Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/54

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42
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

as to the meaning of "fellow collegian." "His fellow collegian," used by Boswell, may certainly imply, without much forcing of the meaning, "belonging to the same college," without any regard to the time of residence. If Johnson said "Whitfield was at my college," Boswell may have thought he meant at the same time. Later, Boswell reports the phrase about Whitfield being at the same college with him, to which he (Boswell) may have given the same meaning, of belonging to the same college. But then Johnson adds that he knew him before he became better than other people. And it was at college—say about 1733—that he became "better than other people." But this Dr B. Hill and his supporters have not noticed. How came it to pass that the clerks of the Buttery Books would continue for two years entering the name of a non-resident in this pertinacious and regular way, as though he were a member of "the mess," as it were, but never attended? Would they not have suspended their entries as time rolled on? What, it might be asked, had they to do with the list of persons on the college books? All they were concerned with were the persons who were supplied with college victuals. As it happens, they did leave off entering his name, for short periods, so we are asked to believe that these clerks would go periodically to the authorities to remove, or put on again, according to the entries of the college books, the name of a person to whom they supplied nothing in their department. It would be now "Johnson is off the books," and now "Johnson is on." "But he is never here has never been here for two years and gets nothing from us." Then, with all the personal investigations of these ledgers by Dr Chandler and Dr B. Hill, they have never discovered another case of the kind, that is, where a student remains away from the college, but has his name on the Buttery list with blanks opposite to it.

Another strong proof of the longer stay is Dr Adams' declaration that he was "his nominal tutor"—i.e. that after the three years, in 1731, he had succeeded Jordan, and would have been Johnson's tutor had the latter returned. This surely is an indication that, up to that period, Johnson was in the college. Had he left, as is contended, some two years before, Adams would not have talked of being his tutor at all, "nominal" or otherwise. Johnson's career had been long since closed; but Adams speaks clearly as though he had been at the college all the time, and thus seems to have said to Boswell that had he returned (after the vacation), and gone on with his studies, he would have found a new tutor.


I now resume the task and duty of pointing-out Dr B. Hill's mistakes.

Johnson heartily praised Murphy's plays, giving him a high place as a dramatist. "Yet" says the editor, on the watch to catch him, " he said there was too much Tig and Tirry in one piece." Thus there was one play with which he found fault. But on turning to the passage, we find Johnson was speaking, not of the play itself, but of the names of the characters, which were Tigranes, Tiridates, etc. It was a pleasant jest. "Yet he said," etc. A trivial matter of this kind shows how unsafe a guide is Dr B. Hill.

We have, indeed, the sage's opinion of Dr Hill: "He was an ingenious man," he said, "but had no veracity. He was, however, a very curious observer; and if he would have been contented to tell the world no more than he knew, he might have been a very considerable man, and needed not to have recourse to such expedients to raise his reputation." This