Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/35

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23
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

master, was celebrated for having flogged seven boys who all became judges. "Here," the editor says, "he blunders," because Northington and Clarke were from Westminster School. This does not prove the blunder, for Wilmot, one of the seven, after being under Hunter, also went to Westminster School, as the others might have done, Hunter's being merely a country Grammar School.

Johnson had written to his printer: "I will take the trouble of altering any stroke of satire which you may dislike," and Boswell naturally praises him for his "humility in allowing the printer" to alter what he disliked. But the editor tells us that Boswell "misread the letter"; he did not offer to allow the printer to make alterations! Surely this is a poor quibble. The printer was to point out the alteration he required, and that was making an alteration.

Boswell repeats the well-known saying of Goldsmith, as to Malagrida and Lord Shelburne, adding a short defence of his friend. All that was necessary by way of note might be a line on Malagrida. But Dr B. Hill gives quotations from Voltaire, Wraxall, and his favourite "Fitzmaurice's Shelburne": "Anybody who examines Reynolds' picture of Shelburne, especially about the eyebrows," etc. Then we learn that "Beauclerk wrote to Lord Charlemont," etc., and the whole Goldsmith story is given over again, in the midst of which the editor interpolates this sentence: "Shelburne supported Townshend in opposition to Wilkes in the election of Lord Mayor. ('Fitzmaurice's Shelburne,' II. 28.)" So Goldsmith makes a blundering speech, and away we travel in pursuit of Malagrida, Shelburne and his eyebrows, Charlemont, Beauclerk, Lord Mayors, Townshend, Wilkes.

Johnson was assailing the ignorance and idleness of the Scotch clergy. To illustrate this, Dr B. Hill quotes a long description of certain clergymen and their roysterings, given by Dr Carlyle. We find that these were English clergymen, and that the scene was at Harrogate!

The editor often gives us notes upon his own notes. Thus when Johnson advocated the procession of malefactors to Tyburn, we have no less than sixty lines from Richardson, describing the ceremonial. In this Richardson passage unluckily occurs the mention of a particular psalm sung on the occasion, which then embarks us on a new quotation from Pope to prove that it was the custom for such a psalm to be sung. Boswell and his friend then discussing some recent executions which, from their number, were certainly barbarous enough—our editor conjures up this fanciful picture of Johnson: "There is something dreadful in the thought of the old man quietly going on with his daily life within a few hundred yards of this shocking scene of slaughter." Why "dreadful"? The thought never occurred to him. Nay, he was for a public procession of the criminals, which he thought was for the general good. Or, supposing that it so affected him, why should he not "go on with his daily life"? Dr B. Hill's idea of distance, too, is as fanciful as his speculation. Bolt Court was nearly half a mile from Newgate—many streets and many blocks of buildings interposed, notably the great Fleet Prison. The scene was in another district altogether.

Johnson's speech to Windham on going to Ire land is well known: "Don't be afraid, sir; you will soon make a very pretty rascal." The editor's odd comment is: "The Whigs thought he made a very pretty rascal in a different way;" in proof of which he tells us that Romilly was "astonished" at his opposing a School Bill and the repeal of an Act of Parliament. This is as