Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/28

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



ing to the work, published twenty-three years before, we find that Boswell was speaking of only two forms of spelling, the addition of "k" to "public," and of "u" to such words as "humour," and he trusted that these forms would be adhered to. Dr B. Hill is scarcely justified in forcing or enlarging the meaning in this way.

Dr B. Hill is fond of making out "lists," to wit, "totting up " how many times Johnson was bled, or Boswell was drunk, or how many days the pair were together. It was natural, therefore, when he came to Boswell's proposal to edit Addison's Poems, that it should occur to him to make out a list of all Boswell's projected works. Accordingly, we are told that " he proposed also to publish Johnson's Poems, an account of his own travels, a collection of old Scottish tenures, etc., and a 'History of James IV.' " These items professed to exhaust the matter. But later he begins to mend his hand: " In my list of Boswell's projected works (ante, i. 225) I have omitted this, a 'History of Sweden,'" so it now seemed complete. Later again, however, in a note, we are astonished to find the editor taking the subject up once more, and giving us quite a new list. It had now grown to ten items; it looked as though our editor was picking up his information as he went along. However, here at last was a complete final list marked with numerals. But no—turning to the end of the book we find one more new and additional item. And where? Actually put into the index of Boswell's works; "to which must be added 'An Account of a Projected Tour in the Isle of Man'" (where it may be doubted if Boswell could have given an account of a tour that was merely "projected," and had not been carried out). Still, we must take our information as we get it, in these "dribs and drabs," as it is called, and rejoice that we have it at last in a complete shape,. But what will be said if I can supplement it with some half-a-dozen fresh items which have wholly escaped the editor, and which he is welcome to add to his list in his next edition? Mistakes of dates occur through the work, such as the statement that Johnson's "Plan of the Dictionary" was published in 1774 (vol. i. p. 176), and that Johnson had been sixteen years in London before he met Hogarth. As their meeting was in 1745-6, and Johnson only came to London in 1737, this cannot be accurate; while the Plan was published over twenty years before the date mentioned.


The note on Johnson's "sliding" is a strange one. Johnson mentions, when he came to college, that on one occasion he was " sliding " on the ice. "Sliding" is an important matter, and needs exhaustive treatment. "This," says oour editor, with due gravity, " was on November 6, O.S., or November 17, N.S., a very early time for ice to bear" Still there must be documentary evidence. "The first mention of frost that I find in the newspapers of that winter is in the Weekly Journal, where," etc., and a quotation follows. Then is added, "the records of the meteorological observation began a few years later." This "sliding" passage is indeed full of odd things. His tutor Jordan had asked Johnson why he had not attended his lectures, and he answered with much nonchalance " that he had been sliding." This, he explained to Boswell, was "stark insensibility." In another late account he says that he went to his tutor with "a beating heart." Mr Croker thought the two accounts inconsistent; but any one will see that they can be reconciled. Dr B. Hill has what he calls "a very simple explanation." The accounts refer to different hours of the same day: Johnson's "insensibility" belonged