Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/20

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

very natural and human one. Such an interesting line of enquiry as this would add indeed a fresh piquancy to the study of Boswell, and had been barely hinted at by Mr Croker. Boswell's real purpose was to allot himself a share at least of his great friend's celebrity, and in this he certainly succeeded.

The prosecution of other enquiries of this kind, such as the question of his religion and his religious feeling, and the meaning of his final revolt from Johnson when the latter was on his death-bed, are subjects that take long to investigate, and are not to be despatched as you "go along," or by note-taking.

Next, as to the edition selected by our editor. There are three editions in which Boswell had his share of the preparation from which the editor could make his selection—the first, the second, and the third. The "corrections and additions" made to the second were printed separately in quarto form. Boswell died in 1795, when he was meditating a third edition, and it was not until 1799 that this appeared under the supervision of Edmund Malone; and it is significant of the editorial modesty and reserve in that day, that though he must have expended much labour on his task, his name actually does not appear on the title-page. O si sic omnes! In his advertisement he explains in the clearest way what his share in the work was. The corrections given in the second edition had arrived too late to be arranged by the author "in that chronological order which he had endeavoured uniformly to observe," so Boswell had to dispose them " by way of addenda as commodiously as he could." Malone says generally: " In the present edition these additions have been distributed in their proper places," i.e. by himself, though in revising the volumes the author had pointed out where "some of these materials" should be placed. Malone then explains that "all the fresh notes that the author had written in the margin of the copy, which he had in part revised, are here faithfully preserved." This makes the whole of Boswell's contribution to the new edition. But it would almost seem that he had really only just begun his task, and the reserved phrase, "in part revised," and the notes written on the margin, can hardly be interpreted as meaning more than a few memoranda which Malone naturally made as much of as he could. "A few new notes" were added, principally by friends of the author, and for those without signature "Mr Malone is answerable"—a curious form, considering that .the announcement is written by Malone himself.

All these new notes were "enclosed in brackets" to show that they were not written by the author a piece of respect that might be more imitated. It is evident, indeed, that there was no particular desire that the book should appear to have been edited by anybody. Malone does not claim any share in editing, he merely writes, the "advertisement." He even formally disclaims being accountable for typographical errors, as the proofs had not passed through his hands—an unusual thing—the meaning of this being that the family wished that the author should have the full credit of having prepared his own work.

In this state of things it was scarcely worth while for Dr B. Hill to treat it as the third and formal work of the author's. The second was really Boswell's final and most complete effort. But Ur B. Hill tries to justify his preference of this edition by some pleas which seem fallacious enough. He seems to rest his case on these notes which Boswell "wrote in the margin," and which, as I have said, must have been of the fewest and slightest sort. These are not impossible to discover by comparing the