Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/89

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

long. The poor lady gave no opinion at all, she merely reported Johnson's.


The editor has an odd notion of what "borrowing" is. Johnson's phrase, "the wits of Charles'"' (i.e. of Charles II.'s time) he traced to Addison. It was "borrowed" from the Spectator, where we find "the wits of King Charles's time." Surely this is mere statement, and could not be set down in another way. We might as well say "Mr Gladstone at Hawarden" was borrowed from "Mr Gladstone at Hawarden Castle."

Johnson said that, when he was writing his Dictionary, no less than 160 quires of the MS. had been written by mistake on both sides of the paper. It cost him £20, he said, to have it copied afresh on one side. " This must be a mistake," the editor says, "as were it only a shilling a quire, it would not nearly come to the sum," i.e. £8. It is the editor, however, who has fallen into the mistake, having counted only 160 quires. It should be double that number, as double the amount of paper was used, i.e. 320 quires, which would make £16, and allowing something for wider writing, this would nearly come up to Johnson's figure.

"The little girl poked her head." Imagine a grave commentator, "a scholar" too, stopping here to discuss this important "poking" of the little girl's head! The only definition given by Johnson of poke, is "to feel, in the dark—to search." What are we to do? How get on with only this one definition? We must only leave the little girl to poke her head as best she can.

Lady Di Middleton, who espied Johnson in church on their Scotch tour, and who had known him in town, the editor tells us, "was perhaps of the family of the Earl of Middleton, who, in 1693, threw in his lot with James II." No. She was sister to Lord Stamford, and married an Edinburgh barrister, Mr Middleton, who later succeeded to the Middleton estates.

The editor sometimes disposes of his own argument or illustration, by setting down something that he never intended. Thus he relates how Mrs Gastrell got Johnson to read aloud the passage, "We have heard with our ears," to find out whether he would pronounce it "hēērd" or "herd." He shows that Johnson voiced it "hēērd," who said that to pronounce it "herd" "was nonsense." He likewise told Boswell that it should be "hēērd," because "herd" would be the single exception to the general sounding of the syllable "ear." He also told Mrs Gastrell that there was but one word of that sound in the language, viz. "herd" (of cattle). Which is all plain enough. But the editor gets into sad confusion over it. He tells us that the speech to Mrs Gastrell (as to there being but one word "herd," etc.) "seems a contradiction of what he told Boswell." How? He was talking to him about "heered" not "herd." Then, though he shows plainly that Johnson rejected "herd," he makes him say that to call it "hēērd " was nonsense! The editor meant to write "hĕĕrd."

Johnson's well-known description of an actor's conversation, as "a renovation of hope," etc., was assumed by Mr Croker to refer to Sheridan; by John Taylor to Macklin; Macklin was also named, I think, by Malone. The editor discards these authorities, and prefers a newspaper! "According to the Edinburgh Courant of June 16, 1792, this was Macklin."

The editor has an ingenious fashion of minimising his mistakes. In a previous edition we have Johnson saying, when some one asked his opinion of a play called "Dido," "I never did the man an injury, yet he would read his tragedy to me." The editor speculated that this was one Lucas, who "had just been with me; he has. compelled me to read his tragedy." These, it is