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following terms: "Your history is like other histories, but your journal is in a very high degree curious and delightful. There is between the history and the journal that difference which there will always be found between notions borrowed from without and notions generated within. Your history was copied from books; your journal rose out of your own experience and observation. You express images which operated strongly upon yourself, and you have impressed them with great force upon your readers. I know not whether I could name any narrative by which curiosity is better excited or better gratified.” This judgment holds equally good of the biography. When Boswell is recording his own observation and experience of Johnson and his friends, the book is assuredly "in a very high degree curious and delightful." But the method he had deliberately chosen, of "tracing the chronological series of Johnson's life year by year," did not always permit this. Johnson was fifty-four years old when in 1763 Boswell was introduced to him at that memorable interview in Tom Davies's back-parlour. The acquaintance soon grew into friendship, and lasted without diminution till Johnson's death in 1784. Yet during these twenty-one years, as Croker has established by an elaborate calculation, the friends were together only two hundred and seventy-six days including the time spent on the tour in Scotland, only one hundred and eighty as recorded in the biography. Boswell's plan therefore, and the scale on which he wrought it, necessitated many gaps which had to be filled up somehow. They are for the most part surprisingly well filled; for not only did he spare himself no labour in collecting materials (even as he boasts to running half over London to fix a date correctly), but he was scarcely less dexterous in utilising the information and the wit of others than he was in employing his own. He claimed to have "Johnsonized the land"; certainly he contrived to Johnsonize his informants. He frequently laments his delay in writing down his friend's conversation while it was still fresh in his memory, whereby its original flavour was too often impaired if no

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wholly lost : “To record his sayings after some distance of time, was like preserving or pickling long-kept and faded fruits or other vegetables which, when in that state, have little or nothing of their taste when fresh." Yet he had so soaked his mind in Johnson that to the baldest and most meagre reports with which his friends could furnish him he was able to give something of the natural touch. It is clear that, as Scott says of his own practice, it was often his way to give his stories "a cocked-hat and a dress-cane"; but he always took care that his embellishments should be in keeping with his friend's ordinary habit. The difficulties that circumstances, or his own idleness, or (as would sometimes happen) the excellence of his host's wine, threw in his way, were manfully encountered and often with singular success. But his work had been so long delayed that many had anticipated him; Hawkins (a dull fellow, no doubt, though his book is not quite the worthless thing that, following Boswell's lead, it has been the fashion to represent it), Mrs. Thrale, Strahan, Cradock, and others. They have perished, or survive only under his shadow; but at the time they did in some measure interfere with him. He borrowed from them as much as he dared, but the law of copyright, which none of them were disposed to waive in favour of one who so jealously guarded his own interests, made this comparatively little. Sometimes too, Johnson would not be in the humour for talking, especially when the pair were alone. "I constantly watched," says Boswell, "every dawning of communication from that great and illuminated mind;" but the dawning was apt occasionally to broaden into a tempestuous day. "Sir, you have only two topics, yourself and me; I am sick of both." When the great mind was in that temper, even Boswell's unwearied assiduity and obstetric skill were baffled. Another of his favourite methods

of extracting illumination was to talk at the Doctor, or about him in the presence of a third person, and this too would sometimes hang fire. "Never speak of a man in his presence," he was once told; “it is always indelicate, and may be offensive." Nor was his

somewhat brusque use of the Socratic method always countenanced; he would not seldom be reminded that, "Questioning is not the mode of conversation among gentlemen."

Such were the difficulties and such the perils that surrounded Boswell in the preparation of his great work. Yet no labour could disgust him, and no rebuff daunt him. The result is certainly splendid, but, when we contemplate the means, we can partly understand why Boswell stands alone in his method. It may be said that only Johnson could have furnished such a subject; it is certain that only Boswell could have furnished such a biographer. When the game was up, good manners and the usages of polite society were thrown to the winds. Miss Burney tells us that she often saw Boswell lay down his knife and fork in the middle of dinner, and pull out his note-book to record some instance of the wit, the wisdom, or, it may be, the rudeness of his friend. The use of this note-book was indeed no new thing; it had long ago disconcerted Paoli. "He came to my country," the General told Miss Burney in his broken English, "and he fetched me some letter of recommending him ; but I was of the belief that he might be an impostor, and I supposed my mind that he was an espy; for I look away from him, and in a moment I look to him again and I behold his tablets. Oh, he was to the work of writing down all I say! Indeed I was angry. But soon I discovered he was no impostor, and no espy; and I only find I was myself the monster he had come to discern. Oh, he is a very good man; I love him indeed; so cheerful, so gay, so pleasant! But at the first, oh, I was indeed angry!"


Cheerful, and pleasant, and gay-that is how Boswell seemed to his friends, and for that they were ready to forgive him much. Cheerful, and pleasant, and gay also is his book, though like himself it has its darker moments, moments of flatness, of triviality, of gloom. Yet even in reading it straight through from beginning to end, one feels, when lighting on these moments, that, as Johnson said to the foolish man who brought a brother to see him, telling

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him, “When we have sat together some time you'll find my brother grow very entertaining,"-" Sir, I can wait ;" and it must be owned that one never has to wait long. A more delightful book "to browze (to use the Doctor's phrase) was perhaps never written. Boswell's criticism on The Beggar's Opera might indeed have been as aptly made on his own work : "There is in it so much of real London life, so much brilliant wit, and such a variety of airs." Open it where we will, we cannot turn half-a-dozen pages without finding something to laugh at, something to think upon, some trait of perennial nature, some glimpse of vanished humours. Every little spark adds something to the general blaze; every little touch helps to complete what the writer with pardonable pride has called "the Flemish picture of my friend."

A great subject and a great picture! Nor can portrait and painter ever be dissociated. As long as the huge bulk of Johnson rolls down the stream of Time, so long will the queer little figure of his biographer, saluted with no unkindly laughter,

Pursue the triumph and partake the gale.

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