'; he who would know 'Gay Sam, agreeable Sam, pleasant Sam,' must turn to her pages. It is a great pity that her Diary has never had a competent editor. In its present form it is not altogether as she originally wrote it, or even as she left it on her death. Some of the alterations, made partly by herself, partly by her niece, were unwarrantable. By the help of the manuscript, which is still in existence, though not, I believe, in a perfect condition, the original entries could in most cases be restored. Miss Seward's Letters I have passed over for a different reason : they are untrustworthy.
In the Dicta Philosophi at the end of the book, I have given a second concordance of Johnson's sayings. Neither in extent nor in quality is this collection quite equal to the first, which was gathered from the Life and The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. “Boswell's long head,' as Mrs. Thrale said, 'was equal to short-hand.' In his tablets the point of his master's wit was not blunted, and the strength of his wisdom was not weakened. • It is not every man that can carry a bon mot.' Johnson, if I am not mistaken, in the frequency with which he is quoted, comes next to the Bible and Shakespeare. By the help of my concordances he should suffer much less than formerly from inaccuracy of quotation.
In these two volumes I am able to make some additions to Johnsonian lore. By collating the text of Prayers and Medita