IN the summer of 1893 I spent nearly three months in the pleasant village of Barnstable, on Cape Cod, with an Italian sky above my head, and a sea blue as the Mediterranean stretching out before me. For some days I had an occupation so little likely to befall any one in so out-of-the-way a spot that I never lost the feeling of its delightful incongruity. That I, an English scholar, should take up my abode there seemed strange enough. That I should there be reading the proof-sheets of the first edition of the Life of Johnson, and be copying the corrections made on them in Boswell s clear, large hand, seemed almost a marvel. Even Johnson, who would scarcely allow that anything was extraordinary, aware as he was of “ the natural desire of man to propagate a wonder, would have owned that here there was something greatly out of the common. If the country folk, as they passed to and fro, had known what I was doing, as I sat, under the wide veranda, and had been able to understand all the strangeness of the circumstances, they would surely have gazed at me with wonder. There was an old gentleman of the village who, eighty years before, when sailing with his father in the Cape Cod and Boston packet, had been captured by an English frigate. I wish that he had chanced to drop in when I had the proofs open at the passage where Johnson. “ breathing out threatening and slaughter ” against the Americans, roared out a tremendous volley which one might fancy could be heard across the Atlantic.” It would have added still more to the sense of incongruity.
There often came into my mind “the sudden air of exultation ” with which, a few months before his death, at a meeting of his club, Johnson exclaimed, “ Oh ! gentlemen, I must tell you a very great thing. The Empress of Russia has ordered the Rambler to be translated into the Russian language ; so I shall lie read on the banks of the Volga. Horace boasts that his fame would extend as far as the banks of the Rhone ; now the Volga is farther from me than the Rhone was from Horace.” When he was shown over Keddlestone, Lord Scarsdale’s country-seat, finding in his lordship’s dressing-room a copy of his Dictionary, “ he shewed it to me with some eagerness,” writes Boswell, “ saying, ‘ Lookye ! Quœ regio in terris nostri non plena laboris ? ’ He observed also Goldsmith’s Animated Nature, and said, ‘ Here’s our friend ! The poor doctor would have been happy to hear of this.’ ” How widely are the works of genius scattered ! In the frozen ocean, on the shores of King William Island, a copy of the Vicar of Wakefield was found in a boat by the side of the skeletons of two of Franklin’s sailors. My proof-sheets came to me on Cape Cod from the very borders of Canada, — that “ region of desolate sterility,” to use Johnson’s own description, “from which nothing but furs and fish were to be had.” To these borders Goldsmith had led his “’pensive exile : ”
And Niagara stuns with thund’ring’ sound.
Where beasts with man divided empire claim,
And the brown Indian marks with murderous aim.”
There on the shore of Lake Erie and on the bank of Niagara, a nobler river than either the Rhone or the Volga, in the flourishing town of Buffalo, I had found a finer collection of Johnsonian and Boswellian curiosities than exists anywhere on our side of the Atlantic. There were not only first editions of all their works and ten or twelve original letters of the two men, hut in addition a large and most interesting collection of autographs, portraits, and engravings in illustration of my editions of the Life and Letters of Johnson. Whoever was mentioned in the text or in the notes of either of these works, from Burke and Reynolds, Goldsmith and Garrick, downwards, of him, if they could be found, a likeness and an autograph letter had been procured. The devout Johnsonian, after visiting Lichfield, Pembroke College, and Fleet Street, after following the great man’s footsteps in Scotland, will henceforth have to cross the Atlantic and end his pilgrimage on the pleasant shores of Lake Erie. From Mr. R. B. Adam, the liberal owner of these treasures, he may count on receiving a warm welcome. Let. him prove his title to Johnsonianissimus, and the shrine will be thrown open to him. I shall never join in the lament that is raised among us Englishmen when the autographs and rare editions of our great writers are bought by an American. Each becomes a link to bind its new owner to the old country ; each reminds him that he too is of the great English stock ; each makes him
And bids his bosom sympathize with mine.”
Great as has been the liberality of some of our collectors in letting me see their stores, Mr. Adam, in his liberality, has far surpassed them all. A fresh proof of this I was to receive soon after my arrival at Barnstable. A few weeks after I had taken leave of him, he acquired, at the cost of one hundred and forty-seven pounds (about seven hundred and twenty dollars), Boswell’s proofsheets. These he sent me by post. I was to keep them as long as I needed. They were shortly followed by Johnson’s proof-sheets of his Life of Pope, with the corrections in Ids own writing. How unlike it is to Boswell’s hig hand ! yet it does not deserve the description which Hawkesworth gave of it to one of his correspondents. “ Take,” he wrote, “his own testimony in his own words ; they are written, indeed, not in letters but in pothooks, a kind of character which it will probably cost you some time to decipher, and perhaps at last you may not succeed.”
I had once tried to penetrate into Auchinleck. Boswell’s ancestral home. I had hoped, in the library where his father and Johnson “ came in collision over Oliver Cromwell’s coin,” to find many curious memorials. Permission was refused me. My attempt even excited suspicion ; for soon after I had made it I received the following letter, which, now that the venerable writer is dead, may without impropriety be given to the world. “ I hope,” wrote Boswell, in the Preface to his Account of Corsica, “ that if this work should at any future period be republished care will be taken of my orthography.” This pious care I have taken of the orthography of his granddaughter.
44 QUEEN STREET, EDINBURGH, June 3, 1889.
DEAR SIR. — I am told you are about to publish another addition of My Grandfathers book— ‘ Boswell’s Life of Johnston 1 and that you have ‘ some papers from Ayrshire ’ ! May I ask you to be so good as inform me from whom you received them and oblige
M. E. VASSALL.
I may tell you that I am daughter of Sir Alexander Boswell.
The letter was addressed to “ G. Berbick Hill Esq.”
I could scarcely complain of her not knowing that my “ addition ” of Boswell had been published full two years when she wrote, or of her misspelling my name, when Johnson was changed by her into Johnston. “ Are you of the Johnstons of Glencro or of Ardnamurchan ?" the Laird of Lochbuy bawled out to him. when he was visiting his castle on the Island of Mull. “ Dr. Johnson gave him a significant look, but made no answer.” Mrs. Vassall’s contemptuous ignorance of the great man’s name came to her from her father. “ I have observed,” wrote Sir Walter Scott, “ he disliked any allusion to the Life or to Johnson himself, and I have heard that Johnson’s fine picture by Sir Joshua was sent upstairs out of the sitting apartments at Auchinleck.” He was killed in a duel seventy-two years ago. Scott lamented his fall, and Jeffrey defended his adversary when he was put on his trial. His daughter died but a year or two ago. So unexpectedly near were brought these “unhappy far-off things.” Her only brother, Sir James Boswell, shared in the prejudices of his family. An elderly lady, who was his guest at Auchinleck, told me that one day, when the talk fell on his race horses, he said that he did not know what name to give one of them. She suggested Boswell’s Johnsoniana, “ which made him very angry.”
That which was refused me on the spot where Boswell “ walked among the rocks and woods of his ancestors with an agreeable consciousness that he had done something worthy ” was granted me on Cape Cod. May more of our old libraries fall under the auctioneer’s hammer, and more of our collections be carried across the Atlantic, provided that they come into the hands of citizens as enlightened and liberal as my friend Mr. R. B. Adam.
Interesting and curious as these proofs are, they would have been still more interesting and still more curious had they been the first which Boswell corrected, and not mere revises. Doubtless many a passage was modified, many an insertion and many an omission made, when he first went through his task. Nevertheless, even in this revision there is a good gleaning to be made. To recover the passages on two canceled pages is in itself no small triumph. It is a pleasant thing, moreover, to be admitted, as it were, into Boswell’s study, and to see him at work as he corrects the book which is to make his name famous wherever the English tongue is spoken. He is, on the whole, on good terms with his compositors, though he now and then shows an author’s impatience at the slowness of the press. “ I request a little more despatch.”he wrote on one sheet. A few sheets later on, he entered : “ This is very well done indeed. Pray gentlemen compositors let me have as much as you can before Christmas.”
“ Mr. Compositor,” said Johnson on one occasion, “ Mr. Compositor, I ask your pardon again and again.” But this was when, without any just cause, he had sent for the man in a passion. Boswell’s complimentary language is clearly for the sake of putting the compositors into good humor. On September 20, 1790, nearly half the book was in type. On March 4 of the following year, he wrote on the last sheet but five : “ I hope by Monday to have All the remaining copy in the Printing House. If possible let us be out this month.” It was not till May 16, the twenty-eighth anniversary of the day on which he first met Johnson, that the immortal biography, the magnum opus, as he used to call it, was published. A delay was sometimes caused by his desire “ to ascertain particulars with a scrupulous authenticity.” “ Sheet yyy,” he wrote, “ is with Mr. Wilkes to look at a note.” The note contains “ the sentimental anecdote with which Mr. Wilkes with his usual readiness pleasantly matched” one of Baretti’s stories.1 A short delay is caused in ascertaining the number of years the Rev. Mr. Vilette had been Ordinary of Newgate. A blank had been left in the text. On the margin Boswell wrote: “ Send my note to Mr. Vilette in the morning and open to answer. Or inquire of Mr. Akerman [the keeper of Newgate, “ my esteemed friend,” as he called him] for the number of years. Get it somehow.” To a man who had Boswell’s morbid love of seeing the hangman do his work, accuracy on such a point was of great importance, for almost every year of the reverend gentleman’s spiritual duties was marked by his attendance at a score or two of executions, at least. On page 505 of the second volume Boswell writes: “ I could wish that the form in which page 512 is were not thrown off till I have an answer from Mr. Stone, the gentleman mentioned in the note, to tell me his Christian name, that I may call him Esq.” Mr. Stone, it seems, did not reply, for “ Mr. Stone” he remained, and still remains, in all subsequent editions. In Boswell’s eyes there was a great difference between Esq. and Mr. “You would observe,” he wrote to Malone, “ some Stupid lines on Mr. Burke in the Oracle by Mr. Boswell. Sir William Scott told me I could have no legal redress. So I went civilly to Bell, and he promised to mention handsomely that James Boswell Esq. was not the author of the lines.’ His rival biographer he described as “ Mr. John Hawkins, an attorney,” in return for the description which Hawkins had given of him as “ Mr. James Boswell, a native of Scotland.” To Hawkins himself he had complained of the slight thus put upon him. “ Well, but Mr. James Boswell, surely, surely. Mr. James Boswell.”
He now and then reproaches his compositors. Stephani had been printed Stephen. “ Don’t you know the Stephani the famous Printers ! “ he wrote on the margin. “ You do not put a semicolon often enough. Pray attend to this,” he entered on another sheet. The reproof, he reflects, is not just, so he adds, “ But it is my duty to point. So I have no right to find fault.” In the margin of the passage in which he quotes the inscription on a gold snuffbox given to Reynolds by Catherine II., he writes, “ Pray be very careful in printing the words of the Empress of all the Russias.” There is nevertheless an error in the French, due probably to Boswell, who, though he was Secretary for Foreign Correspondence to the Royal Academy, was but a poor French scholar. Opposite the long note where he praises the anonymous editor of Tracts by Warburton and a Wurburtonian he writes in the margin, “ This page must not be laid on till I hear from Dr. Parr whether his name may be mentioned.” Accordingly, he wrote to him requesting “to hear by return of post if I may say or guess that Dr. Parr is the editor.”Apparently the letter was not answered, or else permission was refused, though the authorship could not have been a secret. Parr’s name does not appear in the note. Boswell was more fortunate in obtaining a name for another entry, which had originally stood, “ He was in this like who, Mr. Daines Burrington told me, used to say, ‘ I hate a cui bona man.’ ” In the margin he filled up the blank with “ a respectable person ; ” but before the sheet was “laid on ” he learnt this respectable person’s name. In the published text he figures as “ Dr. Shaw, the great traveller.”
Quoting Johnson’s published letter to Mrs. Thrale about the Gordon Riots, he gives the spelling jails, as she had given it. The “ reader ” queries gaols. Boswell replies, “ Either way, jails or gaols is in his Dictionary.” Two pages further on, where the word recurs, the “ reader ” rejoins, “ Dr. Johnson in his Dictionary says jail is an improper way of spelling gaol.” Johnson, under gaol, writes, “ It is always pronounced, and too often written jail and sometimes gaol.”The “reader” has his way, and it is gaols in the text. Boswell hesitates over the word divines, in a passage where he had described a letter to a young clergyman as containing “ valuable advice to divines in general.” For divines he first substituted Parish priests, but at last added, “ Stet Divines but with D cap.” He rejoices in the result of all the care which he takes. “How lucky it is that I have had this Revise ! ” he enters on the first sheet. “ Franly for frankly would have looked ill. I trust we shall have a very correct book.” Later on he records, “ By revising this sheet again I have catched an Island which I had omitted.” The island was Inchkenneth, about the spelling of which he thus warns the compositor: “ Pray observe that in Inchkenneth there is first an H and then a K. As these letters are apt to be mistaken in M. S., I mention this. The first syllable of the word is the same with the measure Inch.” On another proof he writes, “ I am sorry that there must be a little over, running on in this sheet. But we must make as good a Book as may be.” On the top of almost every sheet, from the first to the last, he enters, “ For Press when carefully looked at by Mr. Selfe, and corrected.”
The “ reader ” sometimes suggests a doubt or a correction. He does not like the repetition where Johnson says, “ We may be excused for not caring much about other people’s children, for there are many who care very little about their own children.” He would strike out the last word. Boswell replies, “ The repetition is the Johnsonian mode.” Miss Hawkins, in her Memoirs, mentions this “ Johnsonian mode.” “ In this way,” she writes, “ I heard him take the part of Sir Matthew Hale, saying, ‘ If Hale had anything to say, let Hale say it.’ ” The “ reader ” queried senility. “ A good word,” Boswell repliedIt is not, however, in Johnson’s Dictionary. “Aversion from entails ” was objected to. Boswell would not admit the objection. “ It is,” he wrote, “ right as in Johnson’s letter. Averse from, is legitimate language.” In his Dictionary Johnson says that “ averse to ” is “ very frequently but improperly used.” Dr. Murray gives lists of eminent writers who have used, some one construction, some the other, and some both.
In the margin of Johnson’s Greek lines on Goldsmith the “ reader ” notes : “ The accents are very wrong. Would it be better to omit them ? If you choose to keep them, I will take care of them.” Boswell replies : “ I leave it optional to you to have accents or not. Mr. Thomas Warton used none.” A kind of compromise seems to have been arrived at: all the accents were removed but two.
Many of the corrections are curious. Thus, where Johnson, speaking of “ a gentleman of his acquaintance,” said, “ I should be apt to throw * * * * * *-’s verses in his face,” in the proof, instead of the six asterisks there was a simple dash. Boswell, it is clear, made this change so that the minor poet might be recognized by his friends. William Seward, I conjecture, was the man. A few pages further on, he objects to the dash which stands for George the Second. “ Make the — a little longer,” he writes. In the second edition he has three dashes given, so that it may be more clearly seen who was the king who destroyed his father’s will. He now and then suppresses a name. In Johnson’s diary of his tour in France an entry had been printed, “ At D’Argeuson’s I looked into the books in the lady’s closet, and in contempt shewed them to Mr. T.” Boswell writes, “ As the word is not quite clear, and it is at any rate more polite not to name the Lady, make it thus, At D—’s.” Instead of the dash eight asterisks were substituted in the second edition, whence the name was easily conjectured; for “ Mr. Argenson ” had been mentioned just before. Boswell was, I suspect, capable of suppressing a name because he disliked a man. At the end of the account of the altercation between Johnson and Beauderk he had at first written, “ Dr. Johnson with Mr. Steevens sat with him a long time after the rest of the company were gone.” In later years he had more than once suffered from Steevens’s malignity, and so, I surmise, would not let him have the honor of being thus distinguished. He substituted for his name “another gentleman.” His dislike of Gibbon was sufficiently expressed in the text as he published it.
“ Mr. Gibbon,” he writes, “ with his usual sneer controverted it, perhaps in resentment of Johnson’s having talked with some disgust of his ugliness, which one would think a philosopher would not mind.” To this passage he added in the margin, after Gibbon’s name, “ the historical writer, and to me offensive sneerer at what I hold sacred.” The addition was not made. Boswell probably was persuaded out of it. A little more respect was shown to the great writer in the correction of the proof of the Index, where he had appeared as “ Gibbon, the historian.” This was changed by Boswell into “Gibbon, Edward, Esq.” In the same place an addition was made to the entry about Alexander Wedderburne, Lord Loughborough, whose rapid rise Boswell envied. It had stood, “ Loughborough, Lord, his great good-fortune.” After “ his ” was inserted “ talents and.” Thurlow is treated as unceremoniously as Steevens. In 1785, in a Letter addressed to the People of Scotland, Boswell informed them that “now that Dr. Johnson is gone to a better world he [Boswell] bowed the intellectual knee to Lord Thurlow.” In the proof-sheets there was a fine compliment to his lordship in the passage where Boswell attempts to pay “ a suitable tribute of admiration” to Warren Hastings. “ But how weak,” he wrote, “ would be my voice after that of a Thurlow.” The last two words he changed into “ the millions whom he governed.” If Tlmrlow was thus slighted by the correction on this sheet, Johnson was magnified. Boswell had spoken of Hastings as “ a man whose regard reflects consequence even upon Johnson.” Consequence was changed into dignity, while the compositor was directed to print Johnson in “ SMALL CAPS,” SO that the line ran, “ a man whose regard reflected dignity even upon JOHNSON. ’
In the text, as it was published, John Nichols, the editor of the Gentleman’s Magazine, is thus mentioned : “ The Editor of that Miscellany in which Johnson wrote for several years seems justly to think that every fragment of so great a man is worthy of being preserved. These lines were inserted instead of the following : “ That Mr. Nichols urged him to dispatch is evident from the following sentence in one of his Letters to Mrs. Thrale, ‘ I have finished Prior ; so a fig for Mr. Nichols.’ ” A hit at a Secretary of the Treasury was not allowed to stand. In speaking of Taxation no Tyranny, Boswell had originally said : “ That this pamphlet was written at the desire of those who were then in power I have no doubt; and indeed he owned to me that it had been revised and curtailed by some of them, he supposed, in particular, Sir Grey Cooper. How humiliating to the great Johnson ! ” The words which I have italicized were all struck out. Beauclerk “could not conceive a more humiliating situation than to be clapped on the back by Tom Davies. For Johnson to be corrected by Sir Grey Cooper was perhaps even one step lower in humiliation.
Epithets are occasionally modified, being sometimes strengthened, sometimes softened. Johnson, says Boswell in the Life as it now stands, “ was treated,” at Sir Wolfstan Dixey’s, “with what he represented as intolerable harshness.” Intolerable has been substituted for brutal. An attack on Macpherson, and his advocate the Rev. Donald M’Nicol, was made severer in the revise. It had originally stood thus : “ At last there came out a scurrilous volume, larger than Johnson’s own, filled with rancorous abuse, under a name real or fictitious of some low man in an obscure corner of Scotland, though supposed to be the work of a man better known in both countries.” For rancorous Boswell first substituted scurrilous, and then :malignant, while the words which I have italicized he changed into “ another Scotchman, who has found means to make himself well known both in Scotland and England.” Macpherson was meant. An attack on Mrs. Thrale he made more severe in the passage where he says that “ she frequently practiced a coarse mode of flattery.” Coarse is substituted for trite. To make up for this he modified his mention of her in his note on Mrs. Knowles, the ingenious Quaker lady. He at first wrote, “ Dr. Johnson, describing her needle-work in one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale, uses the learned word sutile; which Mrs. Thrale not learned has mistaken, and made the phrase injurious by writing futile.”Not learned, on second thought, he struck out, contented perhaps with having previously let his readers know that Johnson had once said that “her learning was that of a school-boy in one of the lower forms.” In quoting one of Johnson’s letters to her, he omits some details about health. In a note he had said, “ I leave out a few lines, the contents of which are partly too insignificant and partly too indelicate for the publickeye.” The “reader ’’queries, “If not better omitted.” Boswell altered it as follows : “ I have taken the liberty to leave out a few lines which Mrs. Thrale has printed, but which it appears to me might have been suppressed.” The “reader” rejoins, “I think the whole Note would be better omitted and the * * * * put in a line to shew there was an omission, for it should not be supposed Dr. Johnson wrote anything indelicate to a lady.” Boswell yielded so far as to strike out all the note but the first eleven words. The chief indelicacy — and it was a very great one — consisted in Mrs. Piozzi letting the world know that her first husband, after his mind was weakened by a stroke of apoplexy, had been in the habit of eating too much.
In the descriptions of Johnson there are two curious suppressions. “ Garrick,” Boswell writes, “ sometimes used to take him off, squeezing a lemon into a punch-howl, with uncouth gesticulations, looking round the company and calling out, ‘ Who’s for poonsh ? ” Boswell added in the margin, “ and hands not over-clean. He must have been a stout, man, said Garrick, who would have been for it.” The “ reader ” queried, “ Should not this be omitted ? ” The suggestion was taken, and the addition was scored through. In an account of Johnson with which Boswell “ was favoured by one of his friends,” — most probably Mr. Bowles of Heale,—after the words “powerful mind” the following paragraph came in the proof: “He valued himself a good deal on being able to do everything for himself. He visited without a servant when he went to stay at the houses of his friends, and found few or no occasions to employ the servants belonging to the family. He knew how to mend his own stockings, to darn his linen, or to sew a button on his cloaths.
‘ I am not (he would often say) an [sic] helpless man.’ ” Boswell first corrected “ He visited without a servant ” by inserting sometimes ; but in the end he struck out the whole paragraph, writing in the margin, for the compositor’s information, “ I doubt this, therefore let it go ; and thus you may more easily get in a note to Dr. Burney in the next page.” Johnson generally took his man with him, the negro Frank Barber, but in his visit to Heale he had left him at home. That he gave but little trouble to servants we know from Mrs. Piozzi, who said that “ he required less attendance, sick or well, than ever I saw any human creature.” That to some extent he could use a needle is shown by the books which he bound in his old age. The art he had acquired in his father’s shop. Nevertheless, when Dempster’s sister undertook to teach him to knot, he made no progress.
That after the sheets of the Life had been struck off there were two cancels was known by passages in letters written by Boswell to Malone. On January 29,
1791, he wrote : “ I am to cancel a leaf of the first volume, having found that though Sir Joshua certainly assured me he had no objection to my mentioning that Johnson wrote a dedication for him he now thinks otherwise.” The passage objected to, which came on page 272 of the first volume, was as follows : “ He furnished his friend, Dr. Percy, now Bishop of Dromore. with a Dedication to the Countess of Northumberland, which was prefixed to his ‘ Reliques of ancient English Poetry,’ in which he pays compliments to that most illustrious family, in the most courtly style. It should not be wondered, at that, one who can himself write so well as Dr. Percy should accept of a Dedication from Johnson’s pen ; for as Sir Joshua Meynolds, who we shall sea afterwards accepted of the same kind of assistance, well observed to me, ‘ Writing a; dedication is a knack. It is like writing an advertisement.' 2 Tn this art no man excelled Dr. Johnson. Though the loftiness of liis mind prevented him from ever dedicating in his own person, he wrote a great number of Dedications for others. After all the diligence I have bestowed, some of them have escaped my inquiries.” The lines italicized have disappeared ; while after “ Dedications for others ” the following was inserted : “ Some of these the persons who were favoured with them are unwilling should be mentioned, from a too anxious apprehension, as I think, that they might be suspected of having received larger assistance.” It was said that Johnson had assisted Reynolds in his Discourses. That the Dedication was written by him was, I should have thought, revealed by the style. Who but lie could have said that 44 the regular progress of cultivated life is from necessaries to accommodations, from accommodations to ornaments ” ? Nevertheless, in Leslie and Taylor’s Life of the great painter we are told that in his Dedication “ Reynolds preserved his quiet dignity even in contact with royalty.” On this same canceled page I found a passage which Boswell changed perhaps out of regard to his own dignity. He had written, “ I wrote to him frequently in the course of these two years while I was upon my travels, but did not receive a single letter in return.” This was altered into, “ He did not favour me with a single letter for more than two years.”
The second cancel was due to William Gerard Hamilton. On February 25,1791, Boswell, writing to Malone, said : “ That nervous mortal W. G. H. is not satisfied with my report of some particulars which I wrote down from his own mouth, and is so much agitated that Courtenay has persuaded me to allow a new edition of them, by H. himself to be made at H.’s expense.” In this new edition the amended passage is as follows: “ Care, however, must be taken to distinguish between Johnson when he ‘ talked for victory,’ and Johnson when he had no desire but to inform and illustrate. ‘ One of Johnson s principal talents (says an eminent friend of his) was shewn in maintaining the wrong side of an argument, and in a splendid, perversion of the truth. If you could contrive to have his fair opinion on a subject, and without any bias from personal prejudice, or from a wish to be victorious in argument, it was wisdom itself, not only convincing, but overpowering.' ” The italicized lines, as Boswell first wrote them, had stood thus : “ His friend, Mr. Hamilton, when dining at my house one day expressed this so well that I wrote down his words : ‘ Johnson’s great excellence in maintaining the wrong side of an argument was a splendid perversion. If you could contrive it so as to have his fair opinion upon a subject without any bias from personal prejudice, or from a wish to conquer — it was wisdom, it was justice, it was convincing, it was overpowering.’ ” The blank in the present, text, which comes a few lines lower down, was in the proof filled up with the name of Hamilton. Hamilton, there is good reason to believe, as I have shown in a note at the end of the first volume of my edition of Boswell, when he lost Burke’s services in politics had sought Johnson’s aid. Whatever engagement was formed between the two men was kept concealed. The clue to its existence was given by Johnson’s Prayer on “ engaging in politicks with H—n.”
One morning in June, 1784. Boswell “was present at the shocking sight of fifteen men executed before Newgate.” Having gratified his miserable curiosity, he naturally went to Bolt Court, hard by, to moralize on free will. “ I said to Dr. Johnson I was sure that human life was not machinery, that is to say, a chain of fatality planned and directed by the Supreme Being, as it had in it so much wickedness and misery, so many instances of both, as that by which my mind was now clouded. Were it machinery, it would be better than it is in these respects, though less noble, as not being a system of moral government. He agreed with me, and added, ‘ The small-pox can less be accounted for than an execution upon the supposition of machinery ; for we are sure it comes without a fault.' ” For the words italicized the following were substituted: “ now, as he always did, upon the great question of the liberty of the human will, which has been in all ages perplexed with so much sophistry.” In a note for the compositor Boswell added : “ I strike out this tho’ in my notes, because I do not see the meaning and I may have erred. If you want room in all ages may be omitted.” Happily, room was found, and in all ages stands in the received text.
The insertion of two words in the text led to a note by Croker which provoked an attack by Macaulay in his review of the new edition of the Life of Johnson.
“There is,” Macaulay wrote, “ a still stranger instance of the editor’s talent for finding out difficulties in what is perfectly plain. ‘ No man,’ said Johnson, ‘ can now be made a bishop for his learning and piety.’ ‘ From this too just observation,’ says Boswell, ‘ there are some eminent exceptions.’ Mr. Choker is puzzled by Boswell’s very simple and natural language. ‘ That a general observation should be pronounced too just by the very person who admits that it is not universally just is not a little odd.’ ” Too just was inserted in the proof.
One of Choker’s conjectures I find confirmed. “ Johnson.” writes Boswell, “ repeated some fine lines on love by Dryden, which I have now forgotten.” Croker suggested the verses quoted in the Lives of the Poets which begin : —
It stirs in gentle bosoms gentle fire,
Like that of incense on the altar laid ;
But raging flames tempestuous souls invade.”
That he was right is shown by the passage in the proof which originally ran, “ He repeated his lines on love (‘ gentle tempestuous, etc. — ’).”
In the reports of Johnson’s talk a few corrections are made, most of which might he due to previous inaccuracy. That errors were made in copying is shown by a passage in one of his letters, where Boswell, falling into a Scotticism, had at first made him write, “ I will long to know.” Will is changed into shall in the margin. That Boswell consulted his own manuscript we can see by the correction of his report of a saying about Burke. As it stood in the proof Johnson had said: “Yes, Burke is an extraordinary man. His vigour of mind is incessant.” The last line Boswell changed into, “ His stream of mind is perpetual,” adding in the margin, “ I restore, I find, the exact words as to Burke.” How he gave the wrong words at first is not easy to see, for they were not an isolated saying, but part of a conversation, In like manner be corrects one word in Burke’s saying about Croft’s imitation of Johnson’s style. The line originally stood, “ It has all his pomp without his sense.” Sense was altered into force. He now and then inserts Sir in the report of the talk, either because it had been omitted by mistake, or — which perhaps is more likely — because it is more the Johnsonian mode. A few of the changes seem to go beyond corrections of the copyist’s errors ; thus in the proof, Johnson, speaking of the character of the valetudinarian, had said, “ He indulges himself in every way.” For the last two words was substituted the grossest freedoms.
On Easter Sunday in 1773 Boswell recorded: “ He told me that he had twelve or fourteen times attempted to keep a journal of his life, but never could persevere. He advised me to do it.” “ The great thing to be recorded (said he) is the state of your own mind ; and you should write down everything that you remember, for you cannot judge at first what is good or had, and write immediately while the impression is fresh, for it will not be the same a week afterwards.”
“ I again solicited him to communicate to me the particulars of his early years. He said. ‘You shall have them all for two-pence. I hope you shall know a great deal more of me before you write my Life.’ ” The “ reader,” it is clear, noticed the different ways in which the talk is recorded in these two paragraphs, and queried against them both, “ This almost verbatim ? ” Boswell replied, “ It is much varied, so stet.” Where he reports the speech in the first person we have Johnson’s exact words ; where he throws it into the third person we have only an abstract of them. In an earlier passage he had first written, “ He recommended to me to keep a journal of my life, fair and undisguised.” For fair and. undisguised lie substituted full and unreserved. One slight correction is not without interest. In those famous words where Johnson so vigorously gave his opinion of Lady Diana Reauclerk. he had in the proof been made to conclude by saying, “ and there’s an end oft.”Of’t is changed into on ’t.
If Boswell prided himself, and justly prided himself, on “ the most perfect authenticity ” of his records of conversation, he seems to have thought that, so far as what he had himself said or written, he might now and then indulge in a variation. Thus, in the passage where he reports Johnson’s account of his failure to learn knotting, according to the proof, he himself went on to say : “ So it will be said, ‘ Once, for his amusement he tried knotting,’ ” etc. This he changed into, “ So, Sir, it will be related in pompous narrative,” etc. Writing to Johnson on February 14, 1777, he said : “ You remember poor Goldsmith when he grew important and wished to appear Doctor Major could not bear your calling him Goldy. Would it not have been somewhat wicked to have named him so in your ‘ Preface to Shakespeare ’ ? ” Somewhat wicked he changed into wrong. In a letter dated June 9 of the same year, speaking of “ what is called ‘ The Life of David Hume,’ written by himself, with the letter from Dr. Adam Smith subjoined to it,” he continued, “ Is not this an age of daring effrontery ? ” In the margin he substituted indecency for effrontery, but in the end he struck it out. A few lines lower down he had written, “ I agreed with him [Mr. Anderson] that you might knock Hume’s and Smith’s heads together, and make vain and impudent infidelity exceedingly ridiculous.” Impudent, he thought too offensive even for this offensive passage, for he changed it into ostentatious. One change he apparently made to avoid repetition. He had ended one of his letters to his great friend with saying that he was “ with affectionate veneration. most affectionately yours, James Boswell. ” For affectionately he substituted sincerely. The conclusions of Johnson’s letters to him vary, apparently quite by chance, from “ Your humble servant ” to “ Yours most affectionately.” A hit at Blair was softened in a passage which now stands. “ He praised Blair’s sermons : ‘ Yet,’ said he (willing to let us see he was aware that fashionable fame, however deserved, is not always the most lasting) ‘ perhaps they may not be reprinted after seven years ; at least not after Blair’s death.’ ” The words in italics were added, while the following, which came at the end of the parenthesis, were suppressed, “ and to do justice to less showy divines.” John Home he had originally described as “the author of Douglas ; ” this he expanded into “ to whom we owe the beautiful and pathetick tragedy of Douglas.” Having to mention a Duke of Devonshire, he had merely spoken of him as “ the grandfather of the present Duke.” This, he saw, was too bald a way of mentioning the owner of Chatsworth ; so “ Duke ” he changed into “ the present representative of that very respectable family.” Respectable, it must be remembered, in those days “ soared fancy’s flight ” above “ a man who kept a gig.” George III., when he signed the treaty of peace with the United States, sighed over “ the downfall of this once respectable empire.” Chesterfield described religion “ as too awful and respectable a subject to become a familiar one,” and the hour of death as “ at least a very respectable one.” Adam Smith speaks of “ the respectable list of deities into winch Alexander the Great had been inserted,” and contrasts “ the amiable virtues ” with “ the awful and respectable.” Johnson’s dead body was called “ his respectable remains.” A further change was made in this passage about the duke. In the report of what Johnson said of him, after the statement, “ He was not a man of superior abilities,” came in the proof, “ though Basil would persuade us he was.” These words are struck out, Boswell writing in the margin, “ This name is too much obliterated for me to read. It begins with K and ends with t — about six or seven letters. I think Kennet.” Kennet, no doubt, is the name, Basil Kennet’s brother, Bishop Kennet, had preached a funeral sermon on the first duke, who had recommended him to Queen Anne for a deanery. It must have been of the early years of this duke that Basil spoke, for he did not live long enough to see his full manhood. When he was chaplain on a ship of war, he cured one of the officers of his habit of interlarding his stories with oaths by parodying him. The words which he inserted in his talk were, however, nothing worse than bottle, pot, and glass. The same story is told of a later divine, — Robert Hall, if my memory does not deceive me.
Boswell, in one passage, spoke of “ the roughness which often appeared in Johnson’s behaviour.” Often, when he came to revise the proof, he must have thought too severe, for he changed it into sometimes. He hesitated over a word in the humorous account which he gave of Garrick’s vanity in his intimacy with Lord Camden. “ Why (replied Garrick, with an affected ease, yet as if standing on tiptoe), Lord Camden has this moment left me.” For ease he substituted indifference, then struck it out, but finally adopted it, so that it is affected Indifference in the text as he published it. In the passage where Boswell tells how Addison and Parnell “were intemperate in the use of wine,” hie continued, “ which Johnson himself in his Lives of these ingenious, worthy and pious men has not forborne to record.” For the words in italics he substituted “ those celebrated writers.” The dissenting minister Dr. Towers he had described as “ one of the hottest heads of The Revolution Society.” Hottest heads he changed into warmest zealots, perhaps moved by the esteem which he felt for this divine as “a very convivial man.” His own Jacobitism he shows in the change which he made in the passage where he speaks of Lord Trimblestown, “ in whose family,” he originally wrote, “ was an ancient Irish peerage, which was forfeited in the troubles of the last century.” For the words in italics he substituted, “ but it Suffered by taking the generous side.”
He makes now and then an addition to the description which he gives of Johnson. Thus, in his account of one of his great friend’s “ minute singularities ” he had written, “ In the intervals of articulating he made various sounds with his mouth, sometimes as if ruminating, or what is called chewing the cud. sometimes giving a half whistle, sometimes making his tongue play backwards from the roof of his mouth, as if clucking like a hen, and sometimes protruding it against his upper gums in front, as if pronouncing quickly, under his breath, too, too, too.” Full of life as this description is, how much is it improved by the following addition which Boswell made in the proof : “ all this accompanied sometimes with a thoughtful look, but more frequently with a smile.” In like manner, the addition of a single word gives liveliness to the famous speech in which Johnson said, “ No, Sir, claret is the liquor for hoys; port for men ; but he wlm aspires to be a hero (smiling) must drink brandy.” Smiling was added in the revise.
Though I have by no means come to the end of Boswell’s corrections, yet I must trespass no further on the pages of The Atlantic Monthly or on the patience of its readers. However willing I may be to ride my own hobhy to death, I must not either attempt to drag the rest of the world over the whole of the course, or forget that other people have their hobbies, too.
George Birkbeck Hill.