Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/91

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79
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

ing, say that it was of a defensive kind." The editor must assure us that "they borrowed this ('the defensive pride') from Johnson," and quotes another passage, "mine was of the defensive kind." Now their speech had no thing to do with "defensive pride"; that was Johnson's answer, so they "borrowed" nothing from him. It is clear the editor thought that "say" referred to them.

"I never but once," said Johnson, "balked an invitation to dinner." Surely intelligible; he never "balked" the hospitable intention of the inviter. The editor goes to the third meaning of the word in the Dictionary, "to omit, or refuse anything." But he passes by the first and strict meaning, "to frustrate or disappoint," which is the fitting one here.

Dr Percy seems to be one of the circle to whom the editor has a strong dislike. The Bishop tells how Johnson had some disputes in early life with Lord Lyttelton, "which so improperly influenced him in his life of that worthy nobleman"—a temperate criticism. But, as usual, the editor dips deep to find lower motives for Percy's "prejudice." Was he not chaplain to the King? Was he not devoted to the Duke of Northumberland? His wife had been nurse to one of the princes, etc. So he was "naturally shocked at Johnson's ridicule of a worthy nobleman." It is well known that Johnson's treatment of Lyttelton was not considered handsome by his contemporaries. Percy, moreover, was not "shocked" at all—he deprecated Johnson's "prejudice"—nor was he shocked at Johnson's "ridicule," for in Johnson's article there is no ridicule of Lyttelton.

Again, Percy tells us that when Johnson was casting about for a title, he suddenly thought of "The Rambler." "It would be difficult," says Percy, "to find any other that so exactly coincided with the motto he had adopted on the title-page." Most strangely, the editor says: "Percy seems to think that Johnson chose his motto first, and then cast about for a title to suit it." Percy uses the phrases, "He has adopted," and " It would be difficult to find." It is clear that it was he himself that was passing judgment on the transaction as a whole, and not Johnson. Johnson chose a motto, and Percy notes that the title suited the motto.

Hannah More writes that "Mr Boswell was here last night; he perfectly adores Johnson." On which the editor: "Boswell, who keeps his narrative so closely to what concerns Johnson, does not mention this." Exactly. In any case, how was Boswell to "mention" "I adored Johnson," etc.? The editor fancied that Johnson was there with Boswell, but is mistaken; he was not. On his own showing, Boswell was therefore justified in saying nothing of the occasion.

Johnson very complacently dwelt on the poets, other literary lights, who had belonged to his college. " Sir, we are a nest of singing birds." Among these was Shenstone. Dr B. Hill gives his meed of praise also: "Among my contemporaries were Dr Edwin Hutch, Dr Moore, and Canon Dixon, author of finer poems than were sung by most of the last century singing birds." "Sung by most." These Dixon poems are hardly so well known as they should be. And Hutch and Moore?

"It was in 1739 that Swift was asked to get Johnson the degree of M.A. of Dublin." There is no certainty that Swift was asked. Pope asked Lord Gower, who asked a friend to ask Swift.

Hawkins mentions a gentleman who, laying out his grounds picturesquely, was obliged to apply to a neighbour (for leave to plant, etc.) with whom he was not upon cordial terms. The editor imagines that this was the case of