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Selected and Arranged
GEORGE BIRKBECK HILL, D.C.L.
PEMBROKE COLLEGE, OXFORD
AT THE CLARENDON PRESS
[ All rights reserved]
O man has ever held the same place as Johnson. Dryden
was gazed at with distant veneration by Pope; Pope's hand was touched with reverence by Reynolds. Each of these poets was in his own time the acknowledged head of the world of letters. But Johnson was more than this. He was the unrivalled talker, the master of the art of life, the oracle whom all men could consult, the dread of the fool and the affected, the founder of a great school of truthfulness and accuracy, the profound teacher of morality. Death laid his hand on him in vain; for though Johnson was gone the land became more and more Johnsonised?. Great though his fame was in his life-time, it is greater still in his death. It is his singular fortune among authors that his reputation is founded not on his own writings but on those of his disciples and friends. As Edmund Burke justly maintained, 'Boswell's Life is a greater monument to Johnson's fame than all his writings put togethers.' His written wisdom was indeed great, but it is in his spoken wisdom that he lives. A few of his writings still hold their ground and are likely to hold them, for it is not easy to believe that the day will ever come when the world will be wholly indifferent to London and The Vanity of Human Wishes, or will suffer the Lives of the Poets to sink into neglect. Rasselas has been translated into at least ten languages", and can be
* Ib. i. 13.
1 Boswell's Life of Johnson, Clarendon Press ed. i. 377 n. I.
3 Ib. i. 10 n. I. * Italian, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Modern Greek, Hungarian, Russian, Polish, and Bengalee. Ib. ii. 208; vi. lxiv.