Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/42

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

pamphlets, essays, reviews, dedications, etc. His pen was never idle a moment. We even find him eager to edit a huge Cyclopaedia—a regular trade job.

Johnson said that "Hell is paved with good intentions," on which the editor quotes from Malone a passage of Herbert's, "Hell is full of good meanings." He might have gone further back, and told us that the original saying was St Bernard's.

Johnson told Hawkins that he never could see the least resemblance between a picture and its subject. "This, however," insists the editor, "must have been an exaggeration," for these reasons: Firstly, because he exhorted Sir Joshua to paint, not on "perishable canvas," but on copper! Secondly, that if a room were hung round with paintings, their faces to the wall, he would not turn them to look at them. Still nothing to do with seeing a likeness. Further, did he not buy prints, portraits of his friends, and hang them up? How does this prove that he could not see a resemblance? And the pictures he would not "turn" were described as paintings in general, not portraits; and the prints he bought were reminders of his friends, which he would like to have, even though he could not see the likeness.

On the familiar Scriptural passage, "he that smiteth thee on the one cheek," etc., the editor says, "Had Miss Burney thought of this text, she might have quoted it with effect against Johnson when he told her that 'the one' was Scotch, not English." Now, this is not in Boswell's work at all; and so far from its "being quoted with effect" against Johnson, he would have replied, "And what then, ma'am? The translators had used a Scotch expression." As it happens, Boswell used the words "one cheek," not "the one cheek," so the anecdote has no application at all.


VII.

Johnson spoke to Mrs Piozzi of his man Frank, and described how "a female haymaker had followed him to London for love." "Here," says the editor, "Mrs Piozzi shows her usual inaccuracy. The visit was paid early in the year, and was over in February. What haymaking," asks Dr B. Hill impressively, "was there in that season?" No haymaking, of course; but Johnson was describing the ordinary profession of the woman, as though he might say "a hop-picker," or "a harvestman," without regard to the time. Moreover, in his eagerness to correct, the editor overlooks Johnson's phrase, "followed him to London," which might have been after a long or short interval, and in the haymaking season. These are trivialities, and it is a trivial thing setting trivial things right; but why introduce them? When at Monboddo's, Johnson took up his large oaken stick, and said, "My lord, that's Homeric? thus pleasantly alluding to his lord ship's favourite writer. The editor has this odd fancy: "Perhaps he was referring to Polyphemus's club," which is then described as being as large as a mast; or to "Agamemnon's sceptre" This is being altogether too literal. Johnson surely had no special passage in his mind; he was taking a liberal, general view. He said that his stick was Homeric, as he would say a feast was Homeric, or a contest was Homeric. Every one understands this.

When Johnson went to see the English chapel at Montrose, he gave "a shilling extraordinary" to the clerk. The reason of this largesse, the editor opines, was that he found the church so much cleaner than others. But Johnson, as he gave the coin, gave also the reason: "He be longs to an honest church"—that is, to his own church. Clear enough.

The verses "Every island is a prison," the