Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/47

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35
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

December, 1728, we are told that "Rousseau left Geneva, and so entered upon his eventful career. Goldsmith was born eleven days after Johnson entered. Reynolds was five years old. Burke was born before Johnson left Oxford," etc. This list, it is obvious, could be extended to an inordinate length by including every one of Johnson's generation. There is no relevancy or coincidence in such things.

The editor tells us of Malone's "Life of Boswell." What is Malone's "Life of Boswell"? In Mrs Gamp's phrase, "there is no sich a book," though there is a magazine sketch by Malone.

Boswell relates that they "saw Roslin Castle and the beautiful Gothic chapel." Now, had the editor gone off to the Topographical Dictionaries, and given long extracts as to the antiquatics, etc., we should have felt no surprise, for 'tis his way. But he prefers to speculate on his own account. "Perhaps the same woman showed the chapel twenty-nine years later, when Scott visited it." No one can care, nor does it in the least matter. But as we are speculating, these points must be considered: (1) Johnson's guide may not have been a woman; (2) there may have been no guide at all; (3) after some thirty years it is unlikely .that the same guide was there; (4) Boswell, who would certainly have recorded Johnson's talk with the guide, does not mention one.

After the '45, one Malcolm, we are told, thought himself in such danger of conviction that "he would have gladly compounded for banishment." Could anything be clearer? Government often made such terms with rebels. But says the editor, "By banishment he means, I conjecture, transportation as a convict slave to the American plantations."

Johnson wrote, "I am sorry you was not gratified," etc. The word is found in all the editions. It was, as the editor assures us, a common form with authors of the time; yet he says, "I doubt greatly if Johnson ever so ex pressed himself." Johnson, however, uses it on several other occasions in his "talk." Why not accept it? "It is strange," says the editor, in his favourite phrase, "that Boswell does not mention that on this day they met the Duke and Duchess of Argyle in the street. Perhaps the Duchess showed him the same coldness," etc. That this at least could not be the reason is clear; for they also met Mr and Mrs Langton, and Boswell does not mention them. Boswell's task was to record his friend's conversations, etc., and Johnson mentions other particulars which are not alluded to by Boswell.

Boswell found Johnson "in no very good humour," after Mrs Thrale had gone to Bath on the death of her child; " yet," says the editor in wonder, " he wrote to Mrs Thrale next day, and called on Thrale," and wrote yet again to Mrs Thrale. Johnson was indeed for the moment a little "put out," because he had had his journey for nothing; but the editor must fancy that he was seriously offended, would not write, etc.; and it is taking but a petty view of Johnson's character. " No very good -humour" is a different thing from taking offence.

Johnson once said, speaking of some mediaeval period, "A Peer would have been angry to have it thought that he could not write his name." "Perhaps," says the editor, "Scott had this saying of Johnson in his mind when he made Earl Douglas exclaim," etc. The idea that Scott, who had at his fingers' ends all the lore of the times, should be indebted to "a saying of Johnson's" for so trite a fact, is out of the question.

There is an unfinished letter of Langton's, written on the night of Johnson's death; and Langton, it is assumed, was so filled with horror that he