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In making this abridgment of Boswell's Life of Johnson I have omitted most of Boswell's criticisms, comments, and notes, all of Johnson's opinions in legal cases, most of the letters, and parts of the conversation dealing with matters which were of greater importance in Boswell's day than now. I have kept in mind an old habit, common enough, I dare say, among its devotees, of opening the book at random, and reading wherever the eye falls upon a passage of especial interest. All such passages, I hope, have been retained, and enough of the whole book to illustrate all the phases of Johnson's mind and of his time which Boswell observed.
Loyal Johnsonians may look upon such a book with a measure of scorn. I could not have made it, had I not believed that it would be the means of drawing new readers to Boswell, and eventually of finding for them in the complete work what many have already found—days and years of growing enlightenment and happy companionship, and an innocent refuge from the cares and perturbations of life.
PRINCETON, June 28, 1917.
Phillips Brooks once told the boys at Exeter that in reading biography three men meet one another in close intimacy —the subject of the biography, the author, and the reader. Of the three the most interesting is, of course, the man about whom the book is written. The most privileged is the reader, who is thus allowed to live familiarly with an eminent man. Least regarded of the three is the author. It is his part to introduce the others, and to develop between them an acquaintance, perhaps a friendship, while he, though ever busy and solicitous, withdraws into the background.
Some think that Boswell, in his Life of Johnson, did not sufficiently realize his duty of self-effacement. He is too much in evidence, too bustling, too anxious that his own opinion, though comparatively unimportant, should get a hearing. In general, Boswell's faults are easily noticed, and have been too much talked about. He was morbid, restless, self-conscious, vain, insinuating; and, poor fellow, he died a drunkard. But the essential Boswell, the skilful and devoted artist, is almost unrecognized. As the creator of the Life of Johnson he is almost as much effaced as is Homer in the Odyssey. He is indeed so closely concealed that the reader suspects no art at all. Boswell's performance looks easy enough—merely the more or less coherent stringing together of a mass of memoranda. Nevertheless it was rare and difficult, as is the highest achievement in art. Boswell is primarily the artist, and he has created one of the great masterpieces of the world." He created nothing else, though his
1 Here I include his Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides as essentially a part of the Life. The Journal of a Tour in Corsica is but a propaedeutic study. *