Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/58

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

46

A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

son would prefer knowing what time they reached London.

But there is a further important point, viz. that "'The Machine' was not licensed by the Vice-Chancellor." Then more details about "The Machine": It carried six inside passengers. And the serious point of luggage. "Each inside passenger was allowed six pounds of luggage; beyond that weight a penny a pound was charged." Bradshaw is not "in it" with all this. Still the point is left unsettled: Had Johnson luggage? and how much? In default of evidence, the editor does the next best thing—he speculates. "Had Johnson sent heavy luggage"—and how likely that was!—"he might have sent it by the university old stage waggon, which left"—and so on. And thus, bewildered by "The Machine," the "Oxford coach," the "heavy waggon," etc., we are left no wiser. I repeat, it seems incredible that any one could bring himself to write such things.

Johnson wrote from Oxford: "To-morrow, if I can, I shall go forward." The editor speculates on—no, announces positively!--the meaning of this "if I can." Johnson, he says, meant that it depended on the chance of his getting a place in any of the passing coaches. Yet only in the line before is written: " But I have not been very well. I hope I am not ill by sympathy with you." This was surely what he meant by "if I can."

But let us come to one of our editor's nimblest gambados, and which surpasses all the rest. Johnson wrote from Ashbourne to Mrs Thrale of a letter which he had received from "Miss ——" complaining of the "frigidity with which he had answered her." She neither hoped nor desired "to excite greater warmth." His salutation to her, "madam," was like a glass of cold water." I dare neither write with frigidity nor With fire?." There was formerly in France a cour de l'amour, but I fancy no one was ever summoned before it after threescore"; yet he would certainly be non-suited in it. " I am not very sorry that she is far off. There can be no great danger in writing to her." This badinage refers to some spinster who was "making up" to the Doctor. It seems almost incredible, but the editor arrives at this amazing, bewildering solution: "Miss Porter, I think, is meant." That is, Lucy Porter, his step-daughter! She was bringing 'him into the "Court of Love." "No great danger of his being caught in writing" to his step-daughter, to whom he was always writing. These things take one's breath away. Only three days before he had written of this very step-daughter: "Lucy is a philosopher, and considers me to be one of the external and accidental things that," etc.

Having laid down his theory, he proceeds to support it. "See post," he says, "where Johnson expressed his surprise that she detained him at Lichfield"—we must suppose to prosecute her plans for bringing him into the "Court of Love." Here he completely misreads the passage. On the contrary, Johnson was delighted at being pressed to stay by his Lucy. "I was pleased to find that I could please. Lucy is a very peremptory maiden." In the other "see post" there is the same kind of mistake: "Miss Porter will be satisfied with a very little of my company," the editor fancying here that this was a tart speech; but Johnson meant that his step daughter would let him off after a short stay. What can be over Dr B. Hill when he writes such things?

Johnson wrote to say he had "met Mrs Langton and Juliet" at Ashbourne. Nothing could be clearer—persons, place, and incident. But the editor sees a mystery and a whole train of difficulties. "If these ladies were Bennet Langton's mother and sister, they were not on