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of utility, is far superior to Bayle; it is indeed a most useful, and on the whole a judicious work.
Our language abounds with excellent biography. The best I ever read is Johnson's Life of Savage. He wrote it con amore, if you can excuse this vulgar barbarism. The following sentence I might have cited as a very fine example of climax. After relating that Savage in his distress "walked about the streets till he was weary, and lay down in summer upon a bulk, or in the winter with his associates in poverty, among the ashes of a glass-house," he resumes
"On a bulk, in a cellar, or in a glass-house, was to be found the author of the Wanderer, the man of exalted sentiment, extensive views, and curious observation; the man whose remarks on life might have assisted the statesman, whose ideas of virtue might have enlightened the moralist; whose eloquence might have influenced senates, and whose delicacy might have polished courts."
From a deficiency of materials I conclude it happened that some of Dr. Johnson's lives of
the poets are little more than mere critical sketches; yet in this point of view they are excellent, and even where the deficiency of materials is most apparent, he contrives to introduce some moral observation, or some short dissertation as valuable as interesting. As I wish rather to make you acquainted with the beauties of authors, than to exhibit a display of my own critical skill, I cannot help transcribing a charming passage from the life of Smith.
"Of Gilbert Walmsley, thus presented to my mind, let me indulge myself in the remembrance. I knew him very early; he was one of the first friends that literature procured me, and I hope that at least my gratitude made me worthy of his notice.
"He was of an advanced age, and I was only yet a boy; yet he never received my notions with contempt. He was a whig, with all the virulence and malevolence of his party; yet difference of opinion did not keep us apart. I honoured him, and he endured me.
"He had mingled with the gay world without exemption from its vices or its follies, but had never neglected the cultivation of his
mind; his belief of revelation was unshaken; his learning preserved his principles; he grew first regular, and then pious.
"His studies had been so various, that I am not able to name a man of equal knowledge. His acquaintance with books was great; and what he did not immediately know he would at least tell where to find. Such was his amplitude of learning, and such his copiousness of communication, that it may be doubted whether a day now passes in which I have not some advantage from his friendship.
"At this man's table I enjoyed many cheerful and instructive hours, with companions such as are not often to be found; with one who has lengthened, and one who has gladdened life; with Dr. James, whose skill in physic will be long remembered; and with David Garrick, whom I hoped to have gratified with this character of our common friend: but what are the hopes of man? I am disappointed by that stroke of death, which has eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and impoverished the public stock of harmless pleasure."
While I am treating of biography, I cannot D 5
pass over that noble monument to national fame, the Biographia Britannica; a work which I at one time flattered myself with the hope of bringing to perfection; before old age had unstrung my faculties, and palsied my hand. I am disappointed
Optima quique dies miseris mortalibus ævi
Though debased by a low, and sometimes even vulgar style; though the error of Bayle has been imitated in throwing too much of the matter into notes, yet the Biographia is an invaluable work. It is a Thesaurus of English literature and science; and is incomparable for one excellence, that of presenting an abstract of almost every valuable work that had ever appeared in this country previous to its publication. The labour of Dr. Campbell, and the original compilers, in making these abstracts, astonishes me, and they will be the means of rescuing many valuable publications from oblivion.
We have long wanted a good general Biographical Dictionary; that deficiency is how