Open main menu

Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/22

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

attracted the notice of Dr Johnson, who has quoted it in his Dictionary." Bewildered, I next opened another familiar Encyclopaedia—Nicholl's "Literary Anecdotes"—and there again was I informed that "Contemplation " was the name of the poem! Next I opened Johnson's great Dictionary. There again it was, under the word "Wheel." The whole process took about five minutes! What did it mean? Where were Dr B. Hill's "patient in vestigations," "happy hours," and moment of triumph in the Museum? We must not sup pose that he would resort to deliberate artifice to enhance his labours; but the incident, at least, calls for some explanation, which Dr B. Hill should consider it due to himself to give.

"I would particularly refer," he says, "to the light I have thrown upon Johnson engaging in politics with Hamilton, and upon Burke's talk of retiring." It is well known that Johnson had formed this connection with Hamilton, and wrote for him a work on "Corn." "But," says the editor, "I suspect there was more than this," as now we shall hear. In the spring of the year 1766, "Burke separated from Hamilton," and it seems to Dr B. Hill "highly probable" that Hamilton then sought Johnson's assistance. In almost the next sentence we are told that Hamilton, "on losing Burke, wrote on February 12, 1765," etc., though we have just been in formed that he did not lose Burke until a year later. Then "Chambers was looked for to supply Burke's place," though we have been assured that on "losing Burke" Johnson was applied to. But leaving aside this confusion, we are still uncertain as to "the discovery" made by Dr B. Hill, or "the light" he has "thrown" on the matter. We hear of Warton, Chambers, Burke, Hamilton, but nothing new about Johnson, except an " I think it highly probable."

Next, Dr B. Hill would again particularly refer to "the light I have thrown upon Burke's talk of retiring." Johnson begged him not to think of it, adding that it " would be civil suicide." The editor "discovers" that "the gentleman" was Burke, who had recently said in the House that if a question were pressed he would resign his office. An ordinary reader would see that "retiring" had a more general meaning than this; and indeed it would be absurd to think that a mere resignation would be "civil suicide," particularly in the case of such a man as Burke. But the editor should have recalled a passage in "The Tour," under August 19, where Mr Nairne said that he had "an inclination to retire" which was regularly discussed by Johnson. He declared that those who were scrupulous "may retire." "I have talked of retiring, but I find my vocation is an active life." This is conclusive. So much then for the "light thrown" upon Burke's talk of retiring when it turns out (1) that it was not Burke at all; (2) that he was not "retiring"; and (3) that "retiring" means quite another thing.

There was a page or two which Boswell cancelled in "The Tour," it is supposed under pressure from Sir A. Macdonald, whom he had assailed. The editor assures us that he "discovered, though too late, that in the first edition the leaf containing pp. 167-68 was really can and 169, there is a narrow projecting ridge of paper," etc.

It may be said that there is no "ridge" between pages 168 and 169; the editor means between pages 166 and 169, but this is a trifle. However this may be, Mr Croker, some sixty years ago, made "the discovery" of the cancel, pasting, ridge, and all! What sort of delusion is this? There is yet another mistake connected with this matter. He tells us that