Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/27

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15
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

commoner or a servitor, and that Dr B. Hill had "discovered" the fact. But we turn to Boswell's text, and there read, "he was entered as a commoner"!

When M'Leod declared that he would rather drink punch with his tenants than claret in his own house at their expense, he was illustrating the good feeling of Scotch landlords for their dependants, Dr B. Hill gives two passages to prove excessive drinking by Irish gentlemen. There is no point or parallel in this. "Laceration of mind" Boswell has printed in italics. "Laceration," says the editor, "was properly a term of surgery; hence the italics? But was not "of mind" also in italics? and are those words "terms of surgery" also? This is surely uncritical.

It is often amusing to see how shocked is our editor at certain expressions of his author. As when Gibbon and Langton were elected Professors at the Academy, Boswell said that it reminded him of Swift's "wicked Will Whiston, and good Mr Ditton." There was some pleasantry in this. "But," says our editor gravely, "this poem goes on so grossly and so offensively as regards one and the other, that Boswell's comparison was a gross insult to Langton as well as to Gibbon." Boswell was, of course, merely amused at the notion of the oddity of the good man and the heterodox man being chosen together. There are things as offensive in Gulliver, but to compare some one to Gulliver is not an insult. Again: "It is strange"—Dr Hill is always discovering something strange—"that Boswell nowhere quotes the lines in the 'Good-natured Man,' in which Paoli is mentioned." This, as it is so "strange," must have been some compliment, or trait of character, or illustration, but the "lines" in question are simply, "that's (a letter) from Paoli of Corsica." Boswell, with his usual acumen, saw that to quote this barren speech contributed nothing to the fame of his hero.

Boswell and his friend were invited to Slains Castle by the Errol family; and the editor shows that it was to Johnson that the invitation was owing, he having been observed in the church by a lady who knew him. On which we have this gloss: "Boswell, perhaps, was not unwilling that the reader should think that it was to him that the compliment was paid." Why "perhaps"? No reason is given for this insinuation. But for it there is not a particle of foundation. For he distinctly disclaims all share in the business: "I had never seen any of the family, but there had been a card of invitation written by Mr Boyd."

Defending himself from a charge of being a reporter of private conversations, Boswell in a graceful passage asks, " How could any one be annoyed at his not gathering what grew on every hedge?" when "he had collected such fruits as the Nonpareil and the Bon Chretien" There is a quaint touch here; and by the use of the capitals he seemed to refer to the character of his great friend. But how does it strike our too literal editor?" Both Nonpareil and Bon Chretien are in Johnson's Dictionary. Nonpareil is defined as a kind of apple, Bon Chretien a species of pear." This is literal indeed! Again: in his "Diary" Johnson writes that two sheets of his "Tour" came to him for correction, viz. "F and G." This is plain enough, but our editor must make it plainer still: " F and G are the printer's signatures, by which it appears that at this time sheets B, C, D, E, had already been printed"

"I have retained Boswell's spelling" (such as "aweful," etc.), the editor tells us, "for the reason that Boswell, in another work, had said that in case of a reprint he hoped that care would be taken of his orthography." On turn-