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The Life by Sir 7. Hawkins.
perception which was necessary to mark the finer and less obvious part of Johnson's character. His being appointed one of his executors, gave him an opportunity of taking possession of such fragments of a diary and other papers as were left; of which, before delivering them up to the residuary legatee, whose property they were, he endeavoured to extract the substance. In this he has not been very successful, as I have found upon a perusal of those papers, which have been since transferred to me. Sir John Hawkins's ponderous labours, I must acknowledge, exhibit a farrago, of which a considerable portion is not devoid of entertainment to the lovers of literary gossiping; but besides its being swelled out with long unnecessary extracts from various works (even one of several leaves from Osborne's Harleian Catalogue, and those not compiled by Johnson, but by Oldys), a very small part of it relates to the person who is the subject of the book; and, in that, there is such an inaccuracy in the statement of facts, as in so solemn an authour is hardly excusable, and certainly makes his narrative very unsatisfactory. But what is still worse, there is throughout the whole of it a dark, uncharitable cast, by which the most unfavourable construction is put upon almost every circumstance in the character and conduct of my illustrious
whom you suffer nobody to abuse but yourself: Garrick is one too; for, if any other person speaks against him, you brow-beat him in a minute.” “Why madam," answered he, “they don't know when to abuse him, and when to praise him; I will allow no man to speak ill of David that he does not deserve; and as to Sir John, why really I believe him to be an honest man at the bottom; but to be sure he is penurious, and he is mean, and it must be owned he has a degree of brutality, and a tendency to savageness, that cannot easily be defended." ... He said that Sir John and he once belonged to the same club, but that as he eat no supper, after the first night of his admission he desired to be excused paying his share. “And was he excused ?" "O yes; for no man is angry at another for being inferior to himself. We all scorned him, and admitted his plea. For my part, I was such a fool as to pay my share for wine, though I never tasted any. But Sir John was a most unclubable man."' Madame D'Arblay's Diary, i. 65.
Warburton's view of biography.
friend'; who, I trust, will, by a true and fair delineation, be vindicated both from the injurious misrepresentations of this authour, and from the slighter aspersions of a lady who once lived in great intimacy with him'.
There is, in the British Museum, a letter from Bishop Warburton to Dr. Birch, on the subject of biography; which, though I am aware it may expose me to a charge of artfully raising the value of my own work, by contrasting it with that of which I have spoken, is so well conceived and expressed, that I cannot refrain from here inserting it :
'I shall endeavour, (says Dr. Warburton,) to give you what satisfaction I can in any thing you want to be satisfied in any subject of Milton, and am extremely glad you intend to write his life. Almost all the life-writers we have had before Toland and Desmaiseaux', are indeed strange insipid creatures; and yet I had rather read the worst of them, than be obliged to go through with
• In censuring Mr. [sic] J. Hawkins's book I say: "There is throughout the whole of it a dark, uncharitable cast, which puts the most unfavourable construction on my illustrious friend's conduct." Malone maintains cast will not do; he will have“ malignancy.” Is that not too strong? How would“ disposition " do? ... Hawkins is no doubt very malevolent. Observe how he talks of me as quite unknown.' Letters of Boswell, p. 281. Malone wrote of Hawkins as follows: 'The bishop (Bishop Percy of Dromore) concurred with every other person I have heard speak of Hawkins, in saying that he was a most detestable fellow. He was the son of a carpenter, and set out in life in the very lowest line of the law. Dyer knew him well at one time, and the bishop heard him give a character of Hawkins once that painted him in the blackest colours; though Dyer was by no means apt to deal in such portraits. Dyer said he was a man of the most mischievous, uncharitable, and malignant disposition. Sir Joshua Reynolds observed to me that Hawkins, though he assumed great outward sanctity, was not only mean and grovelling in disposition, but absolutely dishonest. He never lived in any real intimacy with Dr. Johnson, who never opened his heart to him, or had in fact any accurate knowledge of his character.' Prior's Malone, pp. 425–7. See post, Feb. 1764, note.
• Mrs. Piozzi. See post, under June 30, 1784.
• Voltaire in his account of Bayle says : Des Maizeaux a écrit sa vie en un gros volume; elle ne devait pas contenir six pages.' Vok taire's Works, edition of 1819, xvii. 47.
The author's mode of procedure.
this of Milton's, or the other's life of Boileau, where there is such a dull, heavy succession of long quotations of disinteresting passages, that it makes their method quite nauseous. But the verbose, tasteless Frenchman seems to lay it down as a principle, that every life must be a book, and what's worse, it proves a book without a life ; for what do we know of Boileau, after all his tedious stuff? You are the only one, (and I speak it without a compliment,) that by the vigour of your stile and sentiments, and the real importance of your materials, have the art, (which one would imagine no one could have missed,) of adding agreements to the most agreeable subject in the world, which is literary history'.
Nov. 24, 1737.' Instead of melting down my materials into one mass, and constantly speaking in my own person, by which I might have appeared to have more merit in the execution of the work, I have resolved to adopt and enlarge upon the excellent plan of Mr. Mason, in his Memoirs of Gray'. Wherever narrative is necessary to explain, connect, and supply, I furnish it to the best of my abilities; but in the chronological series of Johnson's life, which I trace as distinctly as I can, year by year, I produce, wherever it is in my power, his own minutes, letters or conversation, being convinced that this mode is more lively, and will make my readers better acquainted with him, than even most of those were who actually knew him, but could know him only partially; whereas there is here an accumulation of intelligence from various points, by which his character is more fully understood and illustrated'.
· Brit. Mus. 4320, Ayscough's Catal., Sloane MSS. BOSWELL.-Hor. ace Walpole describes Birch as “a worthy, good-natured soul, full of industry and activity, and running about like a young setting-dog in quest of anything, new or old, and with no parts, taste, or judgment.' Walpole's Letters, vii. 326. See post, Sept. 1743.
3. You have fixed the method of biography, and whoever will write a life well must imitate you.' Horace Walpole to Mason; Walpole's Letters, vi. 211.
**I am absolutely certain that my mode of biography, which gives not only a History of Johnson's visible progress through the world, and of his publications, but a view of his mind in his letters and con
Not a panegyrick, but a Life.
Indeed I cannot conceive a more perfect mode of writing any man's life, than not only relating all the most important events of it in their order, but interweaving what he privately wrote, and said, and thought; by which mankind are enabled as it were to see him live, and to live o'er each scene'' with him, as he actually advanced through the several stages of his life. Had his other friends been as diligent and ardent as I was, he might have been almost entirely preserved. As it is, I will venture to say that he will be seen in this work more completely than any man who has ever yet lived'.
And he will be seen as he really was; for I profess to write, not his panegyrick, which must be all praise, but his Life; which, great and good as he was, must not be supposed to be entirely perfect. To be as he was, is indeed subject of panegyrick enough to any man in this state of being; but in every picture there should be shade as well as light, and when I delineate him without reserve, I do what he himself recommended, both by his precept and his example'.
'If the biographer writes from personal knowledge, and makes haste to gratify the publick curiosity, there is danger lest his
versations, is the most perfect that can be conceived, and will be more of a Life than any work that has ever yet appeared. Letters of Boswell. p. 265.
"Pope's Prologue to Addison's Cato, 1. 4.
".... Boswell is the first of biographers. He has distanced all his competitors so decidedly that it is not worth while to place them. Eclipse is first, and the rest nowhere.' Macaulay's Essays, i. 374.
• See post, Sept. 17, 1777, and Malone's note of March 15, 1781, and Boswell's Hebrides, Sept. 22, 1773. Hannah More met Boswell when he was carrying through the press his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. ‘Boswell tells me,' she writes, ‘he is printing anecdotes of Johnson, not his Life, but, as he has the vanity to call it, his pyramid. I besought his tenderness for our virtuous and most revered departed friend, and begged he would mitigate some of his asperities. He said roughly: “He would not cut off his claws, nor make a tiger a cat, to please anybody.” It will, I doubt not, be a very amusing book, but, I hope, not an indiscreet one; he has great enthusiasm and some fire.' H. More's Memoirs, i. 403.
Conversation best displays character.
interest, his fear, his gratitude, or his tenderness overpower his fidelity, and tempt him to conceal, if not to invent. There are many who think it an act of piety to hide the faults or failings of their friends, even when they can no longer suffer by their detection; we therefore see whole ranks of characters adorned with uniform panegyrick, and not to be known from one another but by extrinsick and casual circumstances. “Let me remember, (says Hale,) when I find myself inclined to pity a criminal, that there is likewise a pity due to the country.” If we owe regard to the memory of the dead, there is yet more respect to be paid to knowledge, to virtue and to truth'.'
What I consider as the peculiar value of the following work, is, the quantity it contains of Johnson's conversation; which is universally acknowledged to have been eminently instructive and entertaining; and of which the specimens that I have given upon a former occasion, have been received with so much approbation, that I have good grounds for supposing that the world will not be indifferent to more ample communications of a similar nature.
That the conversation of a celebrated man, if his talents have been exerted in conversation, will best display his character, is, I trust, too well established in the judgment of mankind, to be at all shaken by a sneering observation of Mr. Mason, in his Memoirs of Mr. William Whitehead, in which there is literally no Life, but a mere dry narrative of facts'. I do not think it was quite necessary to attempt a depreciation of what is universally esteemed, because it was not to be found in the immediate object of the ingenious writer's pen; for in truth, from a man so still and so tame, as to be contented to pass many years as the domestick companion of a superannuated lord and lady', conversation could no more
"Rambler, No. 60. BOSWELL.
"Mason's Life of Gray is excellent, because it is interspersed with letters which show us the man. His Life of Whitehead is not a life at all, for there is neither a letter nor a saying from first to last. Letters of Boswell, p. 265. • The Earl and Countess of Jersey. WRIGHT.