Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/90

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78

A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

clear, were different persons, for in the one case Johnson had to listen to the play; in the other he read it himself. In his note the editor says that Lucas was the author of "Dido," and that both instances referred to the same person. Now, however, he finds no doubt from the "Biographia Dramatica," which he might have consulted at first that Reed was the author of "Dido." "In a note I suggested that he" (Lucas) "may have been the author mentioned above; but in this I was mistaken, for it was Isaac Reed." It is something to have the editor crying peccavi in this way; but why such capriciousness in the selection? Why ignore the hundreds of mistakes that have been pointed out in his editions?

We are told that Burke was so vehement in arguing some patriotic questions, that "he would turn away so as to throw the end of his own tail into the face of his neighbour." The editor seems to caution us not to take this for a real "caudal appendage," for he tell us: "Burke, no doubt, wore his hair tied up in a pigtail" Not a doubt of it. What else could he mean?

There are some strange mistakes about Beckford. Of a Jamaica gentleman then lately dead, Johnson said, "He will, whither he is now gone, not find much difference as to climate or to company." And again, on learning the death of a celebrated West Indian planter, "He is gone where he will not find the country warmer and the men much blacker than that he has left." In both places the editor explains: "Perhaps (or probably) Alderman Beckford." Not at all. The man of whom Johnson was speaking had died out at Jamaica, "the country he had left." Beckford died in England, to which he had come in his boyhood. He was not "a celebrated West India planter," but a celebrated London politician, who had been Lord Mayor.

"A valuable edition of Bailey's Dictionary" is mentioned, which prompts the editor to make this observation: "It is not easy to see how any edition of Bailey could be valuable." First, is not that a dictionary of some value which Johnson used as the basis of his own? Second, it was issued as a small volume; then in two huge ones. The allusion was not to the merits of the book, but to its shape, format, binding, it might be.

The editor often takes a narrow view of people's motives and acts. Johnson sent a guinea to one Faden, son of a printer, whom he had known thirty years before, and who had lent him a guinea. "Faden," the editor tells us, "for a few weeks had a share in the Universal Chronicle, in which The Idler was published, so that he could have stopped the guinea out of the money due to Johnson"! As is said in one of Ibsen's pieces, "People don't do such things."

The editor misapprehends the plainest passage. Boswell, when about to publish the "Life," hesitated as to the terms. Would he sell the book "out and out," or "I should incline to game, as Sir Joshua says"—i.e. speculate on the profits. But the editor has this odd theory. Boswell was thinking of Sir Joshua's use of the word "game"! "Perhaps gamble … was in constant use, and Reynolds was singular in sticking to an old-fashioned word." As to "gamble" being in constant use, the editor disposes of that by assuring us that it is not found in the Dictionary. So that "game" was the only word he could have used. It is impossible to deal seriously with these delusions.

Johnson was sometimes reminded by his friends that he was too dictatorial in his talk, a reproof which he took kindly, and would, in answer to what "they called the pride of learn-