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Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/70

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

than that it belonged to the Garricks or to Walmesley, or to any one else in Lichfield.

Surely every one knows that the "gear" of a horse means a part of his harness. But the editor gravely assures us that "in Johnson's Dictionary gears signifies 'the traces by which horses or oxen draw,' " etc.

When Johnson speaks of consulting the "Edinburgh Dispensatory," the editor tells us that "in the Gentleman's Magazine of 1747 is advertised the 'Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia,' edited by W. Lewis," assuming that this was the work Johnson consulted. Nothing of the kind. It was, as Johnson knew, and accurately stated, the "Edinburgh Dispensatory," a well-known medical work published in 1733, and of which there are several editions.

It is often almost incomprehensible how Dr B. Hill can so mistake the meaning of his text. Johnson wrote "of the petticoat government he had never heard," and of some Shakespeare discovery, that "no one had seen the wonders." To explain the first of these recondite allusions, the editor refers us to other passages: "I am miserable under petticoat government," and, "See how I live when I am not under petticoat government." But is it not plain that he was alluding to some story about a friend supposed to be suffering from female tyranny? The editor adds a more amazing hypothesis: " It is possible that some political pamphlet had been brought out under that title in imitation of one by Dunton in 1702." As if people could recall a pamphlet nearly eighty years old.

And what was the Dramatic Discovery? According to our editor, these "wonders," of which Johnson knew nothing, this dramatic curiosity of which he was only "told," was neither more nor less than a new book written by Johnson himself!—a supplement to his Shakespeare in two volumes—his own book: a discovery of which the author was once told by Miss Lawrence. But it would be foolish to go further with the matter. Johnson was clearly speaking of some portrait, or play, or fabrication that had just come to light.

Johnson wrote to his dying mother that he did not think her "unfit to face death," which leads the editor into this rhapsody: "How Johnson's truthfulness stands forth here! Not flattering at that dread hour … it is all that he dared say even to his mother." Considering that the poor old lady was ninety years old, any thing in the way of "flattering" her, i.e. holding out delusive hopes of living, was not likely to occur to her son or to herself. But, as it was, Johnson, in the tenderest way, did encourage her to live: "Endeavour to do all you can for yourself. Eat as much as you can," etc. Even the grand "truthfulness" which stood forth at "that dread hour" did not amount to saying, "You cannot live," but that he thought she was well prepared if she should die. What Dr B, Hill means, after so extolling Johnson for his blunt truthfulness, by saying "it is all he dared to say even to his mother," I cannot divine. The editor then announces, en passant, "Travelling was then very slow." In proof of which we are told of a certain nobleman who, travelling in his coach and six, took two whole days to go ninety miles. Who was this nobleman? He is not found in the "Peerage"; he and his coach and six exist only in "Tom Jones"! And good going it was, considering; for, having six horses, it was probably a heavy Berline. But Johnson could have taken the ordinary night coach.

Here is another strange misconception. John son wrote to Mrs Thrale: "To-day I went to look into my places in the Borough." Johnson, as we know, often associated himself with the brewery, speaking of it as "ours"—"we shall brew," etc. Looking into "my places" surely