Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/88

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76
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

than to himself. This would be sufficient. But no. What Johnson "had in his mind"—indeed what every fourth or fifth form boy would have in his mind—is the passage in Ovid: "O me! mihi carior."

It is truly strange that the editor would not know so familiar a thing.

The sort of cloud or fog in which the editor fashions his notes is shown by the following: As is well known, Johnson put a definition in his Dictionary of "Renegado" "one who deserts" "a revolter" "sometimes we say a 'Gower,'" meaning" to point at the peer of that name, who had deserted the Jacobites. "This is made clearer," says the editor, "by the following passage from the 'Lives of the Norths': 'Many of the Turks think that the Gowers (Giaours), or unbelievers, are unworthy,'" etc. This is ludicrous. Johnson was not thinking of the Eastern word, "Giaour," nor was North thinking of "Gower," the peer. Nothing is "made clearer," save that the two passages have no connection.

Mrs Montagu showed Johnson some plates that had once belonged to Queen Elizabeth. He paid her a compliment, saying they had no reason to be ashamed of their present possessor. The editor seems to trace some more occult influence in the names, for his remark is, "Mrs Montagu's name was Elizabeth."

Mention is made of two boxing men, Mendoza and "Big Ben." This was not long after Johnson's death. The editor conceives that it was probably after him that Dr Benjamin Symonds, who was warden of Wadham in Dr B. Hill's undergraduate days, was called "Big Ben." That is to say, about the 'forties some one was going about bearing a nickname acquired about 1790. Surely the editor ought to know that "Big Ben" is a common soubriquet. "Big Ben" of Westminster was so called after Sir Benjamin Hall. Any extra stout person, of the name of Benjamin, is likely enough to be called "Big Ben," without going back to a boxer of the eighteenth century.

Murphy, in his perfunctory narrative, says that Johnson never talked of Garrick "without a tear in his eyes" either a misprint for "eyes" or for "tears." The editor thinks it a matter important enough to stop and have his little joke "allowing that one tear can be in both eyes."

There are three words for which the editor has a sort of penchant, and is passionately eager to prove that in the last century they were used in the sense they are now. First, we had "respectable" as a term of praise, and a long list of instances was furnished in "The Life." He comes back to it in another of his books, still eager to show that it was a term of praise, that is, a person deserving of respect, and quotes yet more authorities. "Eminent," too, we all know. Eminent statesmen, eminent writers, or preachers, etc. But the editor thinks we are in the dark, and gives us a sheaf of quotations. "The following instances show its use," and it is proved to us beyond cavil, that people then spoke of "an eminent personage," "eminent merchant," "eminent man," etc.

Of the use of "polluted" in the sense of "stained," "soiled," etc., the editor also gives a collection of illustrations. So fascinated is he with the word, that he returns to it again. "To the instances given of the use of ' polluted ' I would add," etc., and he quotes, "Dryden polluted his page," "Pope polluted his wit," and so on.

Mrs Thrale mentions an appeal to Johnson, as to pronunciation, whether it should be "irreparable" or "irrepairable." Johnson decided that it was long. Is it not clear that Mrs Thrale was merely spelling the word phonetically? But the editor insists that Mrs Thrale seems to have thought that the syllable "pa," in "paro," was