Page images
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

No apology is needed for offering to the reader a new edition of Boswell’s “Life of Johnson.” The constant demand for this masterpiece of Biography had to be supplied in the course of trade; while fresh and constantly-increasing contributions to the stock of knowledge made it essential that each edition should be something more than a reprint of what had already appeared. An examination of the conventional mode in which Boswell's work has been presented will show that an edition such as the present has become an absolute necessity. Mr. Boswell issued two editions of his book, the first in 1791, the second in 1793, and had begun to prepare the third when he was interrupted by death. Neither of these were in such a shape as could have satisfied his natural critical taste, much new matter thaving reached him too late, which he was obliged to inser out of its proper place; so there can be but little doubt that the third edition would have differed by as large a degree from the second as the second did from the first. At his death, when the revision was scarcely begun, Mr. Malone took up the task. As he had diligently co-operated in the preparation of the work, no one could have been better fitted to take the author's place; and under his supervision no less than four editions were issued, in the course of which many changes and material alterations came to be made. The sixth, or fourth from the author's death, was issued in 1811, and was the last superintended by Malone, who died in that year. From the date of his death this edition became the standard one, and was regularly reprinted until the year 1831, when it may be said to have been supplanted by Mr. Croker's important edition in five volumes, which under various forms has held its place until the present moment. There have been besides numerous less important reprints, upon which many editors have exercised their taste and judgment, but Malone's and Mr. Croker's are substantially the groundwork upon which all have worked. This long course of eighty years, with the enthusiastic labour of so many minds, naturally brought a good deal of change both in shape and substance. Mr. Malone began the system of revision, feeling, no doubt, that he was privileged to carry out, after the author's death, the control he had been allowed to exercise during the author's life. Accordingly, in each posthumous edition, new letters were inserted as they came to hand, and the fashion was introduced of adding notes, supplied by Johnson's friends and others, in the shape of correction or illustration. The sixth edition having been read over by the younger Boswell and compared with the first, the text, we are told, became “settled,” a declaration accepted in all faith by subsequent editors. Yet it was not suspected how seriously Malone had exceeded the privileges of his literary executorship, in converting notes into text and vice versá, in shifting the place of notes, and in “revising” the text itself. These changes were not very material as to substance; but still such a mode of “settling the text,” as it was called, pursued through a whole series of editions, could only have resulted in serious departure from the original. As one proof of how necessary it has become to go back to the first editions, it may be mentioned that Malone had announced in his advertisements, that “every new remark, not written by the author,” together with “the letters now introduced, are carefully included within crotchets, that the author may not be answerable for anything which has not the sanction of his approbation.” This wholesome caution was comparatively respectful to the author and his work, his own notes being left undistinguished by any sign, and, as it were, proclaiming themselves. That system, however, has long since been abandoned, and in the modern editions we find the author jostled by a crowd of intruders, “CROKER,” “MALONE,” “BLAKEwAY,” “KEARNEY,”—his annotations being also labelled with his own name, as though he had been introduced, like the others. Even the decency of “enclosing between crotchets” had been dropped, to suit the claims of these importunate illustrators. After Malone came Mr. Croker, with much knowledge and research, and a new theory of revision. His performance was akin to the labours of enterprising church and picture restorers, and was nearly unique in the annals of editing. Not only did he make interpolations in the text on a vast scale, but he overloaded the whole with a huge bulk of elaborate notes. Obscure allusions guessed at, biographies furnished, blanks filled up, speculations offered, opinions, either of Boswell or of Johnson, refuted in controversial style, contemporary authors largely quoted, and political opinions and prejudices duly ventilated; these were but a tithe of the Crokerian contribution, which, save by a few men of true critical instinct, who made early protest, was accepted as a valuable resetting of the old Johnsonian gem. For more than forty years has Boswell's work remained embedded in this mass of concrete and rubble, while Mr. Croker's (the editor's) labours have obtained even more recognition than even he himself could have hoped for. This treatment was long ago good-humouredly exposed. “Four books,” says Mr. Carlyle, “Mr. Croker had by him wherefrom to gather light for the fifth, which was Boswell's. What does he do now, in the placidest manner?—slit the whole five into slips and sew them together into a sextum quid, exactly at his own convenience. Not till after consideration can you ascertain now, when the cup is at the lip, which liquid it is you are imbibing—whether Boswell's French wine, which you began with, or some of Piozzi's ginger-beer, or Hawkins's entire, or, perhaps, some other great brewer's penny swipes.” As, however, Mr. Croker admitted his mistake, and in a later edition withdrew the bulk of the intruded matter, it would not be fair to say more on this point. Yet he could not bring himself to sacrifice the whole of the foreign element; and his work, which still includes masses of Thrale and other letters, diaries, and the like, is no longer Boswell’s “Life of Johnson,” but Boswell's “Life of Johnson, altered and enlarged by Croker.” This might be tolerated on the ground that such additions are for the most part distinctly marked, and that the reader, duly warned, may pass them by. But the Editor did not stop there, and a diligent examination warrants us saying that he has made serious alterations in the text. Letters have been transposed, and shifted here and there, on account of some assumed inconsistency ; dates have been altered, notes re-written, cut up, and distributed, or altogether omitted; while, with an over-strained delicacy, good Old-English adjectives, of a somewhat coarse flavour, have been struck out, and others substituted. This presents only a general idea of his operations; but a few specimens of these errors, each fairly representing a whole class, will show that the statement is not overcharged. Motes altered.—One, under date of Nov. 1769, runs thus: “An acute correspondent of the European Magazine, April, 1792, has completely exposed a mistake which has been unaccountably frequent in (of) ascribing these lines to Blackmore, notwithstanding that Sir Richard Steele, in that very popular work, the Spectator, &c.” Mr. Croker (single vol. ed. 1862, p. 211) omits all the words in italics, which (especially the compliment to the Spectator) are really characteristic of Boswell. At p. 409, note, “The celebrated Flora Macdonald, see Boswell's Tour,” the words in italics are omitted. At p. 23, a note, “Sir John Floyer's Treatise on Cold Baths" becomes “A letter from the late Sir John Floyer, in recommendation of the cold bath.-Boswell.” At p. 121 the ceremonious reference in the note, “Topham Beauclerk, Esq.,” becomes “Mr. Beauclerk.-Boswell.” At p. 113 “Mr. Samuel Richardson, the authour of Clarissa,” is shortened into “the author of ‘Clarissa.” At p. 155 “soon after this event” is altered into “soon after his mother's death;” at p. 475 “a very learned minister” is changed into “the very learned,” &c. At p. 9o a note of Warton's, seventeen lines long, on Z. Williams, is omitted ; Mr. Croker re-writes it, compressing it into three lines, and signing it “WARTON.” P. 501, a whole note is given to Malone, of which a portion is Mr. Boswell's ; and, p. 527, a note, half Croker's, half Boswell's, is given altogether to Boswell. At pp. 519, 721, and 376, notes of Boswell's are signed “Croker.” At p. 342, one note is cut up into two. Omitted.—At p. 91, a note, “Of the degree.” P. IoS, a note, “Now or late Vice-chancellor.” P. 222, two notes, “Thoughts on the late transaction,” and “By comparing the first with the subsequent editions this curious circumstance of ministerial authourship may be discovered.” P. 409, “See Boswell's Tour.” At pp. 117, 165, 266, 4Io, 508, 590, 556, 494, and at a number of other places, reference notes are omitted. P. 7oo, a note, “in both editions of Sir J. Hawkins's ‘Life of Johnson,’ lettered ignorance is printed,” omitted. P. 722, the key to the charade on Dr. Barnard, “Bar,” “nard,” “Barnard ” left out. P. 88, a note of Warton's on one of his own letters: “He came to Oxford within a fortnight, and stayed about five weeks. He lodged at a house called Kettel Hall near Trinity College. But during this visit at Oxford, he collected nothing in the libraries for his dictionary,” becomes—“He came to Oxford, &c. He lodged at Kettel Hall.—WARTON. But during this visit, he collected nothing, &c.—MALONE.” P. 298, a long note on the Literary Club is omitted on the ground that “it is incorporated in the life.”—The substance is, though not the form. With Warton's notes on his own letters, a portion of Boswell's work, other freedoms are taken. As at p. 93, where the note runs, “The words in italics are allusions to passages in Mr. Warton's poem,” &c., which is wholly omitted, and a quotation from the poem itself substituted. At p. 99 is found a short note signed “Warton,” but which is Mr. Croker's own composition, and the hint for which is supplied by a long note of Warton's to the letter of November 21, 1754, which is also omitted. To the same letter Boswell has given a note—“communicated to me by Mr. Thraston, who had the original”—which is again omitted. At p. 108 a new letter of Warton's is inserted by Mr. Croker without distinguishing crotchets, so that it reads as part of Boswell's text; and at p. 91 another note of Warton's is omitted. At p. 222, there should be a note of Boswell's on the word “perusal,” qualified by one of Malone's, and both are omitted. Text altered—P. 30, a list of Johnson's residences is brought from its place at the end of the book, and, to suit this alteration, the text, “I shall before this work is concluded,” is turned into “I shall

« PreviousContinue »