Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/41

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

writing." But there all he says is that "it offends us to see soldiers placed between a man and his sovereign "that is, he objected to the system of body-guards! So he did not "express himself differently." Johnson having added that when a common soldier was civil in his billet or "quarters," he was treated with respect, we are given a long note on the Mutiny Act, the amount of food to be furnished, what the inn keepers had to supply—lodging, fire, candle light, five pints of beer per diem, etc. All this on the mention of the single word "quarters."

Sheridan's wife, we are told, had £3000 settled on her, "with delicate generosity," by a person to whom she had been engaged, and for which Dr B. Hill quotes Moore. He apparently does not know that this sum was forced from the gentleman as damages for a breach of contract. He really behaved atrociously to the lady, and was gibbeted by Foote in "The Maid of Bath"; so he displayed no "delicate generosity" at all.

Johnson protested that he would not keep company with a fellow "whom you must make drunk before you can get the truth from him." Dr B. Hill supplies a note from Addison which has no bearing on the matter: "Our bottle conversation is infected with lying." One would think that this is general, and shows that wine breeds untruthfulness; but on turning to the passage we find Addison deploring the general reign of lying—in society and everywhere; "even our bottle conversation," he adds, "is infected," etc. And, observe, Johnson was thinking of drunkenness, and Addison of drinking merely—different things.

A remark was made that in the northern parts of Scotland there was very little light in winter. "Then," writes Boswell, "we talked of Tacitus." Here Dr B. Hill speculates, and ventures to fill up "out of his own head" all that occurred between the two subjects. "Tacitus, 'Agricola,' chapter xii., was, no doubt, quoted in reference to the shortness of the northern winter's day." But in such a case Boswell would have been only too glad to add something dramatic to his narrative by giving the steps of the transition. "My revered friend then said, 'It is extraordinary, Sir, how the ancients anticipated these things. Tacitus, in his "Agricola,"'" etc. But Boswell, as he does in so many places, passed to, or "introduced" a new subject, perhaps a little abruptly.

Boswell speaks of "Mr Orme, the able historian" of India. As an illustration, the editor tells of Colonel Newcome, whose "favourite book was a History of India—the history of Orme." What is the value of that? On this principle, if Gibbon be named, we ought to introduce Dickens's Silas Wegg, whose "favourite boo " was "The Decline and Fall Off" of the Roman Empire. The opinions of characters in fiction are of no value in a critical work.

"Boswell's intemperance … at last carried him off." This is not known—or at least cannot be known. He died of an intermitting fever. Johnson said of "hospitals and other public institutions," that all the good is done by one man, who drives on the others. To illustrate this, Dr B. Hill quotes Fielding, on the "difficulty of getting admission" into hospitals.

Johnson, we are assured, made less money because "he never traded on his reputation. When he had made his name, he almost ceased to write." Let us see. Johnson, it will be conceded, "made his name" by his Dictionary, published in 1755; but since then what a number of works he issued the—Idler, "Rasselas," editions of Shakespeare, "The Lives of the Poets," besides innumerable