« ZurückWeiter »
ism in his history.'* Now the sarcasm was uttered in 1776 ; and that part of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which relates to Mahometanism, was not published till 1788, twelve years after the date of this conversation, and nearly four years after the death of Johnson.
• It was in the year 1761,' says Mr. Croker, 'that Goldsmith published his Vicar of Wakefield. This leads the editor to observe a more serious inaccuracy of Mrs. Piozzi, than Mr. Boswell notices, when he says Johnson left her table to go and sell the Vicar of Wakefield for Goldsmith. Now Doctor Johnson was not acquainted with the Thrales till 1765, four years after the book had been published.' + Mr. Croker, in reprehending the fancied inaccuracy of Mrs. Thrale, has himself shown a degree of inaccuracy, or, to speak more properly, a degree of ignorance, hardly credible. The Traveller was not published till 1765; and it is a fact as notorious as any in literary history, that the Vicar of Wakefield, though written before the Traveller, was published after it. It is a fact which Mr. Croker may find in any common life of Goldsmith ; in that written by Mr. Chalmers, for example. It is a fact which, as Boswell tells us, was distinctly stated by Johnson in a conversation with Sir Joshua Reynolds. I It is therefore quite possible and probable, that the celebrated scene of the landlady, the sheriff's officer, and the bottle of Madeira, may have taken place in 1765.
Now Mrs. Thrale expressly says that it was near the beginning of her acquaintance with Johnson, in 1765, or, at all events, not later than 1766, that he left her table to succor his friend. Her accuracy is therefore completely vindicated.
The very page which contains this monstrous blunder,
* III. 336.
+ V. 409.
I IV. 180.
contains another blunder, if possible, more monstrous still. Sir Joseph Mawbey, a foolish member of Parliament, at whose speeches and whose pig-styes the wits of Brookes's were, fifty years ago, in the habit of laughing most unmercifully, stated, on the authority of Garrick, that Johnson, while sitting in a coffee-house at Oxford, about the time of his doctor's degree, used some contemptuous expressions respecting Home's play and Macpherson's Ossian. Many men,' he said, many women, and many children, might have written Douglas.' Mr. Croker conceives that he has detected an inaccuracy, and glories over poor Sir Joseph, in a most characteristic manner. • I have quoted this anecdote solely with the view of showing to how little credit hearsay anecdotes are in general entitled. Here is a story published by Sir Joseph Mawbey, a member of the House of Commons, and a person every way worthy of credit, who says he had it from Garrick. Now mark : Johnson's visit to Oxford, about the time of his doctor's degree, was in 1754, the first time he had been there since he left the university. But Douglas was not acted till 1756, and Ossian not published till 1760. All, therefore, that is new in Sir Joseph Mawbey's story is false.* Assuredly we need not go far to find ample proof that a member of the House of Commons may commit a very gross error.' Now mark, say we, in the language of Mr. Croker. The fact is, that Johnson took his Master's degree in 1754,+ and his Doctor's degree in 1775.I In the spring of 1776, he paid a visit to Oxford, and at this visit a conversation respecting the works of Home and Macpherson might have taken place, and, in all probability, did take place. The only real objection to the story Mr. Croker has missed. Boswell states, apparently on the best authority, that as early at least as the year 1763, Johnson,
* V. 409.
1 I. 262.
* III. 205.
f III. 326.
in conversation with Blair, used the same expressions respecting Ossian, which Sir Joseph represents him as having used respecting Douglas.* Sir Joseph, or Garrick, confounded, we suspect, the two stories. But their error is venial, compared with that of Mr. Croker.
We will not multiply instances of this scandalous inaccuracy. It is clear, that a writer who, even when warned by the text on which he is commenting, falls into such mistakes as these, is entitled to no confidence whatever. Mr. Croker has committed an error of four years with respect to the publication of Goldsmith's novel ; an error of twelve years with respect to the publication of Gibbon's history; an error of twenty-one years with respect to one of the most remarkable events of Johnson's life. Two of these three errors he has committed, while ostentatiously displaying his own accuracy, and correcting what he represents as the loose assertions of others. How can his readers take on trust his statements concerning the births, marriages, divorces, and deaths of a crowd of people, whose names are scarcely known to this generation? It is not likely that a person who is ignorant of what almost everybody knows, can know that of which almost everybody is ignorant. We did not open this book with any wish to find blemishes in it. We have made no curious researches. The work itself, and a very common knowledge of literary and political history, have enabled us to detect the mistakes which we have pointed out, and many other mistakes of the same kind. We must say, and we say it with regret, that we do not consider the authority of Mr. Croker, unsupported by other evidence, as sufficient to justify any writer who may follow him, in relating a single anecdote, or in assigning a date to a single event.
* I. 405.
Mr. Croker shows almost as much ignorance and heedlessness in his criticisms as in his statements concerning facts. Dr. Johnson said, very reasonably as it appears to us, that some of the satires of Juvenal are too gross for imitation. Mr. Croker, who, by the way, is angry with Johnson
, for defending Prior's tales against the charge of indecency, resents this aspersion on Juvenal, and indeed refuses to be. lieve that the doctor can have said anything so absurd. He probably said some passages of them — for there are none of Juvenal's satires to which the same objection may be made as to one of Horace's, that it is altogether gross and licentious.' * Surely Mr. Croker can never have read the second and ninth satires of Juvenal.
Indeed, the decisions of this editor on points of classical learning, though pronounced in a very authoritative tone, are generally such, that if a schoolboy under our care were to utter them, our soul assuredly should not spare for his cry. ing. It is no disgrace to a gentleman, who has been engaged during nearly thirty years in political life, that he has forgotten his Greek and Latin. But he becomes justly ridiculous, if, when no longer able to construe a plain sen. tence, he affects to sit in judgment on the most delicate questions of style and metre. From one blunder, a blunder which no good scholar would have made, Mr. Croker was saved, as he informs us, by Sir Robert Peel, who quoted a passage exactly in point from Horace. We heartily wish that Sir Robert, whose classical attainments are well known, had been more frequently consulted. Unhappily he was not always at his friend's elbow, and we have therefore a rich abundance of the strangest errors.
Boswell has preserved a poor epigram by Johnson, inscribed • Ad Lauram parituram.' Mr. Croker censures the poet for applying the
word puella to a lady in Laura's situation, and for talking of the beauty of Lucina. • Lucina,' he says, famed for her beauty.'
If Sir Robert Peel had seen this note, he probably would have again refuted Mr. Croker's criticisms by an appeal to Horace. In the secular ode, Lucina is used as one of the names of Diana, and the beauty of Diana is extolled by all the most orthodox doctors of the ancient mythology, from Homer, in his Odyssey, to Claudi. an, in his Rape of Proserpine. In another ode, Horace describes Diana as the goddess who assists the “ laborantes utero puellas. But we are ashamed to detain our readers with this fourth-form learning.
Boswell found, in his tour to the Hebrides, an inscription written by a Scotch minister. It runs thus : “Joannes Macleod, &c., gentis suæ Philarchus, &c., Floræ Macdonald matrimoniali vinculo conjugatus turrem hanc Beganodunensem proævorum habitaculum longe vetustissimum, diu penitus labefactatam, anno æræ vulgaris MDCLXXXVI., instauravit.' · The minister,' says Mr. Croker, 'seems to have been no contemptible Latinist. Is not Philarchus a very happy term to express the paternal and kindly authority of the head of a clan? 'The composition of this eminent Latinist, short as it is, contains several words that are just as much Coptic as Latin, to say nothing of the incorrect structure of the sentence. The word Philarchus, even if it were a happy term expressing a paternal and kindly authority, would prove nothing for the minister's Latin, whatever it might prove for his Greek. But it is clear that the word Philarchus means, not a man who rules by love, but a man who loves rule. The Attic writers of the best age use the word plaap xos in the sense which we assign to it. Would Mr. Croker translate quiócopos, a man who acquires wisdom by
* 1. 133.
+ II. 458.