List of Contemporary Accounts of Samuel Johnson's Life - Accounts

Accounts

Biography, as Johnson told the famous Shakespeare critic Edmond Malone, while discussion his own biographies (like his Preface to Shakespeare and his Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets), must be objective:

"If nothing but the bright side of characters should be shewn, we should sit down in despondency, and think it utterly impossible to imitate them in anything. The sacred writers (he observed) related the vicious as well as the virtuous actions of men; which had this moral effect, that it kept mankind from despair.

Hester Thrale described the possible biographers to Johnson on 18 July 1773:

"We chatted on about Authors till we talked of him himself, when he frankly owned he had never worked willingly in his Life Man or Boy nor ever did fairly make an Effort to do his best except three Times whilst he was at School, nor that he ever made it his Custom to read any of his Writings before he sent it to Press - Well now said I that will not be believed, even if your Biographer should relate it, which too perhaps he will not: I wonder said he who will be my Biographer? Goldsmith to be sure I replied if you should go first - and he would do it better than any body. - but then he would do maliciously says Johnson - As for that answer I we should all fasten upon him & make him do Justice in spite of himself. but the worst is the Doctor does not know your Life, nor in Truth can I tell who does, unless it be Taylor of Ashbourne: why Taylor is certainly said he well enough acquainted with my History at Oxford, which I believe he has nearly to himself, but Doctor James can give a better Account of my early Days than most Folks, except Mr Hector of Birmingham & little Doctor Adams. After my coming to London you will be at a Loss again; though Jack Hawkesworth and Baretti both, with who I lived quite familiarly, can tell pretty nearly all my Adventures from the Year 1753. however I intend to disappoint the Dogs, and either outlive them all or write my Life myself. But for a Johnsoniana cried I we will defy you at least; Boswell & Baretti; & myself from Time to Time have a trick of writing down Anecdotes Bons mots &c. & Doctor Percy will be busy at this work I warrant him: He would replied Mr Johnson, but I have purposely suffered him to be misled, and he has accordingly gleaned up many Things that are not true."

Many started to publish various accounts and anecdotes, but Hawkins became the first to publish what could be called a biography. In 1791, Boswell was able to publish his own life and used the introduction to attack rival biographies:

"But what is still worse, there is throughout the whole of it a dark uncharitable cast, by which the most unfavourable construction is put upon almost every circumstance in the character and conduct of my illustrious friend ; who, I trust, will, be a true and fair delineation, be vindicated both from the injurious misrepresentation of this authour, and from the slighter aspersions of a lady who once lived in great intimacy with him."

In particular, it was Hawkins and Thrale, in Boswell's mind, were main rivals to "what he considered his domain".

Read more about this topic:  List Of Contemporary Accounts Of Samuel Johnson's Life

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