Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/56

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

hopes, however, that the practice will be suppressed in the near future, and he directs his admonition to. other institutions as well as to the Bodleian: "If librarians would keep these catalogues apart, the students of literature and history would have at their command a great amount of curious material." So see to it, messieurs, the Librarians!

Johnson, he assures us, "was a great letter writer." "Johnson wrote unwillingly." Now, this would not occur to any one who considers the spontaneous style and vast number of the letters: Johnson was always writing letters. We might suspect that the editor had mistaken the sense of his authority. And so it proves. Johnson merely says that he found himself very "unwilling to take up a pen only to tell my friend that I am well." He admitted that he wrote, not "with difficulty"—but rather "with more difficulty than those persons who write nothing but letters." It was "not without a considerable effort of resolution that he sat down to write." The editor has completely mistaken the meaning.

But commend us to the following grotesque notion. Johnson's letters in the "Life," he says, are spoiled by their position. They lose all value and attraction owing to the superior charm of the "talk." "We hurry through them (or even skip over them) to arrive at the passages where the larger type and the inverted commas give signs that we shall have good talk." This is simple nonsense—the editor must pardon the word. Who experiences this feeling? We always read Johnson's letters with pleasure. They belong to the narrative; they are often answers to Boswell's letters. If the editor really does wish to "skip" them, that is his own personal affair; but he should not include every one in his "we."

Few writers of our time, indeed, can furnish such genuine entertainment as Dr B. Hill, Common editors, poor souls! in their dull, practical way present their, work in business-like fashion; they are thinking of their author and of his matter. But Dr B. Hill seems possessed with a perfect furia he leaps and bounds; he expends himself in the wildest, most delusive theories; he raves against dead writers, as though they were now in the flesh; as a matter of course, he assails his own idol even.

We shall begin with a rare bonne bouche. The editor gives a letter of Johnson's "Tetty," which he styles "the gem of my collection." Every one knows of Johnson's curious infatuation about this woman, who seemed to him a perfect goddess. But no one will be prepared for the extraordinary company into which the editor introduces the poor lady by way of justification against Lord Macaulay's. attack. "Nevertheless, at the time of her marriage, she was just the same age as "—who will it be supposed?—"Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland, when our great historian describes her as no longer young, but still retaining traces of that superb and voluptuous loveliness which" etc. Poor Tetty and a Hampton Court beauty! were there ever such a strange concatenation? But listen to this. "For all we know, it was Mrs Johnson's superb and voluptuous loveliness which overcame the heart of the lamented Mr Porter" (who lamented him) "and it was the traces of it which overcame the young Samuel." For all we know, indeed! Garrick and Boswell, for all we do know, and others, have described her as a coarse, repulsive^ ludicrous person. Suddenly the editor is seized with grotesque furia, turns on the historian, and overwhelms him with scorn, and scoffs: "She was only a decent married woman. Had she been a royal harlot, Macaulay, instead of mocking her bloom, might have laid on the colours with an art and a skill scarcely surpassed by Sir