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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Three Letters to James Boswell, Esq.
By Samuel Johnson (1709–1784)
 
Dear Sir:
WHAT can possibly have happened that keeps us two such strangers to each other? I expected to have heard from you when you came home; I expected afterwards. I went into the country and returned; and yet there is no letter from Mr. Boswell. No ill I hope has happened; and if ill should happen, why should it be concealed from him who loves you? Is it a fit of humor, that has disposed you to try who can hold out longest without writing? If it be, you have the victory. But I am afraid of something bad; set me free from my suspicions.
  1
  My thoughts are at present employed in guessing the reason of your silence: you must not expect that I should tell you anything, if I had anything to tell. Write, pray write to me, and let me know what is, or what has been, the cause of this long interruption. I am, dear Sir,
Your most affectionate humble servant,
SAM. JOHNSON.    
JULY 13, 1779.
  2
 
My Dear Sir:
ARE you playing the same trick again, and trying who can keep silence longest? Remember that all tricks are either knavish or childish; and that it is as foolish to make experiments upon the constancy of a friend as upon the chastity of a wife.
  3
  What can be the cause of this second fit of silence I cannot conjecture; but after one trick, I will not be cheated by another, nor will I harass my thoughts with conjectures about the motives of a man who probably acts only by caprice. I therefore suppose you are well, and that Mrs. Boswell is well too; and that the fine summer has restored Lord Auchinleck. I am much better, better than you left me; I think I am better than when I was in Scotland.  4
  I forgot whether I informed you that poor Thrale has been in great danger. Mrs. Thrale likewise has … been much indisposed. Everybody else is well; Langton is in camp. I intend to put Lord Hailes’s description of Dryden into another edition; and as I know his accuracy, wish he would consider the dates, which I could not always settle to my own mind.  5
  Mr. Thrale goes to Brighthelmstone about Michaelmas, to be jolly and ride a-hunting. I shall go to town, or perhaps to Oxford. Exercise and gayety, or rather carelessness, will I hope dissipate all remains of his malady; and I likewise hope, by the change of place, to find some opportunities of growing yet better myself. I am, dear Sir, your humble servant,
SAM. JOHNSON.    
STREATHAM, Sept. 9, 1779.
  6
 
Dear Sir:
WHY should you importune me so earnestly to write? Of what importance can it be to hear of distant friends to a man who finds himself welcome wherever he goes, and makes new friends faster than he can want them? If to the delight of such universal kindness of reception, anything can be added by knowing that you retain my good-will, you may indulge yourself in the full enjoyment of that small addition.
  7
  I am glad that you made the round of Lichfield with so much success: the oftener you are seen, the more you will be liked. It was pleasing to me to read that Mrs. Aston was so well, and that Lucy Porter was so glad to see you.  8
  In the place where you now are, there is much to be observed; and you will easily procure yourself skillful directors. But what will you do to keep away the black dog that worries you at home? If you would, in compliance with your father’s advice, inquire into the old tenures and old charters of Scotland, you would certainly open to yourself many striking scenes of the manners of the Middle Ages. The feudal system, in a country half barbarous, is naturally productive of great anomalies in civil life. The knowledge of past times is naturally growing less in all cases not of public record; and the past time of Scotland is so unlike the present, that it is already difficult for a Scotchman to image the economy of his grandfather. Do not be tardy nor negligent; but gather up eagerly what can yet be found.  9
  We have, I think, once talked of another project,—a history of the late insurrection in Scotland, with all its incidents. Many falsehoods are passing into uncontradicted history. Voltaire, who loved a striking story, has told what he could not find to be true.  10
  You may make collections for either of these projects, or for both, as opportunities occur, and digest your materials at leisure. The great direction which Burton has left to men disordered like you, is this: Be not solitary; be not idle—which I would thus modify: If you are idle, be not solitary; if you are solitary, be not idle.  11
  There is a letter for you, from
                Your humble servant,
SAM. JOHNSON.    
LONDON, October 27, 1779.
  12
 
 
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