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vanity gives to his work the same effect as want of self-consciousness, so the perfection of his ingenuous pedantry gives to it the effect of humour. No man who was without humour could tell a story with the skill of Boswell; but it is his unconscious humour which amuses us most. A sentence such as this“ Belief is favourable to the human mind, were it for nothing else but to furnish its entertainment. An infidel, I should think, must frequently suffer from ennui”—is uttered by Boswell with perfect solemnity. But how near it comes to what might have been said by a master of humour !
Boswell, then, possessed in perfection some essential qualifications for the biographer-discernment, discrimination, the eye of an artist, a keen sense of literary proportion. His way was made easy for him by good humour, and an unbounded love of society, and his vanity made him impervious to any rebuff, however crushing. His keen sympathy enabled him to penetrate the motives of men, and he had enough of literary skill to convey the impression of a character or of an incident with dramatic reality. In spite of all his weakness, his folly, his dissipation, and the essential shallowness of his character, he had earnestness of purpose enough to force him to untiring perseverance in his task. The perfection with which that task was accomplished was partly the result of practice. Few now read Boswell's journal of his conversations with Paoli; but in these we have, less fully developed, all the discriminating minuteness, all the happy selection, all the deft literary portrait-painting, which reached their climax in the famous biography. Wonderful as it is that a man so compact of folly and vanity, so childish and so weak as Boswell, should have produced a book which has enforced the admiration of the world, yet we need not explain that book as a literary miracle. Its success is achieved by the usual means—insight, sympathy, skill, and perseverance; and its author had served an apprenticeship to his art before he began his greatest work.
The chief features of Boswell's work are to be found in his methods and his treatment, not in any distinctive quality of his style. Considered merely as prose, it is careful and correct. When it attempts to be eloquent, it generally becomes inflated and absurd, without any loss of entertainment. The influence of his Mentor is, of course, visible in every page ; but whether of set purpose or not, that influence is not so marked as Boswell's contemporaries probably expected it to be. He had a good ear
for the rhythm of prose, and his literary taste doubtless told him that obtrusive imitation of Johnson's style would be out of place in his biography. Boswell cultivated, like many of his contemporaries, a somewhat formal style ; but he could descend from the formality when the narrative required it. And, while he saw clearly how absurd were the common notions of Johnson's style, he could occasionally hint a criticism where his hero lapsed into ponderosity. In the Account of Corsica he affected a peculiar and somewhat pedantic orthography, and describes himself “ as one of those who are curious in the formation of language in its various modes." “ If this work” he proceeds, in a characteristic vein, “should at any future period be reprinted, I hope that care will be taken of my orthography.” But his literary eccentricities went no further.
THE PAINS AND PLEASURES OF AUTHORSHIP
WRITING a book I have found to be like building a house. A man forms a plan and collects materials. He thinks he has enough to raise a large and stately edifice ; but after he has arranged, compacted, and polished, his work turns out to be a very small performance. The authour, however, like the builder, knows how much labour his work cost him, and therefore estimates it at a much higher rate than other people think it deserves.
I have endeavoured to avoid an ostentatious display of learning. By the idle and frivolous, indeed, any appearance of learning is called pedantry. But as I do not write for such readers, I pay no regard to their censures. Those by whom I wish to be judged will, I hope, approve of my adding dignity to Corsica by showing its consideration among the ancients, and will not be displeased to find my page sometimes embellished with a seasonable quotation from the classicks. The translations are ascribed to their proper authours.
What are not so ascribed are my own. It may be necessary to say something in defence of my orthography. Of late it has become the fashion to render our language more neat and trim by leaving out k after c, and u in the last syllable of words which used to end in our. The illustrious Samuel Johnson, who has alone executed in England what was the task of whole academies in other countries, has been careful in his Dictionary to preserve the k as a mark of Saxon original. He has for the most part, too, been careful to preserve the u, but he has also omitted it in several words. I have retained the k, and have taken upon me to follow a general rule with regard to words ending in our. Wherever a word originally Latin has been transmitted to us through the medium of the French, I have written it with the characteristical u. An attention to this may appear trivial. But I own I am one of those who are curious in the formation of language in its various modes, and therefore wish that
the affinity of English with other tongues may not be forgotten. If this work should at any future period be reprinted, I hope that care will be taken of my orthography.
He who publishes a book, affecting not to be an authour, and professing indifference for literary fame, may possibly impose upon many people such an idea of his consequence as he wishes may be received. For my part, I should be proud to be known as an authour, and I have an ardent ambition for literary fame ; for of all possessions I should imagine literary fame to be the most valuable. A man who has been able to furnish a book which has been approved by the world, has established himself as a respectable character in distant society, without any danger of having that character lessened by the observation of his weaknesses. To preserve an uniform dignity among those who see us every day is hardly possible ; and to aim at it must put us under the fetters of perpetual restraint. The authour of an approved book may allow his natural disposition an easy play, and yet indulge the pride of superior genius when he considers that by those who know him only as an authour he never ceases to be respected. Such an authour, when in his hours of gloom and discontent, may have the consolation to think that his writings are at that very time giving pleasure to numbers ; and such an authour may cherish the hope of being remembered after death, which has been a great object to the noblest minds in all ages.
Whether I can merit any portion of literary fame, the public will judge. Whatever my ambition may be, I trust that my confidence is not too great, nor my hopes too sanguine.
(From Preface to Account of Corsica.)
TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS
MY DEAR SIR — Every liberal motive that can actuate author in the dedication of his labours, concurs in directing me to you, as the person to whom the following Work should be inscribed.
If there be a pleasure in celebrating the distinguished merit of a contemporary, mixed with a certain degree of vanity, not altogether inexcusable, in appearing fully sensible of it, where can I find one, in complimenting whom I can with more general appro
bation gratify those feelings? Your excellence, not only in the Art over which you have long presided with unrivalled fame, but also in Philosophy and elegant Literature, is well known to the present, and will continue to be the admiration of future ages. Your equal and placid temper, your variety of conversation, your true politeness, by which you are so amiable in private society, and that enlarged hospitality which has long made your house a common centre of union for the great, the accomplished, the learned, and the ingenious—all these qualities I can, in perfect confidence of not being accused of flattery, ascribe to you.
If a man may indulge an honest pride, in having it known to the world that he has been thought worthy of particular attention by a person of the first eminence in the age in which he lived, whose company has been universally courted, I am justified in availing myself of the usual privilege of a Dedication, when I mention that there has been a long and uninterrupted friendship between us.
If gratitude should be acknowledged for favours received, I have this opportunity, my dear Sir, most sincerely to thank you for the many happy hours which I owe to your kindness,—for the cordiality with which you have at all times been pleased to welcome me—for the number of valuable acquaintances to whom you have introduced me, for the noctes cænæque Deûm, which I have enjoyed under your roof.
If a work should be inscribed to one who is master of the subject of it, and whose approbation, therefore, must insure it credit and success, the Life of Dr. Johnson is, with the greatest propriety, dedicated to Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was the intimate and beloved friend of that great man; the friend whom he declared to be “ The most invulnerable man he knew ; whom, if he should quarrel with him, he should find the most difficulty how to abuse." You, my dear Sir, studied him, and knew him well ; you venerated and admired him. Yet, luminous as he was upon the whole, you perceived all the shades which mingled in the grand composition ; all the little peculiarities and slight blemishes which marked the literary Colossus. Your very warm commendation of the specimen which I gave in my Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, of my being able to preserve his conversation in an authentic and lively manner, which opinion the Public has confirmed, was the best encouragement for me to persevere in my purpose of producing the whole of my stores.