Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/68

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56
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

Describing a wager between Macbean and one Hamilton, as to the date when the Dictionary would be completed, the editor strangely announces that this Hamilton "had some share in the printing of the Dictionary," though he con cedes that "a great deal of it was done by Strahan." Anything more unwarranted or far-fetched could not be conceived. Every Johnsonian knows that Strahan was the printer of the Dictionary, and a printer of importance, who had no need of any extra aid. Such a thing was unheard of. And on the title we read: "Printed by W. Strahan." The book took some years going through the press, and each sheet was worked off as it was ready, and the type distributed, so there was no strain on the establishment. And after all, the editor is not sure that this Hamilton was Hamilton the printer. "Hamilton was likely Archibald Hamilton, the printer."

A touch will cause the editor's most ingenious speculations to topple over in the most curious way. Thus, when on the eve of his quarrel with Mr Thrale, Johnson complained that "Susy had not written, and Miss Thrale had sent him only one letter," the editor detects here an early symptom of coldness. Miss Thrale, mark! "He does not call her Queeney." Still he called the other girl "Susy," and turning over a few pages we find him calling her "Queeney," or "Queenie," just as usual!

Here is one of the editor's odd speculations—too unsound, of course. Johnson, when at Oxford, went with his host, Dr Edwards, to see his living, which was only five miles off. "No doubt," the editor says gravely, "they returned the same day." We neither doubt nor assent; we cannot tell; nor does it matter. In default of all knowledge of details of the visit, the editor sets his imagination to work, and taking down his Lewis's "Topographical Dictionary," finds out that "the old Manor House, which had belonged to Speaker Lenthal, was still standing." Something could be got out of this. We are asked to picture Johnson going over the rooms. "No doubt"—yes, but there is doubt—"he was gravely told a story about Cromwell's visit, and how he concealed himself, and was let down in a chair," etc. Gravely told! The editor almost fancies that he was by.

Johnson wrote that, as he lived among the various orders of mankind, he was familiar with "the exploits, sometimes of the philosophers, sometimes of the pickpockets." This is plain enough; but the editor illustrates it by this mysterious, oracular utterance, "The two orders sometimes met" This has no bearing on Johnson's remark. Of course, all classes of society may, and do "meet"—in the streets, at public places, etc. But it turns out that the editor intends to be jocose, for it seems that when a balloon was going up some noblemen and gentlemen lost their watches and purses, and in this way "the two orders sometimes met." But even this is inaccurate. For here the two orders did not meet; Johnson was speaking of the "philosophers and pickpockets"; these were "noblemen and gentlemen."

Whenever weather of any kind is mentioned—be it fine or bad, "rain or shine"—our editor is certain to start off on a course of minute meteorological investigations, tracing out not only what was the weather of the moment, but what was it before, and what was it after. It is hard to deal with these things in sober seriousness; so genuine, indeed, is Dr B. Hill in his enthusiasm that he is quite unconscious of the absurdity. Thus, at the end of August, 1777, Johnson wrote this casual remark from the country: "The weather was à merveille" Then Dr B. Hill starts off on his eccentric enquiries, and discovers that " the earlier part of the summer had been very wet," which did