Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/81

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

69

Lake of Geneva," and so on. True, there were other boxes of books which "used to creep at a somewhat faster pace"; and the whole culminates in the assurance that "the Kentish carrier, who, leaving Rochester betimes, delivered that same day a gammon of bacon and two razes of ginger as far as Charing Cross, was making more expedition." With all this, of course, Johnsonian readers have no concern. 'Tis a matter of "reclamation" to the railway authorities, but, as we know by this time, it is the editor's way. It is his way also not to see that the case of the Shakespeare carriers does not illustrate his case, for to carry goods from Rochester to Charing Cross some forty miles, and in the one day, was "good going." Gibbon, we are assured, when he brought over his great library to Lausanne, hardly suffered more than our editor did with his box of books.

The editor has an uneasy feeling that there are cavilling fault-finders, who, in their scurvy way, are ready to detect flaws: so he promptly "takes the bull by the horns" in a new and highly ingenious fashion. Mistakes, of course, there are; but it is all owing to the pernicious system of printing books that now obtains. "The imperfections of a work such as this is, are often more clearly seen by the editor than by the most sharp-sighted critic." An ingenious turn, as who should say, "I knew it all the time, and much better than you." "Mistakes are discovered too late for correction, but not for criticism." There, we see, is the grievance, which can only be remedied in this way: "Were the whole book in type, and cost of no moment, what improvements could be made." In fact, our editor would like to begin the whole work of rewriting when the proofs were in his hands. Give him but a free hand then, and all will be well. As he tells us, "I have never yet finished an index without wishing that, by the help of it, I could edit and re-edit my work."

But by a hard fate, these things are not permissible. Cost is of moment; and the directors of the Clarendon Press would decidedly object to what the editor so gently terms, "improvements being made." The odd part of all this is, that three-fourths of the volumes are all secure from correction, having been written by other people, and possibly three-fourths of the notes are quotations; so what the "pother" is about it is hard to say. True, old-fashioned, behind-date writers contrive to do with a system of writing the book before it goes to the printer; they alter, write, and rewrite, have it copied and typed, with the result that they do not want to alter anything when the print is before them.

Notwithstanding "the support of the climate," the editor has committed many mistakes, which I shall now proceed to point out, for the book teems with the old faults of misapprehension, delusion, and hurried and imperfect reference, and for which the difficulties of the situation are hardly accountable. To begin, there is a quotation from Gibbon, the point of which is mistaken: "Tillemont's accuracy," says the editor in his preface, "may, as Gibbon says, be inimitable; but none the less, inspired by the praise which our great historian bestows on mere accuracy, a scholar should never lose the hope of imitation." It may be presumed that the editor refers to the note in chapter xlvii., when Gibbon writes, "And here I must take leave for ever of the incomparable guide, whose bigotry is over-balanced by the merits of erudition, diligence, veracity, and scrupulous minuteness." Now here "our great historian" wrote that Tillemont was "incomparable," not "inimitable," a different thing, and he gave him