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Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/67

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

some interesting details as to this play—how it was always performed at a particular season, and how, later, Garrick, in the interests of decency and morals, had abolished the performance, and substituted "George Barnwell" for the old piece. This was all so particular that, though having my own view on the matter, I was staggered, and took down the play to look out the words which Johnson had quoted, and "Alderman Doodle" was presumed to have uttered. To my surprise they were not there. Most people know that they belong to a much better known play—"Tom Thumb"—where are the two burlesque lords, "Noodle and Doodle," who open the piece with a song, in which are the words quoted by Johnson. It is clear that the editor could not have taken the trouble to look for the lines.

Next for a strange "jumble." Johnson spoke of some friends, whose names are suppressed by Mrs Thrale, and represented by the initials C, B, and D. These admittedly refer to Fanny Burney, Cumberland, and Dr Delap. Presently we find Johnson alluding to a friend as one * * * who had lost £20,000 in a speculation, adding, "Neither D nor B has given occasion to his loss." This loser is later spoken of as C. The editor at once leaps to the conclusion that C must be Cumberland, especially as D and B—that is, Fanny Burney and her friend Delap—"fit in," as he calls it. Let us see how they "fit in." Johnson tells us: "Of B (Fanny), I suppose the fact is true that he is gone; but, for his loss, who can tell who has been the winner?" His loss, mark! So our editor asks us to believe that the struggling Cumberland had lost £20,000; that "Fanny" had been "plunging," and had fled the country! All which is ludicrous.

It might be, indeed, that there is hardly a single "discovery," "conjecture," or "theory," of the editor's that does not break down in some way. Thus, we have a letter of Johnson's to Lowe, the painter, which the editor arbitrarily dates May I5th, 1778. Johnson writes to him that he had mentioned his case to Reynolds and Garrick, but that both were "cold." Garrick, however, seemed to relent: "I think you have reason to expect something from him. But he must be tenderly handled. I have just, however, received what will please and gratify you. I have sent it just as it came." This, the editor fancies, refers to a letter from Garrick, in which Lowe gratefully acknowledges a gift of ten pounds from the actor, sent on May I5th, 1778. "It was very likely that sum which Johnson sent on just as it came." It will be seen in a moment, as the editor ought to have seen, that this will not hold, for had not Johnson told Lowe plainly that Garrick was "cold"; that he must be handled tenderly; that nothing at the moment was to be got from him? "However," he adds, "I send you something that will please you," etc. Not surely from Garrick, for Johnson would have said, "but he has just sent me ten pounds for you"—but some encouraging letter or promise from some one else. This is the meaning of this "However"—that is, "though we have failed with Garrick for the present, I send you something else that will console you."

"Save one's hay," getting one's hay "saved," are familiar phrases enough even to non-farmers. Johnson had written that if the weather continued fine, "it will certainly save hay. But that would not make up for the scanty harvest." Nothing could be clearer or more commonplace; but, to our utter bewilderment, we are gravely assured that the fine weather would save the hay, "by making the grass grow, so that there would be food for the cattle." A fresh crop was miraculously to come up under a spell of fine weather, and thus the farmer would be saved using his hay! What are we to think?