Open main menu

Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/72

This page has been validated.

"without natural interest"; that is, who were unconnected with the place. These were patronage boroughs, and boroughs which might be glad to have a wealthy citizen like Thrale. He, moreover, was not an "upstart" with money to whom the statutes would apply. He had been in Parliament, and was well known. The whole is absurd.

On the death of Mrs Thrale's son Johnson wrote a letter of condolence. "Poor Ralph is gone." She had done her best to save him. The boy had not suffered much. "Think on those who are left to you." He then passes on to other topics. Surely this seems feeling enough, and sympathetic too. But not enough for our editor. It is "a strange letter." He attacks his hero for being so heartless. "The childless Johnson was ignorant of the feelings of a parent." But I refer the editor to Johnson's truly affectionate and condoling letters on the deaths of the other children (March 25 and 30, 1776), and let him say if Johnson was ignorant of the feelings of a parent.

Johnson also wrote to her to say that he had declined a ball and supper. His editor "has him" here, and wishes to prove him insincere. "He had, however, attended the Lichfield Theatre on the day on which the news arrived of the boy's death." This criticism, again, shows how little the editor understands human nature and the course of human actions. To go to a local theatre in a country town, and where his relations to the Thrales, and the death itself, were almost unknown, was a different thing from going to a ball and supper in London, where it would seem unbecoming. This is too elementary for discussion.

"I wish Ralph better," wrote Johnson on another occasion to Mrs Thrale of her son, and my master (Mr Thrale) and his boys well." Could any statement be put in plainer language?—Ralph was one boy, Harry the other. He wished Ralph better, and Mr Thrale and his sons happiness. Yet thus the editor: "Who he meant by his boys I do not know."

The editor again, eager to catch Johnson tripping, points out that he had spelt a Mr Kindersley's name wrongly as "Kinsderley." It is amusing to find the corrector himself falling into a blunder of the same kind in the very act of correction, for he points out that it should be "Kinsdersley." The bewildered reader is thus told that Johnson is wrong, and is asked to substitute what is also wrong. Not content with this, he tries to set Johnson right on another point, and with equal success. Johnson spoke of a book, written by this Mr Kindersley, and the editor announces that it was by Mrs Kindersley. But on reading the passage carefully and quietly, as Dr B. Hill should have done, we find Johnson saying, "Mr Kindersley and another lady'"—which clearly shows that he had written Mrs Kindersley, and that the printer or Mrs Thrale had misread him.

Johnson wrote: "At Lichfield, my native place, I hope to show a good example by frequent attendance at church." Most natural, and most plain too. He lays out his plan, and gives his reason for it, viz. "to show a good example." But the editor sees something below. Recalling how Johnson once stood in the market-place, to expiate his unfilial conduct, he gravely tells us that he here wished to do an act of "penance"! This is incredible, but so it is. It seems that over sixty years before, when Johnson was a boy, "he had played truant from church" and by going to church now, he would make atonement before his fellow-citizens! As if the act would have this effect on the Lichfield folk! As if they could remember that a little boy "had played truant from church"! and above all, as if Johnson would think his regular