Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/63

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

51

answers were not satisfactory." Why? Most bewildering!

Johnson wrote to Mr Thrale: "I repeat my challenge to alternate diet," which the editor strangely supposes to mean fasting on alternate days. It surely signifies alternating one kind of food with another. Dr B. Hill adds positively: " The challenge had not been given in any preceding letter." But, as, of course, he is wrong, both in his facts and in his theory, I turn, only three or four letters back, to that of April 6, and lo! we read: "Does Mr Thrale regulate himself as to regimen? Nothing can keep him so safe as the method so often mentioned. If health and reason can be preserved by changing three or four meals a week; if such a change," etc. There is the challenge to an "alternate diet" which our too confident editor declares does not exist; for changing three or four meals a week is not fasting on alternate days.

But here is a fresh marvel! Not satisfied with his speculations and comments, our editor must devise an imaginary text of his own—and speculate on that. Here are two specimens—Johnson, the editor finds, wrote: "Of flowers, if Chloris herself were here, I would present her only with the bloom of health" This mystifies Dr B. Hill, as well it may. He opines that if Chloris had the bloom of health, she would want nothing else. He is inclined "to conjecture" that Johnson had written "heath." Turning to the text, we find to our amazement that it is actually printed "heath"!

Johnson, in his lively vein, wrote to Mrs Thrale something about "the ladies of her rout." The editor declares that he cannot find in the great Dictionary any definition of the sense in which Johnson uses the word here. This is most extraordinary. For there Johnson explains it as "clamorous multitude," "a rabble"; that is, a noisy crowd. Could anything be clearer? Johnson was speaking of Mrs Thrale's train of gossiping, noisy females.

On two or three occasions Johnson wrote that he was getting, or had not yet got, "curiosities for Queenie's cabinet." These were little matters bought for the child when he was on his travels. The editor ponders over this; then speculates sadly: "What has become of the curiosities which Johnson collected for Mrs Thrale's little girl?" What, indeed?—and at this time of day!—considering it is one hundred and twenty years ago.

Johnson once addressed a letter to a "Mr Tomkeson." The editor is much gravelled. "The name Tomkeson," he assures us, is not in Boswell? is not found in the parish lists? Nothing of the kind. " It is not in the indexes of the Gentleman's Magazine." That settles it. "There is no sich a person which his name is Tomkeson," as Mrs Gamp would say. As we know, a word not to be "found in Johnson's Dictionary" or in "the Gentleman's Magazine" fatally compromises it. "Perhaps the copyist has been at fault." Why not Johnson himself, who so often spelt phonetically? Tomkeson, Tompkinson, or Tomkinson are the same name, and the editor will find them in abundance in his Gentleman's Magazine.

Johnson finishes a letter with "To sleep, or not to sleep." Our careful editor, to make all clear, adds this explanation: "He is parodying 'Hamlet,' act iii., scene i, line 56, 'To be, or not to be.'" On this one hardly knows what to say.

Johnson alluded to a "parterre" Every one surely knows what it means. We are told that "Johnson defines 'parterre' as a level of ground that faces the front of a house, and is generally finished with greens and flowers." The word "greens" then catching his eye, he must caution us. "Greens," he says gravely, "Johnson does