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ART I.-The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. Including a Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, by James Boswell, Esq. A New Edition, with numerous Additions and Notes. By JOHN WILSON CROKER, LL.D. F.R.S. Five volumes 8vo. London: 1831.
HIS work has greatly disappointed us. Whatever faults we may have been prepared to find in it, we fully expected that it would be a valuable addition to English literature; that it would contain many curious facts, and many judicious remarks; that the style of the notes would be neat, clear, and precise; and that the typographical execution would be, as in new editions of classical works it ought to be, almost faultless. We are sorry to be obliged to say, that the merits of Mr Croker's performance are on a par with those of a certain leg of mutton on which Dr Johnson dined, while travelling from London to Oxford, and which he, with characteristic energy, pronounced to be as bad as bad could be; ill fed, ill killed, ill kept, and ill dressed.'* That part of the volumes before us, for which the editor is responsible, is ill compiled, ill arranged, ill expressed, and ill printed.
Nothing in the work has astonished us so much as the ignorance or carelessness of Mr Croker, with respect to facts and dates. Many of his blunders are such as we should be surprised to hear any well-educated gentleman commit, even in conversation. The notes absolutely swarm with mistatements, into which the editor never would have fallen, if he had taken the
* V. 184.
VOL, LIV, NO. CVII.
slightest pains to investigate the truth of his assertions, or if he had even been well acquainted with the very book on which he undertook to comment. We will give a few instances.
Mr Croker tells us, in a note, that Derrick, who was master of the ceremonies at Bath, died very poor, in 1760.* We read on; and, a few pages later, we find Dr Johnson and Boswell talking of this same Derrick as still living and reigning—as having retrieved his character-as possessing so much power over his subjects at Bath, that his opposition might be fatal to Sheridan's lectures on oratory.+ And all this is in 1763. The fact is, that Derrick died in 1769.
In one note we read, that Sir Herbert Croft, the author of that pompous and foolish account of Young, which appears among the Lives of the Poets, died in 1805. Another note in the same volume states, that this same Sir Herbert Croft died at Paris, after residing abroad for fifteen years, on the 27th of April, 1816. §
Mr Croker informs us, that Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, the author of the Life of Beattie, died in 1816. || A Sir William Forbes undoubtedly died in that year-but not the Sir William Forbes in question, whose death took place in 1806. It is notorious, indeed, that the biographer of Beattie lived just long enough to complete the history of his friend. Eight or nine years before the date which Mr Croker has assigned for Sir William's death, Sir Walter Scott lamented that event, in the introduction, we think, to the fourth canto of Marmion. Every school-girl knows the lines:
Scarce had lamented Forbes paid
In one place, we are told, that Allan Ramsay, the painter, was born in 1709, and died in 1784;-in another, that he died in 1784, in the seventy-first year of his age.** If the latter statement be correct, he must have been born in or about 1713.
In one place, Mr Croker says, that at the commencement of the intimacy between Dr Johnson and Mrs Thrale, in 1765, the lady was twenty-five years old.++ In other places he says,
* I. 394.
† I. 404.
IV. 321. ¶ IV. 105.
that Mrs Thrale's thirty-fifth year coincided with Johnson's seventieth.* Johnson was born in 1709. If, therefore, Mrs Thrale's thirty-fifth year coincided with Johnson's seventieth, she could have been only twenty-one years old in 1765. This is not all. Mr Croker, in another place, assigns the year 1777 as the date of the complimentary lines which Johnson made on Mrs Thrale's thirty-fifth birthday. If this date be correct, Mrs Thrale must have been born in 1742, and could have been only twenty-three when her acquaintance with Johnson commenced. Two of Mr Croker's three statements must be false. We will not decide between them; we will only say, that the reasons which he gives for thinking that Mrs Thrale was exactly thirty-five years old when Johnson was seventy, appear to us utterly frivolous.
Again, Mr Croker informs his readers that 'Lord Mansfield 'survived Johnson full ten years.' Lord Mansfield survived Dr Johnson just eight years and a quarter.
Johnson found in the library of a French lady, whom he visited during his short visit to Paris, some works which he regarded with great disdain. I looked,' says he, into the books in the lady's closet, and, in contempt, showed them to Mr 'Thrale. Prince Titi-Bibliothèque des Fées-and other 'books.'|| The History of Prince Titi,' observes Mr Croker, 'was said to be the autobiography of Frederick Prince of Wales, but was probably written by Ralph his secretary. A more absurd note never was penned. The history of Prince Titi, to which Mr Croker refers, whether written by Prince Frederick, or by Ralph, was certainly never published. If Mr Croker had taken the trouble to read with attention the very passage in Park's Royal and Noble Authors, which he cites as his authority, he would have seen that the manuscript was given up to the government. Even if this memoir had been printed, it was not very likely to find its way into a French lady's bookcase. And would any man in his senses speak contemptuously of a French lady, for having in her possession an English work, so curious and interesting as a Life of Prince Frederick, whether written by himself, or by a confidential secretary, must have been? The history at which Johnson laughed, was a very proper companion to the Bibliothèque des Fées-a fairy tale about good Prince Titi, and naughty Prince Violent. Mr Croker may find it in the Magasin des Enfans, the first French book which the little girls of England read to their governesses.
* IV. 271, 322. † III. 463. ‡ II. 151. || III. 271.
Mr Croker states, that Mr Henry Bate, who afterwards assumed the name of Dudley, was proprietor of the Morning Herald, and fought a duel with George Robinson Stoney, in consequence of some attacks on Lady Strathmore, which appeared in that paper. Now Mr Bate was connected, not with the Morning Herald, but with the Morning Post, and the dispute took place before the Morning Herald was in existence. The duel was fought in January 1777. The Chronicle of the Annual Register for that year contains an account of the transaction, and distinctly states that Mr Bate was editor of the Morning Post. The Morning Herald, as any person may see by looking at any number of it, was not established till some years after this affair. For this blunder there is, we must acknowledge, some excuse: for it certainly seems almost incredible to a person living in our time, that any human being should ever have stooped to fight with a writer in the Morning Post.
'James de Duglas,' says Mr Croker, was requested by 'King Robert Bruce, in his last hours, to repair with his heart 'to Jerusalem, and humbly to deposit it at the sepulchre of our 'Lord, which he did in 1329.'+ Now, it is well known that he did no such thing, and for a very sufficient reason-because he was killed by the way. Nor was it in 1329 that he set out. Robert Bruce died in 1329, and the expedition of Douglas took place in the following year,- quand le printems vint et la saison,' says Froissart-in June 1330, says Lord Hailes, whom Mr Croker cites as the authority for his statement.
Mr Croker tells us that the great Marquis of Montrose was beheaded at Edinburgh in 1650. There is not a forward boy at any school in England who does not know that the marquis was hanged. The account of the execution is one of the finest passages in Lord Clarendon's History. We can scarcely suppose that Mr Croker has never read that passage; and yet we can scarcely suppose that any person who has ever perused so noble and pathetic a story, can have utterly forgotten all its most striking circumstances.
Lord Townshend,' says Mr Croker, was not secretary of state till 1720.'§ Can Mr Croker possibly be ignorant that Lord Townshend was made secretary of state at the accession of George I. in 1714,-that he continued to be secretary of state 11 he was displaced by the intrigues of Sunderland and Stanope at the close of 1716,-and that he returned to the office of secretary of state, not in 1720, but in 1721? Mr Croker, indeed,