Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/23

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11
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

"Rowlandson, in one of his caricatures, paints Boswell as begging for mercy," etc. Now it was not Rowlandson that painted or etched Boswell in such an attitude. The caricature in question belongs to a series of about a score, exhibiting all the most ludicrous incidents of the "Tour," which were the work, as Angelo tells us, not of Rowlandson, but of another artist one Collins.

Again, he is afraid that ardent advocates of total abstinence will not be pleased at finding that "I have been obliged to show that Johnson thought that his gout was due to his temperance." To this special attention is called in the preface. To our astonishment, when we come to the body of the work, we find that it was a correspondent of "Notes and Queries," not Dr B. Hill, who found out this opinion of Johnson's!

Yet another of our editor's unlucky guesses is connected with the degree given to Johnson by Oxford. In his Latin reply acknowledging the diploma, he said it had been conferred on him at a time when crafty men were "attempting in every way to impair the fame and influence of the University, attempts which he always had opposed and would oppose." "Here," says the editor, "I believe he alludes to the charge of disloyalty brought against the University." He had in his mind a libellous or disloyal placard which had been posted up in the market-place of the town, and it was reported that this had been done by the students. It was this, according to Dr B. Hill, that was in Johnson's mind. But it will be seen that he talks of "crafty men? of attacks which he describes as "storms" (procellas). This might dispose of the whole point, but, unfortunately for the editor, Johnson's letter was written in February 1755, and the incident of the placard was in July, five or six months later! So the whole speculation topples over.

This delusion as to sham "discoveries" pursues Dr B. Hill through the whole of his various collections. In the "Letters" there is one for which he is bold enough to claim credit, and which seems really trop fort. He must think his readers rather simple folk. On one of his visits to Oxford Johnson had for his host Dr Edwardes, but in his Letters he does not say of what college, or where his rooms were. Now comes forward Dr B. Hill. "In fact, I believe it is a discovery of mine that he resided at Jesus College? Wonderful discovery that we can make at once ourselves by turning to any college list! But even granting to him this meagre amount of research, what will be said when we find in one of Hannah More's letters that she was "engaged to dine with Dr Edwardes of Jesus College, to meet Dr Johnson"? But let us go on.

The most surprising of Dr B. Hill's "discoveries" I have reserved for the last, and it really takes one's breath away. Goldsmith's age is generally known, or can be known; but our editor has found out that "Goldy" has himself revealed it, or rather hidden it Donnelly fashion in a sort of mysterious cryptogram. This is found in his edition, of the "Letters": "There is a passage," says the editor, "in The Bee, No. 2, which leads me to think that he himself held November twelfth as his birthday. He there says: 'I shall be sixty-two on the twelfth of next November.' Now, as The Bee was published in October 1757, he would not be sixty-two, but just half that number, thirty-one, on his next birthday." This is amazing, and beats the world. A man says he is sixty-two, but means that he is just half that age! But on turning to this Bee account, we find not Goldsmith at all, but an account of an elderly gentleman, one "Cousin Jeffrey," in attendance on an old maid, " Cousin Hannah," so that the age of sixty-two was appropriate