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O write the life of him who excelled all mankind in writing the lives of others, and who, whether we confider his extraordinary endowments, or his various works, has been equalled by few in any age, is an arduous, and may be reckoned in me a presumptuous task.

Had Dr. Johnson written his own life, in conformity with the opinion which he has given, that every man's life may be beft written by himself; had he employed in the prefervation of his own hiftory, that clearness of narration and elegance of language in which he has embalmed so many eminent perfons, the world would probably have had the most perfect example of biography that was ever exhibited. But although he at different times, in a defultory manner, committed to writing many particulars of the progress of his mind and fortunes, he never had perfevering diligence enough to form them into a regular compofition. Of these memorials a few have been preserved; but the greater part was configned by him to the flames, a few days before his death.

As I had the honour and happiness of enjoying his friendship for upwards of twenty years; as I had the scheme of writing his life constantly in view; as he was well apprised of this circumftance, and from time to time obligingly fatisfied my inquiries, by communicating to me the incidents of his early years; as I acquired a facility in recollecting, and was very affiduous in

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recording his converfation, of which the extraordinary vigour and vivacity conftituted one of the first features of his character; and as I have spared no pains in obtaining materials concerning him, from every quarter where I could discover that they were to be found, and have been favoured with the moft liberal communications by his friends; I flatter myself that few biographers have entered upon fuch a work as this, with more advantages, independent of literary abilities, in which I am not vain enough to compare myself with fome great names who have gone before me in this kind of writing.

Since my work was announced, feveral Lives and Memoirs of Dr. Johnson have been published, the most voluminous of which is one compiled for the Bookfellers of London, by Sir John Hawkins, Knight', a man, whom, during my long intimacy with Dr. Johnfon, I never faw in his company, I think but once, and I am fure not above twice. Johnfon might have efteemed him for his decent, religious demeanour, and his knowledge of books and literary history; but from the rigid formality of his manners, it is evident that they never could have lived together with companionable ease and familiarity; nor had Sir John Hawkins that nice perception which was neceffary to mark the finer and less obvious parts of Johnson's character. His being appointed one of his executors, gave him an opportunity of taking poffeflion of fuch fragments of a diary and other papers as were left, of which, before delivering them up to the refiduary legatee, whofe property they were, he endeavoured to extract the fubftance. In this he has not been very fuccefsful, as I have found upon a perusal of those papers, which have been since transferred to me. Sir John Hawkins's ponderous labours, I must acknowledge, exhibit a farrago, of which a confiderable portion is not devoid of entertainment to the lovers of literary goffiping; but befides its being fwelled out

The greatest part of this book was written while Sir John Hawkins was alive; and I avow, that one object of my strictures was to make him feel fome compunction for his illiberal treatment of Dr. Johnfon. Since his deceafe, I have fuppreffed feveral of my remarks upon his work. But though I would not "war with the dead" offenfively, I think it neceffary to be strenuous in defence of my illuftrious friend, which I cannot be, without ftrong animadverfion upon a writer who has greatly injured him, Let me add, that though I doubt I should not have been very prompt to gratify Sir John Hawkins with any compliment in his life-time, I do now frankly acknowledge, that, in my opinion, his volume, however inadequate and improper as a life of Dr. Johnfon, and however difcredited by unpardonable inaccuracies in other refpects, contains a collection of curious anecdotes and obfervations, which few men but its authour could have brought together.

with long unneceffary extracts from various works, (even one of feveral leaves from Ofborne's Harleian Catalogue, and thofe not compiled by Johnfon, but by Oldys) a very finall part of it relates to the perfon who is the fubject of the book; and, in that, there is fuch an inaccuracy in the statement of facts, as in fo folemn an authour is hardly excufable, and certainly makes his narrative very unfatisfactory. But what is ftill worse, there is throughout the whole of it a dark uncharitable caft, by which the moft unfavourable conftruction is put upon almost every circumftance in the character and conduct of my illuftrious friend; who, I trust, will, by a true and fair delineation, be vindicated both from the injurious mifreprefentations of this authour, and from the flighter afperfions of a lady who once lived in great intimacy with him.

There is, in the British Museum, a letter from Bishop Warburton to Dr. Birch, on the fubject of biography; which, though I am aware it may expose me to a charge of artfully raising the value of my own work, by contrasting it with that of which I have spoken, is fo well conceived and expreffed, that I cannot refrain from here inserting it:

" I SHALL endeavour (fays Dr. Warburton) to give you what fatisfaction I can in any thing you want to be fatisfied in any fubject of Milton, and am extremely glad you intend to write his life. Almost all the life-writers we have had before Toland and Defmaifeaux, are indeed ftrange infipid creatures; and yet I had rather read the worft of them, than be obliged to go through with this of Milton's, or the other's life of Boileau, where there is fuch a dull, heavy fucceffion of long quotations of difinteresting paffages, that it makes their method quite nauseous. But the verbose, tastelefs Frenchman feems to lay it down as a principle, that every life must be a book, and what's worse, it proves a book without a life; for what do we know of Boileau, after all his tedious stuff? You are the only one, (and I fpeak it without a compliment) that by the vigour of your stile and fentiments, and the real importance of your materials, have the art (which one would imagine no one could have miffed) of adding agreements to the most agreeable fubject in the world, which is literary history"."

"Nov. 24, 1737.”

Instead of melting down my materials into one mafs, and conftantly speaking in my own person, by which I might have appeared to have more merit

3 Brit. Muf. 4320. Afcough's Catal. Sloane MSS.

in the execution of the work, I have refolved to adopt and enlarge upon the excellent plan of Mr. Mason, in his Memoirs of Gray. Wherever narrative is neceffary to explain, connect, and fupply, I furnish it to the best of my abilities; but in the chronological feries of Johnson's life, which I trace as diftinctly as I can, year by year, I produce, wherever it is in my power, his own minutes, letters, or converfation, being convinced that this mode is more lively, and will make my readers better acquainted with him, than even most of those were who actually knew him, but could know him only partially; whereas there is here an accumulation of intelligence from various points, by which his character is more fully understood and illuftrated.

Indeed I cannot conceive a more perfect mode of writing any man's life, than not only relating all the most important events of it in their order, but interweaving what he privately wrote, and faid, and thought; by which mankind are enabled as it were to see him live, and to "live o'er each scene" with him, as he actually advanced through the several stages of his life. Had his other friends been as diligent and ardent as I was, he might have been almost entirely preserved. As it is, I will venture to say that he will be feen in this work more completely than any man who has ever yet lived.

And he will be seen as he really was; for I profefs to write, not his panegyrick, which must be all praise, but his life; which, great and good as he was, must not be supposed to be entirely perfect. To be as he was, is indeed fubject of panegyrick enough to any man in this state of being; but in every picture there should be fhade as well as light, and when I delineate him without referve, I do what he himself recommended, both by his precept and his example:

"If the biographer writes from perfonal knowledge, and makes hafte to gratify the publick curiofity, there is danger left his intereft, his fear, his gratitude, or his tenderness overpower his fidelity, and tempt him to conceal, if not to invent. There are many who think it an act of piety to hide the faults or failings of their friends, even when they can no longer fuffer by their detection; we therefore fee whole ranks of characters adorned with uniform panegyrick, and not to be known from one another but by extrinfick and cafual circumstances. Let me remember, (fays Hale) when I find myself inclined to pity a criminal, that there is likewise a pity due to the country.' If we owe regard to the memory of the dead, there is yet more refpect to be paid to knowledge, to virtue, and to truth.”

Rambler, No. 6c.


What I confider as the peculiar value of the following work, is, the quantity that it contains of Johnson's converfation; which is univerfally acknowledged to have been eminently inftructive and entertaining; and of which the fpecimens that I have given upon a former occafion, have been received with fo much approbation, that I have good grounds for fuppofing that the world will not be indifferent to more ample communications of a fimilar


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That the converfation of a celebrated man, if his talents have been exerted in conversation, will best display his character, is, I trust, too well established in the judgement of mankind, to be at all shaken by a sneering observation of Mr. Mason, in his Memoirs of Mr. William Whitehead, in which there is literally no Life, but a mere dry narrative of facts. I do not think it was quite neceffary to attempt a depreciation of what is univerfally esteemed, because it was not to be found in the immediate object of the ingenious writer's pen; for in truth, from a man fo ftill and fo tame, as to be contented to pafs many years as the domeftick companion of a fuperannuated lord and lady, converfation worth recording could no more be expected, than from a Chinese mandarin on a chimney-piece, or the fantastick figures on a gilt leather skreen.

If authority be required, let us appeal to Plutarch, the prince of ancient biographers. Οὔτε ταῖς επιφάνεια ταις πράξεσι πάντως ἕνεςι δόλωσις ἀρετῆς ἢ κακίας, ἀλλὰ πράγμα βραχύ πολλάκις καὶ ῥῆμα, καὶ παιδιά τις ἔμφασιν ἤθοις ἐποίησεν μάλλον ἢ μάχραι μεριονεχροι, παρατάξεις αἱ μέγισαι, καὶ πολιορχία πόλεων. "Nor is it always in the most distinguished atchievements that men's virtues or vices may be best discerned; but very often an action of small note, a short saying, or a jeft, fhall diftinguish a person's real character more than the greatest sieges, or the most important battles "."

To this may be added the fentiments of the very man whofe life I am am about to exhibit. "The business of the biographer is often to pass slightly over those performances and incidents which produce vulgar greatnefs, to lead the thoughts into domeftick privacies, and difplay the minute details of daily life, where exterior appendages are caft afide, and men excel each other only by prudence and by virtue. The account of Thuanus is with great propriety faid by its authour to have been written, that it might lay opento pofterity the private and familiar character of that man, cujus ingenium et candorem ex ipfius fcriptis funt olim femper miraturi, whofe candour and genius will to the end of time be by his writings preferved in admiration.

5 Plutarch's Life of Alexander,-Langhorne's Tranflation,


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