Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/33

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
21
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

"A ghastly smile" is a common expression enough; but we are informed that it is "borrowed from 'Paradise Lost,' II., 846."

Speaking of Miss Knowles's "sutile" pictures or embroidery, Johnson said, "Staffordshire is the nursery of art; here they grow up till they are transplanted to London." Who would suppose that he was thinking of anything but of the local artists? No. "He is pleasantly alluding to the fact that he was a Staffordshire man." How "pleasantly"? and what had Johnson to do with "art"? and where is the "allusion"?

When the travellers were at Inverness, a clergy man who preached spoke of persons who connected themselves with men of talent, and tried to deck themselves with their merits. Boswell naively says that "he thought this was an odd coincidence." But Dr B.Hill sees no coincidence, and finds it "odd that Boswell did not suspect the parson," who had no doubt learnt that they were to be present at his sermon. Could any one of critical taste believe that a clergyman, in his church, could adopt this offensive mode of "preaching at" two strangers? And if he did know of their presence, the obscure clergyman of a remote Scottish district could never have heard of the town jests on Boswell's attendance on John son. He would, if anything, have been complimentary and full of respect, but, it is likely, did not know till later that he had the great Dr Johnson and his friend listening to him. Boswell, speaking of Lord Monboddo's ill-feeling to Johnson, said that the latter was "even kindly, as appeared from his enquiring of me after him by an abbreviation of his name. 'Well, how does Monny?'" But our editor looks grave. There is more underneath. "The use," says the editor, "of the abbreviation Monny on Johnson's part scarcely seems a proof of kindness." Yet pet names usually betoken good humour and affection. More odd are the instances by which he supports his theory. Johnson had said that on several occasions "Sherry was dull"; "Mund Burke" was "lacking in sense"; and "Deny" (Derrick) had "outrun his character." Here were proofs of " unkindness." Any one that turns to the passages will see that Johnson was, as it were, affectionately lamenting certain little weaknesses in friends he loved. At the worst, no one could contend, as the editor actually seems to do, that the use of a pet name was a proof of unkindness.

Johnson spoke of its being said that Addison wrote some of his best papers "when warm with wine." A note of sixteen lines is furnished, giving an account of how Addison spent his day, finishing it at a tavern, where "he often drank too much wine." This, it will be seen, does not prove or illustrate the statement that he wrote when warm with wine. Boswell adds that Blackstone wrote his commentaries with a bottle of port before him, on which is a most extraordinary, heterogeneous note of thirty lines. It opens with a quotation from Mr Foss, proving that the judge did not take exercise, that he was corpulent, etc. "His portrait in the Bodleian shows that he was a very fat man." Then Scott "would not have thought any the worse of Blackstone for his bottle of port"; and we are told he and his brother, Lord Eldon, relished port wine, the fact being it was one of the favourite drinks of the time. Then "some one asked him whether Lord Stowell took much exercise," etc. "Yet both men got through a vast deal," etc. These undiscriminating odds and ends are bewildering. How much more interesting it had been if Dr B. Hill had studied his text on true editorial principles. This passage he would have found gave some displeasure to the Blackstone family. Boswell altered it, adding a compliment, "and found his intellect invigorated," etc. This is more to