Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/40

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

But why would Boswell conceal his own name in the one passage, and reveal it in the other? Further, to "attack" Garrick was not Boswell's way. And still further, in this second passage, he actually joins in Garrick's praises. It is obvious that "the gentleman" was not Boswell.

Here is a curious instance of a misunderstanding of a passage. Johnson wrote to Lord Elibank that he never met him without going away a wiser man. "Yet," objects the editor, "he said of him there is nothing conclusive in his talk." But the two things are compatible. Johnson, on this last occasion, was praising Oglethorpe's "variety of knowledge," though he owned he was desultory and "never completed what he had to say." On which Boswell, "He, on the same account, made a similar remark on Lord Elibank. 'Sir, there is nothing conclusive etc.; i.e. he does not complete, etc. But his talk was wise. Nothing could be clearer.

Boswell was speaking of Goldsmith's "envy" of people who were "distinguished," and which he exhibited to a ridiculous extent. The editor quotes a person to whom the poet said that "he himself envied Shakespeare." This is not the sort of envy Boswell means. Johnson declared that inoculation had destroyed more lives than war. The editor, wishing to prove this wholesale statement, quotes a longish account of Dr Warton, whose daughter was inoculated, and died!

Johnson, when on his deathbed, directed a stone to be placed over the grave of his father and mother in a Lichfield church. It has, however, disappeared. It is obvious that the point of the incident is Johnson's filial affection; but it leads the editor into the most rambling speculations about the "stone." Why was it not there? What became of it? Was it ever there? In his distress he calls for the aid of the Rev. James Serjeatson, the rector, who, from his office, is assumed to have special knowledge, though he can have known little of the matter; but the rev. gentleman is even more wild in his speculations. "He suggests to me that the stone was never set up" (query, set down?) for the reason that "it was unlikely that within a dozen years such a memorial was treated so unworthily." In vain the worthy historian of the town, Dr Harwood, who must have seen "the stone," distinctly records that it was taken away in 1796, when the church was paved a common incident. But this will not do. The "stone" was never placed there; for "there may have been some difficulty in finding the exact place of the interment." All which is a gratuitous fancy; for Johnson particularly directed that the spot was to be found, before ordering the stone; and we are told that the mason's receipt "shows that he was paid for the stone." Then we have this odd theory: "The matter may have stood over till it was forgotten;" and, last and wildest hypothesis of all, "the mason may have used it for some other purpose." This in the face of the facts that the stone was ordered, laid, and removed!

Johnson once wished "he had learned to play at cards." "On the other hand," begins Dr Hill, "he says in his Rambler that a man may shuffle cards, or play at dice from noon till midnight, and get no new idea." Cannot Dr B. Hill see that he is here speaking of gambling, as his allusion in the same paper to "agitated passions and clamorous altercations" clearly shows? — another thing altogether from learning to play whist.

Johnson spoke of the respect shown to officers, and how they were everywhere well received. But, says Dr B. Hill, "in his thoughts on the coronation he expressed himself differently;" and adds, "if, indeed, the passage is of his