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’Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.’ JULIUS Cæsar, ii.

There is something unsatisfactory in the fact that Boswell was not with Johnson as he died. It gives to his book an air of something distinctly lacking, which is not with us as we close Lockhart’s Life of Scott. His own account is that he was indisposed during a considerable part of the year, which may, or may not, be a euphemism for irregular habits; yet, when we consider how easily he might have been with his old friend, we must own to a feeling that Boswell’s mere satisfaction at learning he was spoken of with affection by Johnson at the close does not satisfy the nature of things or the artistic sense of fitness. No literary executor had been appointed, and the materials for a biography had been mostly destroyed by Johnson’s orders. This, we may be sure, had not been expected by Boswell, who set himself, however, to prepare for the press his own Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, which his friend when alive had not been willing to see appear as a pendant to the Journey. ‘Between ourselves,’ he tells Temple, ’he is not apt to encourage one to share reputation with him.’ Yet he felt, as he wrote to Percy on 20th March 1785, that it was a great consolation to him now that he had, as it was, collected so much of the wit and the wisdom of that wonderful man. ‘I do not expect,’ he adds, ’to recover from it. I gaze after him with an eager eye; and I hope again to be with him.’

Now that the strong hand of Johnson was removed, ’and the light of his life as if gone out,’ the rest of Boswell’s life was but a downward course. He struggles with himself, and feels instinctively the lack of the curb which the powerful intellect of the Rambler had held on the weaker character of the other. We find him repeating often to himself the lines from the Vanity of Human Wishes:

’Shall helpless man, in ignorance sedate, Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate?’

The Lord Advocate had brought into the Commons a bill for the reconstruction of the Court of Session, proposing to reduce the number of judges from fifteen to ten, with a corresponding increase of salary. The occasion was wildly seized by Boswell in May 1785 to issue a half-crown pamphlet, with the title, ’A letter to the People of Scotland, on the alarming attempt to infringe the Articles of the Union, and introduce a most pernicious innovation, by diminishing the number of the Lords of Session.’ This extraordinary production, intended doubtless as a means of recommendation of the author for parliamentary honours, can hardly now be read in the light of events by any sympathetic Boswellian but with feelings of sorrow and confusion. Its publication we may be sure would never have been sanctioned by Johnson.

After stating the foundation of the Court of Session, by James V. in 1532, on the model of the Parliament of Paris, he attacks Dundas for having in himself the whole power of a grand jury. ’Mr Edward Bright of Malden, the fat man whose print is in all our inns, could button seven men in his waistcoat; but the learned lord comprehends hundreds.’ He calls on the Scottish people not to be cowed: ’let Lowther come forth (we cannot emulate Boswell in the plenitude and the magnitude of his capital letters and other typographical devices), he upon whom the thousands of Whitehaven depend for three of the elements.’ His own opposition he proclaims is honest, because he has no wish for an office in the Court of Session; he will try his abilities in a wider sphere. Rumours of a coalition in the county of Ayr between Sir Adam Ferguson and the Earl of Eglintoun he hopes are unfounded, ’both as an enthusiast for ancient feudal attachments, and as having the honour and happiness to be married to his lordship’s relation, a true Montgomerie, whom I esteem, whom I love, after fifteen years, as on the day when she gave me her hand.’ He assures the people they will have their objections to the bill supported by ’my old classical companion Wilkes, with whom I pray you to excuse my keeping company, he is so pleasant;’ by Mr Burke, the Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow, and by ’that brave Irishman, Captain Macbride, the cousin of my wife.’ In grandiose capitals he appeals to Fox and to Pitt. ‘Great sir,’ he cries, ’forgive my thus presumptuously, thus rashly, attempting for a moment to forge your thunder! But I conjure you in the name of God and the King, I conjure you to announce in your own lofty language, that there shall be a stop put to this conspiracy, which I fear might have the effect of springing a mine that would blow up your administration.’ This letter ’hastily written upon the spur of the occasion is already too long,’ yet he calls upon his countrymen to allow him to ’indulge a little more my own egotism and vanity, the indigenous plants of my own mind.’ His whole genealogy, Flodden and all, we hear over again. ‘If,’ he pertinently adds, ’it should be asked what this note has to do here, I answer to illustrate the authour of the text. And to pour out all myself as old Montaigne, I wish all this to be known.’ After a eulogy of himself as no time-server, and his profession of readiness ’to discuss topicks with mitred St Asaph, and others; to drink, to laugh, to converse with Quakers, Republicans, Jews and Moravians,’ he exhorts his friends and countrymen, in the words of his departed Goldsmith, who gave him many Attic nights and that jewel of the finest water, the acquaintance of Sir Joshua Reynolds, ‘to fly from petty tyrants to the throne.’ He declares himself a Tory, but no slave. He is in possession of an essay, dictated to him by Dr Johnson, on the distinction between Whig and Tory, and concludes with eclat, ’with one of the finest passages in John Home’s noble and elegant tragedy of Douglas.’

No condensation of this, the most ‘characteristical’ of all his writings, can give the reader any idea of this extraordinary production. Once only does it deviate into sense when, on the last page, we find the advertisement of the Tour to the Hebrides, ’which was read and liked by Dr Johnson, and will faithfully and minutely exhibit what he said was the pleasantest part of his life.’

In the Hilary Term of 1786, he was called to the English bar, feeling it, as he said, ’a pity to dig in a lead mine, when he could dig in a gold one.’ Johnson had always thrown cold water on the idea, though as early as February 1775, as we find from a letter of Boswell’s to Strahan the printer, the idea had been proposed to him. In the May of 1786 he writes to Mickle, the translator of the Lusiad, that he is in a wavering state; he has the house of his friend Hoole, and he still retains the use of General Paoli’s residence in Portman Square. When he did finally take up his own quarters in Cavendish Square, the result was not what he had expected. He was discouraged by the want of practice, and the prospect of any. In fact, he was to feel what, as Malone says, Lord Auchinleck had all along told his son, that it would cost him much more trouble to hide his ignorance of Scotch and English law than to shew his knowledge. He feared his own deficiencies in ’the forms, quirks and quiddities,’ which he saw could be learned only by early habit. He even doubted whether he should not be satisfied with being simply baron of Auchinleck with a good income in Scotland; but he felt that such a course could not ’deaden the ambition which has raged in my veins like a fever.’ The Horatian motto inscribed on the front of Auchinleck House, telling of the peace of mind dearer than all to be found everywhere, if the mind itself is in its own place, was never appreciated, however, by the new laird.

His ignorance of law was soon shewn at the Lancaster assizes. Mr Leslie Stephen is inclined to view the story as being not very credible. Yet we fear the authority is indisputable. ‘We found Jemmy Boswell,’ writes Lord Eldon, ’lying upon the pavement inebriated. We subscribed at supper a guinea for him and half a guinea for his clerk, and sent him next morning a brief with instructions to move for the writ of Quare adhaesit pavimento, with observations calculated to induce him to think that it required great learning to explain the necessity of granting it. He sent all round the town to attorneys for books, but in vain. He moved, however, for the writ, making the best use he could of the observations in the brief. The judge was astonished, and the audience amazed. The judge said, ’I never heard of such a writ what can it be that adheres pavimento? Are any of you gentlemen at the bar able to explain this?’ The Bar laughed. At last one of them said, ’My Lord, Mr Boswell last night adhaesit pavimento. There was no moving him for some time. At last he was carried to bed, and he has been dreaming about himself and the pavement.’ Lord Jeffrey once assisted Bozzy to bed in similar circumstances. ‘You are a promising lad,’ he told him next morning, ’and if you go on as you have begun, you may be a Bozzy yourself yet.’ No wonder that we find him hesitating about going on the spring northern circuit, which would cost him, he says, fifty pounds, and oblige him to be in rough company for four weeks.

His only piece of promotion came from Lord Lonsdale. Pitt had been brought in by this nobleman for the pocket-borough of Appleby, and Bozzy had hopes of a Parliamentary introduction that way. Carlyle of Inveresk found this worthless patron of the unfortunate office seeker ’more detested than any man alive, as a shameless political sharper, a domestic bashaw, and an intolerable tyrant over his tenants.’ Penrith and Whitehaven were in fear when he walked their streets; he defied his creditors; and the father of the poet Wordsworth died without being able to enforce his claims. The author of the Rolliad describes his power as

’Even by the elements confessed, Of mines and boroughs Lonsdale stands possessed; And one sad servitude alike denotes The slave that labours and the slave that votes.’

It was on this political boroughmonger and jobber that Boswell was now pinning his faith. The complete dependence of him on Lonsdale in return for the Recordership of Carlisle did not escape the notice of the wits, who now found that the writer who had been declaring over the India Bill of Fox his devotion to the throne, the Tory, but no slave, had transferred his entire loyalty and abjectest protestations to ’his king in Westmoreland.’ To add to his distress, his wife was dying. A short trial of London had led her to return to Ayrshire, and her husband was lost in doubt whether to revisit her or cling to ’the great sphere of England,’ the whirl of the metropolis, in hopes that the great prize would at last be drawn. In the north he found her still lingering on, but in his eagerness to obtain political influence ’I drank so freely that riding home in the dark I fell from my horse and bruised my shoulder.’ From London he was again summoned, but with his curious infelicity at such times of trouble, he was not in time to witness her death: ’not till my second daughter came running out from the house and announced to us the dismal event in a burst of tears.’ Remorse found vent in an agony of grief. ‘She never would have left me,’ he cries to Temple; ‘this reflection will pursue me to my grave.’ In July, the widower of a month hastened north to contest the county, only to find Sir Adam Fergusson chosen. ‘Let me never impiously repine,’ is his cry of distress. ’Yet as “Jesus wept” for the death of Lazarus, I hope my tears at this time are excused. The woeful circumstance of such a state of mind is that it rejects consolation; it feels an indulgence in its own wretchedness.’ His hustings appearances would appear to have been at least marked by fluency, for Burns, his junior by eighteen years, declares his own inability to fight like Montgomerie or ’gab like Boswell.’

As he draws to a close, the letters of Boswell improve both in form and matter. It is painful to see him on every hand seeking the Parliamentary interest out of which he was all the while doing his best to write himself. No party could or would take him seriously. His rent-roll was over L1600, a large sum in these days, and it was yearly rising. Earnestly did his brother David press upon him a return to Auchinleck and the retrenchment of his expenses. But the spell of the lights of London was on him, and ‘I could not endure Edinburgh,’ he tells us, ‘unless I were to have a judge’s place to bear me up,’ and that was a thing not to be dreamed of after the publication of the Letter. He dispersed his family to various schools, finding the eldest of the boys beginning to oppose him, ‘and no wonder,’ as he bitterly adds. Then the cry is forced from him in allusion to the famous passage in Shakespeare on Wolsey’s hopes and fall a passage which, curiously enough, we have come upon in the common-place book which Boswell had kept as a boy ’O Temple, Temple, is this realizing any of the towering hopes which have so often been the subject of our letters. Yet I live much with a great man, who, upon any day that his fancy shall be inclined, may obtain for me an office.’ Everywhere he casts about, trying the Lord Chancellor, not seeing the smallest opening in Westminster Hall, but buoyed up by ‘the delusion that practice may come at any time.’

‘We must do something for you,’ Burke had said in a kindly way, ’for our own sakes.’ He recommended him to General Conway, but though the place was not obtained the letter was valued by Boswell more. Writing to Mr Abercrombie in America, even as late as the July of 1793, he is found expressing ’a great wish to see that country; and I once flattered myself that I should be sent thither in a station of some importance;’ and from a letter to Burke we learn that this expected post had been a commissionership in the treaty between America and Britain. Dundas was another of his hopes. ’The excellent Langton says it is disgraceful, it is utter folly in Pitt not to attach to his administration a man of my popular and pleasant talents.’ Dundas, however, after having been given a margin of two months for a reply, has made no sign; ’how can I delude myself? I will tell you,’ he informs Temple, ’Lord Lonsdale shews me more and more regard. Three of his members assure me that he will give me a seat at the General Election.’ Then that last reed was to break. At Lowther Castle, his wig was removed from his room, as a practical joke of a coarse order on the unoffending Boswell, and all the day he was obliged to go in his nightcap, which he felt was very ill-timed to one in his situation. The loss of the wig the unsuspecting victim declares will remain as great a secret as the writer of the letters of Junius, but ere long the tyrant whom he had invoked as the man of Macedonia to help Scotland has undeceived him. ‘I suppose you thought,’ he roughly said, ’I was to bring you into Parliament? I never had any such intention.’ It is impossible not to feel for Boswell at this crisis. ’I am down at an inn,’ he writes to Temple, ’and ashamed and sunk on account of the disappointment of hopes which led me to endure such grievances. I deserve all that I suffer. I am at the same time distracted what to do in my own county. I am quite in a fever. O my old and most intimate friend, I intreat you to afford me some consolation, and pray do not divulge my mortification. I now resign my Recordership, and shall get rid of all connection with this brutal fellow.’ His last Parliamentary venture was cut short by the reflection how small was his following. How curiously after all this reads his own little autobiographical sketch in the European Magazine! ’It was generally supposed that Mr Boswell would have had a seat in Parliament; and indeed his not being amongst the Representatives of the Commons is one of those strange things which occasionally happen in the complex operations of our mixed Government. That he has not been brought into Parliament by some great man is not to be wondered at when we peruse his publick declaration.’ Not to be wondered at, truly, though the writer chose to refer the wonder to his independence. Then the reader is informed how he had been a candidate at the general election for his own county of Ayr, ’where he has a very extensive property and a very fine place of which there is a view and description in Grose’s Antiquities of Scotland.’ The conclusion of the sketch relates how, at the last Lord Mayor’s day, he sang with great applause a state-ballad of his own composition, entitled The Grocer of London. This was the last shot in the political locker. At a Guildhall dinner, given to Pitt by the worshipful company of grocers, Boswell contrived to get himself called upon for a song. He rose, and delivered himself of a catch on the model of Dibdin’s ’Little cherub that sits up aloft,’ prefaced and interlarded by an address to the guest of the evening. Honoured as he had been on his continental tour at the courts of Europe, yet never till to-night had he felt himself so flattered as now he was, in the presence of the minister he admired, and to whose home and foreign policy he gave a hearty, if discriminating support. Boswell for his song was encored six times, till the cold features of the minister were seen to relax in a smile, amid the general roar of plaudits and laughter! After this ‘state ballad,’ a copy of which was last seen at Lord Houghton’s sale, Bozzy and a friend, in a state of high glee, returned to their lodgings, shouting all the way The Grocer of London! ‘He has declared,’ adds the complacent autobiographer, ’his resolution to persevere on the next vacancy.’

All this time his great work was slowly advancing. At the end of the Journal had appeared a notice: ’preparing for the Press, in one volume quarto, the Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., by James Boswell, Esq.’ The note proceeds to sketch the plan; the collecting of materials for more than twenty years, his desire to erect to him a literary monument, the interweaving of ‘the most authentick accounts’ that can be obtained from those who knew him, etc. To his chagrin, Mrs Thrale’s volume of anecdotes had been out before him, and Sir John Hawkins had been commissioned by the London booksellers to produce a Life, which had duly appeared. Not even the unequivocal success and merits of the Journal could induce ‘the trade’ to take Boswell seriously. No one had thought of him, any more than Gay would have been thought of as the biographer of the circle to which he had been admitted. Percy, even Sir William Scott, had been successively approached, but none had given a consideration to ‘Johnson’s Bozzy.’ Such neglect, however, must have spurred him to exertion. The lively lady’s anecdotage, dateless and confused, he could afford to despise as ’too void of method even for such a farrago,’ as Horace Walpole said of it. But the solemn Hawkins, as an old friend and executor of Johnson’s will, was a more dangerous rival. ‘Observe how he talks of me,’ cries Boswell querulously, ’as quite unknown.’ No doubt Sir John was ‘unclubable,’ and by Reynolds, Dyer, Percy, and Malone he was detested. Yet his book, though eclipsed by Boswell’s, is not unmeritorious; but for his allusion to ’Mr Boswell, a native of Scotland,’ he has been made to pay severely by systematic castigation from his rival, who now doggedly, as Johnson would have said, set himself to the work before him. Wherever first-hand information could be had, he was constantly on the track. Miss Burney has told how she met him at the gate of the choir of St George’s chapel at Windsor ’his comic-serious face having lost none of its wonted singularity, nor yet his mind and language.’ She had letters from Johnson, and he must have some of the doctor’s choice little notes: ’We have seen him long enough upon stilts, I want to shew him in a new light. He proposed a thousand curious expedients to get them, but I was invincible.’ The approach of the king and queen broke off the interview, but next morning he was again on the watch. We must regret that they were not given, however much his indiscretions had made people chary of their confidences. ‘Jemmy Boswell,’ writes Lord Eldon, ’called upon me, desiring to know my definition of taste. I told him I must decline defining it, because I knew he would publish it.’ To secure first-hand, sifted, and ‘authentick’ material this man, so long decried by sciolists as merely a fool with a note-book, would forego every rebuff or refusal. ‘Boswell,’ says Horace Walpole, ’that quintessence of busy-bodies called on me last week, and was let in when he should not have been. After tapping many topics, to which I made as dry answers as an unbribed oracle, he vented his errand; ’had I seen Dr Johnson’s Lives of the Poets?’

During the progress of the Life he turned aside to his last literary vagary No Abolition of Slavery; or the Universal Empire of Love, 1791. This long-lost brochure has this year been rediscovered, but it will add little interest to his life, as its main tenets had long been known. A writer in the Athenaeum for May 9th describes it as quarto in form, and dedicated to Miss B , whom he identifies with Miss Bagnal to be shortly mentioned. On the three topics of slavery, the Middlesex election, and America, Bozzy differed respectfully but firmly from the doctor, who drank at Oxford to the next insurrection of the negroes in the West Indies. Accordingly he stands stoutly by the planters and the feudal scheme of subordination, whose annihilation he maintains would ‘shut the gates of mercy on mankind.’ For his apparent inconsistency Burke is attacked:

’Burke, art thou here, too? thou whose pen Can blast the fancied rights of men. Pray by what logic are those rights Allow’d to Blacks, denied to Whites?’

Others may fail their king and country, but he as a throne and altar Tory calls all to know that

’An ancient baron of the land I by my king shall ever stand.’

He was now at last near the haven. The mass of his papers and materials had been arranged, after a labour which, as he tells Reynolds, was really enormous. The capacity for sustained effort, when set to it, of which he had boasted over his condensation of the evidence in the great Douglas case, stood him now in good service amid all his vexations, dissipations and follies.

In February 1788 we hear of his having yet seven years of the life to write. By January 1789 he had finished the introduction and the dedication to Sir Joshua Reynolds, both of which had appeared difficult, but he was confident they had been well done. To excite the interest in his coming book, or as Mr Leslie Stephen thinks, to secure copyright, he published in 1790 two quarto parts at half a guinea each the letter to Chesterfield and the conversation of Johnson with the king. By December he has had additional matter sent him from Warren Hastings, and he hoped to be out on 8th March, but the January of the new year found him with still two hundred pages of copy, and the death not yet written. Yet many a time, as he writes Temple, had he thought of giving it up. To add to his troubles, he had indulged in landed speculations, paying L2500 for the estate of a younger branch; he had been lending money to a cousin, and if he could but raise a thousand pounds on the strength of his book, he should be inclined to hold on, or ‘game with it,’ as Sir Joshua said. Neither Reynolds nor Malone, however, took the hint; and at the latter’s door he cast longing looks as he passed. He tells him he had been in the chair at the club, with Fox ’quoting Homer and Fielding to the astonishment of Jo. Warton.’ He had bought a lottery ticket with the hopes of the prize of L5000, but blank! The advance he needed was got elsewhere, and the property in his book saved. April finds him correcting the last sheet. He feared the result: ’I may get no profit, the public may be disappointed, I may make enemies, even have quarrels. But the very reverse of all this may happen.’ Then on the 19th he writes to Dempster: ’my magnum opus, in two volumes quarto, is to be published on Monday, 16th May’ by a lucky chance it was the anniversary of the red day in Boswell’s calendar, his meeting with Johnson eight and twenty years before! ’When it is fairly launched, I mean to stick close to Westminster Hall, and it will be truly kind if you recommend me appeals or causes of any sort.’

The rest of his life is soon told. Paoli was now again in Corsica. When Mirabeau had recalled the exiles, the general had been made by Louis XVI. military commandant of the island. Johnson, also, was gone, and the two strongest checks upon the excesses of Boswell were removed. Piteous it is to find him writing to Malone: ’that most friendly fellow Courtenay, begging the pardon of an M.P. for so free an epithet,’ had taken him in hand, and had taken his word that for some months his daily allowance of wine should not exceed four good glasses at dinner, and a pint after it. The qualifying adjective ‘good’ is dangerous, and before the time for the bill was half expired, Bozzy has closured it and the amendment. The state of his affairs, the loss of his wife bore heavily on him, together with ’the disadvantage to my children in having so wretched a father nay, the want of absolute certainty of being happy after death, the sure prospect of which is frightful.’ Then a fitful gleam of the old Adam breaks out. He has heard of a Miss Bagnal, ’about seven and twenty, lively and gay, a Ranelagh girl, but of excellent principles insomuch that she reads prayers to the servants in her father’s family every Sunday evening.’ Another matrimonial scheme was the daughter of the late Dean of Exeter, ’a most agreeable woman d’un certain age,’ as he engagingly adds, ‘and with a fortune of L10,000.’ The preparation of a second edition of the Life for July 1793 raised his spirits, but after a while he had run into excess, been knocked down and robbed. This he vows shall be a crisis in his life, and Temple’s apprehension of his friend being carried off in a state of intoxication he finds awful to contemplate. Early in 1795 the end is announced by Temple’s son writing to his father ’a few nights ago Mr Boswell returned from the Literary Club, quite weak and languid;’ and the last letter to Temple from his correspondent of thirty-seven years is dated 8th April: ’I would fain write to you in my own hand, but really cannot.’ His son James finishes the letter, to tell that the patient ‘feels himself a good deal stronger to-day.’ He was attended by Dr Warren, who had been with Johnson as he died. Some slight hopes of a recovery had been held out; and, with the ruling passion strong in death to interview a celebrity, he rallied in a letter to Warren Hastings. With the spirit on him of the days when he had told Chatham that his disinterested soul had enjoyed the contemplation of the great minister in the bower of philosophy, he tells him, ’the moment I am able to go abroad, I will fly to Mr Hastings and expand my soul in the purest satisfaction.’ On May 19th 1795, at two in the morning, after an illness of five weeks, he died. He was in his fifty-fifth year.

A life which cannot challenge the world’s attention like that of John Sterling which perhaps does not even modestly solicit it, yet one which no less certainly will be found to reward the critic of literary history and pathology. A complex, weak, unsteady life enough, and no one did more than Boswell himself to bring into glaring prominence the faults that lie on the surface, by that frank, open, and ostentatious peculiarity which he avowed, and which he compared to the characteristics of the old seigneur, Michael de Montaigne. Never was there a franker critic of James Boswell, Esq., than himself; ’the most unscottified of mortals,’ as Johnson called him, has little or none of the reserve and reticence that are generally supposed to be marks of the national character. A rare and curious Epistle in Verse, by the Rev. Samuel Martin of Monimail, 1795, touches on the main points of his life, and the author, who was apparently a friend of Boswell, had learned ’with affectionate concern and respect that at the end prayer was his stay.’ He criticises, in rather halting and prosaic lines,

’The prison scenes, his prying into death, How felons and how saints resign their breath; How varying and conflicting passions roll, How scaffold exhibitions shew the soul.’

He laments his ‘injurious hilarity,’ his degrading himself as ’the little bark, attendant on the huge all-bearing ark,’ his political and ecclesiastical aberrations from the surer and better standpoints of his family and country. The feeling of this friend of Boswell would represent, we cannot doubt, the verdict at the time of his own circle.

The ‘prison scenes’ are an integral part in Boswell’s psychology. Never did George Selwyn attend them with greater regularity, or Wyndham run after prize fights more assiduously. In the Public Advertizer, April 25, 1768, we find him writing: ’I myself am never absent from a publick execution. When I first attended them, I was shocked to the greatest degree ... convulsed with pity and terror. I feel an irresistible impulse to be present at every execution, as there I behold the various effects of the near approach of death.’ The parallels of Charles V., Philip II., Philip IV., Charles II. of Spain, will not escape the reader, and strangely, or rather naturally enough, Boswell is found disagreeing with the censure pronounced by Johnson on the celebration of his own obsequies in his lifetime by Charles V. In the St James’ Gazette of April 20, 1779, he is found actually riding in the cart to Tyburn with Hackman, the murderer of Miss Ray, and writing to the papers over the feeling of ’unusual Depression of Spirits, joined with that Pause, which so solemn a warning of the dreadful effects that the Passion of Love may produce must give all of us who have lively Sensations and warm Tempers.’ But he suddenly deviates into business when he adds that ’it is very philosophically explained and illustrated in the Hypochondriack, a periodical Paper, peculiarly adapted to the people of England, and which comes out monthly in the London Magazine, etc.’ In his Corsican tour we had seen him interviewing the executioner in the island, and some days before his final parting with Johnson he had witnessed the execution of fifteen men before Newgate and been clouded in his mind by doubts as to whether human life was or was not mere machinery and a chain of planned fatality. These cravings are clearly the marks of a mind morbidly affected and diseased, the result of the Dutch marriage as Ramsay believed. All through his life Boswell is conscious of his ‘distempered imagination,’ and the letters to Temple are scattered with irrelevances and repetitions, fatuities and inconsistencies that can be explained only on the score of mental disease. Were any doubts possible on this point, the expressions of his opinions on religion would dispel them. His ‘Popish imagination,’ quickened as it may have been by the escapade with the actress, was but the natural outcome of an ill-balanced mind. His feelings about consecrated places, loca solennia such as Iona, and Wittenberg, Rasay and Carlisle, we have seen. He delighted, says Malone, in what he called the mysterious, leading Johnson on ghosts, and kindred subjects. He was a believer in second sight: ‘it pleases my superstition,’ he tells Temple, ’which you know is not small, and being not of the gloomy but the grand species is an enjoyment.’ When his uncle John died, we learn he was ’a good scholar and affectionate relative, but had no conduct. And, do you know, he was not confined to one woman; he had a strange kind of religion, but I flatter myself he will be ere long, if he is not already, in heaven!’ He comforts himself constantly over life being a mere state of purification, and looks forward to a condition of events in which ’a man can soap his own beard and enjoy whatever is to be had in this transitory state of things.’ He is for ever questioning Johnson upon purgatory, ’having much curiosity to know his notions on that point.’ One of the last authentic glimpses of Boswell is his being found in the company of Wilberforce, going west, with a nightcap in his pocket, on some visit to a friend such as Miss Hawkins says he was but too fond of doing, ’away to the west as the sun went down’ doubtful of future punishment, but resolute in maintaining the depravity of man. It would almost appear as if Bozzy had read himself into Butler’s doctrine that our present life is a state of probation for a future one, but had forgotten the qualification ’that our future interest is now depending on ourselves.’

The very influence of Johnson himself may have affected the weaker mind of Boswell injuriously. Both suffered from hypochondria, though that of the latter was far distant from the affliction of Johnson whom Dr Adams found ’in a deplorable state, sighing, groaning, talking to himself, and restlessly walking from room to room.’ Temple maintained that the effect of Johnson’s company had been of a depressing nature to his friend, and Sir Wm. Forbes believed that some slight tincture of superstition had been contracted from his companionship with the sage. The ’cloudy darkness,’ as he himself calls it, of his mind, the weakness and the confusion of moral principles manifest enough in the Temple correspondence, are better revealed in the conversation with Johnson at Squire Dilly’s, ’where there is always abundance of excellent fare and hearty welcome.’ ’Being in a frame of mind which, I hope for the felicity of human nature, many experience, in fine weather, at the country-house of a friend, consoled and elevated by pious exercises, I expressed myself with an unrestrained fervour to my “guide, philosopher, and friend;” My dear Sir, I would fain be a good man; and I am very good now. I fear God, and honour the King; I wish to do no ill, and to be benevolent to all mankind.’ He looked at me with a benignant indulgence; but took occasion to give me wise and salutary caution. ’Do not, sir, accustom yourself to trust to impressions.’ Boswell had surely forgotten all this when he cries bitterly to Temple that he was inclined to agree with him in thinking ’my great oracle did allow too much credit to good principles, without good practice.’ Perhaps he remembered Johnson’s appreciation of Campbell, the good pious man that never passed a church without pulling off his hat, all which shewed ’he has good principles.’ Boswell had, unfortunately, been ‘caught young’ by the sceptical talk of Dempster, Hume, and Wilkes, and his extended Continental ramble had impaired the earlier views under which he had been reared.

But James Boswell deserves at the hands of his readers and of critics better treatment than has been measured out to him in the contemptuous estimate of Macaulay, and, still worse, in the shrill attack of the smaller brood ‘whose sails were never to the tempest given,’ but who have, by the easy repetition of a few phrases and an imperfect acquaintance with the writings and character of the man they decry, come to the complacent depreciation which, as Niebuhr said, is ever so dear to the soul of mediocrity. If James Boswell was not like Goldsmith, a great man, as Johnson finely pronounced, whose frailties should not be remembered, nor was, perhaps, in any final sense a great writer, yet for twenty years he had been the tried friend of the man who at the Mitre had called out to him, ’Give me your hand, I have taken a liking to you.’ A plant that, like Goldsmith also, ‘flowered late,’ he has created in literature and biography a revolution, and produced a work whose surpassing merits and value are known the more that it is studied.