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Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/78

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

known always passes for something peculiarly grand." Macaulay's "form boy" would surely do better than this.

Johnson once visited a toyshop. We are actually furnished in a note with his definition of a toyshop, taken from the Dictionary, "a shop where playthings and little nice manufactures are sold."


THE EDITOR AND MRS PIOZZI.

Dr B. Hill's animosity to Mrs Piozzi, and indeed to most of the ladies who figure in his chronicle, is extraordinary. She was a forger, a fabricator of letters, and a clumsy fabricator too. For his charges there is hardly any foundation, save in his own morbid imaginings. There seems a lack of literary propriety in thus assailing a pleasant, volatile woman, whose little failings were more or less privileged, and were treated indulgently by one greater than the editor. What will be said of this? When her husband was ill she used to write his "franks" for him. In this, the editor actually assures us solemnly, she was guilty of felony, "and had incurred the penalty of seven years' transportation (vide Gentleman's Magazine, 1764)," for in 1783, a young gentleman was sentenced for this very offence. The reader need not be reminded that the cases were utterly different, the felony of the latter being the imitating a member's name with some criminal intent, either to defraud the revenue or the member in question. Mrs Piozzi did it, of course, with her husband's sanction, as an amanuensis. But it is childish discussing such a point.

On another occasion, in January 1783, she ha] written from Bath a distracted letter as to her children—"Harriet is dead, Cicely is dying,"—on which the editor with much scorn: "Why she had left her dying child, and the other who was thought to be dying, to strangers to nurse she forgot to say." I can inform Dr B. Hill. One of her children was not dying, but had died some time before; for Johnson says, "I am glad you went to Streatham, though you could not save her," so she had not left her to strangers. The other child was at school at Kensington, and the reason the mother was not with her was that she herself was most seriously ill, as on getting into the chaise she was obliged to give up her journey to go back to her room.

In his ardour to prove the lady a "fabricator" of her own letters, the editor gets into strange confusion. Johnson had written a letter to Mrs Thrale, dated September 13, 1777, as to which the editor pronounces authoritatively, "This must be an answer to one of her's, dated five days later," that is, of September 18. So she had either misplaced the letter or altered or mistaken the date. He proves it in this way. In his letter of the I3th Johnson spoke of Queenie, and that she had no consumptive symptoms; Mrs Thrale was not to be alarmed, etc. He adds, "You must not let foolish fancies take hold on your imagination." In this, Dr B. Hill contends, Johnson refers to her letter of the 18th, where she had spoken of their alarm on finding they had "sat down thirteen to table."

He also mentioned a lady's son who was in danger, a real evil, not an imaginary one,