Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/29

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17
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

to the morning, and his "beating heart" to the afternoon. He had been impertinent before dinner, and when he was sent for after dinner "he expected a sharp rebuke." All of which is rather mythical. There was but the one visit to the tutor, as any one who turns to the passages will see. Johnson went to him with a beating heart, dreading punishment, and at the same interview answered him stolidly, from a "stupid insensibility."

Boswell once remarked, "Then Hume is not the worse for Beattie's attack," i.e. in his "Essay on Truth." On which the editor introduces an account of a certain picture by Reynolds, in which Beattie is depicted as "the Angel of Truth beating down the vices"; followed by Goldsmith's criticism of the same, at length. Then we are told that one of the figures is said to be a portrait of Hume a notion which the editor confutes. On his own showing, therefore, there is no apropos in introducing the portrait at all. Next, we are oddly told "that Dr Hill Burton does not mention the 'Essay on Truth.'" An edition of Boswell could be extended ad infinitum, if we set down all the things that modern writers don't mention. Next we are assured that "Burns did not hold with Goldsmith, for he took Beattie's side," and a quotation follows.

It is surely needless to repeat in the notes the information given in the text. Boswell in his note speaks of "Dr Douglas, now Bishop of Salisbury"; but the editor in the next column tells us that "Dr Douglas was afterwards Bishop of Salisbury," and, moreover, refers us "ante, p. 127," where we find, "Dr Douglas, now Bishop of Salisbury."

"Boswell was no reader," our editor assures us—a rather wholesale assertion. Every critic will have been struck by the extent of Boswell's reading—evidenced not so much by the number of happy quotations from most languages as by the tone of general information that pervades his book. But what is the proof offered by the editor? "I wish," wrote Johnson, "you would enable yourself to borrow more;" also Boswell's own confession in 1775, "I have a time of impotency of study" (which many have); and again, "I have promised Dr Johnson to read when I get to Scotland." He had been idle, in fact, and dissipating, and could not then apply to study. But Johnson always gives his friend the highest praise for his reading and knowledge.

The editor, as we have seen, is particularly severe where "morals" or questions of morals arise, and is often shocked at, or reprobates, sentiments or conduct that seem to deviate from his high standard, as in the well-known discussion between Dr Johnson and Lord Auchinleck. The latter, when pressed to name any Scotch religious work of merit, confessed to his son afterwards that he suddenly recollected having seen in a catalogue "Durham on the Galatians," with which he at once "downed" Johnson. There was something pleasant, if not humorous, in this little scene. But the editor deals with it very seriously, and sees here a regular breach of morality. "In the British Museum Catalogue I can find no work by Durham on the Galatians. Lord Auchinleck's triumph was more artful than honest." In other words, he had invented a religious treatise, and thus "lied," as Johnson might say, not only to the sage, but to his own son, to whom he said that he had seen the work. Well, on turning to the British Museum Catalogue, I find "Durham on the Revelations," which the old judge might very naturally have confounded with "the Galatians."

Again, there was an old friend of Johnson's, the well-known Dr James—of powder celebrity