Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/46

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34
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

for a certain time; and when he found they were taken to be genuine, gave up the task. Dr B. Hill fills an Appendix of twelve closely printed pages with his researches on the point. Wishing to show the risks Johnson ran in publishing such reports, the editor introduces one Cooley, who printed a pamphlet against "The Embargo," in which he charged the Members of the House with jobbery, and which he gave away at the door to every Member. The House voted this paper a scandalous and malicious libel, and sent printer and author to jail. The editor would have us believe that Johnson and Cave, in issuing their fanciful sketches of the debates, were incurring the same dangers! There was no likeness in the cases. But Cooley's brochure furnishes the editor with this digression:—"Adam Smith had just gone up. a young man, to Oxford; and there are considerations in this paper" (of Cooley's) "which the great authority of the author of 'The Wealth of Nations' had not yet made pass current as truth." That is, and in less stately language, there is an anticipation of some of Smith's doctrines. "He" (Cooley) "was in knowledge a hundred years before his time, and was made to suffer." And for what? For grossly insulting the members of the House of Commons, and distributing his libel at the door! We further learn, to our astonishment, that these sham debates of Johnson's "are a monument to the greatness of Walpole and the genius of Johnson. Had he not been overthrown, the people would have called for these reports, even though Johnson had refused to write them." Thus Dr B. Hill settles everything in his own way—how it ought to have happened, and must have happened. Who can tell what "the people" would have done?

Dr B. Hill is fond of minutely explaining technical terms connected with printing, etc. Thus he tells us that "copy is manuscript for printing. 'I So it is, no doubt; but this is not an exact definition, for any paper that is given to the printer to "set up" is "copy." It may be printed, or type-written. The great bulk of Dr B. Hill's own six volumes—or rather, Boswell's was—"set," not from "manuscript for printing," but from "copy," that is, from the printed third edition.

There is something very droll in the following:—"The Rev. J. Hamilton Davies tells me that he entirely disbelieves that Baxter said that Hell was paved with infant skulls." Of what value to any one is it to be told that a Rev. J. Hamilton Davies "tells" some one that he disbelieves so and so?

"Depend upon it," said Johnson, "no woman is the worse for sense or knowledge." The editor must show that here the sage contradicts himself—for "see post, where he says, 'Supposing a wife to be of a studious or argumentative turn, it would be very troublesome.' " Any one can see that there is no inconsistency. In the first case Johnson spoke of "sense" and "knowledge "; in the last of her pursuing study to the neglect of duty, or disputing with her husband, which are wholly different.

Here are some of those imaginary coincidences in which the editor delights:—"August 15—Mr Scott came to breakfast." "Sir Walter Scott was two years old this day." Why select "this day"? Is it because Mr Scott's, the lawyer's, name was mentioned? The follow ing year Sir Walter would have been three years old "that day," and so on. Further, when Johnson and Boswell returned to Edinburgh, "Jeffrey was living, a baby then seventeen days old." And at Lochness, we are told, "the travellers must have passed close to the cottage where Sir J. Mackintosh was living, a child of seven." When Johnson matriculated in