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public gaze the beatings of his own noble heart, or invited the world to contemplate the depression and suffering amid which his unending labours were accomplished.
The concluding page of the preface to the first edition of the great Dictionary is, therefore, the more precious and moving. I know not why this majestic utterance came to be deleted in later editions; certainly it sanctifies, and as it were crowns with a crown of sorrow, the greatest work of his life; and with reverent sympathy and unstinted admiration I reproduce it here:
“Life may be lengthened by care, though death cannot ultimately be defeated: tongues, like governments, have a natural tendency to degeneration: we have long preserved our constitution, let us make some struggles for our language.
“In hope of giving longevity to that which its own nature forbids to be immortal, I have devoted this book, the labour of years, to the honour of my country, that we may no longer yield
the palm of philology to the nations of the continent. The chief glory of every people arises from its authors; whether I shall add anything by my own writings to the reputation of English literature, must be left to time: much of my life has been lost under the pressure of disease; much has been trifled away; and much has always been spent in provision for the day that was passing over me; but I shall not think my employment useless or ignoble, if by my assistance foreign nations, and distant ages, gain access to the propagators of knowledge, and understand the teachers of truth; if my labours afford light to the repositories of science, and add celebrity to Bacon, to Hooker, to Milton, and to Boyle.
“When I am animated by this wish, I look with pleasure on my book, however defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man that has endeavoured well. That it will immediately become popular I have not promised to myself: a few wild blunders and risible absurdities, from which no work of such multiplicity was ever free, may for a time furnish folly with laughter, and harden ignorance in contempt; but useful diligence will at last prevail, and there never can be wanting some, who distinguish desert, who will consider that no dictionary of a living tongue can ever be perfect, since while it is hastening to publication, some words are budding, and some falling away; that a whole life cannot be spent upon syntax and etymology, and that even a whole life would not be sufficient; that he whose design includes whatever language can express must often speak of what he does not understand; that a writer will sometimes be hurried by eagerness to the end, and sometimes faint with weariness under a task which Scaliger compares to the labours of the anvil and the mine; that what is obvious is not always known, and what is known is not always present; that sudden fits of inadvertency will surprise vigilance, slight avocations will seduce attention, and casual eclipses of the mind will darken learning; and that the writer shall often in vain trace his memory at the moment of need for that which yesterday he knew with intuitive readiness, and which will come uncalled into his thoughts to-morrow.
"In this work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much likewise is performed; and though no book was ever spared out of tenderness to the author, and the world is little solicitous to know whence proceeded the faults of that which it condemns, yet it may gratify curiosity to inform it that the English Dictionary was written with little assistance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academic bowers, but amidst inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow; and it may repress the triumph of malignant criticism to observe, that if our language is not here fully displayed, I have only failed in an attempt which no human powers have hitherto completed. If the lexicons of ancient tongues, now immutably fixed and comprised in a few volumes, be yet, after the toil of successive ages, inadequate and delusive; if the aggregated knowledge and co-operating diligence of the Italian academicians did not secure them from the censure of Beni; if the embodied critics of France, when fifty years had been spent upon their work, were obliged to change its economy, and give their second editions another form, I may surely be contented without the praise of perfection which, if I could obtain, in this gloom of solitude what would it avail me?
“I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds; I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise.”
This seems to me to be the noblest passage that Johnson ever wrote.
Almost all the most magnificent utterances of man are tinged with sadness. In this they possess a quality that is almost inseparable from grandeur wherever displayed. No man of sensibility and taste feels it possible to make jokes himself, or to tolerate them from others when in the presence of the Falls of Niagara, or a tempest at sea, or when he views from a peak in the Andes—as I have done—the sun