Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/17

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

he "fondly thinks" that Dr Johnson "would have been proud could he have foreseen this edition." What! an edition in which he is attacked, accused of inconsistencies in every page—even of corrupt practices—and in which he is now rebuked, now patronised by Dr B. Hill! So far from feeling pride, he is more likely to have dealt with the editor as he once dealt with Osborne, the bookseller. Surely all who read these notes will be struck by the deter mined way in which the editor criticises or confutes opinions of Johnson by introducing passages from his writings which are opposed to these opinions Yet at the end he has the strange confidence to declare that he has never "thought it his duty to refute or criticise Johnson's arguments." When the sage says anything, there is sure to be a perpetually recurring "yet": Yet he did, or said, or wrote so and so, and was there fore inconsistent. Nay, Dr B. Hill fantastically bids any one who would be rash enough to think of doing such a thing "to place Johnson's portrait after Reynolds" (but which portrait after Reynolds?) "before him, and reflect that if the sage could rise up and meet him face to face he would be sure, on whatever side the right might be, if the pistol missed fire, to knock him down with the butt-end of it." In such case it would go hard with our editor.

Finally, he assures us that "When Edmund Burke witnessed the long and solemn proces sion entering the Cathedral of St Paul's, as it followed Sir Joshua Reynolds to his grave," he was certain that it would have gratified the deceased painter, for he was not indifferent to such "observances." This is the editor's method of proving, by a figure, that Johnson and Boswell would both have been delighted with this edition, and the printing of the work by the Clarendon Press. Indeed, our editor is so eager to secure approbation for his work that he insists on interpreting the feelings and sentiments of the illustrious dead. He tells us, with much complacency, that as Johnson was "so deeply attached to his own college, he would not have been displeased to learn that his editor had been in that once famous nest of 'singing birds.' " Dr B. Hill is not his editor, on this occasion at least. It seems a rhetorical flourish. Stranger still, the editor fondly thinks, "that of Boswell's pleasure I cannot doubt," i.e. a pleasure at having his work pulled to pieces, overburdened to extinction almost with notes and comments, every second statement challenged, flouted, contradicted, laughed at—his whole book re-arranged! It was enough to make him shed tears.

But then the work was done by an Oxford man, was printed in Oxford, and all that came from Oxford, or was of Oxford, would have a special charm for "Bozzy"! An amazing delusion this for Boswell was not an Oxford man at all, and only visiting it occasionally. "How much he valued any tribute from Oxford is shown by the absurd importance he gave to a sermon preached by Mr Agutter," the performance being so contemptible that it could only have been admiration for Oxford that permitted him to admit it. But what is the fact? Boswell was enumerating minutely what he calls the "accumulation of literary honours," which were heaped on his friend after his death, among which was the high compliment of a sermon in memory of Johnson, preached before the University. Could he with propriety have omitted such an honour? The mention of it, and the quotation from it, is simply historical, and had nothing to do with any personal liking for Oxford.

The argument, such as it is, completely fails, and to it the editor has given "an absurd importance."