Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/51

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

Next for Hawkins, the much maligned. He was an old friend of Johnson's; he attended him on his death-bed, he prepared his will, acted as his executor, wrote his life, and edited his works. He, therefore, ought to have known something about Johnson. Not only does he know some thing, but he furnishes minute and particular details about his Oxford life. He tells that as it would have been impossible for the humble bookseller to support his son at Oxford, it was arranged that he should go as a sort of assistant in his studies to a Mr Andrew Corbet, the son of a Shropshire gentleman, and one of his schoolfellows. He was to be with him " in the character of a companion," and his college charges were to be defrayed by him. Boswell heard this story also, but he says it was too delicate a matter to question his friend upon. Dr Taylor, however, told him that Johnson "never received any assistance whatever" from the Corbets. This, however, would seem to be owing to the abrupt termination of the arrangement, for after nearly two years' stay, or it may be fourteen months, young Corbet quitted the college. Hawkins adds that all he could obtain was that the father of the young man should continue to pay for his commons. Then the knight makes this distinct and positive statement: "The time of his continuance at Oxford is divisible into two periods, the former whereof commenced on the 3ist day of October, 1728, and determined in December, 1729, when, as appears by a note in his 'Diary' in these words: '1629, Dec. S. J. Oxonio rediit,' he left this place, the reason whereof was a failure of pecuniary supplies from his father; but meeting with another source, the bounty, it is supposed, of some one or more of the members of the cathedral, he returned and made up the whole of his residence about three years." Hawkins, who was not so delicate as Boswell, had evidently talked the subject over with Johnson, for the latter explained to him that his father had become a bankrupt about this time. The cathedral friend was likely enough to have been the Dean, for long after Johnson "cancelled" some passages in his "Journey," which had been printed off, for fear of giving him pain, saying that he had once done him an important service. I have thought, too, that Johnson's care of Mrs Desmoulins might have been owing to some assistance of this kind received from her father, Dr Swinfen. So everything, it will be seen, points in this direction.

But now for the argument from the "Battels," or, I suppose, Buttery Books, which are the entries of commons supplied to the students there. These reports I may take credit for being the first to publish, the late Professor Chandler having had them copied for me. From the time of Johnson's entrance in October, 1728, to December, 1729, the entries in these books are continued regularly week by week, and small charges are placed opposite his name. After that date there sets in a state of great capriciousness and irregularity, to be explained by the capricious irregularity of Johnson's own situation. True, in December, 1729, Johnson makes that entry of his return home from Oxford, to which appeal is made as showing that his career was closed, and that it agrees exactly with the cessation of the charges for meals. But this is almost at once demolished by our finding that on January 30, 1730, there is a charge of $d.; so that, though we are told that he had left Oxford for good, and closed his course, we find him back again! Now this 5d. is rather significant. We are assured that "Battels" is evidence of residence, and that every one who resides must have the meals of which the "Battel Books" are records. But here we have Johnson at the college, yet having