Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/82

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

praise, not for his mere "accuracy," but for other admirable gifts. The editor's point was that he might "imitate"; that word changed, his point is gone.

The editor tells us how "Joseph Andrews" had been translated into Russian, which leads on to this truly mysterious announcement. "Strangely enough"—we should here naturally expect something about English books in Russia—"strangely enough, a railway station is called in Russian Vauxhall, after the famous Gardens in ———,"—where shall we suppose?—"in Chelsea"!Joseph Andrews, railway station, and the Vauxhall Gardens in Chelsea!

But here is an astonishing misapprehension. Johnson said, when on his deathbed, " I should have roared for my book as Othello did for his handkerchief." Every one at all familiar with the play will know this passage, viz. that in scene iv., act iii., where Othello answers Desdemona again and again with, "The handkerchief! The handkerchief!" This was the "roaring for"—that is, demanding incessantly the article. But no, the editor thinks only of the word "roar," not of the thing, and seriously assures us that " Johnson refers to act v., scene ii., where Emilia says to Othello, 'Now lay thee down and roar,'" that is, invites him to roar, which he does not do. In this state of things some sort of misgiving occurs to the editor that he is not going right, so he insinuates that it was Johnson who was wrong; for "it was not for the handkerchief that Othello roared, as he did not as yet know the trick that had been played him"! But Johnson was referring to the passage where he did roar.

Among Johnson's visitors when he was dying was a Mrs Davies, whose name is mentioned several times by Hoole, and spelt in that way. No one could doubt that the wife of Tom Davies, the bookseller, was meant. But the editor opines: "Most probably she was the Mrs Davis that was 'about Mrs Williams.'" But Mrs Williams had now been dead nearly two years, so this person was not likely to be there. Further, Mrs Davies dined with Johnson and his friends, and seemed to be treated as a lady. Tom Davies also, her husband, was writing to the dying sage at the time, sent him pork, etc., and naturally sent his wife to see him. I am not surprised that the editor at last falteringly adds: "Perhaps, however, she was the wife of Tom Davies."

With the plain meaning of a passage "leaping to his very eyes," the editor will rather perversely seize on some erratic meaning. "I wrote," said Johnson to G. Steevens, "the first line" (of a poem) "in that small house beyond the church [at Hampstead]." "By enclosing Hampstead in brackets," explains the editor, "he apparently wishes to show that it was there that Johnson told him the fact." This is surely not the meaning; it was to show where the "small house" and church were, and not the place where Johnson was speaking in. He might have used the phrase "in that small house," in London itself.

Here is an excursus on Johnson's putting a lump of sugar in his glass of port wine. Did he do this or did he not? " It is not to be supposed that when he drank his three bottles of port at University College, he put a lump of sugar into every one of his thirty-six glasses." Granted; but the reason is the odd one, not that there are not anything like thirty-six glasses in three bottles, or that he only took this sugar "sometimes," but "no Oxford common-room would have stood it." Further, and what is a more serious thing, " Boswell makes no mention of this sugar."

Johnson, as we know, was displeased with Garrick for not helping him in his "Shakespeare,"