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IT were superfluous to expatiate on the merits, at least as a source of amusement, of Boswell's LIFE OF JOHNSON. Whatever doubts may have existed as to the prudence or the propriety of the original publication-however naturally private confidence was alarmed, or individual vanity offended, the voices of criticism and complaint were soon drowned in the general applause. And no wonder-the work combines within itself the four most entertaining classes of writing-biography, memoirs, familiar letters, and that assemblage of literary anecdotes which the French have taught us to distinguish by the termination Ana.
It was originally received with an eagerness and relished with a zest which undoubtedly were sharpened by the curiosity which the unexpected publication of the words and deeds of so many persons still living could not but excite. But this motive has gradually become weaker, and may now be said to be extinct; yet we do not find that the popularity of the work, though somewhat changed in quality, is really diminished; and as the interval which separates us from the actual time and scene
increases, so appear to increase the interest and delight which we feel at being introduced, as it were, into that distinguished society of which Dr. Johnson formed the centre, and of which his biographer is the historian.
But though every year thus adds something to the interest and instruction which this work affords, something is, on the other hand, deducted from the amusement which it gives, by the gradual obscurity that time throws over the persons and incidents of private life: many circumstances known to all the world when Mr. Boswell wrote are already obscure to the best informed, and wholly forgotten by the rest of mankind 1.
For instance, when he relates (vol. i. p. 196.) that a "great personage" called the English Divines of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries " Giants," we guess that George III. was the great personage; but all the editor's inquiries (and some of His Majesty's illustrious family have condescended to permit these inquiries to extend even to them) have failed to ascertain to what person or on what occasion that happy expression was used..
Again: When Mr. Boswell's capricious delicacy induced him to suppress names and to substitute such
descriptions as an eminent friend," "a young gen
1 "Dr. Johnson talked with approbation of an intended edition of the Spectator, with notes. He observed that all works which describe manners require notes in sixty or seventy years or less." Post, v. ii. p. 200. And Dean Swift wrote to Pope on the subject of the Dunciad, "I could wish the notes to be very large in what relates to the persons concerned; for I have long observed, that twenty miles from London nobody understands hints, initial letters, or town facts or passages, and in a few years not even those who live in London." Lett. 16, July, 1728.-ED.