Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/92
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION
Shenstone and Lord Lyttelton, who were not on cordial terms. This seems far-fetched.
"In the words of a great scholar of the North, who did not like him, he (Johnson) spoke in the Lincolnshire dialect." "The great scholar," says the editor, "was perhaps Lord Monboddo." This judge, however, was no "great scholar," but a philosopher. Nor could he know anything about "the Lincolnshire dialect." "The North" is not the way of describing Scotland, but referred to the North of England.
Our editor, as the reader by this time knows, has ways of his own, and generally contrives for us a surprise or two. How characteristic that, when collecting all the contemporaneous accounts of Johnson—from Piozzi to "Tom Tyers"—he should designedly omit the most sprightly and artistic record of them all, viz. Miss Burney's! Her sketches are almost as dramatic as Boswell's, and quite as amusing and important too. It is leaving out the part of Hamlet. The editor's reason is extraordinary: "Reflection soon convinced me that it was too good a work to be hacked in pieces" which we must suppose is the proper description of the process that has been applied to the other works. This, however, with all respect, does not seem to be the real motive that was working in the editor's mind. To have merely selected the episodes that referred to Johnson would not have been an injury to the work. "It is a great pity that the Diary has never had a competent editor; it is not altogether as she wrote it. Surely the original entries might be restored?" And as surely might not the cuttings and extracts from Ramblers, Walpole's, etc., be supplied by the same competent editor, to the utter extinction of poor Fanny. At all events, we have here an editor that has omitted from a collection one of its most important and necessary components, in order that it may be later on printed in complete form. What do his publishers say to this?
The editor has a system of making his notes go as far as possible. In the "Letters" there are profuse references to "The Life," and in the "Miscellanies" references as profuse to both preceding works. This may be justified, but not so the system of making a note and text do alternate duty. Thus, in "The Life" we have a passage quoted from the "Letters" as an illustration. When we come to the "Letters," the passage in "The Life " does duty as a note. In the "Miscellanies" we find him actually repeating some of the notes in "The Life": witness that on the "Epilogue to Johnson's Play," where we are told twice over, "the wonder is that Johnson accepted this Epilogue, which is a little coarse and a little profane."
The fashion, indeed, in which the editor tries to "belittle" the sage wherever he can is scarcely decorous. During the Holy Week Johnson wrote in his "Diary" that he had an awe upon him, "not thinking of the Passion till I looked in the Almanac." This natural unaffected confession the editor thus twists: "Apparently he had omitted Church of late." How? When? Observe, he had remembered and kept the solemnity, for he states that he fasted from meat and wine. The Almanac had reminded him, and he kept the feasts duly.Here is another trivial cavil. Johnson penitentially reminds himself that he had spent fifty-five years making resolutions and failing to keep them. The editor notes that he was then fifty-five years old, "so he must have begun making resolutions at the time he was born." This is indeed being literal. But Johnson, to show that he was speaking generally, adds that he had been making" resolutions "from the