A Critical Examination of Dr G. Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions/Examination of the Editor's Notes, Comments, Speculations, etc.
EXAMINATION OF THE EDITOR'S NOTES, COMMENTS, SPECULATIONS, ETC.
This much for the form, arrangement, and discoveries of Dr B. Hill's edition! We shall turn to his profuse notes, which literally whelm and submerge poor Boswell. They are on every conceivable subject, lack relevancy, of course, and in many instances are founded upon a complete misconception of the text. The examination of Dr B. Hill's series of commentaries will, of course, be a long one, but it is well worth making as a "record."
Here is a typical instance: Johnson once suggested to Cave various subjects for essays, such as " Forgotten Poems," or " Loose Pieces like Flayer's," a mere illustration of his suggestion. Boswell does quite enough in supplying this note:—"Sir John Floyer's treatise on the Cold Bath, Gentleman's Magazine, 1734, p. 197," his purpose being to mark the subject of one of Johnson's contributions. "But," says the editor, "his letter shows how uncommon a thing a cold bath was." Floyer, who, we are assured, recommended "general method of bleeding and purging before the patient uses the cold bath," continues: "I have commonly cured the rickets by dipping children, etc., etc. (For mention of Floyer, see ante, etc., and post, etc.)." This topic of bathing being started, we go back to Locke, "who in his 'Treatise on Education' recommended cold bathing for children. Johnson, in his review of Lucas's 'Essay on Waters' (post, 1756), thus attacks cold bathing," etc. (passage quoted). Then we have Dr Lucas himself: "The old gentleman," he says, "that uses the cold bath," etc.—Literary Magazine, p. 229. After which we turn back to the text and find that Johnson was not thinking of any of these things or persons, but had merely suggested the subject for a paper!
Johnson once told a good story of a noble man who wrote a bad play, and then bought up all the copies. At an election, the Duchess of Marlborough had it reprinted with a frontispiece representing an elephant dancing on a tight-rope. All that was wanting was the name of the nobleman—the anecdote, indeed, being suggested to Johnson by the droll rumour that he himself was taking lessons in dancing. Boswell, with his usual restraint, supplies this note. "William, the first Viscount Grimston." Dr B. Hill then starts on his erratic course. "Swift thus introduces him (Lord Grimston)," and Swift's verses are quoted. We next go off to Nichols, who, "in a note on this, says that the author wrote the play when he was a schoolboy." Boswell, observe, was not accountable for this statement, which had nothing to do with Johnson's story; but the editor actively enters into controversy with Nichols on the point. " Two editions were published, apparently by Grimston himself, one bearing his name but no date, and the other the date of 1705, but no name. By 1705 he was twenty-two years old—no longer a boy." It might be said that the statement is that the author wrote the play when a boy, which is consistent with publishing it when he was grown up. Having done with Nichols, the editor next supplies this extraordinary piece of information: "The former edition was published by Bernard Lintot at the Cross Keys, Fleet Street, and the latter by the same bookseller at the Middle Temple Gate." What can this mean? He then proceeds to point a moral: "The grossness of a young man of birth at this period is shown by the preface." No doubt, by "birth," Dr B. Hill means "nobility"; but it happened that the youth was not raised to the peerage until years afterwards. Then we return to further bibliographical details. "The third edition, with the elephant, etc., was published in 1736. There is another illustration in which an ass is bearing a coronet," etc., and, mark this "Grimston's name is not given here, but there is a dedication," etc. "Three or four notes are added, one of which is very gross." All which proves that Dr B. Hill is "abroad," as it were, and has little notion of the relevancy of his various odds and ends.
A duel took place between two gentlemen named Riddell and Cunningham, one of whom was killed. Boswell says Cunningham was his "near relation." Our editor makes researches, and finds that "Boswell's grandfather's grandmother was a Miss Cunningham; I do not know how it is that this was a near connection." Then follows a jest at the Scotch. "In Scotland, I suppose, so much kindred as this makes two men relatives." But Boswell was not likely to be so absurd, for he says distinctly that the gentleman was his near relation; and that he was so nearly connected is evident from the fact that Boswell was sent for by express to his bedside. I find in the pedigrees that Mrs Boswell had a cousin of the name.
When Johnson pleasantly uses a piece of slang "in the phrase of 'Hockley-in-the-Hole,'" the editor gives no less than sixteen passages from all sorts and conditions of persons to illustrate the meaning! Johnson had said, jocosely enough, of a little girl: "I being a buck, had Miss in to make tea." What need of comment, research, or "editing" here? But Dr B. Hill must discuss the word "Miss." "The word," he says, "at this time was often used in a loose sense," and for fear of misapprehension, adds gravely: "Though Johnson could not have so used it." Not likely indeed. Then why introduce the eccentric sense at all? But in proof of his theory he goes on to quote a story from Walpole: how the young Prince Frederick, when Kitty Fisher passed by, being asked, "Who that was?" had answered, "a Miss." Being told that all young ladies were Misses, he said that "she was a particular sort of a Miss that sold oranges." Thus it proved the "loose" sense of the word Miss. The late Peter Cunningham is next called in to prove the fact that orange girls were persons of light character. And all this "skimble-skamble" on Johnson's speech, "I had Miss in to tea"!
"On the 28th of April I went to Bath." Thus wrote Boswell. What could be added, unless a full account of Bath, Prince Bladud, Miss Burney, etc.? Dr B. Hill fancies he has "dis covered" that all the Abbey bells were set ringing to welcome Boswell, and this purely gratuitous assumption requires forty lines to develop. Goldsmith, it seems, had declared in 1762 that a stranger was always thus welcomed. It does not matter that this was ten years before, and that Boswell himself makes no mention of the salute. "Humphrey Clinker" is then quoted with the same view. But are such speculations "editing"? Boswell next adds: " Mr and Mrs Thrale were gone to the Rooms." This inexpressibly shocks Dr B. Hill, who exclaims: "To the Rooms! and their only son dead three days over one month! " Then a quotation:
"That it should come to this,
But two months dead!"—Hamlet.
Is it an editor's function to be thus horror-stricken? Nor was it altogether so heinous in the Thrales. "The Rooms" at Bath was the place of common resort—for conversation, for cards, or for music. They were both retired and public. It was natural that the bereaved pair should seek some mild distraction of the kind.
Boswell tells us of one Macbean, who was preparing "a Military Dictionary," and adds in a note: "This book was published." On which our editor: "I have not been able to find it." We are certain that Boswell would not have needlessly obtruded this note if he had not known of or seen the book. I took down Watt's "Bibliotheca," and lo! there I was "able to find it" at once, and in two places!
The following is a fair specimen of the note "brought in by head and shoulders." When Johnson received his degree of M.A., the Chancellor of the University wrote the usual letter of request, signing it "Arran." On which we are told all about the Arrans and the generations of Arrans; how there were three of their family Chancellors, with the history of each. ('Cor.,' ii. 198)," etc.; with a reference to Macaulay ("Essays," iii. 159). Then is introduced a Chancellor, not an Arran at all, "the Earl of Westmoreland, 'old, dull Westmoreland,' as Walpole calls him" ("Letters," i. 290). All this on the bare signature "Arran."
A letter from Johnson, Boswell says, was forwarded from Carlisle to his house at Edinburgh. Our ingenious editor at once introduces Mr Arthur Young ("Tour Through the North of England," iv. 431, 5), "who describes in 1768 some of the roads along which Boswell was to travel nine years later." Then follows a long quotation on the " state of the roads," which, after all, might have been improved during the nine years. And all this on a letter addressed to Boswell at Carlisle, sent after him by post! A pleasantly grotesque passage of Boswell's is the little sketch of the "Great Twalmley" and his "New Floodgate Iron," which Boswell explains in a note of about four lines. The Bishop of Killaloe had ironically defended Twalmley as "a benefactor to his species," by applying, in a burlesque way, two lines from Virgil; then the subject dropped. But Dr B. Hill intervenes, and in his own style gravely deals with this trivial matter. In a long note he gives the full passage from Virgil—four lines—with a "translation by Morris," in four lines more. Then, taking up the 'theme in his own person, he quotes classical passages in favour of the great Twalmley, who, he says, " might have justified himself by The Rambler, No. 9: 'Every man, from the highest,' " etc. [follows the passage at length]. "All this is what Twalmley did. He adorned an art"—i.e. invented a sliding-door for a smoothing-iron—"he endeavoured to arrive at eminence, etc. He could also have defended himself by the example of Æneas: Sum pius Æneas," etc.
Mr Carlyle, the editor tells us, is in error in describing Johnson as a servitor (on which, it may be said, that "Boswell's Johnson" has no concern with Mr Carlyle's or any one else's misconceptions). "He was a commoner, as the above entry shows"—and Dr B. Hill refers to. his own note. One would fancy that it had been uncertain whether Johnson had been a commoner or a servitor, and that Dr B. Hill had "discovered" the fact. But we turn to Boswell's text, and there read, "he was entered as a commoner"!
When M'Leod declared that he would rather drink punch with his tenants than claret in his own house at their expense, he was illustrating the good feeling of Scotch landlords for their dependants, Dr B. Hill gives two passages to prove excessive drinking by Irish gentlemen. There is no point or parallel in this. "Laceration of mind" Boswell has printed in italics. "Laceration," says the editor, "was properly a term of surgery; hence the italics? But was not "of mind" also in italics? and are those words "terms of surgery" also? This is surely uncritical.
It is often amusing to see how shocked is our editor at certain expressions of his author. As when Gibbon and Langton were elected Professors at the Academy, Boswell said that it reminded him of Swift's "wicked Will Whiston, and good Mr Ditton." There was some pleasantry in this. "But," says our editor gravely, "this poem goes on so grossly and so offensively as regards one and the other, that Boswell's comparison was a gross insult to Langton as well as to Gibbon." Boswell was, of course, merely amused at the notion of the oddity of the good man and the heterodox man being chosen together. There are things as offensive in Gulliver, but to compare some one to Gulliver is not an insult. Again: "It is strange"—Dr Hill is always discovering something strange—"that Boswell nowhere quotes the lines in the 'Good-natured Man,' in which Paoli is mentioned." This, as it is so "strange," must have been some compliment, or trait of character, or illustration, but the "lines" in question are simply, "that's (a letter) from Paoli of Corsica." Boswell, with his usual acumen, saw that to quote this barren speech contributed nothing to the fame of his hero.
Boswell and his friend were invited to Slains Castle by the Errol family; and the editor shows that it was to Johnson that the invitation was owing, he having been observed in the church by a lady who knew him. On which we have this gloss: "Boswell, perhaps, was not unwilling that the reader should think that it was to him that the compliment was paid." Why "perhaps"? No reason is given for this insinuation. But for it there is not a particle of foundation. For he distinctly disclaims all share in the business: "I had never seen any of the family, but there had been a card of invitation written by Mr Boyd."
Defending himself from a charge of being a reporter of private conversations, Boswell in a graceful passage asks, " How could any one be annoyed at his not gathering what grew on every hedge?" when "he had collected such fruits as the Nonpareil and the Bon Chretien" There is a quaint touch here; and by the use of the capitals he seemed to refer to the character of his great friend. But how does it strike our too literal editor?" Both Nonpareil and Bon Chretien are in Johnson's Dictionary. Nonpareil is defined as a kind of apple, Bon Chretien a species of pear." This is literal indeed! Again: in his "Diary" Johnson writes that two sheets of his "Tour" came to him for correction, viz. "F and G." This is plain enough, but our editor must make it plainer still: " F and G are the printer's signatures, by which it appears that at this time sheets B, C, D, E, had already been printed"
"I have retained Boswell's spelling" (such as "aweful," etc.), the editor tells us, "for the reason that Boswell, in another work, had said that in case of a reprint he hoped that care would be taken of his orthography." On turning to the work, published twenty-three years before, we find that Boswell was speaking of only two forms of spelling, the addition of "k" to "public," and of "u" to such words as "humour," and he trusted that these forms would be adhered to. Dr B. Hill is scarcely justified in forcing or enlarging the meaning in this way.
Dr B. Hill is fond of making out "lists," to wit, "totting up " how many times Johnson was bled, or Boswell was drunk, or how many days the pair were together. It was natural, therefore, when he came to Boswell's proposal to edit Addison's Poems, that it should occur to him to make out a list of all Boswell's projected works. Accordingly, we are told that " he proposed also to publish Johnson's Poems, an account of his own travels, a collection of old Scottish tenures, etc., and a 'History of James IV.' " These items professed to exhaust the matter. But later he begins to mend his hand: " In my list of Boswell's projected works (ante, i. 225) I have omitted this, a 'History of Sweden,'" so it now seemed complete. Later again, however, in a note, we are astonished to find the editor taking the subject up once more, and giving us quite a new list. It had now grown to ten items; it looked as though our editor was picking up his information as he went along. However, here at last was a complete final list marked with numerals. But no—turning to the end of the book we find one more new and additional item. And where? Actually put into the index of Boswell's works; "to which must be added 'An Account of a Projected Tour in the Isle of Man'" (where it may be doubted if Boswell could have given an account of a tour that was merely "projected," and had not been carried out). Still, we must take our information as we get it, in these "dribs and drabs," as it is called, and rejoice that we have it at last in a complete shape,. But what will be said if I can supplement it with some half-a-dozen fresh items which have wholly escaped the editor, and which he is welcome to add to his list in his next edition? Mistakes of dates occur through the work, such as the statement that Johnson's "Plan of the Dictionary" was published in 1774 (vol. i. p. 176), and that Johnson had been sixteen years in London before he met Hogarth. As their meeting was in 1745-6, and Johnson only came to London in 1737, this cannot be accurate; while the Plan was published over twenty years before the date mentioned.
The note on Johnson's "sliding" is a strange one. Johnson mentions, when he came to college, that on one occasion he was " sliding " on the ice. "Sliding" is an important matter, and needs exhaustive treatment. "This," says oour editor, with due gravity, " was on November 6, O.S., or November 17, N.S., a very early time for ice to bear" Still there must be documentary evidence. "The first mention of frost that I find in the newspapers of that winter is in the Weekly Journal, where," etc., and a quotation follows. Then is added, "the records of the meteorological observation began a few years later." This "sliding" passage is indeed full of odd things. His tutor Jordan had asked Johnson why he had not attended his lectures, and he answered with much nonchalance " that he had been sliding." This, he explained to Boswell, was "stark insensibility." In another late account he says that he went to his tutor with "a beating heart." Mr Croker thought the two accounts inconsistent; but any one will see that they can be reconciled. Dr B. Hill has what he calls "a very simple explanation." The accounts refer to different hours of the same day: Johnson's "insensibility" belonged to the morning, and his "beating heart" to the afternoon. He had been impertinent before dinner, and when he was sent for after dinner "he expected a sharp rebuke." All of which is rather mythical. There was but the one visit to the tutor, as any one who turns to the passages will see. Johnson went to him with a beating heart, dreading punishment, and at the same interview answered him stolidly, from a "stupid insensibility."
Boswell once remarked, "Then Hume is not the worse for Beattie's attack," i.e. in his "Essay on Truth." On which the editor introduces an account of a certain picture by Reynolds, in which Beattie is depicted as "the Angel of Truth beating down the vices"; followed by Goldsmith's criticism of the same, at length. Then we are told that one of the figures is said to be a portrait of Hume a notion which the editor confutes. On his own showing, therefore, there is no apropos in introducing the portrait at all. Next, we are oddly told "that Dr Hill Burton does not mention the 'Essay on Truth.'" An edition of Boswell could be extended ad infinitum, if we set down all the things that modern writers don't mention. Next we are assured that "Burns did not hold with Goldsmith, for he took Beattie's side," and a quotation follows.
It is surely needless to repeat in the notes the information given in the text. Boswell in his note speaks of "Dr Douglas, now Bishop of Salisbury"; but the editor in the next column tells us that "Dr Douglas was afterwards Bishop of Salisbury," and, moreover, refers us "ante, p. 127," where we find, "Dr Douglas, now Bishop of Salisbury."
"Boswell was no reader," our editor assures us—a rather wholesale assertion. Every critic will have been struck by the extent of Boswell's reading—evidenced not so much by the number of happy quotations from most languages as by the tone of general information that pervades his book. But what is the proof offered by the editor? "I wish," wrote Johnson, "you would enable yourself to borrow more;" also Boswell's own confession in 1775, "I have a time of impotency of study" (which many have); and again, "I have promised Dr Johnson to read when I get to Scotland." He had been idle, in fact, and dissipating, and could not then apply to study. But Johnson always gives his friend the highest praise for his reading and knowledge.
The editor, as we have seen, is particularly severe where "morals" or questions of morals arise, and is often shocked at, or reprobates, sentiments or conduct that seem to deviate from his high standard, as in the well-known discussion between Dr Johnson and Lord Auchinleck. The latter, when pressed to name any Scotch religious work of merit, confessed to his son afterwards that he suddenly recollected having seen in a catalogue "Durham on the Galatians," with which he at once "downed" Johnson. There was something pleasant, if not humorous, in this little scene. But the editor deals with it very seriously, and sees here a regular breach of morality. "In the British Museum Catalogue I can find no work by Durham on the Galatians. Lord Auchinleck's triumph was more artful than honest." In other words, he had invented a religious treatise, and thus "lied," as Johnson might say, not only to the sage, but to his own son, to whom he said that he had seen the work. Well, on turning to the British Museum Catalogue, I find "Durham on the Revelations," which the old judge might very naturally have confounded with "the Galatians."
Again, there was an old friend of Johnson's, the well-known Dr James—of powder celebrity and for whom he had a cordial affection. The editor, however, has discovered that Johnson "did not speak equally well of Dr James's morals." This is rather a serious charge, for "morals" is a large word. He explains it in this way: "He will not," wrote Johnson, "pay for three box tickets which he took; 'tis a strange fellow." Who has not experienced something of this kind a rich friend forgets to pay, or puts off paying, for some ticket, cab, etc., or is a little stingy—we tell it with a smile "'tis a strange fellow," but we do not thereby revile his "morals." Dr B. Hill has studied books, not character.
Once Johnson, pleased with a dinner, said, "It could not have been better had it been prepared by a 'synod of cooks.'" Could anything be clearer or more intelligible, as a pleasant remark en passant? But listen to the editor: "When Johnson spoke of a 'synod of cooks,' he was, I conjecture, thinking of Milton's 'Synod of Gods,' in Beelzebub's speech in 'Paradise Lost,' Book II., line 391." It gives one a sort of chill to read these solemnities. But if we must explain it all literally, and " by the card," Johnson was not thinking of Milton or Beelzebub, nor even of the Diocesan Synods of his own country; he was drawing a humorous picture of the chefs assembled in council, grave as divines, and concocting their dinner.
Boswell described Hawkins as "Mr John Hawkins, an attorney." "In thus styling Hawkins, he remembered, no doubt, Johnson's sarcasm against attorneys." Thus Dr B. Hill: "No doubt." Nothing of the kind. There was no connection between Boswell's speech and Johnson's sarcasm, which was "that he did not like to speak ill of a gentleman behind his back, but he believed he was an attorney." Which prompts Dr B. Hill to engender a new and rather grotesque theory that Johnson "had some motive for his ill-will towards them (the attorneys)," just as he had towards excisemen. And what is the ground for this speculation? That when describing, in his poem, the various bad characters that infested the streets of London, Johnson had used the phrase, "The fell attorney prowls for prey." These are all morbid imaginings. Miss Hawkins expressly states that Boswell used the offensive description of her father because the latter had described him as "Mr James Boswell, a native of Scotland," instead of "the celebrated," or well-known Mr Boswell.
"I mentioned to him," says Boswell, "a respectable person in Scotland whom he knew." Now, who could see any obscurity here? But we have a long disquisition on the meaning of the word "respectable." In those days "it was still a term of high praise." The dictum, as it is needless, we might let pass. But it must be proved by quotations, firstly from Johnson's Dictionary; secondly, from "The Tour"; thirdly, from Dr Franklin; fourthly, from the Gentleman's Magazine; fifthly, from Hannah More; sixthly, from Gibbon; seventhly, from George III.; eighthly, from Lord Chesterfield! All these personages, it seems, used "respectable" as "a term of praise."
When Mrs Thrale contemptuously described Boswell as "sitting steadily down at the other end of the room" to take notes of the conversation, the editor suggests that "stealthily" should be read. But Mrs Thrale meant that Boswell pursued his work with a sort of obtuse purpose or "doggedness," regardless of remark. He never had any idea of "stealthiness" in his task. The Prince of Wales had promised to attend the Royal Academy Exhibition, and Johnson wrote that "when we had waited an hour and a half he sent us word that he could not come." This quite puts the editor in a rage. "The First Gentleman of Europe was twenty-one years old when he treated men like Johnson and Reynolds with this insolence." From this rhapsody one would fancy it was the banquet or a deputation when a number of important people, such as Johnson and Reynolds, were kept waiting. Johnson meant that they were expecting the Prince for an hour and a half, it being the opening of the Exhibition, which was attended by hundreds. There was no "insolence" in this; he was so far polite that he sent his excuses; neither had the Prince at that time any claim to be "First Gentleman in Europe." And, finally, the anecdote is not in Boswell.
Sometimes our editor indulges in a joke. On the mention of "Jackson the all-knowing," we have this most singular note: "Mr Croker gives a reference to p. 136 of his edition. Turning to it, we find an account of Johnson, who rode upon three horses. It would seem from this that because John = Jack, therefore Johnson = Jackson." This tone of treating Boswell's great book is surely indecorous. No one of true editorial tact would indulge in such a remark. Besides, it is merely a slip of the index matter, and there are many as bad in the editor's own index. It was, further, a not unnatural mistake, the eyes being deceived by the likeness of the two names.
Boswell speaks of one of Hogarth's prints which, with others, "was pasted on the walls of the dining-room at Streatham." This trifling matter seems clear enough, save to Dr B. Hill. He wonders "whether pasted is strictly used," and thinks it likely "that a wealthy brewer would have afforded Hogarth a frame." He cannot see that it was no question of saving or "affording," but of decoration; this pasting of prints on screens and walls has often been seen in old houses. What, too, is the "strict use" of the word "pasted"? No one could speak of a frame being "pasted" to a wall, even in the less strict use of "pasted." At any rate, Boswell had seen the pictures, and says they were " pasted."
Here is an odd delusion of our editor's. He conceived a theory that Boswell "looked down" on Mr Thrale as being a person in trade, because he spoke of him as "Thrale," not as Mr Thrale; and of his house as "Thrale's." Why, in the very two pages that Dr B. Hill points to, we find Boswell speaking of his friend as "Mr Thrale" no less than eleven times! The theory is wholly fanciful. Again, the editor, announcing a future collection of Johnson's letters, to be edited by himself, sets out this remarkable doctrine: "While the correspondence of David Garrick has been given to the world in two large volumes, it is not right that the letters of his far greater friend should be left scattered and almost neglected." Apart from this odd non sequitur and the appeal to comparative size, the editor's argument is based on a mistake. Johnson's letters are not "left scattered." All that is valuable is found in Boswell's work, and in Mrs Piozzi's volumes. Neither can they be called "neglected," or at least more neglected than they would be in the new shape proposed. But, again, in spite of the "two large volumes," Garrick's letters are still "left scattered." There are many in MS., many in the Monthly Mirror, European, and Gentleman's Magazines. Again, more than one-half of the two large volumes are other persons' letters. So in every view Dr B. Hill is unlucky.
And again, when Boswell objected to keep ing company with a notorious infidel, "a celebrated friend of ours" said to him, "I do not think that men who live laxly in the world, as you and I do, can with propriety assume, etc. It is not consistent to shun an infidel to-day and get drunk to-morrow? Dr B. Hill actually debates the point that Burke could not be the person who lived laxly! For Burke was always "eminent friend." "Moreover," he adds, with perfect gravity, "Burke was not in the habit of getting drunk." Nor did he "live laxly in the world." Then Dr B. Hill thinks of Hamilton, a most sober, respectable personage, and whom Boswell also spoke of as "celebrated," and whom nobody thought lived laxly, etc. But then Boswell and Hamilton were not "friends." Had the editor reflected a little he would have found the person that suited exactly—Windham, who both lived laxly and got drunk.
Boswell, speaking of Harry Dundas, had alluded to his strong Scotch accent, and the editor says: "There is no doubt malice in this second mention of Dundas's accent." As a ground for this malice, he instances Boswell's complaints of neglect. But let us see what is this "malicious" passage: "I cannot too highly praise Mr Dundas's speech. His Scottish accent has often been obtruded as an objection to his powerful abilities," etc. He then likens him to the "most eminent orators of antiquity," in fact, indulges in extravagant panegyric. The truth was, the prudent Boswell was complimenting Dundas in the hope of obtaining his patronage.
Johnson wrote to his black servant exhorting him to be "a good boy." The editor enters on a serious calculation of years, and actually proves by dates that he was not "a boy"! Of course the reader sees that Johnson was using a familiar colloquial phrase. "Be a good boy and take care of yourself," is the refrain of a ballad. In other instances he tries hard to prove that women were not to be called "girls."
"A gentleman," says Boswell, "supposed a case," etc. "The gentleman," the editor says, "must have been Boswell himself, for no one else was present." But Boswell was too careful a workman to overlook this. On turning to the passage, it will be seen that it was a reminiscence, Boswell suspending his account of the conversation to introduce it. For he says: "And let it be kept in mind that he was very careful not to encourage," etc., giving as an illustration, "A gentleman supposed a case." And, on resuming, he is careful to say: "He, this evening, expressed himself," etc.
Some of the editor's "illustrations" only illustrate the contrary sense of the passage—as when Johnson declared that "hardly any one died without affectation." We have Madame de Sevigne to the effect that there is often long acting of a comedy during life, "but that at death we tell the truth "; and also Young, who speaks of "dropping the mask" at death.
"Boswell liked to display such classical learning as he had." Thus the editor, generalising. But it turns out that he was dining with the Headmaster of Eton, and frankly confessed that, to keep up his credit in such company, he furbished up some quotations, which was most natural, "talking," in fact, "ostentatiously." And on this is founded a general statement.
At a dinner, when "The Dunciad" came under discussion, "one of the company," says Boswell, having remarked, "And a poem on what on dunces?" Johnson rudely attacked him. "Ah, it was worth while being a dunce then! Hadst thou been living," etc. The editor thinks that this "one of the company" was Boswell. The dinner was in 1769, in the early stages of Boswell's intimacy with the sage, and long before he had begun to make rude speeches to him. The dinner was given by Boswell—he was the host neither was he in anything approaching to a dunce. There was one present, however, who was a favourite butt of Johnson, and of whom he was always speaking contemptuously—Tom Davies—and he was certainly the man.
"A ghastly smile" is a common expression enough; but we are informed that it is "borrowed from 'Paradise Lost,' II., 846."
Speaking of Miss Knowles's "sutile" pictures or embroidery, Johnson said, "Staffordshire is the nursery of art; here they grow up till they are transplanted to London." Who would suppose that he was thinking of anything but of the local artists? No. "He is pleasantly alluding to the fact that he was a Staffordshire man." How "pleasantly"? and what had Johnson to do with "art"? and where is the "allusion"?
When the travellers were at Inverness, a clergy man who preached spoke of persons who connected themselves with men of talent, and tried to deck themselves with their merits. Boswell naively says that "he thought this was an odd coincidence." But Dr B.Hill sees no coincidence, and finds it "odd that Boswell did not suspect the parson," who had no doubt learnt that they were to be present at his sermon. Could any one of critical taste believe that a clergyman, in his church, could adopt this offensive mode of "preaching at" two strangers? And if he did know of their presence, the obscure clergyman of a remote Scottish district could never have heard of the town jests on Boswell's attendance on John son. He would, if anything, have been complimentary and full of respect, but, it is likely, did not know till later that he had the great Dr Johnson and his friend listening to him. Boswell, speaking of Lord Monboddo's ill-feeling to Johnson, said that the latter was "even kindly, as appeared from his enquiring of me after him by an abbreviation of his name. 'Well, how does Monny?'" But our editor looks grave. There is more underneath. "The use," says the editor, "of the abbreviation Monny on Johnson's part scarcely seems a proof of kindness." Yet pet names usually betoken good humour and affection. More odd are the instances by which he supports his theory. Johnson had said that on several occasions "Sherry was dull"; "Mund Burke" was "lacking in sense"; and "Deny" (Derrick) had "outrun his character." Here were proofs of " unkindness." Any one that turns to the passages will see that Johnson was, as it were, affectionately lamenting certain little weaknesses in friends he loved. At the worst, no one could contend, as the editor actually seems to do, that the use of a pet name was a proof of unkindness.
Johnson spoke of its being said that Addison wrote some of his best papers "when warm with wine." A note of sixteen lines is furnished, giving an account of how Addison spent his day, finishing it at a tavern, where "he often drank too much wine." This, it will be seen, does not prove or illustrate the statement that he wrote when warm with wine. Boswell adds that Blackstone wrote his commentaries with a bottle of port before him, on which is a most extraordinary, heterogeneous note of thirty lines. It opens with a quotation from Mr Foss, proving that the judge did not take exercise, that he was corpulent, etc. "His portrait in the Bodleian shows that he was a very fat man." Then Scott "would not have thought any the worse of Blackstone for his bottle of port"; and we are told he and his brother, Lord Eldon, relished port wine, the fact being it was one of the favourite drinks of the time. Then "some one asked him whether Lord Stowell took much exercise," etc. "Yet both men got through a vast deal," etc. These undiscriminating odds and ends are bewildering. How much more interesting it had been if Dr B. Hill had studied his text on true editorial principles. This passage he would have found gave some displeasure to the Blackstone family. Boswell altered it, adding a compliment, "and found his intellect invigorated," etc. This is more to the point than being told that "he was a very fat man."
Johnson had found fault with the meat in Paris. The editor, to confute him, quotes Smollett, who found it "extremely good." But this was twelve years before Johnson's visit. We next have Walpole, who complained of the want of "clean victuals, good tea, butter," etc. But this was at Amiens, not at Paris, and Walpole does not mention meat at all. Finally, there is Goldsmith, who indeed speaks of the "tough meat" at Paris. So Johnson is right after all.
Speaking of Lord Hailes, formerly Sir David Dalrymple, the editor needlessly cautions us that " he is not to be confounded with Sir John Dalrymple." We might as well be warned not to confound Mr W. H. Smith with Mr Samuel Smith, or Mr John Morley with Mr Samuel Morley, or Sir John Sullivan with Sir Arthur Sullivan. " Boswell nowhere quotes Mrs Barbauld's fine lines on 'Corsica.'" Why should he? There is an abundance of verses, essays, etc., on the subject which he does not quote. He was writing Johnson's life. So odd does this abstinence appear to the editor, that he devises this odd theory to account for it. "He must have been ashamed to quote the praise of the wife of one described by his great friend as 'a little Presbyterian schoolmaster.'" Johnson said jocosely that Beattie "had sunk upon them that he had a wife." This is quite intelligible. Beattie himself said that he understood it as "studiously concealing." What need of more? Still the editor must apply to the great Dictionary, where, he says reprovingly, Beattie "would have found this explanation: 'To suppress: to conceal.'" But this was Beattie's meaning. Then Dr B. Hill quotes Swift's advice to servants, where he tells them, if sent to buy an article, they were to "sink the money," which is not Johnson's meaning, but a new one, "to appropriate."
One of the editor's speculations is rather con fused and uncritical, as the reader will judge. "I cannot but wish," says Boswell, speaking of the Rambler, "that he had not ended it with an unnecessary Greek verse;" and he adds: "How much better would it have been to have ended it with a prose sentence," etc. Here the editor exclaims: "I have little doubt that this attack is an indirect blow at Hawkins, who had quoted the whole passage, and had clearly thought it more 'aweful' on account of the couplet." Without going further, every reader feels that this is quite a delusion, and that Boswell was not thinking of such a trifle. He always names Hawkins when he attacks him. But there was no "attack," and on turning to Hawkins, we find not the slightest allusion to the couplet, or that he "clearly thought" the passage "more awful" because of it. He limits his praise wholly to the prose paragraph, which he calls awful. What Dr B. Hill was thinking of when he engendered this theory I cannot imagine. Finding an allusion to the death of two book sellers, he turns to his Gentleman's Magazine to find their names—"Mr Paul Knapton and Thomas Longman, Esq."—on which he calls attention to the high relative position of the Longmans above their fellows, even thus early; poor Knapton being only plain "Mr," the other being garnished with "Esq." The truth is, Knapton stood far higher, being an old-established bookseller, whose name is on innumerable title-pages; and the obituary notes in the Gentleman's Magazine were copied from the newspapers, where they were inserted by relatives with "Esq." if they preferred it.
Lord Campbell stated that Hunter, Johnson's master, was celebrated for having flogged seven boys who all became judges. "Here," the editor says, "he blunders," because Northington and Clarke were from Westminster School. This does not prove the blunder, for Wilmot, one of the seven, after being under Hunter, also went to Westminster School, as the others might have done, Hunter's being merely a country Grammar School.
Johnson had written to his printer: "I will take the trouble of altering any stroke of satire which you may dislike," and Boswell naturally praises him for his "humility in allowing the printer" to alter what he disliked. But the editor tells us that Boswell "misread the letter"; he did not offer to allow the printer to make alterations! Surely this is a poor quibble. The printer was to point out the alteration he required, and that was making an alteration.
Boswell repeats the well-known saying of Goldsmith, as to Malagrida and Lord Shelburne, adding a short defence of his friend. All that was necessary by way of note might be a line on Malagrida. But Dr B. Hill gives quotations from Voltaire, Wraxall, and his favourite "Fitzmaurice's Shelburne": "Anybody who examines Reynolds' picture of Shelburne, especially about the eyebrows," etc. Then we learn that "Beauclerk wrote to Lord Charlemont," etc., and the whole Goldsmith story is given over again, in the midst of which the editor interpolates this sentence: "Shelburne supported Townshend in opposition to Wilkes in the election of Lord Mayor. ('Fitzmaurice's Shelburne,' II. 28.)" So Goldsmith makes a blundering speech, and away we travel in pursuit of Malagrida, Shelburne and his eyebrows, Charlemont, Beauclerk, Lord Mayors, Townshend, Wilkes.
Johnson was assailing the ignorance and idleness of the Scotch clergy. To illustrate this, Dr B. Hill quotes a long description of certain clergymen and their roysterings, given by Dr Carlyle. We find that these were English clergymen, and that the scene was at Harrogate!
The editor often gives us notes upon his own notes. Thus when Johnson advocated the procession of malefactors to Tyburn, we have no less than sixty lines from Richardson, describing the ceremonial. In this Richardson passage unluckily occurs the mention of a particular psalm sung on the occasion, which then embarks us on a new quotation from Pope to prove that it was the custom for such a psalm to be sung. Boswell and his friend then discussing some recent executions which, from their number, were certainly barbarous enough—our editor conjures up this fanciful picture of Johnson: "There is something dreadful in the thought of the old man quietly going on with his daily life within a few hundred yards of this shocking scene of slaughter." Why "dreadful"? The thought never occurred to him. Nay, he was for a public procession of the criminals, which he thought was for the general good. Or, supposing that it so affected him, why should he not "go on with his daily life"? Dr B. Hill's idea of distance, too, is as fanciful as his speculation. Bolt Court was nearly half a mile from Newgate—many streets and many blocks of buildings interposed, notably the great Fleet Prison. The scene was in another district altogether.
Johnson's speech to Windham on going to Ire land is well known: "Don't be afraid, sir; you will soon make a very pretty rascal." The editor's odd comment is: "The Whigs thought he made a very pretty rascal in a different way;" in proof of which he tells us that Romilly was "astonished" at his opposing a School Bill and the repeal of an Act of Parliament. This is as extraordinary as it is perplexing. Johnson had advised him to claim everything—to use all arts for getting on: "Don't be afraid, sir; you will soon make a pretty rascal." And this the editor thinks is the same thing as opposing two Whig measures: and he gratuitously asserts that the Whigs thought Windham a very pretty rascal for doing so.
Here is a very serious misapprehension of the meaning. The editor, after mentioning that Johnson would not attend the Presbyterian worship in Scotland, points out his inconsistency, for "in France he went to a Roman Catholic service." On turning to the passage, we find that he happened to enter St Eustache when the children were being catechised, and listened to the cure's instruction, which was not "a service" at all. These exaggerations are constantly met with. Boswell once fondly reminded Johnson how they first conceived the plan of their "Tour" at the Mitre Tavern. The editor corrects him: "It was at the Turk's Head Coffee-House." On turning to the passage referred to by the editor in proof, we find Boswell merely saying that " We talked of the plan at the Turk's Head" without a word of its being the first time. Boswell distinctly says it was at the Mitre.
On the journey to Harwich, Johnson and Boswell stopped the night at Colchester. The editor is sorely puzzled. " They left London early, and yet they only travelled fifty-one miles that day; "twenty more miles, and they would have been at Harwich. But he might have learned the explanation from Boswell himself. They wished to see the town, which Johnson "regarded with veneration as having stood a siege for Charles I."; and the friends wished to be together for another day.
Dr B. Hill has a curious morbid delusion as to what is "indecent," and flings about imputations of this kind. Against the worthy Cave he brings this charge, accusing him of inserting in his magazine " verses as gross as they are dull," advertisements of "indecent books," one of which is "in very gross language." I have not been able to search out these specimens; but we may test the editor's statement by his charge against Johnson of accepting an "Epilogue" for his "Irene," which is a "little coarse and a little profane." In this, jocose allusion is made to the Turkish system of a husband "with fifty wives," and the speaker says she prefers the English system of one husband to herself, instead of having a fiftieth part of one. I cannot see any "coarseness" in this "Epilogue." The "profanity" may be searched for in vain, unless the editor means that the word "devil" is profane.
When Mrs Johnson died, the editor notes that her name did not appear in the usual monthly list of deaths in the Gentleman's Magazine. "Johnson," he adds rather bitterly, "did not, I suppose, rank among eminent persons." Now, Johnson was not, at the time, an eminent person. He had not published his Dictionary. Mrs John son, at least, was not an "eminent" person; and, finally, the list was not one of eminent persons at all.
"Frank," Johnson's servant, had entered the Navy, and Johnson indirectly sought Wilkes's aid to obtain his discharge. The application to Wilkes was on March 20; and the editor speculates: "Had he been discharged at once, he would have found Johnson moving from Gough Square to Staple Inn," which removal took place on March 25. There is no ground for presuming that he would have been discharged on this particular day, even if he had been discharged "at once." The letter had to reach Wilkes, who had to apply: the matter had then to be considered; so it would have taken months. But that the speculation is wholly idle is proved by what Boswell tells us, that the man "was at sea" probably at some far-off station. Finally, it took over a year to obtain the discharge.
Johnson spoke of the little use there was found in Lectures; on which the editor suggests that "perhaps Gibbon had seen this passage when he wrote something of the kind in his 'Memoirs.'" Perhaps not. Gibbon wrote his "Memoirs" in 1789, and the passage alluded to is found near the opening. Boswell's work appeared two years later; so Gibbon could not have seen it when he wrote. And how uncritical to suppose that a Gibbon would borrow from a Boswell.
And a singular, unaccountable speculation is that of the editor's on Gibbon's change of religion at Oxford, of which Boswell and Johnson spoke rather contemptuously. Gibbon says, in his "Memoirs," that "many years afterwards this report was industriously whispered at Oxford." The editor actually asks us to believe that this large statement refers,'"! have no doubt, to the attacks made on him" here by Boswell and Johnson! Gibbon left Oxford in 1753, and the attack was in 1776. The report, "industriously circulated at Oxford," applied to the community there; not to the two friends, who had picked it up because it was "industriously circulated." There is the difficulty that Gibbon's "Memoirs " end with the year 1788, three years before the appearance of Boswell's "Life"; so the editor engenders a theory that "he wrote a portion of them, I believe, after the publication of the 'Life.'" This, " I believe," will hardly do.
I could give dozens of instances where Dr B. Hill completely misapprehends his text. Thus, Johnson condemned petitions " as a new mode of distressing the Government and its measures." "Yet"—wishing to show how inconsistent Johnson is—"yet he was angry when Dr Dodd's petition was neglected, and the public called for mercy." In this case he was speaking of a petition to the King, who was the only fountain of mercy: in the other case he was alluding to those who distressed the Government—quite different things.
When Mrs Knowles, the Quakeress, spoke of "the bright regions where pride and prejudice can never enter," the editor asks, "Did Miss Austen find here the title of 'Pride and Prejudice' for her novel?" Mrs Knowles was arguing against the pride and prejudice which Johnson displayed; the passage is found, too, not in Boswell, but in the Gentleman's Magazine, which Miss Austen was not likely to have consulted for her titles.
The editor seems always to have had Johnson's great Folio Dictionary beside him, which he consulted on meeting any unusual word. A favourite form with him is, "This word is not in Johnson's Dictionary," which is about as valuable as the statement that "Crummies is not a Prussian." We are told this again and again. Mr Dempster, writing in praise of Johnson's "Tour," used the word "fossilist," when we are assured that "this word is not found in Johnson's Dictionary." The editor must be reminded, firstly, that it was a point of no importance what words Dempster used, or whether they were in or out of Johnson's Dictionary; secondly, that the Dictionary did not include all words in use; thirdly, that numbers of words had come into use since the Dictionary was published; and, finally, that the point is utterly trivial, and not worth noticing.
Johnson, in delight at his return to Oxford, wrote: "* * * is now making tea." "Perhaps Van," says the editor, "for Vansittart." This gentleman is named in the next sentence of the text as the person to whom Johnson suggested "climbing over a wall." Then, why should his name be suppressed in the matter of making tea? The three stars more probably stand for some lady's name. But this is a trifle. Johnson then tells of his delight at being back at his old University how he was never out of his gown, had "swum," had proposed climbing the wall a rather touching state of exultation. But our editor thinks that he had taken too much wine! "Johnson perhaps proposed climbing over the wall on the day on which University College witnessed his drinking three bottles of port." This might have been in some "gaudy" during his undergraduate course; there is no evidence that it was during this visit.
"I remember," says Johnson, "when people changed a shirt only once a week." As was to be expected, we have a dissertation on shirt-changing, going back to the Tatler, where it is mentioned that a shirt was changed twice a week. Gay, by selling stock, might have had a clean shirt every day. Then we have Tristram Shandy, the Spiritual Quixote, and Mrs Piozzi, all brought in.
"Foote," the editor tells us, "had taken off Lord Chesterfield in the 'Cozeners.'" Foote had "taken off" many persons, that is, had brought them on the stage, mimicked their dress, peculiarities, speech, etc. Dr B. Hill then gives as a specimen Mrs Aircastle's speech: "I wish you would read some late posthumous letters; you would know the true value of the graces." This is not "taking off" Lord Chesterfield.
Johnson laid it down that "the public practice of any art," such as portrait-painting, was "improper in a woman"; for, "staring at men's faces was indelicate." Here the editor tries to convict him of inconsistency: "Yet he sat to Miss Reynolds perhaps ten times." Johnson was speaking of the "public" practice, that is, of professional portrait-painting the "staring" at strange men. He was not a strange man.
Here is another of the editor's odd dreams. "Dryden, Pope, Reynolds, Northcote, Ruskin, so runs the chain of genius, with only one weak link in it." This seems mysterious and queer, to say nothing of the "chain running," but it is thus explained. When Reynolds was in the country, Northcote succeeded in touching his coat. "In like manner, Reynolds had touched the hand of Pope." Pope persuaded some one "to take him to a coffee-house which Dryden frequented." This was not much. "Who? ex claims Dr B. Hill, "touched old Northcote's hand? Has the Apostolic succession been continued?" But he can tell us: "I have read with pleasure" that Mr Ruskin was taken to have his portrait done by "old Northcote." No "touching" here; so there are two "weak links" in the chain. We could make a chain "run" in better fashion, which has at least some connection with Johnson. Persons now alive have "touched" Mr Croker; Mr Croker touched Lord Stowell; Lord Stowell, Johnson; Johnson, George III., and so on. And all this on the text that Johnson and Reynolds travelled in Devonshire.
"Boswell, according to the Bodleian Catalogue, was the author of 'Dorando.'" But is this all Dr B. Hill can tell us on this interesting point? The cataloguer's authority is of no moment. I have investigated the matter, and, if the editor turn to my "Life of Boswell," it can be shown clearly that Boswell was the author.
"Johnson had offended Langton, as well as Goldsmith, this day, yet of Goldsmith only did he ask pardon . Perhaps this increased Langton's resentment." Let us compare the two cases. To Langton he had said, "I wonder how a gentleman of your piety can introduce such a subject." And Langton humbly replied he only did so to learn Johnson's views. But to Goldsmith, Johnson had said, outrageously enough, "Sir, you are impertinent" In the first case no apology was needed—in the other it was given. Johnson furnished Goldsmith with a few lines for "The Traveller"; on which the editor: "For each line of 'The Traveller' Goldsmith was paid 11¼d. Johnson's present, therefore, of nine lines was, if reckoned in money, worth 8s. 5¼d." Is there not something rather mesquin in this sort of criticism? Neither was Goldsmith paid by the line, but received a sum for the whole. Had Johnson not contributed, he would have received the same sum. In the same spirit we are told that when " Johnson this year accepted a guinea from Robert Dodsley, for writing an introduction, he was paid at the rate of little over twopence a line"
When Foote supplied beer to a house the servants refused to drink it; but a black who heard his jests at dinner, was so delighted that he declared in the kitchen he would drink his beer. Somebody then remarked that Garrick would not have produced this effect, and Wilkes said "that he would have made the beer still smaller. He will play 'Scrub' all his life." Dr B. Hill here strangely fancies that there is an allusion to a speech of Scrub's: "On Saturday I draw warrants and on Sunday I draw beer" Wilkes meant that Garrick was like Scrub in his mean ways.
"A fig for my father (Boswell's) and his new wife." Thus Johnson. "It is odd," the editor thinks, "that, as Lord Auchinleck had been married more than six years, his wife should be called new." There is nothing odd; for later, Johnson talks of Boswell's "new mother." She was new compared with the old wife of thirty years' standing.
One of the signers of the famous "Round Robin" was a certain "Thos. Franklin" (without the "c"), about whom the editor can discover nothing. He is certain, however, that it was not a well-known Professor Dr Thos. Francklin, (with a "c"). The reader shall judge. This gentleman was a dramatist, the intimate friend of Garrick, Johnson, and Goldsmith. The "Round Robin" was signed at a dinner at Reynolds' house. Francklin was his intimate friend also, and, moreover, Professor at the academy whereof Reynolds was President. Can there be a doubt as to the man? As to the "c," says the editor, "The Rev. Dr Luard has kindly compared six signatures of Francklin, ranging from 1739 to 1770, which all have the 'c.'" But this "Round Robin" dinner was in 1776, six years later. In one of his notes on the careless spelling of names at this era, the editor admits that "Johnson spelt Boswell with one 'l,'" etc.
Johnson had said, "Nobody attempts to dispute that two and two makes four." "Nobody, that is to say, but Johnson," adds the editor. For proof of this charge we are referred to Dr Burney: "If you said two and two make four, he would say, 'How do you prove that?'" But Dr Burney was speaking of Johnson's not allowing people to make idle "assertions," on which he would call for proof. Further, it was not Johnson who disputed that two and two made four, but Burney, who supposed the case of his doing so! And, even under the supposition itself, he never disputed the fact. But what settles the matter is, that Johnson in one place says, "You may have a reason why two and two make five, but they will still make but four."
"A gentleman" attacked Garrick for being vain. "Very likely Boswell," explains the editor, bidding us "See post" in proof, where we find that Boswell "slyly introduced Mr Garrick's name, and his assuming the airs of a great man." But why would Boswell conceal his own name in the one passage, and reveal it in the other? Further, to "attack" Garrick was not Boswell's way. And still further, in this second passage, he actually joins in Garrick's praises. It is obvious that "the gentleman" was not Boswell.
Here is a curious instance of a misunderstanding of a passage. Johnson wrote to Lord Elibank that he never met him without going away a wiser man. "Yet," objects the editor, "he said of him there is nothing conclusive in his talk." But the two things are compatible. Johnson, on this last occasion, was praising Oglethorpe's "variety of knowledge," though he owned he was desultory and "never completed what he had to say." On which Boswell, "He, on the same account, made a similar remark on Lord Elibank. 'Sir, there is nothing conclusive etc.; i.e. he does not complete, etc. But his talk was wise. Nothing could be clearer.
Boswell was speaking of Goldsmith's "envy" of people who were "distinguished," and which he exhibited to a ridiculous extent. The editor quotes a person to whom the poet said that "he himself envied Shakespeare." This is not the sort of envy Boswell means. Johnson declared that inoculation had destroyed more lives than war. The editor, wishing to prove this wholesale statement, quotes a longish account of Dr Warton, whose daughter was inoculated, and died!
Johnson, when on his deathbed, directed a stone to be placed over the grave of his father and mother in a Lichfield church. It has, however, disappeared. It is obvious that the point of the incident is Johnson's filial affection; but it leads the editor into the most rambling speculations about the "stone." Why was it not there? What became of it? Was it ever there? In his distress he calls for the aid of the Rev. James Serjeatson, the rector, who, from his office, is assumed to have special knowledge, though he can have known little of the matter; but the rev. gentleman is even more wild in his speculations. "He suggests to me that the stone was never set up" (query, set down?) for the reason that "it was unlikely that within a dozen years such a memorial was treated so unworthily." In vain the worthy historian of the town, Dr Harwood, who must have seen "the stone," distinctly records that it was taken away in 1796, when the church was paved a common incident. But this will not do. The "stone" was never placed there; for "there may have been some difficulty in finding the exact place of the interment." All which is a gratuitous fancy; for Johnson particularly directed that the spot was to be found, before ordering the stone; and we are told that the mason's receipt "shows that he was paid for the stone." Then we have this odd theory: "The matter may have stood over till it was forgotten;" and, last and wildest hypothesis of all, "the mason may have used it for some other purpose." This in the face of the facts that the stone was ordered, laid, and removed!
Johnson once wished "he had learned to play at cards." "On the other hand," begins Dr Hill, "he says in his Rambler that a man may shuffle cards, or play at dice from noon till midnight, and get no new idea." Cannot Dr B. Hill see that he is here speaking of gambling, as his allusion in the same paper to "agitated passions and clamorous altercations" clearly shows? — another thing altogether from learning to play whist.
Johnson spoke of the respect shown to officers, and how they were everywhere well received. But, says Dr B. Hill, "in his thoughts on the coronation he expressed himself differently;" and adds, "if, indeed, the passage is of his writing." But there all he says is that "it offends us to see soldiers placed between a man and his sovereign "that is, he objected to the system of body-guards! So he did not "express himself differently." Johnson having added that when a common soldier was civil in his billet or "quarters," he was treated with respect, we are given a long note on the Mutiny Act, the amount of food to be furnished, what the inn keepers had to supply—lodging, fire, candle light, five pints of beer per diem, etc. All this on the mention of the single word "quarters."
Sheridan's wife, we are told, had £3000 settled on her, "with delicate generosity," by a person to whom she had been engaged, and for which Dr B. Hill quotes Moore. He apparently does not know that this sum was forced from the gentleman as damages for a breach of contract. He really behaved atrociously to the lady, and was gibbeted by Foote in "The Maid of Bath"; so he displayed no "delicate generosity" at all.
Johnson protested that he would not keep company with a fellow "whom you must make drunk before you can get the truth from him." Dr B. Hill supplies a note from Addison which has no bearing on the matter: "Our bottle conversation is infected with lying." One would think that this is general, and shows that wine breeds untruthfulness; but on turning to the passage we find Addison deploring the general reign of lying—in society and everywhere; "even our bottle conversation," he adds, "is infected," etc. And, observe, Johnson was thinking of drunkenness, and Addison of drinking merely—different things.
A remark was made that in the northern parts of Scotland there was very little light in winter. "Then," writes Boswell, "we talked of Tacitus." Here Dr B. Hill speculates, and ventures to fill up "out of his own head" all that occurred between the two subjects. "Tacitus, 'Agricola,' chapter xii., was, no doubt, quoted in reference to the shortness of the northern winter's day." But in such a case Boswell would have been only too glad to add something dramatic to his narrative by giving the steps of the transition. "My revered friend then said, 'It is extraordinary, Sir, how the ancients anticipated these things. Tacitus, in his "Agricola,"'" etc. But Boswell, as he does in so many places, passed to, or "introduced" a new subject, perhaps a little abruptly.
Boswell speaks of "Mr Orme, the able historian" of India. As an illustration, the editor tells of Colonel Newcome, whose "favourite book was a History of India—the history of Orme." What is the value of that? On this principle, if Gibbon be named, we ought to introduce Dickens's Silas Wegg, whose "favourite boo " was "The Decline and Fall Off" of the Roman Empire. The opinions of characters in fiction are of no value in a critical work.
"Boswell's intemperance … at last carried him off." This is not known—or at least cannot be known. He died of an intermitting fever. Johnson said of "hospitals and other public institutions," that all the good is done by one man, who drives on the others. To illustrate this, Dr B. Hill quotes Fielding, on the "difficulty of getting admission" into hospitals.
Johnson, we are assured, made less money because "he never traded on his reputation. When he had made his name, he almost ceased to write." Let us see. Johnson, it will be conceded, "made his name" by his Dictionary, published in 1755; but since then what a number of works he issued the—Idler, "Rasselas," editions of Shakespeare, "The Lives of the Poets," besides innumerable pamphlets, essays, reviews, dedications, etc. His pen was never idle a moment. We even find him eager to edit a huge Cyclopaedia—a regular trade job.
Johnson said that "Hell is paved with good intentions," on which the editor quotes from Malone a passage of Herbert's, "Hell is full of good meanings." He might have gone further back, and told us that the original saying was St Bernard's.
Johnson told Hawkins that he never could see the least resemblance between a picture and its subject. "This, however," insists the editor, "must have been an exaggeration," for these reasons: Firstly, because he exhorted Sir Joshua to paint, not on "perishable canvas," but on copper! Secondly, that if a room were hung round with paintings, their faces to the wall, he would not turn them to look at them. Still nothing to do with seeing a likeness. Further, did he not buy prints, portraits of his friends, and hang them up? How does this prove that he could not see a resemblance? And the pictures he would not "turn" were described as paintings in general, not portraits; and the prints he bought were reminders of his friends, which he would like to have, even though he could not see the likeness.
On the familiar Scriptural passage, "he that smiteth thee on the one cheek," etc., the editor says, "Had Miss Burney thought of this text, she might have quoted it with effect against Johnson when he told her that 'the one' was Scotch, not English." Now, this is not in Boswell's work at all; and so far from its "being quoted with effect" against Johnson, he would have replied, "And what then, ma'am? The translators had used a Scotch expression." As it happens, Boswell used the words "one cheek," not "the one cheek," so the anecdote has no application at all.
Johnson spoke to Mrs Piozzi of his man Frank, and described how "a female haymaker had followed him to London for love." "Here," says the editor, "Mrs Piozzi shows her usual inaccuracy. The visit was paid early in the year, and was over in February. What haymaking," asks Dr B. Hill impressively, "was there in that season?" No haymaking, of course; but Johnson was describing the ordinary profession of the woman, as though he might say "a hop-picker," or "a harvestman," without regard to the time. Moreover, in his eagerness to correct, the editor overlooks Johnson's phrase, "followed him to London," which might have been after a long or short interval, and in the haymaking season. These are trivialities, and it is a trivial thing setting trivial things right; but why introduce them? When at Monboddo's, Johnson took up his large oaken stick, and said, "My lord, that's Homeric? thus pleasantly alluding to his lord ship's favourite writer. The editor has this odd fancy: "Perhaps he was referring to Polyphemus's club," which is then described as being as large as a mast; or to "Agamemnon's sceptre" This is being altogether too literal. Johnson surely had no special passage in his mind; he was taking a liberal, general view. He said that his stick was Homeric, as he would say a feast was Homeric, or a contest was Homeric. Every one understands this.
When Johnson went to see the English chapel at Montrose, he gave "a shilling extraordinary" to the clerk. The reason of this largesse, the editor opines, was that he found the church so much cleaner than others. But Johnson, as he gave the coin, gave also the reason: "He be longs to an honest church"—that is, to his own church. Clear enough.
The verses "Every island is a prison," the editor tells us, are by "a Mr Coffey." Can he be unaware that "a Mr Coffey" was a well-known, popular dramatist, author of many pieces, notably of "The Devil to Pay," one of Mrs Clive's most popular pieces?
Speaking of Boswell's portrait, the editor says "it was given to him by Sir J. Reynolds." No; it was commissioned by Boswell, who contracted to pay for it after a fixed time. We are rather astonished to learn that the Greek compound word ευμελιης means "armed with good ashen spear." There is no suggestion of "spear "or "armed." It appears to mean "of good ash; ' simply. Boswell speaks of Adam Smith's defence of Hume as being still prefixed to his "History of England," "like a list of quack medicines sold by the same bookseller." The editor says that the bookseller was Francis Newbery; but the publisher of the "History" was Millar, not Newbery, as Boswell elsewhere states.
Johnson wrote to his printer on October 14, 1776, saying, "I sent you some copy." "The copy, or MS.," the editor explains, "I conjecture," was certain "proposals" for a work on "Erse" that Mr Shaw was publishing. When an author writes to a printer, "I sent you some copy," he generally means a portion of copy, or some of the MS.; but this is only a complete scrap of some twenty-five lines. As he had discharged his duty in writing, and supplied the "proposals," he would not write to complain, "I have sent you some copy, but you have not noticed it." But the whole discussion arises out of "a letter about copy," which is not in Boswell's book at all.
We learn with some astonishment that "Johnson did not generally print his name" on his works, for he published anonymously "Lobo's Abyssinia," "London," "The Life of Savage," the Rambler and Idler, "Rasselas," and four pamphlets. To other works he did put his name. Let us take this list and see. "Lobo" was a translation, and a piece of "hack work" which he was ashamed of. The Rambler and Idler were periodicals, to which it was not usual to attach the authors' names. Moreover, he was assisted by friends. The pamphlets were political, and pamphlets were nearly always issued anonymously; but when they were collected in a volume, Dr B. Hill admits that he did put his name. In the case of "The Life of Savage" there were obvious reasons for concealing the author's name, as it involved a piece of delicate family history. There remain only "Rasselas" and the "London." In the case of the latter, he concealed the author's name even from the publisher; and he was, moreover, at the time an obscure drudge whose name was of no account. As to "Rasselas," I confess I can find no reason for concealment. But I ask, is Dr B. Hill justified in saying that "Johnson did not generally put his name to his books," especially as he did put his name to his most notable books the Dictionary, "Lives of the Poets," etc.?
Some of the editor's explanations of the most simple matters are truly extraordinary, and presume an almost childish innocence in his readers. When Boswell tells us that the Ministers suppressed certain passages in the proof sheets of Johnson's pamphlet, the editor furnishes a letter of Johnson's, in which he writes to the printer, "Print me half a dozen copies in the original state." But the too conscientious editor must explain: "When Johnson writes, 'When you print it, print me,' etc., he uses, doubtless, 'print' in the sense of striking off copies. The pamphlet was, we may assume, in type before it was revised. The corrections had been made in the proof sheets. Johnson asks to have six copies." Surely every one knows the distinction between composing, or "setting up," and "printing." And all this needless comment on a letter not in Boswell's book at all! In the same spirit a trivial direction of Johnson's—also not in Boswell is dealt with. He asked that "a copy be franked to me." "Mr Strahan had a right, as a Member of Parliament, to frank all letters and packets. That is to say, by merely writing his signature in the corner, he could pass them through the post free of charge? But should an editor supply such comments as these?
Boswell wrote to the Royal Academy that he was proud to be a member of an institution to which, as it had "the peculiar felicity of not being dependent on a Minister, but was under the immediate patronage of the Sovereign," he would do his best to be of service. Here Dr B. Hill morbidly fancies that Boswell is aiming a stroke at Pitt! "See post for Boswell's grievances against Pitt." Nothing could be more farfetched. Boswell was simply referring to the unusual constitution of the Academy, which was a Royal institution, and emphasising his own loyalty. He was speaking generally. The idea that he would sneer at the king's favourite minister, when addressing the king's institution, is absurd.
The editor often seems to claim a prior discovery, on the ground that what he writes "was in type" before some piece of information was imparted to him. We, of course, may accept his statement; but, technically speaking, once a statement is printed, no such claim can avail. Thus, speaking of George Psalmanazar being at Oxford, he had "conjectured" that he had stayed at Christ Church, but " since this Appendix was in type I have learned, through the kindness of Mr Doble, what confirms my conjecture"; and the Doble authority is then quoted. But Dr B. Hill knew it before.
The editor assures us that "bon-mots that are miscarried, of all kinds of good things, suffer the most." Miscarried, in this sense, "is not in Johnson's Dictionary," and is a verb neuter. A bon-mot may miscarry, but is not miscarried.
One of Dr B. Hill's proofs of Johnson's love of travelling is that "he was pleased with Martin's account of the Hebrides." While discussing this matter, the editor strangely pauses to give an account of the populations of particular towns. "So late as 1781, Lichfield had not 4000 inhabitants. Birmingham, I suppose, had not so many. Its growth was wonderfully rapid. Between 1770 and 1797," and so on. In this connection, too, he insists a good deal on Johnson's 'living with the Thrales, and seems to reckon his repeated visits to Streatham as "travels." Then he calculates that Johnson "must have seen all the cathedrals of England"; but he excepts one, for some mysterious reason. "Hereford, I think, he could not have visited." And why not? It was not very far from Lichfield, and on his road to Wales he was likely enough to have passed it. Then we are told that Lichfield is described as "the city and county of Lichfield" in a certain "Tour of Great Britain." Boswell does not mention this important fact, nor care about it; but the editor, having mentioned this "Tour," informs us that "Balliol College has a copy of the work"; further, that the copy displays "Garrick's book-plate"; further again, the book-plate exhibits "Shakespeare's head at the top of it," and some lines from "Menagiana," which are duly quoted!
Boswell alludes to the "Memoir of Whitehead," of which the editor tells us that he "had long failed to find a copy," though he searched the Bodleian, the British Museum, the London, Cambridge, and Advocates' Libraries. "Searched"—that is, consulted the catalogues. But the book is not what is called "rare," and a real search among the second-hand booksellers would to a certainty have procured it. As it turned out, there was a copy in Mr Forster's library at South Kensington, which leads to compliments, well deserved no doubt, to the obliging gentle man who had charge of it. But these thanks and explanations about finding or not finding old books are a waste of words and space, and have nothing to do with the editing of Boswell, who himself dismissed the topic as "a sneering observation," which was quite enough.
In a copy of the "Life," which belonged to Wilkes, and which I have had in my hands, is a curious marginal note on the passage where Johnson is described as withdrawing from "behind the scenes," and as giving a very broadly expressed reason for his withdrawal. This little anecdote was told to Boswell by Hume, who had it from Garrick. In Wilkes's note a much coarser phrase is given, which the discoverer could not bring himself to print. The editor eagerly defends Johnson. Had he not declared "that obscenity was always repressed in his presence"? Garrick, no doubt, "was restrained by some principle some delicacy of feeling." (Poor Garrick!) "It is possible that he reported the very words to Hume, and that Hume did not change them. It is idle to dream that they can now be conjecturally amended" Now, on this I will remark that the editor here confounds—as he does in other places—"obscenity" with coarseness. The speech, even as recorded by Boswell, is surely coarse enough, and I hesitate even to copy it here. What is there so improbable in its having been still coarser? And I think that any one nicely critical will see that Boswell has attempted to soften the phrase by some sort of periphrasis which is not Johnsonian. Again, Wilkes wrote his pencilled note, not for publication, but for his own private use, and to correct a mistake; and it is exactly the sort of story that would have attraction for him, and which he would recollect.
Speaking of the old woman in the Hebrides, Boswell tells us that Johnson would insist on seeing her bed-chamber, "like Archer in 'The Beaux's Stratagem.'" Now this is a very gay and happy illustration, when we think of the old crone and her hovel. The editor says gravely, "Boswell refers, I think, to a passage in act iv. sc. 1: 'I can't at this distance distinguish the figures of the embroidery.'" He may well say, "I think," for no one else could see any connection between the passages. Boswell had said nothing about "the embroidery." He "refers," of course, to what comes before: "I suppose 'tis your ladyship's bed-chamber." The editor then, en passant, offers the odd hypothesis that Goldsmith had plagiarised the passage! "This is copied in 'She Stoops to Conquer'—'So, then, you must show me your embroidery.'" Astonishing! Marlow asks simply, "Do you work, child?" then asks to see her embroidery. Not a word about the chamber. And so Boswell having spoken of an old woman and her hut, we find ourselves straying off to "embroidery" and Goldsmith.
Dr B. Hill tells us that "in twenty years the number of children received into the Foundling Hospital amounted to about 15,000, of which over 8000 had died." He adds, "a great many of them died, no doubt, after they had left the Hospital." Why "no doubt"? It is clear the return refers, in both instances, to the time of residence. Returns of such a character have no meaning or value outside the institution with which they are concerned. It is a truism to assume that many die after leaving a school or an institution.
Johnson wrote the rather imaginative parliamentary reports for the Gentleman's Magazine for a certain time; and when he found they were taken to be genuine, gave up the task. Dr B. Hill fills an Appendix of twelve closely printed pages with his researches on the point. Wishing to show the risks Johnson ran in publishing such reports, the editor introduces one Cooley, who printed a pamphlet against "The Embargo," in which he charged the Members of the House with jobbery, and which he gave away at the door to every Member. The House voted this paper a scandalous and malicious libel, and sent printer and author to jail. The editor would have us believe that Johnson and Cave, in issuing their fanciful sketches of the debates, were incurring the same dangers! There was no likeness in the cases. But Cooley's brochure furnishes the editor with this digression:—"Adam Smith had just gone up. a young man, to Oxford; and there are considerations in this paper" (of Cooley's) "which the great authority of the author of 'The Wealth of Nations' had not yet made pass current as truth." That is, and in less stately language, there is an anticipation of some of Smith's doctrines. "He" (Cooley) "was in knowledge a hundred years before his time, and was made to suffer." And for what? For grossly insulting the members of the House of Commons, and distributing his libel at the door! We further learn, to our astonishment, that these sham debates of Johnson's "are a monument to the greatness of Walpole and the genius of Johnson. Had he not been overthrown, the people would have called for these reports, even though Johnson had refused to write them." Thus Dr B. Hill settles everything in his own way—how it ought to have happened, and must have happened. Who can tell what "the people" would have done?
Dr B. Hill is fond of minutely explaining technical terms connected with printing, etc. Thus he tells us that "copy is manuscript for printing. 'I So it is, no doubt; but this is not an exact definition, for any paper that is given to the printer to "set up" is "copy." It may be printed, or type-written. The great bulk of Dr B. Hill's own six volumes—or rather, Boswell's was—"set," not from "manuscript for printing," but from "copy," that is, from the printed third edition.
There is something very droll in the following:—"The Rev. J. Hamilton Davies tells me that he entirely disbelieves that Baxter said that Hell was paved with infant skulls." Of what value to any one is it to be told that a Rev. J. Hamilton Davies "tells" some one that he disbelieves so and so?
"Depend upon it," said Johnson, "no woman is the worse for sense or knowledge." The editor must show that here the sage contradicts himself—for "see post, where he says, 'Supposing a wife to be of a studious or argumentative turn, it would be very troublesome.' " Any one can see that there is no inconsistency. In the first case Johnson spoke of "sense" and "knowledge "; in the last of her pursuing study to the neglect of duty, or disputing with her husband, which are wholly different.
Here are some of those imaginary coincidences in which the editor delights:—"August 15—Mr Scott came to breakfast." "Sir Walter Scott was two years old this day." Why select "this day"? Is it because Mr Scott's, the lawyer's, name was mentioned? The follow ing year Sir Walter would have been three years old "that day," and so on. Further, when Johnson and Boswell returned to Edinburgh, "Jeffrey was living, a baby then seventeen days old." And at Lochness, we are told, "the travellers must have passed close to the cottage where Sir J. Mackintosh was living, a child of seven." When Johnson matriculated in December, 1728, we are told that "Rousseau left Geneva, and so entered upon his eventful career. Goldsmith was born eleven days after Johnson entered. Reynolds was five years old. Burke was born before Johnson left Oxford," etc. This list, it is obvious, could be extended to an inordinate length by including every one of Johnson's generation. There is no relevancy or coincidence in such things.
Boswell relates that they "saw Roslin Castle and the beautiful Gothic chapel." Now, had the editor gone off to the Topographical Dictionaries, and given long extracts as to the antiquatics, etc., we should have felt no surprise, for 'tis his way. But he prefers to speculate on his own account. "Perhaps the same woman showed the chapel twenty-nine years later, when Scott visited it." No one can care, nor does it in the least matter. But as we are speculating, these points must be considered: (1) Johnson's guide may not have been a woman; (2) there may have been no guide at all; (3) after some thirty years it is unlikely .that the same guide was there; (4) Boswell, who would certainly have recorded Johnson's talk with the guide, does not mention one.
After the '45, one Malcolm, we are told, thought himself in such danger of conviction that "he would have gladly compounded for banishment." Could anything be clearer? Government often made such terms with rebels. But says the editor, "By banishment he means, I conjecture, transportation as a convict slave to the American plantations."
Johnson wrote, "I am sorry you was not gratified," etc. The word is found in all the editions. It was, as the editor assures us, a common form with authors of the time; yet he says, "I doubt greatly if Johnson ever so ex pressed himself." Johnson, however, uses it on several other occasions in his "talk." Why not accept it? "It is strange," says the editor, in his favourite phrase, "that Boswell does not mention that on this day they met the Duke and Duchess of Argyle in the street. Perhaps the Duchess showed him the same coldness," etc. That this at least could not be the reason is clear; for they also met Mr and Mrs Langton, and Boswell does not mention them. Boswell's task was to record his friend's conversations, etc., and Johnson mentions other particulars which are not alluded to by Boswell.
Boswell found Johnson "in no very good humour," after Mrs Thrale had gone to Bath on the death of her child; " yet," says the editor in wonder, " he wrote to Mrs Thrale next day, and called on Thrale," and wrote yet again to Mrs Thrale. Johnson was indeed for the moment a little "put out," because he had had his journey for nothing; but the editor must fancy that he was seriously offended, would not write, etc.; and it is taking but a petty view of Johnson's character. " No very good -humour" is a different thing from taking offence.
Johnson once said, speaking of some mediaeval period, "A Peer would have been angry to have it thought that he could not write his name." "Perhaps," says the editor, "Scott had this saying of Johnson in his mind when he made Earl Douglas exclaim," etc. The idea that Scott, who had at his fingers' ends all the lore of the times, should be indebted to "a saying of Johnson's" for so trite a fact, is out of the question.
There is an unfinished letter of Langton's, written on the night of Johnson's death; and Langton, it is assumed, was so filled with horror that he could not finish it. This is all melodramatic, and has no foundation. Johnson died about seven o'clock in the evening. All we know is that Langton wrote his letter in the room, and that at eleven he called upon Hawkins to tell him this story. He might have come from his own house.
Again, we find the editor actually discussing a very trivial point that arose between Mr Croker and the Gentleman's Magazine. The Gentleman's Magazine had said that none but a convict could have written Dodd's sermon to the convicts, and Mr Croker fancied that this was meant offensively to Johnson. Dr B. Hill then gravely vindicates this writer in the Gentleman's Magazine:—"He knew that it" (the sermon) " was delivered in the chapel by a prisoner under sentence. If instead of 'written' he had said 'delivered,' his meaning would have been quite clear." Who cares for this writer in the Gentleman's Magazine, or whether his meaning might have been made " quite clear " or the reverse? But this suggested change would actually destroy the point of the remark, such as it is; for its effect was from its being supposed to be the composition of the convict.
Johnson, speaking of Dodd, said "as soon as the King signed his sentence," etc. But the editor tells us that "the King signs no sentence or death-warrant"; a report is brought to him, and he assents or dissents. But this amounts to signing a sentence. That Johnson was using a figure is evident from the word "sentence," which is the Judge's province.
Boswell says that the delay in issuing his great work was caused by his friends not sending in their contributions; but the editor tells us it was "in part due to Boswell's dissipation and place-hunting." The instances given amount to no more than a few evenings lost by dinner parties, which put off the revision for those evenings; and the "place-hunting" was an interruption of three weeks caused by his attending Lord Lonsdale to the North. And this is all, out of the five years and more during which Boswell was engaged on the work! Thus the editor magnifies things.
The editor has an idée fixe that if there be a slight misdescription of a personage in a story, the whole must collapse. Thus Northcote told how he had heard that Johnson was once intoxicated, when he said, "Sir Joshua, it is time to go to bed." The editor finds that Sir Joshua was not knighted at the time: "One part of this story is wanting in accuracy, and therefore all may be untrue" This is surely an uncritical canon. Again, when Hawkins was still a member, Johnson said of him, "Sir John, sir, is a very unclubable man." The editor thinks that, as Hawkins was not knighted at the time, "the anecdote, being proved to be inaccurate on one point, may be inaccurate on another, and may therefore belong to a later time." Wrong in a trifle, you must be wrong in an important matter.
"A celebrated infidel wit" was mentioned, of whom it was said, "Il n'a esprit que centre Dieu." The editor thinks that this was the comparatively obscure Fitzpatrick! Observe, he is "celebrated" and "infidel," and celebrated from exercising his wit on the subject of the Almighty. Is all this known of Fitzpatrick? Then we are told, "there are lines in the 'Rolliad' bordering on profanity." But though Fitzpatrick wrote in the "Rolliad," are these by him? and is bordering on profanity the same as "l'esprit contre Dieu"?
Boswell had written enthusiastically his de light that Auchinleck was near an English Cathedral; and Johnson sensibly bade him re member that it was some hundred and fifty miles away. The editor says, "It was not half that distance away." Any one can see by the map that Auchinleck is over a hundred and fifty miles from Chester. But Boswell was writing both of Chester and Carlisle Cathedrals, and Johnson thought he had referred to Chester Cathedral.
Here is an instance of singular perversion of meaning. Gibbon's hostile feeling towards Boswell was, it seems, so marked that, though he names eighteen members of the Literary Club as "a constellation of British stars," he leaves Boswell out. Now (1) these eighteen selected names were the very foremost in letters and art—Johnson, Burke, Goldsmith, etc.; (2) Boswell had then written only the "Hebrides," and in no case could he be included in "a large and luminous constellation of British stars"; and (3) in the very line before, Gibbon actually refers to Boswell's "Tour," p. 97, for a suitable description of this very Literary Club! Speaking of women's learning, Johnson said that "if a wife were of a studious or argumentative turn, it would be very troublesome." "Yet" says the editor, "he gave lessons in Latin to Miss Burney and Miss Thrale." There is no point in this odd "yet." Johnson was speaking of the perversion of such learning.
Even in the editor's acknowledgments of assistance there is a "high-falutin" tone that is out of place. When the courteous Mr Fortescue, of the British Museum, is introduced, why should we hear of "the spacious room over which he so worthily presides"? The librarian of his own college had the "kindness" to allow him, it seems, "to make a careful examination of John son's MSS."—a favour extended as of course to any literary man. It appears, however, that he never took his eyes off the editor when at his work; and this "vigilance," he is certain, will ensure that the college will never have to "mourn the loss of a single leaf." This surely was not worth mentioning.
The first edition of "Cocker," the editor tells us, "was published about 1660." Now, this is a trivial matter, and has nothing to do with Boswell or Johnson; but it may be as well stated correctly. Cocker's first work on the subject was published in 1669—that is, his "Decimal Arithmetic"; but the book Johnson gave to the maid-servant was the " Arithmetic: a Plain and Familiar Method," which was published in 1678. Brunei and Lowndes agree in this date. The editor adds: "Though he" (Johnson) "says that a book of science is inexhaustible, yet/ in the Rambler he asserts that the principles of arithmetic and geometry may be understood in a few days." Surely to understand the principles of a science in a few days is a different thing from "exhausting" that science!
The editor tells us that Boswell welcomed Paoli on his arrival in London, in September 1769. This must be all wrong, he thinks; for Wesley, being at Portsmouth on October 13, missed seeing the General, who had "just landed in the docks." I suspect the editor thinks that "landed" meant landed in England" from Corsica.
At Lord Errol's house Johnson spoke "in favour of entails," so that noble families should not "fall into indigence." "Perhaps," the editor speculates, "the poverty of their hosts led to this talk"; and he quotes Sir Walter Scott, who said that " improvidence had swallowed up the estate of Errol." Now, first, the Earl's brother was present, and "the poverty of their hosts" would not be likely to lead to so awkward a subject in his presence (for Boswell distinctly states that Mr Boyd was absent only when Johnson recited the ode "Jam satis"}; secondly, Scott was speaking of 1814, close on forty years later.