Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/36
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION
extraordinary as it is perplexing. Johnson had advised him to claim everything—to use all arts for getting on: "Don't be afraid, sir; you will soon make a pretty rascal." And this the editor thinks is the same thing as opposing two Whig measures: and he gratuitously asserts that the Whigs thought Windham a very pretty rascal for doing so.
Here is a very serious misapprehension of the meaning. The editor, after mentioning that Johnson would not attend the Presbyterian worship in Scotland, points out his inconsistency, for "in France he went to a Roman Catholic service." On turning to the passage, we find that he happened to enter St Eustache when the children were being catechised, and listened to the cure's instruction, which was not "a service" at all. These exaggerations are constantly met with. Boswell once fondly reminded Johnson how they first conceived the plan of their "Tour" at the Mitre Tavern. The editor corrects him: "It was at the Turk's Head Coffee-House." On turning to the passage referred to by the editor in proof, we find Boswell merely saying that " We talked of the plan at the Turk's Head" without a word of its being the first time. Boswell distinctly says it was at the Mitre.
On the journey to Harwich, Johnson and Boswell stopped the night at Colchester. The editor is sorely puzzled. " They left London early, and yet they only travelled fifty-one miles that day; "twenty more miles, and they would have been at Harwich. But he might have learned the explanation from Boswell himself. They wished to see the town, which Johnson "regarded with veneration as having stood a siege for Charles I."; and the friends wished to be together for another day.
Dr B. Hill has a curious morbid delusion as to what is "indecent," and flings about imputations of this kind. Against the worthy Cave he brings this charge, accusing him of inserting in his magazine " verses as gross as they are dull," advertisements of "indecent books," one of which is "in very gross language." I have not been able to search out these specimens; but we may test the editor's statement by his charge against Johnson of accepting an "Epilogue" for his "Irene," which is a "little coarse and a little profane." In this, jocose allusion is made to the Turkish system of a husband "with fifty wives," and the speaker says she prefers the English system of one husband to herself, instead of having a fiftieth part of one. I cannot see any "coarseness" in this "Epilogue." The "profanity" may be searched for in vain, unless the editor means that the word "devil" is profane.
When Mrs Johnson died, the editor notes that her name did not appear in the usual monthly list of deaths in the Gentleman's Magazine. "Johnson," he adds rather bitterly, "did not, I suppose, rank among eminent persons." Now, Johnson was not, at the time, an eminent person. He had not published his Dictionary. Mrs John son, at least, was not an "eminent" person; and, finally, the list was not one of eminent persons at all."Frank," Johnson's servant, had entered the Navy, and Johnson indirectly sought Wilkes's aid to obtain his discharge. The application to Wilkes was on March 20; and the editor speculates: "Had he been discharged at once, he would have found Johnson moving from Gough Square to Staple Inn," which removal took place on March 25. There is no ground for presuming that he would have been discharged on this particular day, even if he had been discharged "at once." The letter had to reach Wilkes, who had to apply: the matter had then to be considered; so it would have taken months. But that the speculation is