Life of Johnson
by Boswell

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This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson,

Boswell's Life of Johnson

Abridged and edited, with an introduction by Charles Grosvenor Osgood
Professor of English at Princeton University


In making this abridgement 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 of 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 head was continually filling
itself with literary schemes that came to nought. But into his
Life of Johnson he poured all his artistic energies, as Milton
poured his into Paradise Lost, and Vergil his into the Aneid.