Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/21
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION
two editions. Dr B. Hill, indeed, tells us that he had the whole of the second edition read out to him. "I felt it my duty," he then tells us with solemnity, "to have the whole second edition read aloud to me for comparison with the third," which still would not help him to discriminate between Boswell's and Malone's work; "but, as I read on, I was convinced that about all the verbal alterations were Boswell's own." This "being convinced" is not much aid. I myself have compared the editions, and can say that there are not half-a-dozen new and additional notes in the whole.
It would be unfair not to allow credit to Dr B. Hill for his unwearied pains and labour, his diligent reading, and the occasionally sagacious "lights" which have cleared away a goodly number of difficulties. I must confess also to feeling some scruple in drawing up this heavy indictment, on account of the genuine enthusiasm and unsparing toil which the editor has brought to his work. But as an unsparing Johnsonian critic himself, he will not be too "thin-skinned." He must recollect, too, the exalted claims that he and his friends have put forward as to the merits of the book, and that there are "Boswellians" as ardent in their faith as he himself, to whom his general treatment of their common idol cannot be acceptable.
Dr B. HILL'S "DISCOVERIES."
Lest these "discoveries" of his should be overlooked, the editor makes special mention of them in his preface. We will begin with one notable specimen. Johnson had praised some pretty lines on a girl singing at her wheel, and repeated them: "Verse sweetens toil," etc. Asked where they were to be found, he said he did not recall the name of the poem, but it was by "one Giffard, a parson." The editor went hard to work, and at last discovered the poem. With pardonable pride he claims his meed of praise: "That I have lighted upon the beautiful lines which Johnson quoted, and have found out who 'one Giffard, a parson,' was, is to me a source of just triumph. I have not known many happier hours than the one in which, in the library of the British Museum, my patient investigation was rewarded, and I perused 'Contemplation.'" Observe what is claimed patience, long in vestigation, diligent search, final success and triumph. Willing to sympathise, and wishing to follow in our editor's track, I, at a venture, took down the index to the Gentleman's Magazine, Dr B. Hill's old friend, which he has consulted in every difficulty, and was referred to vol. 77, p. 1, page 477, where, to my amazement, I found an account of this " Giffard, a parson," with the passage:—" One small poem of his, entitled 'Contemplation,' was printed in 1752, which
Naturally, having made his first "discovery" of a Boswell in the old shop "under the shadow of a great cathedral," our editor began to find some other wonderful things. Most of these turn out to be either no discoveries at all, or to be all wrong, or made by somebody else. This is generally the case with persons who largely take up a subject of study which delights them; they forget that others have been at work before them, and are too eager and enthusiastic to investigate what these have done.