« AnteriorContinuar »
To write the Life of him who excelled my in all mankind in writing the lives of others, the inci and who, whether we consider his ex- acquired traordinary endowments, or his various was very assiduous works, has been equalled by few in any versati 1, of which the exa age, is an arduous, and may be reckoned vigr: s' and vivacity constituted one or :in me a presumptuous task.
?št features of his character ; and as Had Dr. Johnson written his own Life, i have spared no pains in obtaining in conformity with the opinion which he materials concerning him, from every has given, that every man's life may be quarter where I could discover that they best written by himself; had heem - to be found, and have been ployed in the preservation of his own favoured with the most liberal communihistory, that clearness of narration and cations by his friends ; I flatter myself elegance of language in which he has that few biographers have entered upon embalmed so many eminent persons, the such a work as this with more advanworld would probably have had the most tages; independent of literary abilities, perfect example of biography that was in which I am not vain enough to comever exhibited. But although he at pare myself with some great names who different times, in a desultory manner, have gone before me in this kind of committed to writing many particulars of writing. the progress of his mind and fortunes, he Since my work was announced several never had persevering diligence enough Lives and Memoirs of Dr. Johnson have to form them into a regular composition. been published, the most voluminous of Of these memorials a few have been pre- which is one compiled for the booksellers served ; but the greater part was con- of London, by Sir John Hawkins, signed by him to the flames, a few days Knight, a man, whom, during my long before his death.
2 The greatest part of this book was written As I had the hono:1r and happiness of while Sir John Hawkins was alive ; and I avow, enjoying his friendship for upwards of that one object of my strictures was to make him twenty years ; as I had the scheme of of Dr. Johnson. Since his decease, I have supwriting his life constantly in view ; as he pressed several of my remarks upon his work. and from time to time obligingly satisfied elf emosievels, I think it necessary to be strenuous
not be, without strong animadversions upon a 1 Idler, No. 84. B.
writer who has greatly injured him. E
ne British Museum, a nop Warburton to Dr.
subject of biography ; I am aware it may expose warge of artfully raising the y own work, by contras it į of which I have spoken, is so unceived and expressed, that I canrefrain from here inserting it : “I shall endeavour,” says Dr. Warburton,
to give you what satisfaction I can in anything
you want to be satisfied in any subject of Milton, ry and am extremely glad you intend to write his
Almost all the life-writers we have had
before Toland and Desmaiseaux are indeed tance.
strange insipid creatures, and yet I had rather ccessful, read the worst of them, than be obliged to go
i of those through with this of Milton's, or the other's life lce ransferred of Boileau, where there is such a dull, heavy
succession of long quotations of disinteresting stil Hawkins's ponderous
passages, that it makes their method quite 1 must acknowledge, ex ibit a
But the verbose, tasteless Frenchman arrago, of which a considerable pori'nn seems to lay it down as a principle, that every is not devoid of entertainment to thi | life must be a book, and what's worse, it proves lovers of literary gossiping ; but besides Boileau, after all his tedious stuff? You are the its being swelled out with long un- only one (and I speak it without a compliment), necessary extracts from various works that by the vigour of your style and sentiments,
and the real importance of your materials, have (even of several leaves from the art (which one would imagine no one could Osborne's Harleian Catalogue, and those have missed), of adding agreements to the most not compiled by Johnson, but by Oldys), agreeable subject in the world, which is literary
history.2 a very small part of it relates to the
"Nov. 24, 1737.” person who is the subject of the book ; and, in that, there is such an inaccuracy Instead of melting down my materials in the statement of facts, as in so into one mass, and constantly speaking solemn an author is hardly excusable, and in my own person, by which I might certainly makes his narrative very unsat- have appeared to have more merit in the isfactory. But what is still worse, there execution of the work, I have resolved to is throughout the whole of it a dark un- adopt and enlarge upon the excellent charitable cast, by which the most plan of Mr. Mason, in his Memoirs of unfavourable construction is put upon Gray. Wherever narrative is necessary almost every circumstance in the charac- to explain, connect, and supply, I furter and conduct of my illustrious friend ; nish it to the best of my abilities; but who, I trust, will, by a true and fair in the chronological series of Johnson's add, that though I doubt I should not have been life, which I trace as distinctly as I can, any compliment in his lifetime, I do now frankly in my power, his own minutes, letters, or very prompt to gratify Sir John Hawkins with year by year, I produce, wherever it is however inadequate and improper as a life of conversation, being convinced that this Dr. Johnson, and however discredited by un- mode is more lively, and will make pardonable inaccuracies in other respects, contains a collection of curious anecdotes and 1 Mrs. Thrale, afterwards Mrs. Piozzi. observations, which few men but its author could 2 Brit. Mus. 4320, Ayscough's Catal. Sloane have brought together. B.
THE DUTIES OF A BIOGRAPHER
readers better acquainted with him, than contains of Johnson's conversation, which even most of those were who actually is universally acknowledged to have been knew him, but could know him only eminently instructive and entertaining ; partially ; whereas there is here an accu- and of which the specimens that I have mulation of intelligence from various given upon a former occasion,have been points, by which his character is more received with so much approbation, that fully understood and illustrated.
I have good grounds for supposing that Indeed I cannot conceive a more per the world will not be indifferent to more fect mode of writing any man's life, than ample communications of a similar nanot only relating all the most important ture. events of it in their order, but inter That the conversation of a celebrated weaving what he privately wrote, and man, if his talents had been exerted in said, and thought; by which mankind conversation, will best display his charare enabled as it were to see him iive, acter, is, I trust, too well established in and to “live o'er each scene ” with him, the judgment of mankind to be at all as he actually advanced through the shaken by a sneering observation of Mr. several stages of his life. Had his other Mason, in his Memoirs of Mr. William friends been as diligent and ardent as I Whitehead, in which there is literally no was, he might have been almost entirely Life, but a mere dry narrative of facts. preserved. As it is, I will venture to say, I do not think it was quite necessary to that he will be seen in this work more attempt a depreciation of what is univercompletely than any man who has ever sally esteem, because it was not to be
found in the immediate object of the And he will be seen as he really was ; ingenious writer's pen ; for in truth, from for I profess to write, not his panegyric, a man so still and so tame, as to be conwhich must be all praise, but his Life; tented to pass many years as the domestic which great and.good as he was, must not companion of sa superannuated lord and be supposed to be entirely perfect. To lady,3 conversation could no more be exbe as he was, is indeed subject of pected than from a Chinese mandarin on . panegyric enough to any man in this a chimney-piece, or the fantastic figures state of being ; but in every picture there on a gilt leather screen. should be shade as well as light, and If authority be required, let us appeal when I delineate him without reserve, I to Plutarch, the prince of ancient biodo what he himself recommended, both by graphers.
Ούτε ταϊς επιφανεστάταις his precept and his example.
πράξεσι πάντως ένεστι δήλωσις αρετής και
κακίας, αλλά πράγμα βραχύ πολλάκις, και “ If the biographer writes from personal know-ýnua, και παιδιά τις, έμφασιν ήθους ledge, and makes haste to gratify, the public toinoev pârnov, ħ uá xai uupubvekpol, fear, his gratitude, or his tenderness, overpower rapatáteis ai u bylotai, kal hollopkíá his fidelity, and tempt him to conceal, if not to mólewv. “Nor is it always in the most invent. There are many who think it an act of distinguished achievements that men's piety to hide the faults or failings of their friends, virtues or vices may be best discerned ; even when they can no longer suffer by their
we therefore see whole ranks of but very often an action of small note, a characters adorned with uniform panegyric, and short saying, or a jest, shall distinguish not to be known from one another but by extrinsic and casual circumstances. 'Let me re
a person's real character more than the member,' says Hale, when I find myself inclined greatest sieges, or the most important to pity a criminal, that there is likewise a pity battles.” 4 due to the country. If we owe regard to the memory of the dead, there is yet more respect to of the very man whose life I am about
To this may be added the sentiments be paid to knowledge, to virtue, and to truth.” 1
to exhibit. What I consider as the peculiar value of the following work, is the quantity it
2 In the Joun al of a Tour to the Hebrides. 3 The (third) Earl and Countess of Jersey.
4 Plutarch's Life of Alexander, init.-Lang1 Rambler, No. 60. B.
“ The business of the biographer is often to occasions of my detail of Johnson's condents which produce vulgar greatness, to lead the versation, and how happily it is adapted thoughts into domestic privacies, and display the for the petty exercise of ridicule, by men minute details
of daily life, where exterior ap- of superficial understanding, and ludi pendages are cast aside, and men excel each other only by prudence and by virtue. The account
crous fancy : but I remain firm and of Thuanus is with great propriety said by its confident in my opinion, that minute author to have been written, that it might lay particulars are frequently characteristic open to posterity the private and familiar charac- and always amusing, when they relate to ter of that man, cujus ingenium et candorem ex
a distinguished man. ipsius scriptis sunt olim semper miraturi, whose
I am therefore candour and genius will to the end of time be by exceedingly unwilling that any thing, his writings preserved in admiration.
however slight, which my illustrious “ There are many invisible circumstances, friend thought it worth his while to which, whether we read as inquirers after natural or moral knowledge, whether we intend to en- express, with any degree of point, should large our science or increase our virtue, are more perish. For this almost superstitious important than public occurrences. Thus Sallust, reverence, I have found very old and
great master of nature, has not forgot in his account of Catiline to remark, that his walk was
venerable authority, quoted by our now quick, and again slow, as an indication of a great modern prelate, Secker, in whose mind revolving something with violent commotion. tenth sermon there is the following Thus the story of Melanchthon affords a striking lecture on the value of time, by informing us, that passage : when he had made an appointment, he expected “ Rabbi David K'imchi, a noted Jewish comnot only the hour but the minute to be fixed, that
mentator, who lived about five hundred years the day might not run out in the idleness of sus
ago, explains that passage in the first Psalm, His pense; and all the plans and enterprises, of De leaf also shall not wither, from Rabbins yet iVitt are now of less importance to the world than older than himself, thus: That even the idle talk, that part of his personal character, which repre. so he expresses it, of a good man ought to be sents him as careful of his health, and negligent regarded; the most superfluous things he saith of his life. * But biography has often been allotted to authors have the same phrase, nearly in the saine
are always of some value. And other ancient writers, who scem very little acquainted with the nature of their task, or very negligent about the performance. They rarely afford any other account than might be collected from public papers,
Of one thing I am certain, that conbut imagine themselves writing a life, when they sidering how highly the small portion exhibit a chronological series of actions or prefer- which we have of the table talk and ments; and so little regard the manners or other anecdotes of our celebrated writers behaviour of their heroes, that more knowledge is valued, and how earnestly it is regretted short conversation with one of his servants, than that we have not more, I am justified in from a formal and studied narrative, begun with preserving rather too many of Johnson's
There are, indeed, some natural reasons why sayings, than too few ; especially as from these narratives are often written by such as were the diversity of dispositions it cannot be why most accounts of particular persons are what may seem trifling to some, and not likely to give much instruction or delight, and known with certainty beforehand, whether barren and useless. If a life be delayed till interest and envy are at an end, we may hope for perhaps to the collector himself, may not impartiality, but must expect little intelligence ; be most agreeable to many; and the graphy are of a volatile and evanescent kind, greater number that an author can please such as soon escape the memory, and are rarely in any degree, the more pleasure does transmitted by tradition. We know how few can there arise to a benevolent mind. pourtray a living acquaintance, except by his To those who are weak enough to most prominent and observable particularities, think this a degrading task, and the time be easily imagined how much of this little know and labour which have been devoted to it ledge may be lost in imparting it, and how soon misemployed, I shall content myself with a succession of copies will lose all resemblanice opposing the authority of the greatest of the original.” 1
man of any age, JULIUS CÆSAR, of whom I am fully aware of the objections which Bacon observes, that “in his book of may be made to the minuteness on some Apophthegms which he collected, we see
that he esteemed it more honour to make i Rambler, No. 60. B.
himself but a pair of tables, to take the