Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/38

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



text as the person to whom Johnson suggested "climbing over a wall." Then, why should his name be suppressed in the matter of making tea? The three stars more probably stand for some lady's name. But this is a trifle. Johnson then tells of his delight at being back at his old University how he was never out of his gown, had "swum," had proposed climbing the wall a rather touching state of exultation. But our editor thinks that he had taken too much wine! "Johnson perhaps proposed climbing over the wall on the day on which University College witnessed his drinking three bottles of port." This might have been in some "gaudy" during his undergraduate course; there is no evidence that it was during this visit.

"I remember," says Johnson, "when people changed a shirt only once a week." As was to be expected, we have a dissertation on shirt-changing, going back to the Tatler, where it is mentioned that a shirt was changed twice a week. Gay, by selling stock, might have had a clean shirt every day. Then we have Tristram Shandy, the Spiritual Quixote, and Mrs Piozzi, all brought in.

"Foote," the editor tells us, "had taken off Lord Chesterfield in the 'Cozeners.'" Foote had "taken off" many persons, that is, had brought them on the stage, mimicked their dress, peculiarities, speech, etc. Dr B. Hill then gives as a specimen Mrs Aircastle's speech: "I wish you would read some late posthumous letters; you would know the true value of the graces." This is not "taking off" Lord Chesterfield.

Johnson laid it down that "the public practice of any art," such as portrait-painting, was "improper in a woman"; for, "staring at men's faces was indelicate." Here the editor tries to convict him of inconsistency: "Yet he sat to Miss Reynolds perhaps ten times." Johnson was speaking of the "public" practice, that is, of professional portrait-painting the "staring" at strange men. He was not a strange man.


Here is another of the editor's odd dreams. "Dryden, Pope, Reynolds, Northcote, Ruskin, so runs the chain of genius, with only one weak link in it." This seems mysterious and queer, to say nothing of the "chain running," but it is thus explained. When Reynolds was in the country, Northcote succeeded in touching his coat. "In like manner, Reynolds had touched the hand of Pope." Pope persuaded some one "to take him to a coffee-house which Dryden frequented." This was not much. "Who? ex claims Dr B. Hill, "touched old Northcote's hand? Has the Apostolic succession been continued?" But he can tell us: "I have read with pleasure" that Mr Ruskin was taken to have his portrait done by "old Northcote." No "touching" here; so there are two "weak links" in the chain. We could make a chain "run" in better fashion, which has at least some connection with Johnson. Persons now alive have "touched" Mr Croker; Mr Croker touched Lord Stowell; Lord Stowell, Johnson; Johnson, George III., and so on. And all this on the text that Johnson and Reynolds travelled in Devonshire.

"Boswell, according to the Bodleian Catalogue, was the author of 'Dorando.'" But is this all Dr B. Hill can tell us on this interesting point? The cataloguer's authority is of no moment. I have investigated the matter, and, if the editor turn to my "Life of Boswell," it can be shown clearly that Boswell was the author.

"Johnson had offended Langton, as well as Goldsmith, this day, yet of Goldsmith only did he ask pardon . Perhaps this increased Langton's resentment." Let us compare the two cases. To Langton he had said, "I wonder how a