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The Times/1903/Obituary/George Birkbeck Norman Hill

< The Times‎ | 1903
Dr. George Birkbeck Hill.

We regret to announce the death of Dr. George Birkbeck Hill, D.C.L., LL.D., which occurred on Tuesday at The Wilderness, Holly-hill, Hampstead. He was the son of Arthur Hill, and nephew of Sir Rowland Hill, the organizer of the Penny Post, and of Matthew Davenport Hill, at one time Recorder of Birmingham and a celebrated reformer of the criminal law. In 1835 this son of a distinguished Midland family was born at Tottenham, and received his early education at Bruce Castle School, of which his father was headmaster and which he himself was destined to rule, some 20 years later. In due time he went to Oxford, to Pembroke College, which Society long afterwards elected him an honorary Fellow in recognition of his services to literature. From 1859 to 1876 he was headmaster of the old school, and after his retirement he began to carry out systematically those studies in 18th century literature which were to form the groundwork of his book on Dr. Johnson and others. In 1878 he published his first contribution to the knowledge of the Johnsonian circle in "Dr. Johnson, his Friends and his Critics," and from that moment his life's work was decided. Next year he brought out "Boswell's Correspondence," and then family piety led him to leave the subjects of his choice and to edit, with large additions, the autobiographical notes of his uncle, Sir Rowland Hill. The two volumes of this bear witness to Dr. Hill's principal fault, that of writing at more than necessary length, but none the less that book is a good one, and must remain the chief authority on the subject and on the early history of postal reform. Meantime Hill was putting together his notes and fragments, and I n1887 he issued, through the Clarendon Press, his remarkable edition of Boswell's "Life of Johnson," in six volumes. Although this book has been attacked, as any book is likely to be if it deals with a like vast number of independent facts, it remain in the opinion of all good judges by far the best edition of the immortal "Life," and is not likely to be superseded for a long time to come. The reading displayed is very great, and never was a work more conscientiously taken in hand and carried through. Sometimes the notes are too long, but generally they give all the necessary elucidations without too many words. It was a labour of love, for which the present age and the future cannot be too grateful to Dr. Birkbeck Hill. The success of the book was great, and the editor took rank at once as the chief of Johnson's scholar of his day. He followed it up by many more volumes, of which the two called "Johnsonian Miscellanies" (1897) are the most important. Besides these, Dr. Hill edited some unpublished letters of Dean Swift (1899), and venturing into a field where his talent scarcely found its true scope, the "Letters of D. G. Rossetti" (1897). Dr. Hill spent several of these years at Oxford, where he was well liked by many of the most distinguished men, including that devoted Johnsonian, the late Professor Jowett.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.