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TO THOMAS CARLYLE, Esq.
Dear MR. CARLYLE,
You were kind enough to encourage me to undertake the task of restoring the text of Mr. Boswell's great Bio
graphy: and, in addition, have allowed me to inscribe the work,
now completed, to you.
That my humble labour will be found worthy of such encourage
ment, I will not venture to affirm : but it has, at least, been
directed by a reverential feeling, and, above all, is conceived in
the spirit of that admirable view of Boswell's work and characte
which you gave to the world many years ago.
MR. BOSWELL'S LIFE OF DR. JOHNSON.
No apology is needed for offering to the reader a new edition of Boswell's “Life of Johnson.” The constant demand for this masterpiece of biography had to be supplied in the course of trade; while fresh and constantly-increasing contributions to
the stock of knowledge made it essential that each edition should be something more than a reprint of what had already appeared. An examination of the conventional mode in which Boswell's work has been presented will show that an edition such as the present has become an absolute necessity.
Mr. Boswell issued two editions of his book, the first in 1791, the second in 1793, and had begun to prepare the third when he was interrupted by death. Neither of these were in such a shape as could have satisfied his natural critical taste, much new matter having reached him too late, which he was obliged to insert out of its proper place; so there can be but little doubt that the third edition would have differed by as large a degree from the second as the second did from the first. At his death, when the revision was scarcely begun, Mr. Malone took up the task. As he had diligently co-operated in the preparation of the work, no one could have been better fitted to take the author's place ; and under his supervision no less than four editions were issued, in the course of which many changes and material alterations came to be made. The sixth, or fourth from the author's death, was issued in 1811, and was the last superintended by
Malone, who died in that year. From the date of his death this edition became the standard one, and was regularly reprinted until the year 1831, when it may be said to have been supplanted by Mr. Croker's important edition in five volumes, which under various forms has held its place until the present moment. There have been besides numerous less important reprints, upon which many editors have exercised their taste and judgment, but Malone's and Mr. Croker's are substantially the groundwork upon which all have worked.
This long course of eighty years, with the enthusiastic labour of so many minds, naturally brought a good deal of change both in shape and substance. Mr. Malone began the system of revision, feeling, no doubt, that he was privileged to carry out, after the author's death, the control he had been allowed to exercise during the author's life. Accordingly, in each posthumous edition, new letters were inserted as they came to hand, and the fashion was introduced of adding notes, supplied by Johnson's friends and others, in the shape of correction or illustration. The sixth edition having been read over by the younger Boswell and com. pared with the first, the text, we are told, became "settled," a
" declaration accepted in all faith by subsequent editors.
Yet it was not suspected how seriously Malone had exceeded the privileges of his literary executorship, in converting notes into text and vice versa, in shifting the place of notes, and in “revising" the text itself. These changes were not very material as to substance; but still such a mode of “settling the text," as it was called, pursued through a whole series of editions, could only have resulted in serious departure from the original. As one proof of how necessary it has become to go back to the first editions, it may be mentioned that Malone had announced in his advertisements, that "every new remark, not written by the author," together with "the letters now introduced, are carefully included within crotchets, that the author may not be answerable for anything which has not the sanction of his approbation." This wholesome caution was comparatively respectful to the author and his work, his own notes being left undistinguished by any sign, and, as it were, proclaiming themselves. That system, however, has long since been abandoned, and in the modern editions we