Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/26

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14
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

with the same view. But are such speculations "editing"? Boswell next adds: " Mr and Mrs Thrale were gone to the Rooms." This inexpressibly shocks Dr B. Hill, who exclaims: "To the Rooms! and their only son dead three days over one month! " Then a quotation:

"That it should come to this,
But two months dead!"—Hamlet.

Is it an editor's function to be thus horror-stricken? Nor was it altogether so heinous in the Thrales. "The Rooms" at Bath was the place of common resort—for conversation, for cards, or for music. They were both retired and public. It was natural that the bereaved pair should seek some mild distraction of the kind.

Boswell tells us of one Macbean, who was preparing "a Military Dictionary," and adds in a note: "This book was published." On which our editor: "I have not been able to find it." We are certain that Boswell would not have needlessly obtruded this note if he had not known of or seen the book. I took down Watt's "Bibliotheca," and lo! there I was "able to find it" at once, and in two places!

The following is a fair specimen of the note "brought in by head and shoulders." When Johnson received his degree of M.A., the Chancellor of the University wrote the usual letter of request, signing it "Arran." On which we are told all about the Arrans and the generations of Arrans; how there were three of their family Chancellors, with the history of each. ('Cor.,' ii. 198)," etc.; with a reference to Macaulay ("Essays," iii. 159). Then is introduced a Chancellor, not an Arran at all, "the Earl of Westmoreland, 'old, dull Westmoreland,' as Walpole calls him" ("Letters," i. 290). All this on the bare signature "Arran."

A letter from Johnson, Boswell says, was forwarded from Carlisle to his house at Edinburgh. Our ingenious editor at once introduces Mr Arthur Young ("Tour Through the North of England," iv. 431, 5), "who describes in 1768 some of the roads along which Boswell was to travel nine years later." Then follows a long quotation on the " state of the roads," which, after all, might have been improved during the nine years. And all this on a letter addressed to Boswell at Carlisle, sent after him by post! A pleasantly grotesque passage of Boswell's is the little sketch of the "Great Twalmley" and his "New Floodgate Iron," which Boswell explains in a note of about four lines. The Bishop of Killaloe had ironically defended Twalmley as "a benefactor to his species," by applying, in a burlesque way, two lines from Virgil; then the subject dropped. But Dr B. Hill intervenes, and in his own style gravely deals with this trivial matter. In a long note he gives the full passage from Virgil—four lines—with a "translation by Morris," in four lines more. Then, taking up the 'theme in his own person, he quotes classical passages in favour of the great Twalmley, who, he says, " might have justified himself by The Rambler, No. 9: 'Every man, from the highest,' " etc. [follows the passage at length]. "All this is what Twalmley did. He adorned an art"—i.e. invented a sliding-door for a smoothing-iron—"he endeavoured to arrive at eminence, etc. He could also have defended himself by the example of Æneas: Sum pius Æneas," etc.

Mr Carlyle, the editor tells us, is in error in describing Johnson as a servitor (on which, it may be said, that "Boswell's Johnson" has no concern with Mr Carlyle's or any one else's misconceptions). "He was a commoner, as the above entry shows"—and Dr B. Hill refers to. his own note. One would fancy that it had been uncertain whether Johnson had been a