The Life of Johnson
In 1779, Johnson gave the world a luminous proof that the vigour of his mind in all its
faculties, whether memory, judgement, or imagination, was not in the least abated; for
this year came out the first four volumes of his Prefaces, biographical and critical, to the
most eminent of the English Poets, published by the booksellers of London. The
remaining volumes came out in the year 1780. The Poets were selected by the several
booksellers who had the honorary copy right, which is still preserved among them by
mutual compact, notwithstanding the decision of the House of Lords against the
perpetuity of Literary Property. We have his own authority, that by his recommendation
the poems of Blackmore, Watts, Pomfret, and Yalden, were added to the collection.
On the 22nd of January, I wrote to him on several topicks, and mentioned that as he had
been so good as to permit me to have the proof sheets of his Lives of the Poets, I had
written to his servant, Francis, to take care of them for me.
On the 23rd of February I wrote to him again, complaining of his silence, as I had heard
he was ill, and had written to Mr. Thrale, for information concerning him; and I
announced my intention of soon being again in London.
'To James Boswell, Esq.
'DEAR SIR,--Why should you take such delight to make a bustle, to write to Mr. Thrale
that I am negligent, and to Francis to do what is so very unnecessary. Thrale, you may be
sure, cared not about it; and I shall spare Francis the trouble, by ordering a set both of the
Lives and Poets to dear Mrs. Boswell,* in acknowledgement of her marmalade. Persuade
her to accept them, and accept them kindly. If I thought she would receive them
scornfully, I would send them to Miss Boswell, who, I hope, has yet none of her
mamma's ill-will to me. . . .
'Mrs. Thrale waits in the coach. I am, dear Sir, &c.,
'March 13, 1779.'
* He sent a set elegantly bound and gilt, which was received as a very handsome present.-
This letter crossed me on the road to London, where I arrived on Monday, March 15, and
next morning at a late hour, found Dr. Johnson sitting over his tea, attended by Mrs.
Desmoulins, Mr. Levett, and a clergyman, who had come to submit some poetical pieces
to his revision. It is wonderful what a number and variety of writers, some of them even
unknown to him, prevailed on his good-nature to look over their works, and suggest
corrections and improvements. My arrival interrupted for a little while the important