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the scenic, and the pathetic graces, should so often lay them aside to whip the follies of the age with an iron-rod, sometimes mistaking good for evil propensities, as when he satirizes the amiable warmth of encomium upon the talents it reveres! The Essay on Old Maids ; certainly the production of that pen, whose genius, wit, and learning, throws most of its literary rivals at immeasurable distance. This whimsical work, richly illuminated by all those emanations, so lightly, so wantonly betrays the cause it affects to defend, that I could wish it had never passed the press. My heart rejoices that this severe winter has passed its gloomy zenith; trembling as I do for the effect of its keen blasts upon my aged nursling. Adieu.
JAMES BOSWELL, Esg.
Lichfield, March 25,No, Sir,” there are not any lees—the spirit of your Tour with Johnson runs clear to the last
syllable. Those who are not interested in its anecdotes, can have little intellectual curiosity and no imagination. Those who are not entertained with the perpetual triumph of sarcastic wit over fair ingenuous argument, must be sturdier moralists than even Johnson himself affected to have been; and those who do not love the biographer, as they read, whatever imperfection they may find in the massive Being whom he so strongly characterizes, can have no hearts.
I confess, however, that it was not without some surprise that I perceived so much exultation avowed concerning the noble blood which flows in your veins; since it is more honourable for a man of distinguished ingenuity to have been obscurely than splendidly descended; because then his distinctions are more exclusively his own. Often, as well you are aware, have nobles, princes, perhaps kings, stood awed in the presence of the son of a Lichfield bookseller. Can the recorder of his life and actions think birth of consequence? Mr Boswell is too humble in fancying he can derive honour from noble ancestry. It is for the line of Bruce to be proud of the historian of Corsica—it is for the House of Auchinlec to boast of him who, with the most fervent personal attachment to an illustrious literary character, has yet been sufficiently faithful to the just claims of the
public upon biographic fidelity, to represent him, not as his weak or prejudiced idolaters might wish to behold him; not in the light in which they desire to contemplate Johnson, who pronounce his writings to be an obscure jargon of pompous pedantry, and his imputed virtues a superstitious farrago of pharisaic ostentation; but as he was the most wonderful composition of great and absurd, of misanthropy and benevolence, of luminous intellect and prejudiced darkness, that was ever produced in the human breast.
The only part of this work whose omission I could much have wished, is the passage which records the despot's injustice to Mrs Montague's ingenious and able Treatise on Shakespeare. Its omission, as all my correspondents observe, would have been much more consonant than its appearance to the philanthropy of the biographer.
I have, it is true, seen a great deal of nonsense about your Tour in the public prints, and that both in its praise and abuse. It is hard to say who are most absurd, they who vilify its entertaining effusions, as vapid and uninteresting, or they who fancy they see a perfect character in the stupendous mortal whom its pages exhibit ip lights so striking and so various; bowing down before the relics of popish superstition; repay
ing the hospitable kindness of the Scotch professors with unfeeling exultation over the barrenness of their country, and the imputed folly of their religion; and roaming, like a Greenland bear, over Caledonia and her lonely isles.
I have written to the elegant bard of Sussex, to Mr Whalley, who is on the Continent, to my late and ever-honoured friend, Dr John Jebb, and my other literary correspondents upon the merits of your Tour ; and in a spirit of warm encomium upon the gay benevolence, characteristic traits, scenic graces, and biographic fidelity which adorn its pages; observing also how valuable a counterpart it forms to Dr Johnson's Tour to the Hebrides. In one we perceive, through a medium of solemn and sublime eloquence, in what light Scotland, her nobles, her professors, and her chieftains appeared to the august wanderer ; in the other how the growling philosopher appeared to them. If the use of biography is to ascertain and discriminate character, its domestic minuteness is its most essential excellence.
The nearly universal approbation with which those whose opinions are of consequence, have mentioned your work to me, precludes all ideas of defence against the frothy spleen descending so continually upon ingenious composition from the
pen of anonymous criticism. It descends in plenteous effusion,
“ But leaves no spot or blame behind.”
Lichfield, March 29, 1786. Can it be that three months of this dreary season have elapsed, without affording me an opportunity of expressing the satisfaction I feel from perceiving you likely to renounce the painful combat with long-established affection? Ah! if the delay of Mr Taylor's wishes were to terminate only with your mother's existence, who shall
end ? His lot is harder than that of Jacob toiling for his Rachael, if Hope has no distincter goal. Meantime life wears and wastes.
I ventured to pass the Christmas month at Wellsburn, in Warwickshire, beneath the hospitable and elegant mansion of my friend, Mr Dewes, a gentleman of many virtues, and many accomplishments.
say when it