Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/73

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

duty of going to church was an act of penance!

Johnson's house in Lichfield was close to Sadler Street, and he once alluded pleasantly to what he calls "the revolutions of Sadler Street." We cannot tell what these were, but the editor knows. They were certainly changes in the local force of watchmen. Cue for the orchestra! Did not these watchmen carry "Bills"? and did not the editor during "my visit to 'Lichfield" see these actual " Bills." Then we have Shakespeare's Dogberry introduced; and it was curious that Dogberry's men also had "Bills." They were also carried in "the Court of Array," which leads on to "the Statutes of Array." We are then taken—by heaven knows what concatenation!—to the city gaol, which was in a bad state; and then, as might be expected, to John Howard. But the editor cannot shake himself clear of the Watch, and so we return to them. It seems they used to be called "dozeners." That word sends us off to the Isle of Man, where it seems there are "vintiners." Each "vintiner" had a vintaine, etc. Poor Johnson!

Johnson spoke of a gentleman who had erected a commemoratory urn to him, and which he said was like burying him in his life time. Dr B. Hill says that Boswell mentions a Colonel Myddleton, of Wales, who had done this, but adds that he could not be the person Johnson spoke of, as the inscription showed that it was put up after Johnson's death. This is quite wrong. Boswell is speaking of "the abundant homage paid to Johnson during his life," and gives this Myddleton urn as an instance, with its inscription: "This spot was often dignified by the presence of, etc., whose moral writings, etc., give ardour to virtue," etc. That this was the gentleman referred to by Johnson, seems all but certain, as it is unlikely that there would be two persons who erected urns. Further, Johnson heard it through Mrs Thrale, who was a Welsh woman, and Colonel Myddleton was Welsh also, and actually writes that it was being done, and that it was like burying him alive.

Johnson wrote of his old friend Mrs Aston, "as being, I fancy, about sixty-eight. Is it likely that she will ever be better?" Here the editor, seeing into Johnson's mind, assures us that "he was thinking of himself, for sixty-eight was his own age." How unsophisticated is Dr B. Hill, and how little does he know of old people in general, and of Johnson in particular! As if the latter would fancy that Mrs Aston's case could apply to him. He was always thinking, on the contrary, that he would get better, and he would shut out the notion of their both being of the same age; or, if he did think it, he would, perhaps, lay the flattering unction to himself that he was the same age, but in vigour much younger.

Mrs Thrale mentions a visit from a "Mr R——" who, she thought, "would drive her wild." The editor opines that "he was some schemer or projector, with designs on Mrs Thrale's purse." There is nothing to show that the man was a schemer, or projector, or wanted to get at Mrs Thrale's purse. So blinded is the editor by his delusions, that he cannot see that only a few lines above Johnson tells all about him. Mr R—— simply wanted a place! He had skill in keeping accounts, and he wished to have Perkins' office. Johnson thought it was better to keep Perkins. And out of this the editor engenders the theory that he wanted to rob or swindle Mrs Thrale!

The editor notes how in his money difficulties Johnson "never turned to Garrick." He adds in a bewildering way: "Reynolds, moreover, was in great prosperity, for he had in 1758 150