Abbildungen der Seite

slavery. In the civilised world, the most numerous class is condemned to ignorance and poverty; and the double fortune of my birth in a free and enlightened country, in an honourable and wealthy family, is the lucky chance of an unit against millions. The general probability is that a new-born infant will not live to complete his fiftieth year. I have now passed that age, and may fairly estimate the present value of my existence in the threefold division of mind, body, and estate.

(1) The first and indispensable requisite of happiness is a clear conscience, unsullied by the reproach or remembrance of an unworthy action.

Hic murus aheneus esto:

Nil conscire sibi, nullâ pallescere culpâ. I am endowed with a cheerful temper, a moderate sensibility, and a natural disposition to repose rather than to activity: some mischievous appetites and habits have perhaps been corrected by philosophy or time. The love of study, a passion which derives fresh vigour from enjoyment, supplies each day, each hour, with a perpetual source of independent and rational pleasure ; and I am not sensible of any decay of the mental faculties. The original soil has been highly improved by cultivation ; but it may be questioned whether some flowers of fancy, some grateful errors, have not been eradicated with the roots of prejudice. (2) Since I have escaped from the long perils of my childhood, the serious advice of a physician has seldom been requisite. “ The madness of superfluous health ” I have never known ; but my tender constitution has been fortified by time, and the inestimable gift of the sound and peaceful slumbers of infancy may be imputed both to the mind and body. (3) I have already described the merits of my society and situation ; but these enjoyments would be tasteless or bitter if their possession were not assured by an annual and adequate supply. According to the scale of Switzerland I am a rich man, and I am indeed rich, since my income is superior to my expense, and my expense is equal to my wishes. My friend, Lord Sheffield, has kindly relieved me from the cares to which my taste and temper are most adverse ; shall I add, that since the failure of my first wishes I have never entertained any serious thoughts of a matrimonial connection ?

I am disgusted with the affectation of men of letters who complain that they have renounced a substance for a shadow; and that their fame (which sometimes is no insupportable weight, affords

a poor compensation for envy, censure, and persecution. My own experience, at least, has taught me a very different lesson. Twenty happy years have been animated by the labour of my history; and its success has given me a name, a rank, a character in the world, to which I should not otherwise have been entitled. The freedom of my writings has indeed provoked an implacable tribe ; but as I was safe from the stings, I was soon accustomed to the buzzing of the hornets. My nerves are not tremblingly alive, and my literary temper is so happily framed, that I am less sensible of pain than of pleasure. The rational pride of an author may be offended rather than flattered by vague indiscriminate praise ; but he cannot, he should not, be indifferent to the fair testimonies of private and public esteem. Even his moral sympathy may be gratified by the idea that now, in the present hour, he is imparting some degree of amusement or knowledge to his friends in a distant land : that one day his mind will be familiar to the grandchildren of those who are yet unborn. I cannot boast of the friendship or favour of princes; the patronage of English literature has long since been devolved on our booksellers, and the measure of their liberality is the least ambiguous test of our common success. Perhaps the golden mediocrity of my fortune has contributed to fortify my application.

The present is a fleeting moment, the past is no more; and our prospect of futurity is dark and doubtful.

This day may possibly be my last; but the laws of probability, so true in general, so fallacious in particular, still allow me about fifteen years. I shall soon enter into the period which, as the most agreeable of his long life, was selected by the judgment and experience of the sage Fontenelle. His choice is approved by the eloquent historian of nature, who fixes our moral happiness to the mature season in which our passions are supposed to have calmed, our duties fulfilled, our ambition satisfied, our fame and fortune established on a solid basis. In private conversation, that great and amiable man added the weight of his own experience; and this autumnal felicity might be exemplified in the lives of Voltaire, Hume, and many other men of letters. I am far more inclined to embrace than to dispute this comfortable doctrine. I will not suppose any premature decay of the mind or body; but I must reluctantly observe that two causes, the abbreviation of time, and the failure of hope, will always tinge with a browner shade the evening of life.

(From the Same.)


(James Boswell, son of a Scotch advocate who was raised to the Bench under the name of Lord Auchinleck, was born in 1740, and educated in Edinburgh. Having already made some literary essays, and become acquainted with the literary notabilities of the Scottish capital, he came to London (for which he had conceived a great attachment in an even earlier visit) in 1762, chiefly to obtain an introduction to Dr. Johnson, whom he already reverenced by reputation. From 1765 he resided for some time abroad, and found access to Rousseau, and through him, to Paoli, the assertor of Corsican liberties, with whom he lived for some time, and of whom and the island of Corsica he wrote an account in 1768. He pursued his profession as advocate intermittently : but his chief occupation was the cultivation of literary society, especially that of Dr. Johnson, with whom he made a tour in the Hebrides, of which he published an account in 1785. He continued to be the intimate and observant friend of Johnson until the death of the latter in 1784, and published his biography in 1791. Its success was immediate : a second edition was published in 1793 : and a third was in preparation when Boswell died in 1795.]

WHATEVER may be our opinion of Boswell, either as to character or as to intellect, the praise must be universally conceded to him of having produced the very best book, in its own kind, which the world has seen. This is no small achievement. As a man he was full of weaknesses and vanity : intellectually, he was in many respects poorly equipped : and the contrast between such a man and the work he has produced, has not unnaturally given rise to paradoxes to account for the phenomenon. To Macaulay, it seemed enough to say that he was great because of his very weakness : while Carlyle found the secret of his success in the enthusiastic devotion of his hero-worship. Each view, presented to us by such men, commands attention, and embodies one aspect of the truth : but even when we set aside all paradox, the consummate success of Boswell may be explained upon more solid literary grounds. He had an ardent, even a consuming desire to become acquainted with men of light and leading : and he not

only discerned his prey with marvellous acumen, and pursued it with indomitable perseverance, but he was evidently possessed of certain gifts which secured for him their toleration, if not their regard. His success in these efforts dated almost from his boyhood; and besides that circle that surrounded Johnson, to which Johnson's protection gave him access, he managed to form an acquaintance with three men in very different spheres, who can have had few common friends—Hume, Voltaire, and Rousseau. That the obedient henchman of Johnson should have found something to admire in each of these, proves that Boswell was something more than a docile adulator, with an exaggerated amount of curiosity. Eminence of any kind had for him an instinctive attraction, which was something very different from toadyism or servility. He was indeed a curious instance of a man whose insight into character, whose discrimination of motives, whose sense of intellectual distinctions were out of all proportion to his ability in all other matters. This instinct was aided by all the resources of boundless gaiety and good humour, which ingratiated him with his victims, and made them ready to endure all his follies and absurdities with infinite toleration. He was the very opposite of a narrow man. His sympathies were keen and quick: and if his character was formed on somewhat of a petty scale, yet it contained all the variety of moods that gave full play to these sympathies. He had enthusiasm, and melancholy; vague aspirations after speculation ; stirrings of patriotic feeling ; a spasmodic religious sense; and a considerable tincture of

All these qualities were no doubt coloured by a vanity which gave them something of the burlesque : but none the less it was by them that there ran through Boswell's personality a certain chord of sympathy that made it resonant to every note of feeling. His observations were absolutely different from the mechanical exactness of literary photography: they were guided by an instinctive discrimination, and made real and vivid by the skill of an artist.

It is true that Boswell's success owes something to those features of his character which move our contempt. His selfrespect was completely swallowed up in vanity, and the result of this is that he writes with a freedom and self-abandonment, with a carelessness of the judgment that may be passed upon him as a man, which only such freedom from self-consciousness as it is given to very few men to attain, could ever equal. Just as his


« ZurückWeiter »