Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/48

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36
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

could not finish it. This is all melodramatic, and has no foundation. Johnson died about seven o'clock in the evening. All we know is that Langton wrote his letter in the room, and that at eleven he called upon Hawkins to tell him this story. He might have come from his own house.

Again, we find the editor actually discussing a very trivial point that arose between Mr Croker and the Gentleman's Magazine. The Gentleman's Magazine had said that none but a convict could have written Dodd's sermon to the convicts, and Mr Croker fancied that this was meant offensively to Johnson. Dr B. Hill then gravely vindicates this writer in the Gentleman's Magazine:—"He knew that it" (the sermon) " was delivered in the chapel by a prisoner under sentence. If instead of 'written' he had said 'delivered,' his meaning would have been quite clear." Who cares for this writer in the Gentleman's Magazine, or whether his meaning might have been made " quite clear " or the reverse? But this suggested change would actually destroy the point of the remark, such as it is; for its effect was from its being supposed to be the composition of the convict.

Johnson, speaking of Dodd, said "as soon as the King signed his sentence," etc. But the editor tells us that "the King signs no sentence or death-warrant"; a report is brought to him, and he assents or dissents. But this amounts to signing a sentence. That Johnson was using a figure is evident from the word "sentence," which is the Judge's province.

Boswell says that the delay in issuing his great work was caused by his friends not sending in their contributions; but the editor tells us it was "in part due to Boswell's dissipation and place-hunting." The instances given amount to no more than a few evenings lost by dinner parties, which put off the revision for those evenings; and the "place-hunting" was an interruption of three weeks caused by his attending Lord Lonsdale to the North. And this is all, out of the five years and more during which Boswell was engaged on the work! Thus the editor magnifies things.

The editor has an idée fixe that if there be a slight misdescription of a personage in a story, the whole must collapse. Thus Northcote told how he had heard that Johnson was once intoxicated, when he said, "Sir Joshua, it is time to go to bed." The editor finds that Sir Joshua was not knighted at the time: "One part of this story is wanting in accuracy, and therefore all may be untrue" This is surely an uncritical canon. Again, when Hawkins was still a member, Johnson said of him, "Sir John, sir, is a very unclubable man." The editor thinks that, as Hawkins was not knighted at the time, "the anecdote, being proved to be inaccurate on one point, may be inaccurate on another, and may therefore belong to a later time." Wrong in a trifle, you must be wrong in an important matter.

"A celebrated infidel wit" was mentioned, of whom it was said, "Il n'a esprit que centre Dieu." The editor thinks that this was the comparatively obscure Fitzpatrick! Observe, he is "celebrated" and "infidel," and celebrated from exercising his wit on the subject of the Almighty. Is all this known of Fitzpatrick? Then we are told, "there are lines in the 'Rolliad' bordering on profanity." But though Fitzpatrick wrote in the "Rolliad," are these by him? and is bordering on profanity the same as "l'esprit contre Dieu"?

Boswell had written enthusiastically his de light that Auchinleck was near an English Cathedral; and Johnson sensibly bade him re member that it was some hundred and fifty miles away. The editor says, "It was not half