Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/37
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION
wholly idle is proved by what Boswell tells us, that the man "was at sea" probably at some far-off station. Finally, it took over a year to obtain the discharge.
Johnson spoke of the little use there was found in Lectures; on which the editor suggests that "perhaps Gibbon had seen this passage when he wrote something of the kind in his 'Memoirs.'" Perhaps not. Gibbon wrote his "Memoirs" in 1789, and the passage alluded to is found near the opening. Boswell's work appeared two years later; so Gibbon could not have seen it when he wrote. And how uncritical to suppose that a Gibbon would borrow from a Boswell.
And a singular, unaccountable speculation is that of the editor's on Gibbon's change of religion at Oxford, of which Boswell and Johnson spoke rather contemptuously. Gibbon says, in his "Memoirs," that "many years afterwards this report was industriously whispered at Oxford." The editor actually asks us to believe that this large statement refers,'"! have no doubt, to the attacks made on him" here by Boswell and Johnson! Gibbon left Oxford in 1753, and the attack was in 1776. The report, "industriously circulated at Oxford," applied to the community there; not to the two friends, who had picked it up because it was "industriously circulated." There is the difficulty that Gibbon's "Memoirs " end with the year 1788, three years before the appearance of Boswell's "Life"; so the editor engenders a theory that "he wrote a portion of them, I believe, after the publication of the 'Life.'" This, " I believe," will hardly do.
I could give dozens of instances where Dr B. Hill completely misapprehends his text. Thus, Johnson condemned petitions " as a new mode of distressing the Government and its measures." "Yet"—wishing to show how inconsistent Johnson is—"yet he was angry when Dr Dodd's petition was neglected, and the public called for mercy." In this case he was speaking of a petition to the King, who was the only fountain of mercy: in the other case he was alluding to those who distressed the Government—quite different things.
When Mrs Knowles, the Quakeress, spoke of "the bright regions where pride and prejudice can never enter," the editor asks, "Did Miss Austen find here the title of 'Pride and Prejudice' for her novel?" Mrs Knowles was arguing against the pride and prejudice which Johnson displayed; the passage is found, too, not in Boswell, but in the Gentleman's Magazine, which Miss Austen was not likely to have consulted for her titles.
The editor seems always to have had Johnson's great Folio Dictionary beside him, which he consulted on meeting any unusual word. A favourite form with him is, "This word is not in Johnson's Dictionary," which is about as valuable as the statement that "Crummies is not a Prussian." We are told this again and again. Mr Dempster, writing in praise of Johnson's "Tour," used the word "fossilist," when we are assured that "this word is not found in Johnson's Dictionary." The editor must be reminded, firstly, that it was a point of no importance what words Dempster used, or whether they were in or out of Johnson's Dictionary; secondly, that the Dictionary did not include all words in use; thirdly, that numbers of words had come into use since the Dictionary was published; and, finally, that the point is utterly trivial, and not worth noticing.Johnson, in delight at his return to Oxford, wrote: "* * * is now making tea." "Perhaps Van," says the editor, "for Vansittart." This gentleman is named in the next sentence of the