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JOHNSON'S DEBATES IN PARLIAMENT.
(Pages 136 and 174.)
THE publication of the 'Debates' in the Gentleman's Magazine began in July 1732. The names of the speakers were not printed in full; Sir Robert Walpole was disguised-if a disguise it can be called-as Sir R-t W-le, and Mr. Pelham as Mr. P-lh-m. Otherwise the report was open and avowed. During the first few years, however, it often happened that no attempt was made to preserve the individuality of the members. Thus in a debate on the number of seamen (Gent. Mag. v. 507), the speeches of the 'eight chief speakers' were so combined as to form but three. First come 'the arguments made use of for 30,000 men ;' next 'an answer to the following effect;' and lastly, a reply that was in substance as follows.' Each of these three speeches is in the first person, though each is formed of the arguments of two members at least, perhaps of many. In the report of a two days' debate in 1737, in which there were fourteen chief speakers, the substance of thirteen of the speeches was given in three (ib. vii. 746, 775). In July 1736 (ib. vi. 363) we find the beginning of a great change. 'To satisfy the impatience of his readers,' the publisher promises 'to give them occasionally some entire speeches.' He prints one which likely enough had been sent to him by the member who had spoken it, and adds that he shall be 'grateful for any authentic intelligence in matters of such importance and tenderness as the speeches in Parliament' (ib. p. 365). Cave, in his examination before the House of Lords on April 30, 1747, on a charge of having printed in the Gentleman's Magazine an account of the trial of Lord Lovat, owned that he had had speeches sent him by the members themselves, and had had assistance from some members who have taken notes of other members' speeches' (Parl. Hist. xiv. 60).
It was chiefly in the numbers of the Magazine for the latter half of each year that the publication took place. The parliamentary recess was the busy time for reporters and printers. It was commonly believed that the resolution on the Journals of the House of Commons against publishing any of its proceedings was only in force while parliament was sitting. But on April 13, 1738, it was unanimously resolved 'that it is an high indignity to, and a notorious breach of the privilege of this House to give any account of the debates, as well during the recess as the sitting of parliament' (Parl. Hist. x. 812). It was admitted that this privilege expired at the end of every parliament. When the dissolution had come every one might publish what he pleased. With the House of Lords it was far otherwise, for 'it is a Court of Record, and as such its rights and privileges never die. It may punish a printer for printing any part of its proceedings for thirty or forty years back' (ib. p. 807). Mr. Winnington, when speaking to this resolution of April 13, said that if they did not put a speedy stop to this practice of reporting 'they will have every word that is spoken here by gentlemen misrepresented by fellows who thrust themselves into our gallery' (ib. p. 806). Walpole complained that he had been made to speak the very reverse of what he meant. He had read debates wherein all the wit, the learning, and the argument had been thrown into one side, and on the other nothing but what was low, mean, and ridiculous' (ib. p. 809). Later on, Johnson in his reports 'saved appearances tolerably well; but took care that the WHIG Docs should not have the best of it' (Murphy's Johnson, p. 45).
It was but a few days after he became a contributor to the Magazine that this resolution was passed. Parliament rose on May 20, and in the June number the reports of the debates of the Senate of Lilliput began. To his fertile mind was very likely due this humorous expedient by which the resolution of the House was mocked. That he wrote the introduction in which is narrated the voyage of Captain Gulliver's grandson to Lilliputia can scarcely be doubted. It bears all the marks of his early style. The Lords become Hurgoes, and the Commons Clinabs, Walpole becomes Walelop, Pulteney Pulnub, and Pitt Ptit; otherwise the report is much as it had been. At the end of the volume for 1739 was given a key to all the names. The London Magazine had boldly taken the lead. In the May number, which was published at the close of the month, and therefore after parliament had risen, began
the report of the proceedings and debates of a political and learned club of young noblemen and gentlemen, who hoped one day to enter parliament, and who therefore, the better to qualify themselves for their high position, only debated questions that were there discussed. To the speakers were given the names of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Thus we find the Hon. Marcus Cato and the Right Hon. M. Tullius Cicero. By the key that was published in 1742 Cicero was seen to be Walpole, and Cato, Pulteney. What risks the publishers and writers ran was very soon shown. In December 1740 the ministers proposed to lay an embargo on various articles of food. As the members entered the House a printed paper was handed to each, entitled Considerations upon the Embargo. Adam Smith had just gone up as a young student to the University of Oxford. There are 'considerations' suggested in this paper which the great authority of the author of the Wealth of Nations has not yet made pass current as truths. The paper contained, moreover, charges of jobbery against 'great men,' though no one was named. It was at once voted a malicious and scandalous libel, and the author, William Cooley, a scrivener, was committed to Newgate. With him was sent the printer of the Daily Post, in which part of the Considerations had been published. After seven weeks' imprisonment in the depth of winter in that miserable den, 'without sufficient sustenance to support life,' Cooley was discharged on paying his fees. He was in knowledge more than a hundred years before his time, and had been made to suffer accordingly. The printer would have been discharged also, but the fees were more than he could pay. Two months later he petitioned for mercy. The fees by that time were £121. His petition was not received, and he was kept in prison till the close of the session (Parl. Hist. xi. 867-894).
Such were the risks run by Cave and Johnson and their fellowworkers. That no prosecution followed was due perhaps to that dread of ridicule which has often tempered the severity of the law. "The Hurgolen Branard, who in the former session was Pretor of Mildendo,' might well have been unwilling to prove that he was Sir John Barnard, late Lord Mayor of London.
Johnson, it should seem, revised some of the earliest Debates. In a letter to Cave which cannot have been written later than September 1738, he mentions the alterations that he had made (ante, p. 136). The more they were written by him, the less authentic
did they become, for he was not one of those 'fellows who thrust themselves into the gallery of the House.' His employer, Cave, if we can trust his own evidence, had been in the habit of going there and taking notes with a pencil (Parl. Hist. xiv. 60). But Johnson, Hawkins says (Life, p. 122), 'never was within the walls of either House.' According to Murphy (Life, p. 44), he had been inside the House of Commons once. Be this as it may, in the end the Debates were composed by him alone (ante, p. 137). From that time they must no longer be looked upon as authentic records, in spite of the assertions of the Editor of the Parl. Hist. (xi. Preface). Johnson told Boswell (ante, p. 137) that sometimes he had nothing more communicated to him than the names of the several speakers, and the part which they had taken in the debate;' sometimes 'he had scanty notes furnished by persons employed to attend in both Houses of Parliament.' Often, his Debates were written 'from no materials at all-the mere coinage of his own imagination' (post, under Dec. 9, 1784).
He never wrote any part of his works with equal velocity. Three columns of the Magazine in an hour was no uncommon effort, which was faster than most persons could have transcribed that quantity' (ib.). According to Hawkins (Life, p. 99), ‘His practice was to shut himself up in a room assigned to him at St. John's Gate, to which he would not suffer any one to approach, except the compositor or Cave's boy for matter, which, as fast as he composed it, he tumbled out at the door.'
From Murphy we get the following curious story :
'That Johnson was the author of the debates during that period [Nov. 1740 to Feb. 1743] was not generally known; but the secret transpired several years afterwards, and was avowed by himself on the following occasion:-Mr. Wedderburne (now Lord Loughborough), Dr. Johnson, Dr. Francis (the translator of Horace), the present writer, and others dined with the late Mr. Foote. An important debate towards the end of Sir Robert Walpole's administration being mentioned, Dr. Francis observed, "that Mr. Pitt's speech on that occasion was the best he had ever read." He added, "that he had employed eight years of his life in the study of Demosthenes, and finished a translation of that celebrated orator, with all the decorations of style and language within the reach of his capacity; but he had met with nothing equal to the speech above mentioned." Many of the company remembered the debate; and some passages were cited with the approbation and applause of all present. During the ardour of conversation, Johnson remained silent. As soon as the warmth of praise subsided, he opened
with these words:-"That speech I wrote in a garret in Exeter Street." The company was struck with astonishment. After staring at each other in silent amaze, Dr. Francis asked how that speech could be written by him? "Sir," said Johnson, "I wrote it in Exeter Street. I never had been in the gallery of the House of Commons but once. Cave had interest with the door-keepers. He, and the persons employed under him, gained admittance: they brought away the subject of discussion, the names of the speakers, the side they took, and the order in which they rose, together with notes of the arguments advanced in the course of the debate. The whole was afterwards communicated to me, and I composed the speeches in the form which they now have in the Parliamentary Debates." To this discovery Dr. Francis made answer:-" Then, sir, you have exceeded Demosthenes himself, for to say that you have exceeded Francis's Demosthenes, would be saying nothing." The rest of the company bestowed lavish encomiums on Johnson: one, in particular, praised his impartiality; observing, that he dealt out reason and eloquence with an equal hand to both parties. "That is not quite true," said Johnson; "I saved appearances tolerably well, but I took care that the WHIG DOGS should not have the best of it." Murphy's Life of Johnson, p. 343.
Murphy, we must not forget, wrote from memory, for there is no reason to think that he kept notes. That his memory cannot altogether be trusted has been shown by Boswell (ante, p. 391, note 4). This dinner with Foote must have taken place at least nineteen years before this account was published, for so many years had Dr. Francis been dead. At the time when Johnson was living in Exeter-street he was not engaged on the magazine. Nevertheless the main facts may be true enough. Johnson himself told Boswell (post, May 13, 1778) that in Lord Chesterfield's Miscellaneous Works (ii. 319) there were two speeches ascribed to Chesterfield which he had himself entirely written. Horace Walpole (Letters, i. 147) complained that the published report of his own first speech 'did not contain one sentence of the true one.' Johnson, in his preface to the Literary Magazine of 1756, seems to confess what he had done, unless, indeed, he was altogether making himself the mere mouth - piece of the publisher. He says:-'We shall not attempt to give any regular series of debates, or to amuse our readers with senatorial rhetorick. The speeches inserted in other papers have been long known to be fictitious, and produced sometimes by men who never heard the debate, nor had any authentick information. We have no design to impose thus grossly on our readers.' (Works, v. 363.)