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EDMUND BURKE, who knew Samuel Johnson well, remarked that “Boswell's Life is a greater monument to Johnson's fame than all his writings put together." It was a shrewd forecast of the verdict of posterity. Yet Johnson the talker, as pictured in the most fascinating of English biographies, should not and surely does not wholly overshadow the figure of Johnson the writer. It was as an author that "brave old Samuel" won the right to be reverenced as the literary arbiter of his generation. Though time and fashion have dealt rudely with many of the pages in his six stout volumes, there are plenty of pages left which will give pleasure and instruction as long as sincerity of feeling and wise understanding of the art of life and athletic mastery of the English tongue are considered admirable qualities. If Boswell's Life has drawn modern readers away from Johnson's writings to listen to his inimitable table-talk, it must also be remembered that the Life is constantly training readers to appreciate Samuel Johnson's unique individuality. Once understood, the sterling traits of his individuality are recog
nizable throughout the wide range of his productiveness in the field of letters.
That vigorous personality is stamped upon the essays of "The Rambler" and "The Idler." It is by these essays, two or three poems, and the tale of "Rasselas," that Johnson earned the literary reputation that gave authority to his Dictionary. The essays are sometimes wordy and colorless, and overweighted with prosy sermonizings. Yet "the great moralist" trudges sturdily along through platitudes and piosities, and manages to make you I feel that it is worth while to accompany him. The readers of this little volume, indeed, are not called upon to make very protracted efforts; for the papers from "The Rambler" and "The Idler" that are given here either deal with themes of perennial interest, or depict, with a graphic power which compels attention, the fortunes of books and the authors of books a century and a half ago.
There is writing of a more masterly order, however, in the passages chosen to illustrate the spirit and aim with which Johnson undertook his English Dictionary. There are few pages in our literature more noble than those which sketch the plan of the great work, and the concluding paragraphs of the Preface. Between these two selections, I have printed, in its proper chronological place, the famous letter to Lord Chesterfield,
a letter unmatched for pride, indignation, and pathos.
Some of the most varied and lively compositions of Dr. Johnson are to be found in his Lives of the Poets, volumes now too seldom read. They do not lend themselves, except in isolated portions, to the purposes of a book like this. I have chosen three characteristic passages from the Life of Milton,whose character Johnson evidently respected rather than loved,-an account of Addison as a critic, and that comparison of Pope with Dryden which used to adorn school reading-books of the edifying old-fashioned sort, and still deserves a better fate than oblivion.
Few people, I believe, except consistent Johnsonians, are aware of the extraordinary interest attaching to the "Prayers and Meditations" which Johnson wrote out for his own use, and which were printed after his death by the Rev. George Strahan. Nowhere, not even upon the most vivid pages of Boswell, is the essential character of this strange and very great man so completely revealed as in these fragments of autobiography. It is not merely his deep religious nature, the terrors of death, the trembling hope of pardon, the contrition for wasted time, the sacred memories of "poor Tetty" and his mother, that are here displayed. Here also are his annual resolutions in all their touching simplicity, their unconscious