A Critical Examination of Dr G. Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions/Johnsonian Miscellanies
Dr B. Hill, having disposed of Boswell's "Life" and Johnson's "Letters," was engaged on what was to be "the work of my life," an edition of Johnson's masterpiece, the "Lives of the Poets," when Mr Leslie Stephen interposed, and somewhat adroitly suggested that he should turn aside and take up the noting of something less pretentious. Was there not Murphy, Hoole, Tom Tyers, Piozzi & Co., and such small fry? Why not note them? The editor eagerly accepted the suggestion. Hence these miscellanies. It seems these were ready three years ago. An impatient public was clamouring all the time for the work; and though we are told of "the necessity of passing all my winters abroad, on the banks of the Lake of Geneva, or on the shores of the Mediterranean," he felt it a duty to satisfy these desires. For an editor, "however he may be supported by the climate," has in such a situation to struggle with difficulties. This support of the climate is, after all, but a negative one when you are writing or noting a book, and no amount of climatic aid will supply other deficiencies. There was no need, however, for such pressing haste, for this collection has virtually been before the public for some forty years, and in another shape for some ten years, Mr Croker having supplied us with his well-known and now scarce "Johnsoniana," which Mr Napier reprinted.
Dr B. Hill, as usual, enlarges, with great minuteness, and in rather pathetic fashion, on "the difficulties" above alluded to, notably about the history of a certain "box of books," Dr B. Hill's own working tools, without which he is stranded. The box contained, we may imagine, Walpole—himself a boxful—the Rambler, and the other necessary things. It was "despatched from London to Alassio on the Riviera," where they were anxiously awaited. "It was not till full five weeks after my arrival that they reached me. Fifty-nine days had they spent" on the road. This was very bad, and it tells the tale of railway neglect sufficiently. But in the bitterness of his soul our editor makes some further dismal calculations. "They had advanced at the rate of about three-quarters of a mile an hour. They were taken to Clarens, on the Lake of Geneva," and so on. True, there were other boxes of books which "used to creep at a somewhat faster pace"; and the whole culminates in the assurance that "the Kentish carrier, who, leaving Rochester betimes, delivered that same day a gammon of bacon and two razes of ginger as far as Charing Cross, was making more expedition." With all this, of course, Johnsonian readers have no concern. 'Tis a matter of "reclamation" to the railway authorities, but, as we know by this time, it is the editor's way. It is his way also not to see that the case of the Shakespeare carriers does not illustrate his case, for to carry goods from Rochester to Charing Cross some forty miles, and in the one day, was "good going." Gibbon, we are assured, when he brought over his great library to Lausanne, hardly suffered more than our editor did with his box of books.
The editor has an uneasy feeling that there are cavilling fault-finders, who, in their scurvy way, are ready to detect flaws: so he promptly "takes the bull by the horns" in a new and highly ingenious fashion. Mistakes, of course, there are; but it is all owing to the pernicious system of printing books that now obtains. "The imperfections of a work such as this is, are often more clearly seen by the editor than by the most sharp-sighted critic." An ingenious turn, as who should say, "I knew it all the time, and much better than you." "Mistakes are discovered too late for correction, but not for criticism." There, we see, is the grievance, which can only be remedied in this way: "Were the whole book in type, and cost of no moment, what improvements could be made." In fact, our editor would like to begin the whole work of rewriting when the proofs were in his hands. Give him but a free hand then, and all will be well. As he tells us, "I have never yet finished an index without wishing that, by the help of it, I could edit and re-edit my work."
But by a hard fate, these things are not permissible. Cost is of moment; and the directors of the Clarendon Press would decidedly object to what the editor so gently terms, "improvements being made." The odd part of all this is, that three-fourths of the volumes are all secure from correction, having been written by other people, and possibly three-fourths of the notes are quotations; so what the "pother" is about it is hard to say. True, old-fashioned, behind-date writers contrive to do with a system of writing the book before it goes to the printer; they alter, write, and rewrite, have it copied and typed, with the result that they do not want to alter anything when the print is before them.
Notwithstanding "the support of the climate," the editor has committed many mistakes, which I shall now proceed to point out, for the book teems with the old faults of misapprehension, delusion, and hurried and imperfect reference, and for which the difficulties of the situation are hardly accountable. To begin, there is a quotation from Gibbon, the point of which is mistaken: "Tillemont's accuracy," says the editor in his preface, "may, as Gibbon says, be inimitable; but none the less, inspired by the praise which our great historian bestows on mere accuracy, a scholar should never lose the hope of imitation." It may be presumed that the editor refers to the note in chapter xlvii., when Gibbon writes, "And here I must take leave for ever of the incomparable guide, whose bigotry is over-balanced by the merits of erudition, diligence, veracity, and scrupulous minuteness." Now here "our great historian" wrote that Tillemont was "incomparable," not "inimitable," a different thing, and he gave him praise, not for his mere "accuracy," but for other admirable gifts. The editor's point was that he might "imitate"; that word changed, his point is gone.
The editor tells us how "Joseph Andrews" had been translated into Russian, which leads on to this truly mysterious announcement. "Strangely enough"—we should here naturally expect something about English books in Russia—"strangely enough, a railway station is called in Russian Vauxhall, after the famous Gardens in ———,"—where shall we suppose?—"in Chelsea"!Joseph Andrews, railway station, and the Vauxhall Gardens in Chelsea!
But here is an astonishing misapprehension. Johnson said, when on his deathbed, " I should have roared for my book as Othello did for his handkerchief." Every one at all familiar with the play will know this passage, viz. that in scene iv., act iii., where Othello answers Desdemona again and again with, "The handkerchief! The handkerchief!" This was the "roaring for"—that is, demanding incessantly the article. But no, the editor thinks only of the word "roar," not of the thing, and seriously assures us that " Johnson refers to act v., scene ii., where Emilia says to Othello, 'Now lay thee down and roar,'" that is, invites him to roar, which he does not do. In this state of things some sort of misgiving occurs to the editor that he is not going right, so he insinuates that it was Johnson who was wrong; for "it was not for the handkerchief that Othello roared, as he did not as yet know the trick that had been played him"! But Johnson was referring to the passage where he did roar.
Among Johnson's visitors when he was dying was a Mrs Davies, whose name is mentioned several times by Hoole, and spelt in that way. No one could doubt that the wife of Tom Davies, the bookseller, was meant. But the editor opines: "Most probably she was the Mrs Davis that was 'about Mrs Williams.'" But Mrs Williams had now been dead nearly two years, so this person was not likely to be there. Further, Mrs Davies dined with Johnson and his friends, and seemed to be treated as a lady. Tom Davies also, her husband, was writing to the dying sage at the time, sent him pork, etc., and naturally sent his wife to see him. I am not surprised that the editor at last falteringly adds: "Perhaps, however, she was the wife of Tom Davies."
With the plain meaning of a passage "leaping to his very eyes," the editor will rather perversely seize on some erratic meaning. "I wrote," said Johnson to G. Steevens, "the first line" (of a poem) "in that small house beyond the church [at Hampstead]." "By enclosing Hampstead in brackets," explains the editor, "he apparently wishes to show that it was there that Johnson told him the fact." This is surely not the meaning; it was to show where the "small house" and church were, and not the place where Johnson was speaking in. He might have used the phrase "in that small house," in London itself.
Here is an excursus on Johnson's putting a lump of sugar in his glass of port wine. Did he do this or did he not? " It is not to be supposed that when he drank his three bottles of port at University College, he put a lump of sugar into every one of his thirty-six glasses." Granted; but the reason is the odd one, not that there are not anything like thirty-six glasses in three bottles, or that he only took this sugar "sometimes," but "no Oxford common-room would have stood it." Further, and what is a more serious thing, " Boswell makes no mention of this sugar."
Johnson, as we know, was displeased with Garrick for not helping him in his "Shakespeare," by lending him early editions, and made no mention of him in the preface. "He did worse," says the editor—always ready to have a fling at the sage—"than not mention him. He reflected on him, though not by name, 'as a not very communicative collector of rare copies.'" This is rather a perversion of the text; for Johnson had spoken generally. "I have not found the collectors of such rarities very communicative." There is a class of persons named, and there is not the invidiousness that Dr B. Hill would make out. Further, the point whether the books were refused to Johnson was disputed by the owner.
Hannah More reported a good story of Johnson's and Boswell's enthusiasm on passing by Macbeth's "blasted heath," and finding next morning that it was a mistake, and not the actual scene. He himself told this to her. "There seems to be some mistake in her narrative," says the editor, who then quotes passages from the "Journey" and "Tour," to prove how the travellers had actually driven over the very heath, and got to Forres, etc. Surely this does not affect the story. They had mistaken the locality first, and later came to the true place. On such occasions Dr B. Hill seems to get befogged.
Here is a mysterious gloss. Johnson writes that, "I then went to Streatham and had many stops," i.e. either interruptions or haltings by the way. The editor, however, sees deeper. "I conjecture that he means obstructions or impediments in the mind, part of what he calls ' my old disease of mind.' " Curious " stops " these!
In a letter of Johnson's, the editor tells us, "I suspected the words, ' most sincerely yours,' for I had never known it thus used by Johnson." A very fair criticism. Scrutinising the original MS., he found that the words were " not clear, but I believe that it is 'zealously yours.'" Who will conceive of the sage signing himself "zealously yours"? And surely the editor ought to "suspect" these words also—for his own reason, that he had never known them used by Johnson, or by any one else in the world.
The editor, making one of his "discoveries," calls attention to three letters of Johnson's, which he got from Mr Pearson, the autograph dealer, and elaborately proves that they were written to Richardson, the novelist. But a single glance will show it. "I wish," No. 2 runs, "Sir Charles (Grandison) had not compromised it in the matter of religion." It also asks for an account of "the translations of 'Clarissa' which you have," and speaks of new volumes coming out, "Grandison" being published in instalments.
A Hibernian gentleman was once extolling his countryman Burke, and expatiated on his going down into the bowels of the earth in a bag, and how he took care of his clothes, for he "went down in a bag." In short, it was "Burke in a bag" as Johnson ludicrously put it. All which is absurd enough; but the editor must caution us. "The bag, apparently, was not the vehicle in which he went down, but a covering for his clothes." Only "apparently"? There is no doubt of it. The editor is fearful lest there be persons who imagine that the great orator was let down in "a vehicle" formed of a bag, much as coals or flour would be sent down. So anxious is he to prevent mistake, that he looks out in his Dictionary the word " sack," which has not been introduced at all, and tells us that "sack was used for a woman's loose robe." Still bag is not sack, and a woman's loose robe is not a bag; and this was a bag pure and simple.
The editor is puzzled by a phrase of Johnson's, "by a catch." "I do not know," he says, "in what sense he uses this word. Perhaps he means by a sudden impulse, by something that caught hold of him." It is curious that so thorough a Johnsonian should not recall another occasion when the same word was used: "God Almighty will not take a catch of him"—that is, will not take him by surprise; take an unfair advantage of him.
A poor woman is described in the text as "sitting shivering in a niche" of the old Westminster Bridge. This is surely intelligible—these niches with seats are still to be seen on Vauxhall and other bridges. But this is not enough. To prevent all mistake, the editor begins with a definition of "niche," taken from the Dictionary. "Johnson defines 'niche' as a hollow in which a statue may be placed"! Though in the case of the bridge there were seats, for the woman was sitting there. The editor, who seems to think that the poor woman had no business to be there at all, in a place which Dr Johnson had proved was intended for a statue, now introduces from Dodsley's "Account of London" a passage about these very recesses, which, he says, states that they were "intended to be filled with groups of statuary." The woman must now really move on. But having Dodsley's work on my own shelves—an entertaining book—I took it down, and read, to my astonishment, not that these recesses were intended for statues, but that "between the recesses are pedestals," on which groups of statuary were to be placed. So the whole niche speculation utterly fails.
Another odd mistake. In 1765 Johnson wrote down, "I read my resolutions." The editor fancies that he was thinking of some old resolutions made thirteen years before, "perhaps the resolutions made when his wife lay dead before him." Nothing of the kind. Turning back to only the preceding page, we find them: "My resolutions, which God perfect," i.e. "to avoid loose thoughts and rise at light."
At Pembroke College Johnson, showing his old haunts and going over the place, pointed out the old scenes: "Here we played cricket," etc. This is not by the card. "Johnson must have pointed to a field outside the college precincts, for within there was no room for cricket." A needless caution. It would have occurred to no one that cricket was played "within the precincts," i.e. in a courtyard.
Every one knows the story of how Johnson knocked down his bookseller, Osborne, with a folio. The scene took place in Johnson's own room. It is not of much importance what the volume was, but Nichols identified it as a copy of the Septuagint. But the editor has a fancy which must be introduced. It seems that Osborne had made Johnson a present of a "Second Folio Shakespeare": and the editor has the fantastic notion that either by design or chance, Johnson had used this tome to terraser his visitor! True, he hesitates somewhat, for "it is scarcely likely that Osborne would have brought it to Johnson, as schoolboys used to provide birch rods, with which they were beaten." But this "conceit," such as it is, seemed so taking and pleasant, that we find him in another work stating more positively, "in the good old days in the grammar schools the unhappy culprit was often required to provide a birch rod, etc. Might not Osborne in like manner have provided a folio with which he was to be knocked down?" Now we have heard in schools of boys having to ask for punishment, and it may be to fetch the birch rod, but it may be doubted if there was ever a custom of the boys being sent out to purchase a birch rod! But this by the way. Then as to Nichols, who was so positive? All a mistake, for the editor has seen the sale catalogue of Johnson's books, and there was no Septuagint among them; so he still clings to his "Second Folio Shakespeare." This interesting relic has come into the fitting hands of Sir Henry Irving, who is an accomplished virtuoso, and he has written to the editor on the subject; so "may it not be that Sir Henry Irving s treasure is the great historic folio?" It certainly may not by any manner of means be. For, after all his doubts and speculations, the editor knows perfectly where the book is to be found. "A Greek Bible, I must admit, was left by him to a friend," surely a sufficient reason for his not finding it in the sale catalogue. It is described in the will as "Michelius' Greek Testament" (the name should be Wichelius), and this was bequeathed to his friend Strahan. Nichols also names a Greek Testament, so the proof is strong and complete. Dr B. Hill murmurs something about its being unlikely that so correct a man "would have made so profane a use" of the sacred volume—another "conceit."
We sometimes "startle" ("Bozzy's" good word) at a phrase of our editor, as when speaking of Dr Hawesworth, who had committed suicide on the ill success of his book, he says: " A man who had received £6000 for a mere compilation was scarcely justified in putting an end to his life." Scarcely justified! Not orthodox this. But we are relieved on finding that it was a sort of mild joke. "He should have left suicide to his publishers, who were great losers." This jesting is out of place.
Here is a sort of discovery—or "no discovery" rather, for the editor's elucidation of a knotty point is, as usual, all wrong. A young lady of much personal charm, it was stated, had perpetrated a solecism, "for all her father is now become a nobleman, and excessively rich." Who was the young lady, and who the nobleman? "Perhaps Lord Sandys," the editor tells us, "who became a nobleman the year after his marriage." Now at once we can see that he is astray in this speculation. For the young lady was described as grown up when her father became a nobleman; whereas, if it be Lord Sandys, she could only have been just born when he became a nobleman. We need not, therefore, go any further, leaving Dr B. Hill thus to dispose of his own theory.
Who was the dying Jenny? Johnson in one of his note-books mentions this person, for whom he paid 5s. 3d. to a clergyman to attend on her last sickness. "Was she some poor outcast like the one he had carried home," etc. She was probably some retainer or maid-servant, which is all that any one would wish to know if so much. But the editor, in his preface, bewails his fate in not being able to "throw light," as he puts it, on the great matter. "Who was dying Jenny?" It does not matter. Even did we know, we should not gain much.
The editor generally contrives, where he has a choice, to select the wrong thing. Johnson had said that "Greek was like lace; every one gets as much of it as he can." A capital illustration and intelligible too. Most ladies are proud of their bit of old lace, "point," or Brussels; it is cherished, and seems to give a sort of distinction. People of even moderate taste will be glad "to get as much of it as they can," and it will fetch a fancy price. But our editor assures us gravely that the lace Johnson was speaking of was the common cheap gold lace or braid found on gentlemen's coat-cuffs and collars! Amazing! A thing that is of no value at all! Imagine people "getting as much" of this stuff as they can! Then he must furnish quotations from "Irene," Ruddiman, Lord Chesterfield, Joseph Andrews, and Jeremy Bentham to prove—what? That gold lace was worn in those days!
"Nor were our conversations," says Hawkins, "like that of the Rota Club, restrained to," etc. On which the editor: " Hawkins, I suppose, refers to the Rota Club, in which," etc. Of course he does, for he says he does.
The editor is always rather weak when he would be sarcastic. Mr Cradock mentions a dinner at which were the Duke of Cumberland and Johnson, which Mr Croker is inclined to doubt. "It is hardly possible that Dr Johnson should have met the Duke of Cumberland without Boswell having mentioned it." This was reasonable criticism enough. But hearken further. Dr B. Hill: "Mr Croker forgets that there are men who can dine with a Duke, and not boast of it." Who denidges of it? No one could suppose that Johnson would boast of meeting great folk, and Mr Croker did not suppose it. But how natural that Johnson would tell "Bozzy" what he thought of so remarkable a personage as the Duke of Cumberland. His account would have been a most interesting one, and to none more so than to Dr B. Hill.
There is one word that the editor has vainly looked for in the great Dictionary, viz. "Spavined." Most readers know what a spavined animal is, and most readers would be content to know that it meant a disease in a horse's leg. True, the editor admits plaintively, "He only gives 'spavin.'" That surely will do us very well, and help us on to "spavined."
The editor is inclined to depreciate Reynolds, who, as the world knows, was the most amiable, engaging, and popular of men. He was an admirable family man, affectionate, kind, charitable. But to our astonishment, the editor announces that "he seems to have had but little sympathy with his sisters." By way of establishing this, he quotes an abusive letter from one, a Mrs Johnson, who cast him off because he would not be "converted," and repent of his sins. It is also stated that this lady refused his offer to take her son and teach him his own art—an odd way of his showing "little sympathy." "Renny," the other sister, lived with him for many years, until her "tiresome fidgetiness," Miss Burney tells us, and general nagging, made them part company. She then proposed that he should give up his house at Richmond to her, to be her property, though she would allow him to use it—a proposal he rejected, from his "little sympathy." Again, Reynolds had invited Boswell to dine with him at Painters' Stainers' Hall, "as you love," he said, "to see life in all its modes. I will (call for you) about two; the blackguards dine at half an hour after." From which the editor extracts the theory that Reynolds, who dined always at five, was exasperated at having to go and dine at two! that he used "strong language" in consequence, "perhaps owing to his vexation at losing two or three hours of his working day." And further, "none of his hours were spent in idleness, or lost in dissipation." All which is a dream, and disposed of by the fact that Reynolds could have declined the invitation if he chose; that he was so willing to go that he brought a friend with him; that he used no "strong" language, for by "blackguards" he humorously alluded to the fraternity to which he himself belonged, or to the inferior branch of the profession. As to none of his hours "being spent in idleness, or lost in dissipation," if this refers to a dinner, it is notorious that he dined out, and spent much time at the club, at Garrick's, and was, in fact, recherché everywhere.
Johnson's happy jest on the congé d'élire leads the editor to a general examination of this thorny subject. He must first, of course, hurry to his "Johnson's Dictionary," and after a due definition of the words, takes us next to—but no one will guess whither—to the Dr Hampden of modern times—the well-known Bishop of Hereford! We have his case and his conge d'élire, Lord John Russell's letter, and details of the case generally. Not content with this, he follows the heretical bishop to Bow Church, describes the scene there, the "citation," the "objectors," etc. All very interesting, no doubt, and one of those "fascinating anecdotes" that so delight Mr Leslie Stephen, but still out of place here.
In the editor's ardour to point out blunders —and he does so with great severity—he often stumbles into mistakes himself. Thus, when Mr Cradock describes his meeting Johnson at an undated dinner at the Literary Club, and says that he thought it suggested the "Retaliation" to Goldsmith, Dr B. Hill exclaims: "Such a blunder as this shows that not much trust can be placed in his account," his point being, that Cradock's first time of meeting Johnson was in 1776, while Goldsmith had died in 1774. On turning to this gentleman's account, we find that all he says is that it was the first time he "dined in company" with Johnson, not the first time he had met him; and this first meeting might have been before Goldsmith's death. It is the same with his remarks on the Cheshire Cheese, where some old gentlemen habitués were mentioned by Mr Jay as having remembered Johnson. Mr Jay, who wrote in the 'fifties, spoke of this, describing Johnson, when in Gough Square and Bolt Court, as frequenting the Cheese, and when at the Temple, the Mitre, because he did not like to cross the street. Dr B. Hill is scornful on this "loose talk." How could they remember Johnson in Gough Square, when he left it nearly a hundred years before? The editor has misapprehended the context. Some antediluvians remembered Johnson himself, but the rest of the story was merely the tradition picked up in the Tavern. The "old gentlemen" did not say that they remembered the Doctor at Gough Square.
Prepared as we are for Dr B. Hill's strange capriccios, we scarcely expected that he would gravely set himself to making a regular exegesis of a dinner menu. He actually proceeds to edit for us a bill of fare! Johnson had set down in Latin the items of his last dinner at Streatham, in translating which Dr B. Hill falls into what seem surprising mistakes. There was, it seems, for dinner a roast leg of lamb and spinach, "crus coctum cum herbis," etc. We have also a turkey, and a "farcimen farinaceum cum uvis passis," which the editor interprets as "the stuffing" of the lamb, I suppose, made of flour and raisins. A strange dish certainly, which must have made the Doctor uncomfortable. No wonder that our commentator says almost pathetically, "I have looked in vain in an old cookery book for a receipt for 'farcimen farinaceum cum uvis,'" though had he looked at all he might have consulted other cookery books. He adds: "Perhaps Mrs Thrale had ordered her favourite sauce" Whether she did so or not the whole that remains is dark. A fresh wonder: "It seems odd that the lamb and turkey were not followed by a pudding or sweets"! Odd or not, the editor is rather abroad here. The "farcimen farinaceum" was surely not stuffing for the lamb or turkey (I feel the absurdity of discussing such trivialities), but, it is distinctly stated, was another dish altogether—possibly that very pudding, the absence of which the editor so much laments. A glance at the Latin will show this. We construe it: "A flour dumpling with raisins." He assuredly mistranslates. Then Miss Austen is introduced with a dissertation on Courses," with quotations from her novels, and so on in the usual way.
I shall live mihi carior, wrote Johnson. "Perhaps," the editor says, "he had on his mind Juvenal's line, 'Carior est illis homo quam sibi.'" Certainly not; for here the meaning is the direct opposite: the man is dearer to others than to himself. This would be sufficient. But no. What Johnson "had in his mind"—indeed what every fourth or fifth form boy would have in his mind—is the passage in Ovid: "O me! mihi carior."
It is truly strange that the editor would not know so familiar a thing.
The sort of cloud or fog in which the editor fashions his notes is shown by the following: As is well known, Johnson put a definition in his Dictionary of "Renegado" "one who deserts" "a revolter" "sometimes we say a 'Gower,'" meaning" to point at the peer of that name, who had deserted the Jacobites. "This is made clearer," says the editor, "by the following passage from the 'Lives of the Norths': 'Many of the Turks think that the Gowers (Giaours), or unbelievers, are unworthy,'" etc. This is ludicrous. Johnson was not thinking of the Eastern word, "Giaour," nor was North thinking of "Gower," the peer. Nothing is "made clearer," save that the two passages have no connection.
Mrs Montagu showed Johnson some plates that had once belonged to Queen Elizabeth. He paid her a compliment, saying they had no reason to be ashamed of their present possessor. The editor seems to trace some more occult influence in the names, for his remark is, "Mrs Montagu's name was Elizabeth."
Mention is made of two boxing men, Mendoza and "Big Ben." This was not long after Johnson's death. The editor conceives that it was probably after him that Dr Benjamin Symonds, who was warden of Wadham in Dr B. Hill's undergraduate days, was called "Big Ben." That is to say, about the 'forties some one was going about bearing a nickname acquired about 1790. Surely the editor ought to know that "Big Ben" is a common soubriquet. "Big Ben" of Westminster was so called after Sir Benjamin Hall. Any extra stout person, of the name of Benjamin, is likely enough to be called "Big Ben," without going back to a boxer of the eighteenth century.
Murphy, in his perfunctory narrative, says that Johnson never talked of Garrick "without a tear in his eyes" either a misprint for "eyes" or for "tears." The editor thinks it a matter important enough to stop and have his little joke "allowing that one tear can be in both eyes."
There are three words for which the editor has a sort of penchant, and is passionately eager to prove that in the last century they were used in the sense they are now. First, we had "respectable" as a term of praise, and a long list of instances was furnished in "The Life." He comes back to it in another of his books, still eager to show that it was a term of praise, that is, a person deserving of respect, and quotes yet more authorities. "Eminent," too, we all know. Eminent statesmen, eminent writers, or preachers, etc. But the editor thinks we are in the dark, and gives us a sheaf of quotations. "The following instances show its use," and it is proved to us beyond cavil, that people then spoke of "an eminent personage," "eminent merchant," "eminent man," etc.
Of the use of "polluted" in the sense of "stained," "soiled," etc., the editor also gives a collection of illustrations. So fascinated is he with the word, that he returns to it again. "To the instances given of the use of ' polluted ' I would add," etc., and he quotes, "Dryden polluted his page," "Pope polluted his wit," and so on.
Mrs Thrale mentions an appeal to Johnson, as to pronunciation, whether it should be "irreparable" or "irrepairable." Johnson decided that it was long. Is it not clear that Mrs Thrale was merely spelling the word phonetically? But the editor insists that Mrs Thrale seems to have thought that the syllable "pa," in "paro," was long. The poor lady gave no opinion at all, she merely reported Johnson's.
The editor has an odd notion of what "borrowing" is. Johnson's phrase, "the wits of Charles'"' (i.e. of Charles II.'s time) he traced to Addison. It was "borrowed" from the Spectator, where we find "the wits of King Charles's time." Surely this is mere statement, and could not be set down in another way. We might as well say "Mr Gladstone at Hawarden" was borrowed from "Mr Gladstone at Hawarden Castle."
Johnson said that, when he was writing his Dictionary, no less than 160 quires of the MS. had been written by mistake on both sides of the paper. It cost him £20, he said, to have it copied afresh on one side. " This must be a mistake," the editor says, "as were it only a shilling a quire, it would not nearly come to the sum," i.e. £8. It is the editor, however, who has fallen into the mistake, having counted only 160 quires. It should be double that number, as double the amount of paper was used, i.e. 320 quires, which would make £16, and allowing something for wider writing, this would nearly come up to Johnson's figure.
"The little girl poked her head." Imagine a grave commentator, "a scholar" too, stopping here to discuss this important "poking" of the little girl's head! The only definition given by Johnson of poke, is "to feel, in the dark—to search." What are we to do? How get on with only this one definition? We must only leave the little girl to poke her head as best she can.
Lady Di Middleton, who espied Johnson in church on their Scotch tour, and who had known him in town, the editor tells us, "was perhaps of the family of the Earl of Middleton, who, in 1693, threw in his lot with James II." No. She was sister to Lord Stamford, and married an Edinburgh barrister, Mr Middleton, who later succeeded to the Middleton estates.
The editor sometimes disposes of his own argument or illustration, by setting down something that he never intended. Thus he relates how Mrs Gastrell got Johnson to read aloud the passage, "We have heard with our ears," to find out whether he would pronounce it "hēērd" or "herd." He shows that Johnson voiced it "hēērd," who said that to pronounce it "herd" "was nonsense." He likewise told Boswell that it should be "hēērd," because "herd" would be the single exception to the general sounding of the syllable "ear." He also told Mrs Gastrell that there was but one word of that sound in the language, viz. "herd" (of cattle). Which is all plain enough. But the editor gets into sad confusion over it. He tells us that the speech to Mrs Gastrell (as to there being but one word "herd," etc.) "seems a contradiction of what he told Boswell." How? He was talking to him about "heered" not "herd." Then, though he shows plainly that Johnson rejected "herd," he makes him say that to call it "hēērd " was nonsense! The editor meant to write "hĕĕrd."
Johnson's well-known description of an actor's conversation, as "a renovation of hope," etc., was assumed by Mr Croker to refer to Sheridan; by John Taylor to Macklin; Macklin was also named, I think, by Malone. The editor discards these authorities, and prefers a newspaper! "According to the Edinburgh Courant of June 16, 1792, this was Macklin."
The editor has an ingenious fashion of minimising his mistakes. In a previous edition we have Johnson saying, when some one asked his opinion of a play called "Dido," "I never did the man an injury, yet he would read his tragedy to me." The editor speculated that this was one Lucas, who "had just been with me; he has. compelled me to read his tragedy." These, it is clear, were different persons, for in the one case Johnson had to listen to the play; in the other he read it himself. In his note the editor says that Lucas was the author of "Dido," and that both instances referred to the same person. Now, however, he finds no doubt from the "Biographia Dramatica," which he might have consulted at first that Reed was the author of "Dido." "In a note I suggested that he" (Lucas) "may have been the author mentioned above; but in this I was mistaken, for it was Isaac Reed." It is something to have the editor crying peccavi in this way; but why such capriciousness in the selection? Why ignore the hundreds of mistakes that have been pointed out in his editions?
We are told that Burke was so vehement in arguing some patriotic questions, that "he would turn away so as to throw the end of his own tail into the face of his neighbour." The editor seems to caution us not to take this for a real "caudal appendage," for he tell us: "Burke, no doubt, wore his hair tied up in a pigtail" Not a doubt of it. What else could he mean?
There are some strange mistakes about Beckford. Of a Jamaica gentleman then lately dead, Johnson said, "He will, whither he is now gone, not find much difference as to climate or to company." And again, on learning the death of a celebrated West Indian planter, "He is gone where he will not find the country warmer and the men much blacker than that he has left." In both places the editor explains: "Perhaps (or probably) Alderman Beckford." Not at all. The man of whom Johnson was speaking had died out at Jamaica, "the country he had left." Beckford died in England, to which he had come in his boyhood. He was not "a celebrated West India planter," but a celebrated London politician, who had been Lord Mayor.
"A valuable edition of Bailey's Dictionary" is mentioned, which prompts the editor to make this observation: "It is not easy to see how any edition of Bailey could be valuable." First, is not that a dictionary of some value which Johnson used as the basis of his own? Second, it was issued as a small volume; then in two huge ones. The allusion was not to the merits of the book, but to its shape, format, binding, it might be.
The editor often takes a narrow view of people's motives and acts. Johnson sent a guinea to one Faden, son of a printer, whom he had known thirty years before, and who had lent him a guinea. "Faden," the editor tells us, "for a few weeks had a share in the Universal Chronicle, in which The Idler was published, so that he could have stopped the guinea out of the money due to Johnson"! As is said in one of Ibsen's pieces, "People don't do such things."
The editor misapprehends the plainest passage. Boswell, when about to publish the "Life," hesitated as to the terms. Would he sell the book "out and out," or "I should incline to game, as Sir Joshua says"—i.e. speculate on the profits. But the editor has this odd theory. Boswell was thinking of Sir Joshua's use of the word "game"! "Perhaps gamble … was in constant use, and Reynolds was singular in sticking to an old-fashioned word." As to "gamble" being in constant use, the editor disposes of that by assuring us that it is not found in the Dictionary. So that "game" was the only word he could have used. It is impossible to deal seriously with these delusions.
Johnson was sometimes reminded by his friends that he was too dictatorial in his talk, a reproof which he took kindly, and would, in answer to what "they called the pride of learning, say that it was of a defensive kind." The editor must assure us that "they borrowed this ('the defensive pride') from Johnson," and quotes another passage, "mine was of the defensive kind." Now their speech had no thing to do with "defensive pride"; that was Johnson's answer, so they "borrowed" nothing from him. It is clear the editor thought that "say" referred to them.
"I never but once," said Johnson, "balked an invitation to dinner." Surely intelligible; he never "balked" the hospitable intention of the inviter. The editor goes to the third meaning of the word in the Dictionary, "to omit, or refuse anything." But he passes by the first and strict meaning, "to frustrate or disappoint," which is the fitting one here.
Dr Percy seems to be one of the circle to whom the editor has a strong dislike. The Bishop tells how Johnson had some disputes in early life with Lord Lyttelton, "which so improperly influenced him in his life of that worthy nobleman"—a temperate criticism. But, as usual, the editor dips deep to find lower motives for Percy's "prejudice." Was he not chaplain to the King? Was he not devoted to the Duke of Northumberland? His wife had been nurse to one of the princes, etc. So he was "naturally shocked at Johnson's ridicule of a worthy nobleman." It is well known that Johnson's treatment of Lyttelton was not considered handsome by his contemporaries. Percy, moreover, was not "shocked" at all—he deprecated Johnson's "prejudice"—nor was he shocked at Johnson's "ridicule," for in Johnson's article there is no ridicule of Lyttelton.
Again, Percy tells us that when Johnson was casting about for a title, he suddenly thought of "The Rambler." "It would be difficult," says Percy, "to find any other that so exactly coincided with the motto he had adopted on the title-page." Most strangely, the editor says: "Percy seems to think that Johnson chose his motto first, and then cast about for a title to suit it." Percy uses the phrases, "He has adopted," and " It would be difficult to find." It is clear that it was he himself that was passing judgment on the transaction as a whole, and not Johnson. Johnson chose a motto, and Percy notes that the title suited the motto.
Hannah More writes that "Mr Boswell was here last night; he perfectly adores Johnson." On which the editor: "Boswell, who keeps his narrative so closely to what concerns Johnson, does not mention this." Exactly. In any case, how was Boswell to "mention" "I adored Johnson," etc.? The editor fancied that Johnson was there with Boswell, but is mistaken; he was not. On his own showing, Boswell was therefore justified in saying nothing of the occasion.
Johnson very complacently dwelt on the poets, other literary lights, who had belonged to his college. " Sir, we are a nest of singing birds." Among these was Shenstone. Dr B. Hill gives his meed of praise also: "Among my contemporaries were Dr Edwin Hutch, Dr Moore, and Canon Dixon, author of finer poems than were sung by most of the last century singing birds." "Sung by most." These Dixon poems are hardly so well known as they should be. And Hutch and Moore?
"It was in 1739 that Swift was asked to get Johnson the degree of M.A. of Dublin." There is no certainty that Swift was asked. Pope asked Lord Gower, who asked a friend to ask Swift.
Hawkins mentions a gentleman who, laying out his grounds picturesquely, was obliged to apply to a neighbour (for leave to plant, etc.) with whom he was not upon cordial terms. The editor imagines that this was the case of Shenstone and Lord Lyttelton, who were not on cordial terms. This seems far-fetched.
"In the words of a great scholar of the North, who did not like him, he (Johnson) spoke in the Lincolnshire dialect." "The great scholar," says the editor, "was perhaps Lord Monboddo." This judge, however, was no "great scholar," but a philosopher. Nor could he know anything about "the Lincolnshire dialect." "The North" is not the way of describing Scotland, but referred to the North of England.
Our editor, as the reader by this time knows, has ways of his own, and generally contrives for us a surprise or two. How characteristic that, when collecting all the contemporaneous accounts of Johnson—from Piozzi to "Tom Tyers"—he should designedly omit the most sprightly and artistic record of them all, viz. Miss Burney's! Her sketches are almost as dramatic as Boswell's, and quite as amusing and important too. It is leaving out the part of Hamlet. The editor's reason is extraordinary: "Reflection soon convinced me that it was too good a work to be hacked in pieces" which we must suppose is the proper description of the process that has been applied to the other works. This, however, with all respect, does not seem to be the real motive that was working in the editor's mind. To have merely selected the episodes that referred to Johnson would not have been an injury to the work. "It is a great pity that the Diary has never had a competent editor; it is not altogether as she wrote it. Surely the original entries might be restored?" And as surely might not the cuttings and extracts from Ramblers, Walpole's, etc., be supplied by the same competent editor, to the utter extinction of poor Fanny. At all events, we have here an editor that has omitted from a collection one of its most important and necessary components, in order that it may be later on printed in complete form. What do his publishers say to this?
The editor has a system of making his notes go as far as possible. In the "Letters" there are profuse references to "The Life," and in the "Miscellanies" references as profuse to both preceding works. This may be justified, but not so the system of making a note and text do alternate duty. Thus, in "The Life" we have a passage quoted from the "Letters" as an illustration. When we come to the "Letters," the passage in "The Life " does duty as a note. In the "Miscellanies" we find him actually repeating some of the notes in "The Life": witness that on the "Epilogue to Johnson's Play," where we are told twice over, "the wonder is that Johnson accepted this Epilogue, which is a little coarse and a little profane."
The fashion, indeed, in which the editor tries to "belittle" the sage wherever he can is scarcely decorous. During the Holy Week Johnson wrote in his "Diary" that he had an awe upon him, "not thinking of the Passion till I looked in the Almanac." This natural unaffected confession the editor thus twists: "Apparently he had omitted Church of late." How? When? Observe, he had remembered and kept the solemnity, for he states that he fasted from meat and wine. The Almanac had reminded him, and he kept the feasts duly.
Here is another trivial cavil. Johnson penitentially reminds himself that he had spent fifty-five years making resolutions and failing to keep them. The editor notes that he was then fifty-five years old, "so he must have begun making resolutions at the time he was born." This is indeed being literal. But Johnson, to show that he was speaking generally, adds that he had been making" resolutions "from the earliest time almost that I can remember," and might fairly count it the whole of his life.
It is impossible not to smile over the editor's comical complaint of Mrs Piozzi's behaviour to him. It is quite a penal matter. " The frequent errors of Mrs Piozzi" did not so much affect Boswell or Johnson or herself—no, but "caused me a great deal of trouble." Very improper of the lady, no doubt. "Some of them were clearly intentional: not a few letters were carelessly inserted in the wrong places, but of her own some are fabrications"!
But it is really amazing how the editor's prejudice against Mrs Thrale makes him unconsciously distort. She has always met with harsh treatment in the matter of her second marriage, which was certainly an indiscretion. Of the four or five letters that passed between her and Johnson on the occasion, she thought it advisable to publish only two. The second and third were of too painful and resentful a character to print. The editor charges her with wishing to make Johnson suppose that she was already married, so that his objection would come too late. Nothing can be more unfounded. For she speaks of it as "a connection which he must have heard of from many," that is, an attachment, for the "many" could not have heard of the marriage, and she only concealed it from him, she says, to avoid the pain of rejecting his advice. She tells it to him because "it is all irrevocably settled," and out of his power to prevent. Is not this an exact description of an engagement and not of a marriage? But what is conclusive on the point is that with her letter she sends Johnson her circular to the executors, and which bears the same date as her letter, viz. June 30. In it she says in plain terms that her daughters, " having heard that Mr Piozzi is coming back from Italy, judging that his return would be succeeded by our marriage" etc. She even concludes her first letter with "I feel as if acting without a parent's consent till you write kindly," etc.—that is, "as if acting," not "as if I had acted," which she would have written had the business been done. And yet the editor contends that she wished to persuade Johnson that she was already married! It is inconceivable how he can fall into such mistakes. It is also urged that she calls Piozzi her husband; and she adds that "the birth of my second husband is not meaner," etc. But there is nothing in the point, as it is plain she means her future husband.
Here is an interesting matter which has escaped the editor. In November 1779, when the Thrales were at Bath, "Queenie" wrote the sage a letter, and Fanny Burney, who was not without her affectations, thought it would be effective to add a little deferential postscript to the child's letter. The doctor was in an ill-humour, and fancied they were beginning to neglect him. "Queenie," he wrote, " sent me a pretty letter, to which … added a silly short note in such a silly white hand that I was glad it was no longer." This was certainly rough and unmannerly to his favourite, and as she is at once to be recognised from allusions in the "Letters," it seemed strange that Mrs Piozzi should have allowed it to stand. But the fact was that when these "Letters" were published, she was in a bitter mood against Fanny, who had opposed her marriage, and she, no doubt, felt a little malicious satisfaction in letting this thrust stand.
As Mrs Thrale was "a forger and fabricator," so another of the coterie is described as a thief. Mr Seward published a collection in four volumes, called "Anecdotes of Distinguished Persons," a rather entertaining miscellany, containing some 2000 pages, of which three are given to Dr Johnson. In these three pages are found some of Mrs Thrale's anecdotes, and these are "thefts." The editor seems angry because "some of these thefts I only discovered in correcting the proof sheets"—a personal incident that does not concern us. But it touches the editor nearly. "It might be thought that plagiarism such as this would be easily detected by one who was so familiar with the subject." But it was this familiarity which made detection difficult. "Every anecdote I had long known so well I could not be sure," and so on. But the reader has no concern with these thoughts and feelings of Dr B. Hill, whether he saw a thing in the proof or otherwise.
There is a French "Dictionaire Portatif" of one L'Avocat mentioned, of which the editor seriously announces: "This work is not in the British Museum." If this be a reason for its non-existence it will not hold, for there are a east number of books not in the British Museum which do exist. But there is there a late edition of the "Dictionaire Portatif," edited by some one else, which is probably the same.
The editor's fashion of assuming as truth whatever his enthusiasm makes him wish to be true is shown by the following:—"My kinsman, Mr Horatio Beaumont," possesses a copy of Boswell's "Life," in which are some marginal notes by a nameless writer. The editor, however, believes that they were written by one Mr Hussey, who was a friend of Johnson's. This was fair subject for conjecture. But the editor having decided beyond appeal that they were Hussey's, all through his work always speaks of them as Hussey's marginal notes, and we have, "Mr Hussey says," and "Mr Hussey thinks," although there is not a particle of evidence for giving him the authorship.
Dr B. Hill seems to hold an arbitrary theory that any spinster of the time, when touching on fifty or thereabouts, was summarily compelled to become "Mrs" So-and-so, and to drop her "Miss." There is no foundation for this, save that we find them when grown elderly sometimes addressed as "Mrs."
We are thus assured that Miss Reynolds, Sir Joshua's sister, who was fifty-four years old, "in accordance with the common custom, was now dignified as Mrs Reynolds." Miss Porter, he decides, became of a sudden Mrs Porter. Yet on another occasion, we are told that "though Miss Mulso was but twenty-eight … she was complimented with the title of Mrs Mulso." At twenty-eight! Where, then, is the editor's "common custom"? And Mrs Carter, who never married, was always known as Mrs Carter. And what of Mrs Hannah More?
Here is a rather startling assertion:—"Johnson, if I am not mistaken, in the frequency with which he is quoted, comes next to the Bible and Shakespeare." Even as it stands, this too sweeping statement fails, for the thousands who readily quote their Shakespeare and Bible never quote anything from Johnson. He is not in popular circulation, as it were. But the writer who is next in demand to the two named is surely Dickens, who has furnished scores of stock phrases, which are in constant use. Not a day passes that we do not see in the papers something of Sam Weller's, or the circumlocution office, the Pickwickian sense, etc.
On the strength of his collection of extracts and snippets, Dr B. Hill proudly claims the title of "scholar," and appeals to fellow-scholars in England and America. These books are far more journalistic than scholar-like, since we have such notes as this mixed up with others on the Johnsonian coterie—"When I had the honour of meeting Mr Gladstone at Oxford on February 6, 1890," etc.; or "When, a few years ago, the Prince of Wales asked General Gordon," etc.
Turning back for a moment to the "Letters," we find Dr B. Hill making a "discovery" or two, on which he claims credit. There is the cancel of a passage in Johnson's "Journey," one which is so creditable to him. He had originally set down a "censure of the clergy of an English Cathedral," accusing them of longing to melt "the lead on the roof, and that it was only just they should swallow what they melted." Our editor found Cough's copy in the Bodleian in which the suppressed passage was written, which he was thus enabled to supply. Alas for the doctor's "discoveries." I have a little book called a "Bibliographical Tour," or some such title, in which the passage is printed, which no doubt Gough copied. The Cathedral was certainly Lichfield, where the roof was actually stripped thirteen years after Johnson wrote. The editor, who is fond of relating the processes of his mind before he arrives at a conclusion, at one time strangely fancied it might have been St Paul's, as though the Dean and Canons would have been permitted to strip off and sell the lead. This notion, however, he dismissed, not because of its ludicrousness, but because he was assured by a certain "Rev W. Sparrow Simpson," "that it was very improbable that the Dean and Chapter entertained such an idea," a Bunsby-like verdict, which quite satisfied our editor. First he thought the Dean was Newton, then he was Addenbroke, and so on.
Once writing from Lichfield, in June 21, 1775, a gossiping letter to amuse Mrs Thrale, Johnson said: "They give me good words, and cherries and strawberries. Mrs Cobb is come to Mrs Porter's this afternoon, Miss A—— comes little near me, and everybody talks of you." In these simple sentences the editor discovers "There is an omission here, as is shown by the structure of the sentence." I am certain no one else could discover this from "the structure of the sentence," which is artistic enough of its kind. But what was this omission? A special compliment paid to Mrs Thrale, for she refers to it in her reply. All wrong. We turn to her reply of June 24, and there read: "'Tis very flattering to me when people make my talents the subject of their praises, in order to obtain your favour." Here she refers to Johnson's compliment "every one talks of you." The truth is, the editor is always in a hurry, and, not pausing to consider, was misled by the preceding sentence.
Every one knows Johnson's pleasant "hit" at the attorneys: "He did not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was an attorney." Mrs Piozzi repeats the same speech, which moves the editor to this indignant burst: "When we see how this sarcasm has been spoilt by Mrs Piozzi, we may quote," etc.: that is, Fitzherbert's remark that few persons are capable of "carrying a bon mot? Here is the lady's version: "I would be loathe to speak ill of any person who I do not know deserves it, but I am afraid he is an attorney." The only difference is "would be loathe," instead of "did not care," and "I am afraid" instead of "I believe."
Mrs Thrale, on her mother's death, spoke of the touching "spectacle of beauty subdued by disease." "It must have been," says the editor, "a good deal subdued by age, for she was sixty-six." He will not have such things as handsome old or elderly ladies. Yet some of us have seen good-looking old ladies. We may wonder where Dr B. Hill has been living.
One of the most extraordinary questions in the relation of Boswell and Johnson, which was so intimate and lasted so long, the editor has not investigated, or scarcely touched. "Why was not Boswell at Johnson's death-bed?" And, "Why was he not mentioned in Johnson's will?" Both questions are, of course, connected. It throws further light on Boswell's strangely morbid character, and also upon one of the odd "anfractuosities" of human nature. After expending so much time and labour in waiting on his great friend, it is strange to find him at the very close and crisis foolishly throwing all his exertions to waste, owing to some humour or caprice which he found it impossible to control. In a certain class of character this is not uncommon. Boswell, who was always seeking excuses for coming up to town, ought certainly to have found his way thither after Johnson, in June 1783, had suffered from a paralytic stroke. He allowed nearly a whole year to pass without a visit. Then came the application for the increase of pension to enable Johnson to go abroad. This business was set on foot by Boswell, who applied to the Chancellor about June 20th, but without informing Johnson. Now this was a delicate and rather awkward business, being a plea in forma pauperis, and should not have been attempted without judicious approaches and an almost certainty of success. What was so compromising in the matter was that Johnson was not in want of money at all. He had some two thousand pounds put by, and a couple of hundred pounds would have been sufficient for the journey. When he was told of the application, he must have had an uneasy consciousness of all this; the only thing that could salve his scruples was that he had taken no part in the business. But to have it supposed that he had tried to get public money that he was not in want of, and then to fail, was truly mortifying. He must, not unreasonably, have laid it all to "Bozzy's" account, who, moreover, did not bestir himself sufficiently. Instead of waiting in town to look after the matter, Boswell left on the 30th. Johnson seems to have expected him to stay, for he wrote to him, "I wish your affairs could have permitted a longer and continued exertion of your zeal and kindness."
His health now grew worse and worse; but Boswell in his letters, kept "bothering" for his advice about settling in London, etc., always writing, as he says, in bad spirits, with dejection and fretfulness, and at the same time "expressing anxious apprehensions concerning him on account of a dream." This, to a man suffering as Johnson was, must have been painful. He wrote back impatiently, chiefly in terms of reproach, "on a supposed charge of affecting discontent and indulging the vanity of complaint." Who could take offence at this, for the sage was miserably ill—dying, in fact. But, he added, "Write to me often, and write like a man. I consider your fidelity and tenderness as a great part of the comforts which are yet left to me." And then he says, "I sincerely wish we could be nearer to each other." There are blanks marked by stars both in this and in the preceding letter, which show that the rebukes were so severe that Boswell would not venture to print them. But the sick or dying sage, feeling that he had been a little rough, two days later hastened to make a sort of amende, hoping that he would not take it amiss, for it contained only truth, and that kindly intended. It evidently rankled, for Boswell, knowing that the reader is wondering that he did not hurry to his friend, makes this halting explanation: "I unfortunately was so much indisposed during a considerable part of the year, that it was not, or at least, I thought it was not, in my power" — not to take a journey or leave home—but "to write to my illustrious friend as formerly, or without expressing such complaints as offended him." A most extraordinary "compulsion to silence" this! But his next proceeding was more singular still. Conjuring him "not to do me the injustice of charging me with affectation." thus anticipating further quarrel, he came to the formal resolution of taking no further notice of his dying friend. "I was with much regret long silent," and for three months not a line came from him. Johnson, who was within six weeks of his death, in vain wrote to him kindly and tenderly, describing his own wretched state, and saying that Boswell's letters were a comfort. "Are you sick, or are you sullen?" he asked. The morbid Boswell, however, could nurse his grievances: "It was painful to me to find that he still persevered in arraigning me as before, which was strange in him who had so much experience of what I had suffered." This shows clearly that he was trying to throw the blame on Johnson, and thus show that it was the ill-humour of the testator that caused his exclusion from the will. At last, with a great effort, Boswell forced himself to write, "two as kind letters as I could," one of which was dated in the first week of November, the second about six weeks later. This arrived, however, when Johnson was actually dying, and could not be read by him. Can we wonder, therefore, that Johnson was deeply offended by such neglect, and that he left the name of Boswell out of his will.
The latter must have been deeply mortified, as he knew what malicious remarks would be made on the. omission. There were memorials left to all the intimate friends, Hawkins, Langton, Reynolds, Dr Scott, Windham, Strahan, the four doctors, Gerard Hamilton, Miss Reynolds, the two Hooles, Desmoulins, Sastres, and Mrs Gardiner, the tallow chandler! But not even a book to Boswell. Nothing could be more deliberate or more pointed. Boswell very feebly urges, and he had better have passed over the matter, that Johnson had also omitted many of his friends, such as Murphy, Adams, Taylor, Dr Burney, Hector, and "the author of this work." But none of these except Taylor and Boswell could be placed in the same category with those named in the will.
On the whole of this curious episode, Dr B. Hill has nothing to contribute save a far-fetched theory, that Johnson only named such friends as he saw, and whose presence therefore was a reminder. Yet he saw his old favourite "Queenie" Thrale, and made no mention of her. Gerard Hamilton was not with him, yet he mentioned him. Burke was sitting with him, and attending him, yet he was not mentioned. Like the editor's other theories this one will not hold.
There are some oddities in the arrangement of the volumes. It seems "a freak," for instance, the placing the index not at the end, but before a portion of the text. Having done with the index, we begin again with what is oddly called—by another freak—"A Concordance of Johnson's Sayings." Now, as Dr B. Hill might learn from the Oxford Dictionary, a concordance means "a citation of parallel passages in a book," or as in the case of the Gospels, "a book which shows in how many texts of Scripture any word occurs," a definition which is in Johnson's Dictionary. The editor's description is, therefore, meaningless. To our surprise, however, we find at the beginning of the volumes another batch of Johnson's sayings, entitled "Johnson's apothegms, opinions, etc." Surely these ought to be in the misnamed "Concordance." This specimen, however, is a fair illustration of the methods of our mercurial editor.
And now, having made these serious charges, and having given good evidences for them, I think it is incumbent on Dr B. Hill to come out "into the open," and defend his editions. It will not exactly do, ostrich-like, to hide his head in the sands of the Clarendon Press. I think he is required to stand forth and vindicate himself, or confess his errors. It will not do, as he has done in these "miscellanies," to print declarations of Dr Johnson—obviously to my address—that attacks need not be noticed, etc. When Boswell pleaded to his father that Homer nodded, the old judge said—"But you're not Homer," and Dr B. Hill is not exactly Dr Johnson.
I must now conclude this "Critical Examination," adding that I have refrained from inserting many more passages to which exception might justly be taken, but which are not of so "telling" a class as those selected. Apart from the innumerable mistakes pointed out, it has been shown that these abundantly noted books are not editions of Boswell, Johnson, or the other folk—but simply "encyclopaedias of anecdotes," copied with much diligence from all quarters—and so far are entertaining.
Nor are the syndics of the Clarendon Press without their share of responsibility. They have professed to furnish purchasers with "editions" of the works in question, and, instead, have supplied a heterogeneous mass of details about everybody and everything. Nearly a century ago, they sent forth a fine edition of Boswell's work, in four volumes, beautifully printed, a fine specimen of reserve in the matter of editing; what will they do now?
It will be noted that no references to the passages quoted are furnished in this "Critical Examination," for, with the aid of the editor's copious indexes, they can be found at once.
- Since the former portions of this Examination were printed, I have been informed, on good authority, that the lady who refused the editor admission to Auchinleck is not dead, as I stated she was.
PRINTED AT THE EDINBURGH PRESS, 9 AND YOUNG STREET.