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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 seventyfirst year of his age. +
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, 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 birth-day.|| 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. Mr Croker therefore gives us three different statements as to her age. Two of the three must be incorrect. We will not decide between them ; we will only say, that the reasons which Mr Croker 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 nute 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 that 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 is 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.
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 then 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 Moming Post. + V. 287.
IV. 271, 322. 1 11. 151.
ft V. 196.
* IV. 105, | III. 463.
* I. 510. ** 111. 271.
“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 execu. tion 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."I 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 till he was displaced by the intrigues of Sunderland and Stanhope 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, is generally unfortunate in his statements respecting the Townshend family. He tells us that Charles Townshend, the chancellor of the exchequer, was “nephew of the prime minister, and son of a peer who was secretary of state, and leader of the House of Lords."'Charles Townshend was not nephew, but grand-nephew, of the Duke of Newcastle, not son, but grandson, of the Lord Townshend who was secretary of state, and leader of the House of Lords.
"General Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga,” says Mr Croker, “in March, 1778."|| General Burgoyne surrendered on the 17th of October, 1777.
Nothing," says Mr Croker, “can be more unfounded than the assertion that Byng fell a martyr to political party. By a strange coincidence of circumstances, it happened that there was a total change of administration between his condemnation and his death: so that one party presided at his trial, and another at his execution: there can be no stronger proof that he was not a political martyr.” | Now what will our readers think of this writer, when we assure them that this statement, so confidently made respecting events so notorious, is absolutely untrue? One and the same administration was in office when the court-martial on Byng commenced its sittings, through the whole trial, at the condemnation, and at the execution. In the month of November, 1756, the Duke of Newcastle and Lord Hardwicke resigned ; the Duke of Devonshire became first lord of the treasury, and Mr Pitt, secretary of state. This administration lasted till the month of April, 1757. Byng's court-martial began to sit on the 28th of December, 1756. He was shot on the 14th of March, 1757. There is something at once diverting and provoking in the cool and authoritative manner in which Mr Croker makes these random assertions. We do not suspect him of intentionally falsifying history. But of this high literary misdemeanour we do without hesitation accuse him, that he has no adequate sense of the obligation which a writer, who professes to relate facts, owes to the public. We accuse him of a negligence and an ignorance analogous to that crassa negligentia and that crassa ignorantia, on which the law animadverts in magistrates and surgeons, even when malice and corruption are not imputed. We accuse him of having undertaken a work which, if not performed with strict accuracy, must be very much worse than useless, and of having performed it as if the difference between an accurate and an inaccurate statement was not worth the trouble of looking into the most common book of reference.
| II. 526. III. 52 § III. 368. || IV. 222. 1 1. 298
* IV. 29.
But we must proceed. These volumes contain mistakes more gross, if possible, than any that we have yet mentioned. Boswell has recorded some observations made by Johnson on the changes which had taken place in Gibbon's religious opinions. That Gibbon when a lad at Oxford turned Catholic is well known. It is said,” cried Johnson, laughing, “ that he has been a Mahommedan.” “ This sarcasm,” says the editor, “probably alludes to the tenderness with which Gibbon's malevolence to Christianity induced him to treat Mahommedanism 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 Mahommedanism was not published till 1788, twelve years after the date of this conversation, and near 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 Dr 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. In the first place, Johnson became acquainted with the Thrales, not in 1765, but in 1764, and during the last weeks of 1764 dined with them every Thursday, as is written in Mrs Piozzi's anecdotes. In the second place, Goldsmith published the Vicar of Wakefield, not in 1761, but in 1766. Mrs Thrale does not pretend to remember the precise date of the summons which called Johnson from her table to the help of his friend. She says only that it was near the beginning of her acquaintance with Johnson, and certainly not later than 1766. Her accuracy is therefore completely vindicated. It was probably after one of her Thursday dinners in 1764 that the celebrated scene of the landlady, the sheriff's officer, and the bottle of Madeira, took place. I
The very page which contains this monstrous blunder, contains another blunder, if possible, more monstrous still. Sir Joseph Mawbey, a foolish member of Parliament, at whose speeches and whose pigstyes 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 coffeehouse 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
* A defence of this blunder was attempted. That the celebrated chapters in which Gibbon has traced the progress of Mahommedanism were not written in 1776, could not be denied. But it was confidently asserted that his partiality to Mahommedanism appeared in his first volume. This assertion is untrue. No passage which can by any art be construed into the faintest indication of the faintest partiality for Mahommedanism has ever been quoted or ever will be quoted from the first volume of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
To what then, it has been asked, could Johnson allude? Possibly to some anecdote or some conversation of which all trace is lost. One conjecture may be offered, though with diffidence. Gibbon tells us in his memoirs, that at Oxford he took a fancy for studying Arabic, and was prevented from doing so by the remonstrances of his tutor. Soon after this, the young man fell in with Bossuet's controversial writings, and was speedily converted by them to the Roman Catholic faith. The apostasy of a gentleman commoner would of course be for a time the chief subject of conversation in the common room of Magdalepe. His whim about Arabic learning would naturally be mentioned, and would give occasion to some jokes about the probability of his turning Mussulman. If such jokes were made, Johnson, who frequently visited Oxford, was very likely to hear of them. # V. 409.
This paragraph has been altered ; and a slight maccuracy, immaterial to the argument, has been removed.
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.# 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, 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 five years with respect to the publication of Goldsmith's novel, an error of twelve years with respect to the publication of part of Gibbon's History, an error of twenty-one years with respect to an event in Johnson's life so important as the taking of the doctoral degree. 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 every body knows can know that of which almost every body 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 mis. takes 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.
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 defend. ing Prior's tales against the charge of indecency, resents this aspersion on Juvenal, and indeed refuses to believe 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 crying. It is no disgrace to a gentleman who has been engaged during near 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 sentence, 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, “was never 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 Claudian 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.
| I. 262.
* V. 400
Boswell found, in his tour to the Hebrides, an inscription written by a Scotch minister. It runs thus : “Joannes Macleod, &c., gentis suæ Phil. archus, &c., Flora 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 bappy 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 plaapxos in the sense which we assign to it. Would Mr Croker translate Quocopos, a man who acquires wisdom by means of love, OT OLokepồns, a man who makes money by means of love? In fact, it requires no Bentley or Casaubon to perceive, that Philarchus is merely a false spelling for Phylarchus, the chief of a tribe.
Mr Croker has favoured us with some Greek of his own. “At the altar," says Dr Johnson, “I recommended my 0 0.” “ These letters," says the editor, *(which Dr Strahan seems not to have understood) probably mean Punto LÀO, departed friends." # Johnson was not a first-rate Greek scholar; but he knew more Greek than most boys when they leave school ; and no schoolboy could venture to use the word Ovntor in the sense which Mr Croker ascribes to it without imminent danger of a flogging..
Mr Croker has also given us a specimen of his skill in translating Latin. Johnson wrote a note in which he consulted his friend, Dr Lawrence, on the
+ II. 458. : IV. 251. An attempt was made to vindicate this blunder by quoting a grossly corrupt passage from the 'IKéTides of Euripides :
βαθι και αντίασον γονάτων, έπι χείρα βαλούσα,
τέκνων τε θνατών κομίσαι δέμας. . The true reading, as every scholar knows, is, TÉKVWV TEOVEÚtwv koulrai déuas. Indeed without this emendation it would not be easy to construe the words, even if Gratwv could bear the meaning which Mr Croker assigns to it.
* I. 133