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Monday, May 16, 1763, in the back shop of Tom Davies, the bookseller, No. 8 Russell Street, Covent Garden. On the 24th of May, eight days later, Boswell called on Johnson at his chambers, No. 1 Inner Temple Lane. Johnson urged him to stay; on the 13th of June he said, “Come to me as often as you can," on the 25th of June, Johnson exclaimed, “Give me your hand; I have taken a liking to you.” And so the acquaintance began. Johnson was fifty-four at this time, and Boswell twenty-two. They met in all, in the course of the next twenty-one years, two hundred and seventy days.
Boswell lived in Scotland, and made occasional visits to London. In 1773 he was admitted to the Literary Club, being proposed for membership by Johnson himself. The club afforded him just the opportunity he wanted. There was an attitude of good-natured tolerance on the part of the club members toward him; moreover, he was a valuable member, for he stimulated Johnson to his best in conversation. Johnson and Boswell made a tour of Scotland, an account of which appears in Boswell's Jour-. nal of a Tour in the Hebrides. In 1784, Johnson died. Two years later Boswell moved to London, where he died May 19, 1795, and was buried in Auchinleck.
Boswell's sole claim to the attention of posterity rests on his Life of Johnson. It has been called a fulllength portrait with all the blotches and pimples revealed. Boswell said, “I will not make my tiger a cat to please anybody.” It has become an essential part of English life and thought, like the Bible, Shakespeare's plays, and Pilgrim's Progress. The work is full of vivid descriptive touches and gains in dramatic vigor by the extensive use of direct dis
course. In addition to his literary skill, Boswell possessed a temperament that especially fitted him to be Johnson's biographer. He surrendered his personal dignity; he was willing to be buffeted, humiliated, insulted, jeered at, if only he might stay in Johnson's presence. He paid the price of self-respect for his privileges. It must be said in this connection that Johnson again and again expressed the warmest affection for Boswell; and so Boswell, because of these expressions, was willing to forget the occasion when Johnson humiliated him in public and rebuked him in private. Celebrities were Boswell's game: he stalked his prey. IIis ambition in life was clearly defined, and he achieved it. We may quarrel with his method: we can hardly quarrel with the result.
SELECTIONS FROM CARLYLE'S ESSAY,
THE HERO AS MAN OF LETTERS
When John Wilson Crocker's edition of Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson was published in 1831, Thomas Carlyle wrote an essay, in 1832, for Fraser's Magazine, commenting on the edition. It later appeared in Heroes and lero I'orship. Following are some selections from the essay:
Boswell was a person whose mean or bad qualities lay open to the general eye. That he was a wine-bibber and gross liver is undeniable enough. That he was vain, heedless, a babbler; had much of the sycophant, alternating with the braggadocio, curiously spiced too with an all-pervading dash of coxcomb; that he gloried much when the tailor, by a court-suit, had made a new man of him; and that he appeared at the Shakespeare Jubilee with a riband imprinted, “Corsica Boswell,” round his hat: all this unhappily is evident as the sun at noon. The very look of Boswell seems to have signified so much. In that cocked nose, cocked partly in triumph over his weaker fellow-creatures; in those bag-cheeks, hanging like half-filled wineskins; in that coarsely-protruded shelf-mouth, that fat dew-lapped chin: in all this, who does not see sensuality, pretension, boisterous imbecility enough; much that could not have been
ornamental in the temper of a great man's overfed great man (what the Scotch name flunky), though it had been more natural there? The under part of Boswell's face is of a low, almost brutish character.
Unfortunately, on the other hand, what great and genuine good lay in him was no wise so selfevident. That Boswell was a hunter after spiritual notabilities, that he loved such, and longed, and even crept and crawled to be near them, we account a very singular merit. The man had an "open sense," an open loving heart, which so few have: Where excellence existed, he was compelled to acknowledge it, and could not but walk with it, if not as a superior, if not as an equal, then as an inferior and lackey, better so than not at all.
It has been commonly said that the man's vulgar vanity was all that attached him to Johnson. Now let it be at once granted that no consideration springing out of vulgar vanity could well be absent from the mind of James Boswell, in this his intercourse with Johnson, or in any considerable transaction of his life. At the same time, ask yourself: Whether such vanity, and nothing else, actuated him therein? The man was, by nature and habit, vain; a sycophant coxcomb, be it granted: but had there been nothing more than vanity in him, was Samuel Johnson the man of men to whom he must attach himself? At the date when Johnson was a poor rusty-coated “scholar,'' dwelling in Temple Lane, were there not chancellors and prime ministers enough; graceful gentlemen, the glass
of fashion; honor-giving noblemen; dinner-giving rich men; renowned fire-eaters, swordsmen, gownsmen,-any one of whom bulked much larger in the world's eye than Johnson ever did? To no one of whom, however, did he so attach himself; the worship of Johnson was his grand ideal, voluntary business. Does not the frothy-hearted, yet enthusiastic man, doffing his advocate's wig, regularly take post, and hurry up to London, for the sake of his Sage chiefly; as to a Feast of Tabernacles, the Sabbath of his whole year? The plate-licker and wine-bibber dives into Bolt Court, to sip muddy coffee with a cynical old man, and a sour-tempered blind old woman (feeling the cups, whether they are full, with her finger); and patiently endures contradictions without end; too happy, so he may be allowed to listen and live.
Nay, it does not appear that vulgar vanity could ever have been much flattered by Boswell's relation to Johnson. Bozzy, even among Johnson's friends and special admirers, seems rather to have been laughed at than envied; his officious whisking, consequential ways, the daily reproofs and rebuffs he underwent, could gain from the world no golden but only leaden opinion. His devout discipleship seemed nothing more than a mean spanielship, in the general eye. His mighty“ constellation," or sun, round whom he, as satellite, observantly gyrated, was, for the mass of men, but a huge ill-snuffed tallow light, and he a weak night-moth, circling foolishly, dangerously about it, not knowing what he wanted. Had nothing better than vanity