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Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/57

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

Peter Lely." This is incoherence, and it is difficult to deal with it seriously. The reader needs not to be assured that Macaulay had no penchant for "royal harlots," nor was he their retained advocate; nor did he prefer them to "only decent married women."

Another truly rich "morsel" is connected with the death of Johnson. How is the scene to be made impressive, or, as Boswell has it, "aweful"? Why, by introducing a stage coach! This literally is the fact. "William Hutton, who," we are told, "left London on the night of December 12th," describes how he "went silently on over a hundred and twenty miles of snow." On which the editor adds impressively: "As the coach went silently on through the wintry world, Johnson's spirit passed away." This is all solemn enough. Still, the editor ought to be accurate in his solemnity. Hutton left in his mysterious coach on the Sunday night, the 12th, and the good Johnson did not yield up his honest soul until seven o'clock on the Monday night, by which time Hutton was actually safe at home! So the whole point of the thing, such as it is, vanishes.

But we are not yet done with Hutton and his coaching.

Johnson was once returning to London through Birmingham and Oxford, when it strikes the editor as a strange coincidence that "W. Hutton took the same road not three weeks later" There is something comic in the mania. Dr B. Hill has for connecting Johnson and Hutton, and always in this matter of a coach. Without any apropos whatever, he proceeds to tell us all about Hutton's journey; how thirty-six horses were used: calculating "there must have been nine changes of horses in the 120 miles." We next learn how the guard sat inside with Hutton, and told him how he had defended the coach against highwaymen—sometimes had killed them, etc. We wonder what had all this to do with Johnson. But the editor thus ingeniously connects these particulars with him: "If Johnson went by the same coach^ all this talk must have been poured into the ears of Black Francis as he sat outside"!

But "must it," after all? To be secure of even this, we must assume, first, that it was the same coach; second, the same guard j third, that the guard did tell his stories over again; and fourth, and above all, that he was sitting beside "Black Francis."

Still that does not exhaust these curious Hutton coach incidents. Johnson could not get a place in a Birmingham coach. What will be said when we find "that nine years later W. Hutton, returning from London, found all the places taken" etc. And still more strange, "he left in the evening of a December day."

There is nothing, however, in the volumes more truly comic than the following. Johnson made this simple statement:

"I propose to come home to-morrow."

There are no bounds to the ingenuity of the editor; the gravest questions are here involved. How did Johnson travel? How might he have travelled? Above all, had he luggage? If he had, how did he send it? Was it heavy or light? What did he pay?

The editor gravely discusses all these matters: "He might have returned either by the Oxford coach, which left at 8 a.m.fare 15s.;" and, mark this: "There were no outside passengers." Here we touch firm ground, for, of course, John son must have travelled inside—that is, if he did travel by this vehicle. Or did he take" "'The Machine,' which left the Bear Inn every Monday, Wednesday, etc., at 6 a.m."? "The Machine" or Oxford coach? Who can tell? The editor adds resignedly: " What time these coaches neared London we are not told."John-