Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/64

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52

A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

not define in its modern sense, of a vegetable food," etc.

Dr B. Hill, who as we see is himself perpetually falling into mistakes, has, of course, an almost reverential tolerance for the most obvious misprints. Having to quote from Nichol's "Illustration," a passage in which it is said that "Shakespeare (sic) adopted all turns, etc," he is too scrupulous to make the change of a letter. And in one of his letters to Mrs Thrale, we find Johnson describing a visit to Ham, not the London suburb, but a well-known county seat in Derbyshire. We find that he took Boswell with him to Ham, … they went to Ham, etc. This, of course, was Mrs Piozzi's misreading for Islam, belonging to the Port family. The editor actually maintains the misprint, and the reader finds himself, in the text, taken to Ham, and to Ham again!

When one of her friends was sick, Johnson wrote to Mrs Thrale that "Physicians, be their powers less or more, are the only refuge we have." On which our ever-literal editor conceives that Johnson has now lost his faith. "Johnson's piety here seems to slumber." He was, of course, only thinking of the comparative value of various earthly aids. As if the pious Johnson would, to restore Thrale to health, announce that there was no use in prayers.

Johnson described the arrival of Fathers Wilks and Brewer, English Benedictines from Paris, and the attentions he paid them. Says the editor: "Had they officiated as priests in England, if they were foreigners, the act was a felony; if natives, high treason." Dr B. Hill the practice of the Catholic Faith was interdicted in England! Did not Mrs Thrale write to Johnson of the burning of chapels at Bath and Bristol, to say nothing of the London chapels, in which, of course, rites were celebrated?

When the editor comes to speak of the attempt that was made to obtain an increase of Johnson's pension, and which failed, in a sort of paroxysm of indignation he turns to an old Debrett's "Royal Kalendar for 1795," and there discovers that there were "twelve Lords of the Bedchamber," each receiving ^1200 a year, and fourteen grooms of the Chamber, etc." No one can divine what is to come of this. The pensioned Johnson ought to have had one of these posts! "As Burns was made a gauger, so Johnson might have been made a Lord, or at least a groom, of the Bedchamber." The notion of the poor old dying Johnson going about at court as "Lord Johnson"—or, better still, as "a groom of the Bedchamber"—is exquisitely funny. And as Burns was to be gratified with the humble office of a gauger, so Johnson was to be raised to the Peerage!

Johnson wrote that he had the honour of "saluting Flora Macdonald." The editor must explain. "By saluting, Johnson, I believe meant kissing." I believe! Has he read old novels and old plays, or heard of "a chaste salute"? Nay, he even goes to look for it in the great Dictionary, where he assures us that Johnson actually gives it "as one of the meanings of the word."

In the month of November Johnson wrote to Mrs Thrale this simple observation, "You have at last begun to bathe." The subject of bathing, or the "cold bath" has always for the editor a fascination; and in other cases he has expended many laborious notes and quotations on the origin, etc., of bathing. Here he assures us gravely "that the month of November is late in the year for bathing." Johnson was not thinking whether it was late or early, neither was Mrs Thrale; nor did it matter. She had bathed; that was certain. One may even traverse the editor's statement, and say that November is not late for bathing; it depends