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Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/93

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

earliest time almost that I can remember," and might fairly count it the whole of his life.

It is impossible not to smile over the editor's comical complaint of Mrs Piozzi's behaviour to him. It is quite a penal matter. " The frequent errors of Mrs Piozzi" did not so much affect Boswell or Johnson or herself—no, but "caused me a great deal of trouble." Very improper of the lady, no doubt. "Some of them were clearly intentional: not a few letters were carelessly inserted in the wrong places, but of her own some are fabrications"!

But it is really amazing how the editor's prejudice against Mrs Thrale makes him unconsciously distort. She has always met with harsh treatment in the matter of her second marriage, which was certainly an indiscretion. Of the four or five letters that passed between her and Johnson on the occasion, she thought it advisable to publish only two. The second and third were of too painful and resentful a character to print. The editor charges her with wishing to make Johnson suppose that she was already married, so that his objection would come too late. Nothing can be more unfounded. For she speaks of it as "a connection which he must have heard of from many," that is, an attachment, for the "many" could not have heard of the marriage, and she only concealed it from him, she says, to avoid the pain of rejecting his advice. She tells it to him because "it is all irrevocably settled," and out of his power to prevent. Is not this an exact description of an engagement and not of a marriage? But what is conclusive on the point is that with her letter she sends Johnson her circular to the executors, and which bears the same date as her letter, viz. June 30. In it she says in plain terms that her daughters, " having heard that Mr Piozzi is coming back from Italy, judging that his return would be succeeded by our marriage" etc. She even concludes her first letter with "I feel as if acting without a parent's consent till you write kindly," etc.—that is, "as if acting," not "as if I had acted," which she would have written had the business been done. And yet the editor contends that she wished to persuade Johnson that she was already married! It is inconceivable how he can fall into such mistakes. It is also urged that she calls Piozzi her husband; and she adds that "the birth of my second husband is not meaner," etc. But there is nothing in the point, as it is plain she means her future husband.

Here is an interesting matter which has escaped the editor. In November 1779, when the Thrales were at Bath, "Queenie" wrote the sage a letter, and Fanny Burney, who was not without her affectations, thought it would be effective to add a little deferential postscript to the child's letter. The doctor was in an ill-humour, and fancied they were beginning to neglect him. "Queenie," he wrote, " sent me a pretty letter, to which … added a silly short note in such a silly white hand that I was glad it was no longer." This was certainly rough and unmannerly to his favourite, and as she is at once to be recognised from allusions in the "Letters," it seemed strange that Mrs Piozzi should have allowed it to stand. But the fact was that when these "Letters" were published, she was in a bitter mood against Fanny, who had opposed her marriage, and she, no doubt, felt a little malicious satisfaction in letting this thrust stand.

As Mrs Thrale was "a forger and fabricator," so another of the coterie is described as a thief. Mr Seward published a collection in four volumes, called "Anecdotes of Distinguished Persons," a rather entertaining miscellany, containing some 2000 pages, of which three are given to Dr Johnson. In these three pages are