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Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/94

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

found some of Mrs Thrale's anecdotes, and these are "thefts." The editor seems angry because "some of these thefts I only discovered in correcting the proof sheets"—a personal incident that does not concern us. But it touches the editor nearly. "It might be thought that plagiarism such as this would be easily detected by one who was so familiar with the subject." But it was this familiarity which made detection difficult. "Every anecdote I had long known so well I could not be sure," and so on. But the reader has no concern with these thoughts and feelings of Dr B. Hill, whether he saw a thing in the proof or otherwise.

There is a French "Dictionaire Portatif" of one L'Avocat mentioned, of which the editor seriously announces: "This work is not in the British Museum." If this be a reason for its non-existence it will not hold, for there are a east number of books not in the British Museum which do exist. But there is there a late edition of the "Dictionaire Portatif," edited by some one else, which is probably the same.

The editor's fashion of assuming as truth whatever his enthusiasm makes him wish to be true is shown by the following:—"My kinsman, Mr Horatio Beaumont," possesses a copy of Boswell's "Life," in which are some marginal notes by a nameless writer. The editor, however, believes that they were written by one Mr Hussey, who was a friend of Johnson's. This was fair subject for conjecture. But the editor having decided beyond appeal that they were Hussey's, all through his work always speaks of them as Hussey's marginal notes, and we have, "Mr Hussey says," and "Mr Hussey thinks," although there is not a particle of evidence for giving him the authorship.

Dr B. Hill seems to hold an arbitrary theory that any spinster of the time, when touching on fifty or thereabouts, was summarily compelled to become "Mrs" So-and-so, and to drop her "Miss." There is no foundation for this, save that we find them when grown elderly sometimes addressed as "Mrs."

We are thus assured that Miss Reynolds, Sir Joshua's sister, who was fifty-four years old, "in accordance with the common custom, was now dignified as Mrs Reynolds." Miss Porter, he decides, became of a sudden Mrs Porter. Yet on another occasion, we are told that "though Miss Mulso was but twenty-eight … she was complimented with the title of Mrs Mulso." At twenty-eight! Where, then, is the editor's "common custom"? And Mrs Carter, who never married, was always known as Mrs Carter. And what of Mrs Hannah More?

Here is a rather startling assertion:—"Johnson, if I am not mistaken, in the frequency with which he is quoted, comes next to the Bible and Shakespeare." Even as it stands, this too sweeping statement fails, for the thousands who readily quote their Shakespeare and Bible never quote anything from Johnson. He is not in popular circulation, as it were. But the writer who is next in demand to the two named is surely Dickens, who has furnished scores of stock phrases, which are in constant use. Not a day passes that we do not see in the papers something of Sam Weller's, or the circumlocution office, the Pickwickian sense, etc.

On the strength of his collection of extracts and snippets, Dr B. Hill proudly claims the title of "scholar," and appeals to fellow-scholars in England and America. These books are far more journalistic than scholar-like, since we have such notes as this mixed up with others on the Johnsonian coterie—"When I had the honour of meeting Mr Gladstone at Oxford on February 6, 1890," etc.; or "When, a few years ago, the Prince of Wales asked General Gordon," etc.