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INTRODUCTION

pliment which was publicly flung back in his face in the famous letter about patrons and patronage. The intervals of his career had been filled up with such things as the Rambler and the Idler, works on the model of Addison's Spectator, but lacking that particular type of lightness which had made Addison's experiment so successful. His two last important books, and perhaps, upon the whole, his two best, were the philosophic romance 'Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, in 1759, and the full collection of the Lives of the Poets, published in 1777. Rasselas is an ironic tale of the disillusionments of a youth among the pompous dignities and philosophies of this world, somewhat to the same tune as the Vanity of Human Wishes. The Lives of the Poets, with their excellent thumb-nail sketches and rule-of-thumb criticisms, come nearer than anything else he wrote to the almost rollicking sagacity of his conversation. For all the rest of Johnson's life, and that the larger part, is conversation. All the rest is the history of those great friendships with Boswell, with Burke, with Reynolds, with the Thrales, which fill the most inexhaustible of human books; those companionships which Boswell was justified in calling the nights and feasts of the gods.

It is a truism, but none the less a truth for