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The events of the life of JOHNSON, “ the brightest ornament of the eighteenth century,” who has written the lives of so many eminent persons, and so much enriched our national stock of criticism and biography, have been related by friend and foe, by panegyrists and satirical defamers, by the lovers of anecdote, and the followers of party, with a diligence of research, a minuteness of detail, a variety of illuftration, and a felicity of description, unexampled in the records of literary biography
Besides several flight sketches of his life, by unknown authors, taken, sometimes with a favourable, flattering pencil, sometimes in the broader style of caricature, which lie scattered in the periodical publications of the last ten years; voluminous biographical accounts of him have been given to the world by Thomas Tyers, Esq. Mrs. Piozzi, Dr. Towers, Sir John Hawkins, James Boswell, Esq. and Arthur Murphy, Esq. who were his most intimate friends, and wrote from personal knowledge. Their several publications, which place his character in very different, and often opposite points of light, by exhibiting a striking likeness of the features of his mind, which were strong and prominent, and by recording so considerable a portion of his wisdom and wit, have exquisitely gratified the lovers of literary anecdotes, and largely contributed to the instruction and entertainment of man
kind. The publications of Mr. Tyers, Mrs. Piozzi, Dr. Towers, and Mr. Murphy, come under the description of “ Biographical Sketches,” “ Anécdotes,” and “ Essays.” Those of Sir John Hawkins and Mr. Boswell are more elaborately composed, and entitle them to the exclusive appellation of his biographers.
On an attentive perusal, it will be found that the narrative of Sir John Hawkins contains a collection of curious anecdotes and observations, which few men but its author could have brought together; but a very small part of it relates to the person who is the subject of the work. He appears to be a worthy, and often a well-informed man, but he possesses neither animation nor correctness, expansion of intellect, nor elegance of taste. He writes without much feeling or sentiment; his work is heavy, cold, and prolix; but we discover in it many gleams of good sense, and openings of humanity, sometimes checked by ignorance, and sometimes by prejudice.
The narrative of Mr. Bofwell is written with more comprehension of mind, aceuracy of intelligence, clearness of narration, and elegance of language; and is more strongly marked by the defiderium chari capitis, which is the first feature of affectionate remembrance. He was peculiliarly fitted for the task of recording the sayings and actions of this extraordinary man, by his assiduous attention. From the commencement of his acquaintance with him in 1763, he had the scheme of writing his life constantly in view ; and continued his collections, with his approbation and assistance, with unwearied diligence, and meritorious perseverance, for upwards of twenty years. He gave a specimen of his being able to preserve his conversation, in an authentic and lively