Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/83

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

by lending him early editions, and made no mention of him in the preface. "He did worse," says the editor—always ready to have a fling at the sage—"than not mention him. He reflected on him, though not by name, 'as a not very communicative collector of rare copies.'" This is rather a perversion of the text; for Johnson had spoken generally. "I have not found the collectors of such rarities very communicative." There is a class of persons named, and there is not the invidiousness that Dr B. Hill would make out. Further, the point whether the books were refused to Johnson was disputed by the owner.

Hannah More reported a good story of Johnson's and Boswell's enthusiasm on passing by Macbeth's "blasted heath," and finding next morning that it was a mistake, and not the actual scene. He himself told this to her. "There seems to be some mistake in her narrative," says the editor, who then quotes passages from the "Journey" and "Tour," to prove how the travellers had actually driven over the very heath, and got to Forres, etc. Surely this does not affect the story. They had mistaken the locality first, and later came to the true place. On such occasions Dr B. Hill seems to get befogged.

Here is a mysterious gloss. Johnson writes that, "I then went to Streatham and had many stops," i.e. either interruptions or haltings by the way. The editor, however, sees deeper. "I conjecture that he means obstructions or impediments in the mind, part of what he calls ' my old disease of mind.' " Curious " stops " these!

In a letter of Johnson's, the editor tells us, "I suspected the words, ' most sincerely yours,' for I had never known it thus used by Johnson." A very fair criticism. Scrutinising the original MS., he found that the words were " not clear, but I believe that it is 'zealously yours.'" Who will conceive of the sage signing himself "zealously yours"? And surely the editor ought to "suspect" these words also—for his own reason, that he had never known them used by Johnson, or by any one else in the world.

The editor, making one of his "discoveries," calls attention to three letters of Johnson's, which he got from Mr Pearson, the autograph dealer, and elaborately proves that they were written to Richardson, the novelist. But a single glance will show it. "I wish," No. 2 runs, "Sir Charles (Grandison) had not compromised it in the matter of religion." It also asks for an account of "the translations of 'Clarissa' which you have," and speaks of new volumes coming out, "Grandison" being published in instalments.

A Hibernian gentleman was once extolling his countryman Burke, and expatiated on his going down into the bowels of the earth in a bag, and how he took care of his clothes, for he "went down in a bag." In short, it was "Burke in a bag" as Johnson ludicrously put it. All which is absurd enough; but the editor must caution us. "The bag, apparently, was not the vehicle in which he went down, but a covering for his clothes." Only "apparently"? There is no doubt of it. The editor is fearful lest there be persons who imagine that the great orator was let down in "a vehicle" formed of a bag, much as coals or flour would be sent down. So anxious is he to prevent mistake, that he looks out in his Dictionary the word " sack," which has not been introduced at all, and tells us that "sack was used for a woman's loose robe." Still bag is not sack, and a woman's loose robe is not a bag; and this was a bag pure and simple.

The editor is puzzled by a phrase of Johnson's, "by a catch." "I do not know," he says, "in what sense he uses this word. Perhaps he