Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/44

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32
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

in Boswell's book at all! In the same spirit a trivial direction of Johnson's—also not in Boswell is dealt with. He asked that "a copy be franked to me." "Mr Strahan had a right, as a Member of Parliament, to frank all letters and packets. That is to say, by merely writing his signature in the corner, he could pass them through the post free of charge? But should an editor supply such comments as these?

Boswell wrote to the Royal Academy that he was proud to be a member of an institution to which, as it had "the peculiar felicity of not being dependent on a Minister, but was under the immediate patronage of the Sovereign," he would do his best to be of service. Here Dr B. Hill morbidly fancies that Boswell is aiming a stroke at Pitt! "See post for Boswell's grievances against Pitt." Nothing could be more farfetched. Boswell was simply referring to the unusual constitution of the Academy, which was a Royal institution, and emphasising his own loyalty. He was speaking generally. The idea that he would sneer at the king's favourite minister, when addressing the king's institution, is absurd.

The editor often seems to claim a prior discovery, on the ground that what he writes "was in type" before some piece of information was imparted to him. We, of course, may accept his statement; but, technically speaking, once a statement is printed, no such claim can avail. Thus, speaking of George Psalmanazar being at Oxford, he had "conjectured" that he had stayed at Christ Church, but " since this Appendix was in type I have learned, through the kindness of Mr Doble, what confirms my conjecture"; and the Doble authority is then quoted. But Dr B. Hill knew it before.

The editor assures us that "bon-mots that are miscarried, of all kinds of good things, suffer the most." Miscarried, in this sense, "is not in Johnson's Dictionary," and is a verb neuter. A bon-mot may miscarry, but is not miscarried.

One of Dr B. Hill's proofs of Johnson's love of travelling is that "he was pleased with Martin's account of the Hebrides." While discussing this matter, the editor strangely pauses to give an account of the populations of particular towns. "So late as 1781, Lichfield had not 4000 inhabitants. Birmingham, I suppose, had not so many. Its growth was wonderfully rapid. Between 1770 and 1797," and so on. In this connection, too, he insists a good deal on Johnson's 'living with the Thrales, and seems to reckon his repeated visits to Streatham as "travels." Then he calculates that Johnson "must have seen all the cathedrals of England"; but he excepts one, for some mysterious reason. "Hereford, I think, he could not have visited." And why not? It was not very far from Lichfield, and on his road to Wales he was likely enough to have passed it. Then we are told that Lichfield is described as "the city and county of Lichfield" in a certain "Tour of Great Britain." Boswell does not mention this important fact, nor care about it; but the editor, having mentioned this "Tour," informs us that "Balliol College has a copy of the work"; further, that the copy displays "Garrick's book-plate"; further again, the book-plate exhibits "Shakespeare's head at the top of it," and some lines from "Menagiana," which are duly quoted!

Boswell alludes to the "Memoir of Whitehead," of which the editor tells us that he "had long failed to find a copy," though he searched the Bodleian, the British Museum, the London, Cambridge, and Advocates' Libraries. "Searched"—that is, consulted the catalogues. But the book is not what is called "rare," and a real