Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/25

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
13
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

bearing his name but no date, and the other the date of 1705, but no name. By 1705 he was twenty-two years old—no longer a boy." It might be said that the statement is that the author wrote the play when a boy, which is consistent with publishing it when he was grown up. Having done with Nichols, the editor next supplies this extraordinary piece of information: "The former edition was published by Bernard Lintot at the Cross Keys, Fleet Street, and the latter by the same bookseller at the Middle Temple Gate." What can this mean? He then proceeds to point a moral: "The grossness of a young man of birth at this period is shown by the preface." No doubt, by "birth," Dr B. Hill means "nobility"; but it happened that the youth was not raised to the peerage until years afterwards. Then we return to further bibliographical details. "The third edition, with the elephant, etc., was published in 1736. There is another illustration in which an ass is bearing a coronet," etc., and, mark this "Grimston's name is not given here, but there is a dedication," etc. "Three or four notes are added, one of which is very gross." All which proves that Dr B. Hill is "abroad," as it were, and has little notion of the relevancy of his various odds and ends.

A duel took place between two gentlemen named Riddell and Cunningham, one of whom was killed. Boswell says Cunningham was his "near relation." Our editor makes researches, and finds that "Boswell's grandfather's grandmother was a Miss Cunningham; I do not know how it is that this was a near connection." Then follows a jest at the Scotch. "In Scotland, I suppose, so much kindred as this makes two men relatives." But Boswell was not likely to be so absurd, for he says distinctly that the gentleman was his near relation; and that he was so nearly connected is evident from the fact that Boswell was sent for by express to his bedside. I find in the pedigrees that Mrs Boswell had a cousin of the name.

When Johnson pleasantly uses a piece of slang "in the phrase of 'Hockley-in-the-Hole,'" the editor gives no less than sixteen passages from all sorts and conditions of persons to illustrate the meaning! Johnson had said, jocosely enough, of a little girl: "I being a buck, had Miss in to make tea." What need of comment, research, or "editing" here? But Dr B. Hill must discuss the word "Miss." "The word," he says, "at this time was often used in a loose sense," and for fear of misapprehension, adds gravely: "Though Johnson could not have so used it." Not likely indeed. Then why introduce the eccentric sense at all? But in proof of his theory he goes on to quote a story from Walpole: how the young Prince Frederick, when Kitty Fisher passed by, being asked, "Who that was?" had answered, "a Miss." Being told that all young ladies were Misses, he said that "she was a particular sort of a Miss that sold oranges." Thus it proved the "loose" sense of the word Miss. The late Peter Cunningham is next called in to prove the fact that orange girls were persons of light character. And all this "skimble-skamble" on Johnson's speech, "I had Miss in to tea"!

"On the 28th of April I went to Bath." Thus wrote Boswell. What could be added, unless a full account of Bath, Prince Bladud, Miss Burney, etc.? Dr B. Hill fancies he has "dis covered" that all the Abbey bells were set ringing to welcome Boswell, and this purely gratuitous assumption requires forty lines to develop. Goldsmith, it seems, had declared in 1762 that a stranger was always thus welcomed. It does not matter that this was ten years before, and that Boswell himself makes no mention of the salute. "Humphrey Clinker" is then quoted