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TWENTY years have elapsed since the death of Dr. Johnson, during which his character and talents have been scrutinized with a severity unprecedented in literary biography. There never, indeed, was a human being of whom more may be known by those who have had no opportunity of personal acquaintance, and perhaps never a man whose failings, after having been exposed by imprudence or exaggerated by malice, were sooner forgotten in the esteem excited by his superior talents, and steady virtues. Besides many impressions of his individual pieces, three large editions of his collected works have been bought up by the Publick, and a fourth, which has been loudly called for, is now completed. What Lord Chesterfield said of Swift, may be as
truly applied to this author, "Whoever in the three kingdoms has any books at all, has Johnson."
In this edition, I have taken the liberty to omit "Cebes' Table, or the Picture of Human Life." By what means it came to be printed among Dr. Johnson's productions, I know not, except that there was once a traditionary report that he translated it for Dodsley's Preceptor. But internal evidence may be more safely relied on in the case of Dr. Johnson than of almost any other writer, and in this article it is impossible to discover the most distant resemblance to his style, nor has any of his biographers attributed it to him. The truth is, it was translated by Mr. Spence, first published in the third volume of Dodsley's Museum, in 1747, and copied into the Preceptor the following year.
To fill up the space occupied by this article, I have supplied five papers of the ADVenturer, hitherto omitted by the mistake of Sir John Hawkins, the first collector of Dr. Johnson's
works. I have also added such of Dr. Johnson's DEDICATIONS as have been yet discovered, one or two of which Mr. Boswell overlooked or rejected. Among these is the Dedication to the Parliament, of a book intitled, "The Evangelical History of Jesus Christ." Mr. Boswell cannot allow that Dr. Johnson wrote this, because "he was no croaker, no declaimer against the times." This, however, is contradicted by the tenour of some of Dr. Johnson's writings before the present reign, and even by some of those conversations which Mr. Boswell has collected. The article is as evidently Johnsonian as any which have been attributed to him from internal evidence; and it was copied into the Literary Journal while he was the editor of that publication. His other DEDICATIONS have been so long considered as models of courtly address, that no apology seems necessary for this addition to the many proofs he has given of excellence in every species of composition.
A few illustrative notes have been appended to some parts of this edition. The time is not yet come when it will be necessary to extend this kind of information, but some events and circumstances required explanation, and some dates were wanting to the lesser pieces. I have only to add that the RAMBLERS and IDLERS were revised according to the text of the lately collated edition in the BRITISH ESSAYISTS, and several material errors have been corrected.****
London, January 1806.