Mr Scott came to breakfast, at which I introduced to Dr Johnson, and him, my friend Sir William Forbes, now of Pitsligo; a man of whom too much good cannot be said; who, with distinguished abilities and application in his profession of a banker, is at once a good companion, and a good Christian; which I think is saying enough. Yet it is but justice to record, that once, when he was in a dangerous illness, he was watched with the anxious apprehension of a general calamity; day and night his house was beset with affectionate inquiries; and, upon his recovery, Te deum was the universal chorus from the hearts of his countrymen.
Mr Johnson was pleased with my daughter Veronica,† then a child of about four months old. She had the appearance of listening to him. His motions seemed to her to be intended for her amusement; and when he stopped, she fluttered, and made a little infantine noise, and a kind of signal for him to begin again. She would be held close to him; which was a proof, from simple nature, that his figure was not horrid. Her fondness for him endeared her still more to me, and I declared she should have five hundred pounds of additional fortune.
† [Note: “The saint’s name of Veronica was introduced into our family through my great grandmother Veronica, Countess of Kincardine, a Dutch lady of the noble house of Sommelsdyck, of which there is a full account in Bayle’s Dictionary. The family had once a princely right in Surinam. The governour of that settlement was appointed by the States General, the town of Amsterdam, and Sommelsdyck. The States General have acquired Sommelsdyck’s right; but the family has still great dignity and opulence, and by intermarriages is connected with many other noble families. When I was at the Hague, I was received with all the affection of kindred. The present Sommelsdyck has an important charge in the Republick, and is as worthy a man as lives. He has honoured me with his correspondence for these twenty years. My great grandfather, the husband of Countess Veronica, was Alexander, Earl of Kincardine, that eminent Royalist whose character is given by Burnet in his History of his own Times. From him the blood of Bruce flows in my veins. Of such ancestry who would not be proud? And, as Nihil est, nisi hoc sciat alter, is peculiarly true of genealogy, who would not be glad to seize a fair opportunity to let it be known “]
We talked of the practice of the law. William Forbes said, he thought an honest lawyer should never undertake a cause which he was satisfied was not a just one. ‘Sir,’ said Mr Johnson, ‘a lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause which he undertakes, unless his client asks his opinion, and then he is bound to give it honestly. The justice or injustice of the cause is to be decided by the judge. Consider, sir; what is the purpose of courts of justice? It is, that every man may have his cause fairly tried, by men appointed to try causes. A lawyer is not to tell what he knows to be a lie: he is not to produce what he knows to be a false deed; but he is not to usurp the province of the jury and of the judge, and determine what shall be the effect of evidence — what shall be the result of legal argument. As it rarely happens that a man is fit to plead his own cause, lawyers are a class of the community, who, by study and experience, have acquired the art and power of arranging evidence, and of applying to the points of issue what the law has settled. A lawyer is to do for his client all that his client might fairly do for himself, if he could. If, by a superiority of attention, of knowledge, of skill, and a better method of communication, he has the advantage of his adversary, it is an advantage to which he is entitled. There must always be some advantage, on one side or other; and it is better that advantage should be had by talents, than by chance. If lawyers were to undertake no causes till they were sure they were just, a man might be precluded altogether from a trial of his claim, though, were it judicially examined, it might be found a very just claim.’ This was sound practical doctrine, and rationally repressed a too refined scrupulosity of conscience.
Emigration was at this time a common topick of discourse. Dr Johnson regretted it as hurtful to human happiness: ‘For,’ said he, ‘it spreads mankind which weakens the defence of a nation, and lessens the comfort of living. Men, thinly scattered, make a shift, but a bad shift, without many things. A smith is ten miles off: they’ll do without a nail or a staple. A taylor is far from them: they’ll botch their own clothes. It is being concentrated which produces high convenience.’
Sir William Forbes, Mr Scott, and I, accompanied Mr Johnson to the chapel, founded by Lord Chief Baron Smith, for the Service of the Church of England. The Reverend Mr Carre, the senior clergyman, preached from these words, ‘Because the Lord reigneth, let the earth be glad.’ I was sorry to think Mr Johnson did not attend to the sermon, Mr Carre’s low voice not being strong enough to reach his hearing. A selection of Mr Carre’s sermons has, since his death, been published by Sir William Forbes, and the world has acknowledged their uncommon merit. I am well assured Lord Mansfield has pronounced them to be excellent.
Here I obtained a promise from Lord Chief Baron Orde, that he would dine at my house next day. I presented Mr Johnson to his Lordship, who politely said to him, ‘I have not the honour of knowing you; but I hope for it, and to see you at my house. I am to wait on you tomorrow.’ This respectable English judge will be long remembered in Scotland, where he built an elegant house, and lived in it magnificently. His own ample fortune, with the addition of his salary, enabled him to be splendidly hospitable. It may be fortunate for an individual amongst ourselves to be Lord Chief Baron; and a most worthy man now has the office; but, in my opinion, it is better for Scotland in general, that some of our publick employments should be filled by gentlemen of distinction from the south side of the Tweed, as we have the benefit of promotion in England. Such an interchange would make a beneficial mixture of manners, and render our union more complete. Lord Chief Baron Orde was on good terms with us all, in a narrow country filled with jarring interests and keen parties; and, though I well knew his opinion to be the same with my own, he kept himself aloof at a very critical period indeed, when the Douglas cause shook the sacred security of birthright in Scotland to its foundation; a cause, which had it happened before the Union, when there was no appeal to a British House of Lords, would have left the great fortress of honours and of property in ruins.
When we got home, Dr Johnson desired to see my books. He took down Ogden’s Sermons on Prayer, on which I set a very high value, having been much edified by them, and he retired with them to his room. He did not stay long, but soon joined us in the drawing room. I presented to him Mr Robert Arbuthnot, a relation of the celebrated Dr Arbuthnot, and a man of literature and taste. To him we were obliged for a previous recommendation, which secured us a very agreeable reception at St Andrews, and which Dr Johnson, in his Journey, ascribes to ‘some invisible friend’.
Of Dr Beattie, Mr Johnson said, ‘Sir, he has written like a man conscious of the truth, and feeling his own strength. Treating your adversary with respect, is giving him an advantage to which he is not entitled. The greatest part of men cannot judge of reasoning, and are impressed by character; so that, if you allow your adversary a respectable character, they will think, that though you differ from him, you may be in the wrong. Sir, treating your adversary with respect, is striking soft in a battle. And as to Hume — a man who has so much conceit as to tell all mankind that they have been bubbled for ages, and he is the wise man who sees better than they — a man who has so little scrupulosity as to venture to oppose those principles which have been thought necessary to human happiness — is he to be surprised if another man comes and laughs at him? If he is the great man he thinks himself, all this cannot hurt him: it is like throwing peas against a rock.’ He added ‘something much too rough’, both as to Mr Hume’s head and heart, which I suppress. Violence is, in my opinion, not suitable to the Christian cause. Besides, I always lived on good terms with Mr Hume, though I have frankly told him, I was not clear that it was right in me to keep company with him, ‘But’, said I, ‘how much better are you than your books!’ He was cheerful, obliging, and instructive; he was charitable to the poor; and many an agreeable hour have I passed with him: I have preserved some entertaining and interesting memoirs of him, particularly when he knew himself to be dying, which I may some time or other communicate to the world. I shall not, however, extol him so very highly as Dr Adam Smith does, who says, in a letter to Mr Strahan the printer (not a confidential letter to his friend, but a letter which is published † with all formality): ‘Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his life time and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.’ Let Dr Smith consider: Was not Mr Hume blest with good health, good spirits, good friends, a competent and increasing fortune? And had he not also a perpetual feast of fame? But, as a learned friend has observed to me, ‘What trials did he undergo, to prove the perfection of his virtue? Did he ever experience any great instance of adversity?’ When I read this sentence, delivered by my old Professor of Moral Philosophy, I could not help exclaiming with the Psalmist, ‘Surely I have now more understanding than my teachers!’
† [Note: This letter, though shattered by the sharp shot of Dr Horne of Oxford’s wit, in the character of ‘One of the People called Christians’, is still prefixed to Mr Home’s excellent History of England, like a poor invalid on the piquet guard, or like a list of quack medicines sold by the same bookseller, by whom a work of whatever nature is published; for it has no connection with his History, let it have what it may with what are called his Philosophical Works. A worthy friend of mine in London was lately consulted by a lady of quality, of most distinguished merit, what was the best History of England for her son to read. My friend recommended Hume’s. But, upon recollecting that its usher was a superlative panegyrick on one, who endeavoured to sap the credit of our holy religion, he revoked his recommendation. I am really sorry for this ostentatious alliance; because I admire The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and value the greatest part of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Why should such a writer be so forgetful of human comfort, as to give any countenance to that dreary infidelity which would’ make us poor indeed!’]
While we were talking, there came a note to me from Dr William Robertson.
I have been expecting every day to hear from you, of Dr Johnson’s arrival. Pray, what do you know about his motions? I long to take him by the hand. I write this from the college, where I have only this scrap of paper. Ever yours,
It pleased me to find Dr Robertson thus eager to meet Dr Johnson. I was glad I could answer, that he was come: and I begged Dr Robertson might be with us as soon as he could. Sir William Forbes, Mr Scott, Mr Arbuthnot, and another gentleman dined with us. ‘Come, Dr Johnson,’ said I, ‘it is commonly thought that our veal in Scotland is not good. But here is some which I believe you will like.’ There was no catching him: JOHNSON. ‘Why, sir, what is commonly thought, I should take to be true. YOUR veal may be good; but that will only be an exception to the general opinion; not a proof against it.’
Dr Robertson, according to the custom of Edinburgh at that time, dined in the interval between the forenoon and afternoon service, which was then later than now; so we had not the pleasure of his company till dinner was over, when he came and drank wine with us. And then began some animated dialogue, of which here follows a pretty full note.
We talked of Mr Burke. Dr Johnson said, he had great variety of knowledge, store of imagery, copiousness of language. ROBERTSON. ‘He has wit too.’ JOHNSON. ‘No, sir; he never succeeds there. ’Tis low; ’tis conceit. I used to say. Burke never once made a good joke.† What I most envy Burke for, is, his being constantly the same. He is never what we call humdrum; never unwilling to begin to talk, nor in haste to leave off.’
† [Note: This was one of the points upon which Dr Johnson was strangely heterodox. For, surely, Mr Burke, with his other remarkable qualities, is also distinguished for his wit, and for wit of all kinds too; not merely that power of language which Pope chooses to denominate wit.
True wit is Nature to advantage drest;
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well exprest.
but surprising allusions, brilliant sallies of vivacity, and pleasant conceits. His speeches in Parliament are strewed with them. Take, for instance, the variety which he has given in his wide range, yet exact detail, when exhibiting his Reform Bill. And his conversation abounds in wit. Let me put down a specimen. I told him, I had seen, at a blue stocking assembly, a number of ladies sitting round a worthy and tall friend of ours, listening to his literature. ‘Ay,’ said he, ‘like maids round a May-pole.’ I told him, I had found a perfect definition of human nature, as distinguished from the animal. An ancient philosopher said, man was a ‘two-legged animal without feathers’, upon which his rival sage had a cock plucked bare, and set him down in the school before all the disciples, as a ‘Philosophick Man’. Dr Franklin said, man was ‘a tool-making animal’, which is very well; for no animal but man makes a thing, by means of which he can make another thing. But this applies to very few of the species. My definition of man is, ‘a Cooking Animal’. The beasts have memory, judgment and all the faculties and passions of our mind, in a certain degree; but no beast is a cook. The trick of the monkey using the cat’s paw to roast a chestnut is only a piece of shrewd malice in that turpissima bestia, which humbles us so sadly by its similarity to us. Man alone can dress a good dish; and every man whatever is more or less a cook, in seasoning what he himself eats. ‘Your definition is good,’ said Mr Burke, ‘and I now see the full force of the common proverb. “There is REASON in roasting of eggs”.’ When Mr Wilkes, in his days of tumultuous opposition, was borne upon the shoulders of the mob. Mr Burke (as Mr Wilkes told me himself, with classical admiration,) applied to him what Horace says of Pindar,
. . . numerisque fertur
Sir Joshua Reynolds, who agrees with me entirely as to Mr Burke’s fertility of wit said, that this was ‘dignifying a pun’. He also observed, that he has often heard Burke say, in the course of an evening, ten good things, each of which would have served a noted wit (whom he named) to live upon for a twelvemonth.
I find, since the former edition, that some persons have objected to the instances which I have given of Mr Burke’s wit, as not doing justice to my very ingenious friend; the specimens produced having, it is alleged, more of conceit than real wit and being merely sportive sallies of the moment, not justifying the encomium which they think with me, he undoubtedly merits. I was well aware, how hazardous it was to exhibit particular instances of wit, which is of so airy and spiritual a nature as often to elude the hand that attempts to grasp it. The excellence and efficacy of a bon mot depend frequently so much on the occasion on which it is spoken, on the particular manner of the speaker, on the person of whom it is applied, the previous introduction, and a thousand minute particulars which cannot be easily enumerated, that it is always dangerous to detach a witty saying from the group to which it belongs, and to see it before the eye of the spectator, divested of those concomitant circumstances, which gave it animation, mellowness, and relief. I ventured, however, at all hazards to put down the first instances that occurred to me, as proofs of Mr Burke’s lively and brilliant fancy; but am very sensible that his numerous friends could have suggested many of a superior quality. Indeed, the being in company with him, for a single day, is sufficient to shew that what I have asserted is well founded; and it was only necessary to have appealed to all who know him intimately, for a complete refutation of the heterodox opinion entertained by Dr Johnson on this subject. HE allowed Mr Burke, as the reader will find hereafter, to be a man of consummate and unrivalled abilities in every light except that now under consideration; and the variety of his allusions, and splendour of his imagery, have made such an impression on ALL THE REST of the world, that superficial observers are apt to overlook his other merits, and to suppose that wit is his chief and most prominent excellence; when in fact it is only one of the many talents that he possesses, which are so various and extraordinary, that it is very difficult to ascertain precisely the rank and value of each.]
BOSWELL. ‘Yet he can listen.’ JOHNSON. ‘No; I cannot say he is good at that. So desirous is he to talk, that, if one is speaking at this end of the table, he’ll speak to somebody at the other end. Burke, sir, is such a man, that if you met him for the first time in the street where you were stopped by a drove of oxen, and you and he stepped aside to take shelter but for five minutes, he’d talk to you in such a manner, that, when you parted, you would say, this is an extraordinary man. Now, you may be long enough with me, without finding any thing extraordinary.’ He said, he believed Burke was intended for the law; but either had not money enough to follow it, or had not diligence enough. He said, he could not understand how a man could apply to one thing, and not to another. Robertson said, one man had more judgment, another more imagination. JOHNSON. ‘No, sir; it is only, one man has more mind than another. He may direct it differently; he may, by accident, see the success of one kind of study, and take a desire to excel in it. I am persuaded that, had Sir Isaac Newton applied to poetry, he would have made a very fine epick poem. I could as easily apply to law as to tragick poetry.’ BOSWELL. ‘Yet, sir, you did apply to tragick poetry, not to law.’ JOHNSON. ‘Because, sir, I had not money to study law. Sir, the man who has vigour, may walk to the east, just as well as to the west, if he happens to tune his head that way.’ BOSWELL. ‘But, sir, ’tis like walking up and down a hill; one man will naturally do the one better than the other. A hare will run up a hill best, from her fore-legs being short; a dog down.’ JOHNSON. ‘Nay, sir; that is from mechanical powers. If you make mind mechanical, you may argue in that manner. One mind is a vice, and holds fast; there’s a good memory. Another is a file; and he is a disputant, a controversialist. Another is a razor; and he is sarcastical.’ We talked of Whitefield. He said, he was at the same college with him, and knew him ‘before he began to be better than other people’ (smiling); that he believed he sincerely meant well, but had a mixture of politicks and ostentation: whereas Wesley thought of religion only. †
† [Note: That cannot be said now, after the flagrant part which Mr John Wesley took against our American brethren, when, in his own name, he threw amongst his enthusiastic flock, the very individual combustibles of Dr Johnson’s Taxation no Tyranny: and after the intolerant spirit which he manifested against our fellow Christians of the Roman Catholick Communion, for which that able champion, Father O’Leary, has given him so hearty a drubbing. But I should think myself very unworthy, if I did not at the same time acknowledge Mr John Wesley’s merit, as a veteran ‘Soldier of Jesus Christ’, who has, I do believe, ‘turned many from darkness into light, and from the power of Satan to the living God’.]
Robertson said, Whitefield had strong natural eloquence, which, if cultivated, would have done great things. JOHNSON. ‘Why, sir, I take it, he was at the height of what his abilities could do, and was sensible of it. He had the ordinary advantages of education; but he chose to pursue that oratory which is for the mob.’ BOSWELL. ‘He had great effect on the passions.’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, sir, I don’t think so. He could not represent a succession of pathetick images. He vociferated, and made an impression. THERE, again, was a mind like a hammer.’ Dr Johnson now said, a certain eminent political friend of ours was wrong, in his maxim of sticking to a certain set of MEN on all occasions. ‘I can see that a man may do right to stick to a PARTY,’ said he;’ that is to say, he is a WHIG, or he is a TORY, and he thinks one of those parties upon the whole the best, and that to make it prevail, it must be generally supported, though, in particulars, it may be wrong. He takes its faggot of principles, in which there are fewer rotten sticks than in the other, though some rotten sticks to be sure; and they cannot well be separated. But, to bind one’s self to one man, or one set of men (who may be right to-day and wrong to-morrow), without any general preference of system, I must disapprove.’ †
† [Note: If due attention were paid to this observation, there would be more virtue, even in politicks. What Dr Johnson justly condemned, has, I am sorry to say, greatly increased in the present reign. At the distance of four years from this conversation, 21st February 1777, My Lord Archbishop of York, in his ‘Sermon before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts’, thus indignantly describes the then state of parties: ‘Parties once had a PRINCIPLE belonging to them, absurd perhaps, and indefensible, but still carrying a notion of DUTY, by which honest minds might easily be caught.
‘But they are now COMBINATIONS OF INDIVIDUALS, who, instead of being the sons and servants of the community, make a league for advancing their PRIVATE INTERESTS. It is their business to hold high the notion of POLITICAL HONOUR. I believe and trust, it is not injurious to say, that such a bond is no better than that by which the lowest and wickedest combinations are held together; and that it denotes the last stage of political depravity.’
To find a thought, which just shewed itself to us from the mind of JOHNSON, thus appearing again at such a distance of time, and without any communication between them, enlarged to full growth in the mind of MARKHAM, is a curious object of philosophical contemplation. That two such great and luminous minds should have been so dark in one corner — that THEY should have held it to be ‘wicked rebellion in the British subjects established in America, to resist the abject condition of holding all their property at the mercy of British subjects remaining at home, while their allegiance to our common Lord the King was to be preserved inviolate’— is a striking proof to me, either that ‘He who fitteth in Heaven’, scorns the loftiness of human pride, or that the evil spirit, whose personal existence I strongly believe, and even in this age am confirmed in that belief by a Fell, nay, by a Hurd, has more power than some choose to allow.]
He told us of Cooke, who translated Hesiod, and lived twenty years on a translation of Plautus, for which he was always taking subscriptions; and that he presented Foote to a club, in the following singular manner: ‘This is the nephew of the gentleman who was lately hung in chains for murdering his brother.’
In the evening I introduced to Mr Johnson † two good friends of mine, Mr William Nairne, advocate, and Mr Hamilton of Sundrum, my neighbour in the country, both of whom supped with us. I have preserved nothing of what passed, except that Dr Johnson displayed another of his heterodox opinions — a contempt of tragick acting. He said, ‘the action of all players in tragedy is bad. It should be a man’s study to repress those signs of emotion and passion, as they are called.’ He was of a directly contrary opinion to that of Fielding, in his Tom Jones; who makes Partridge say, of Garrick, ‘why, I could act as well as he myself. I am sure, if I had seen a ghost, I should have looked in the very same manner, and done just as he did.’ For, when I asked him, ‘Would not you, sir, start as Mr Garrick does, if you saw a ghost?’ He answered, ‘I hope not. If I did, I should frighten the ghost.’
† [Note: It may be observed, that I sometimes call my great friend, MR Johnson, sometimes DR Johnson, though he had at this time a doctor’s degree from Trinity College, Dublin. The University of Oxford afterwards conferred it upon him by a diploma, in very honourable terms. It was some time before I could bring myself to call him Doctor; but as he has been long known by that title, I shall give it to him in the rest of this Journal.]
Dr William Robertson came to breakfast. We talked of Ogden on Prayer. Dr Johnson said, ‘The same arguments which are used against God’s hearing prayer, will serve against his rewarding good, and punishing evil. He has resolved, he has declared, in the former case as in the latter.’ He had last night looked into Lord Hailes’s Remarks on the History of Scotland. Dr Robertson and I said, it was a pity Lord Hailes did not write greater things. His lordship had not then published his Annals of Scotland. JOHNSON. ‘I remember I was once on a visit at the house of a lady for whom I had a high respect. There was a good deal of company in the room. When they were gone, I said to this lady, “What foolish talking have we had!” “Yes,” said she, “but while they talked, you said nothing.” I was struck with reproof. How much better is the man who does nothing. Besides, I love anecdotes. I fancy mankind may come, in time, to write all aphoristically, except in narrative; grow weary of preparation, and connection, and illustration, and all those arts by which a big book is made. If a man is to wait till he weaves anecdotes into a system, we may be long in getting them, and get but a few, in comparison of what we might get.’
Dr Robertson said, the notions of Eupham Macallan. a fanatick woman, of whom Lord Hailes gives a sketch, were still prevalent among some of the Presbyterians; and therefore it was right in Lord Hailes, a man of known piety, to undeceive them.
We walked out, that Dr Johnson might see some of the things which we have to shew at Edinburgh. We went to the Parliament House, where the Parliament of Scotland sat, and where the Ordinary Lords of Session hold their courts; and to the New Session House adjoining to it, where our Court of Fifteen (the fourteen Ordinaries, with the Lord President at their head) sit as a court of Review. We went to the Advocates’ Library, of which Dr Johnson took a cursory view, and then to what is called the Laigh (or Under) Parliament House, where the records of Scotland, which has an universal security by register, are deposited, till the great Register Office be finished. I was pleased to behold Dr Samuel Johnson rolling about in this old magazine of antiquities. There was, by this time, a pretty numerous circle of us attending upon him. Somebody talked of happy moments for composition; and how a man can write at one time, and not at another. ‘Nay,’ said Dr Johnson, ‘a man may write at any time, if he will set himself DOGGEDLY † to it.’
† [Note: This word is commonly used to signify sullenly, gloomily: and in that sense alone it appears in Dr Johnson’s Dictionary. I suppose he meant by it ‘with an OBSTINATE RESOLUTION, similar to that of a sullen man’.]
I here began to indulge old Scottish sentiments, and to express a warm regret, that, by our union with England, we were no more — our independent kingdom was lost. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, never talk of your independency, who could let your Queen remain twenty years in captivity, and then be put to death, without even a pretence of justice, without your ever attempting to rescue her; and such a Queen too! as every man of any gallantry of spirit would have sacrificed his life for.’ Worthy MR JAMES KERR, Keeper of the Records. ‘Half our nation was bribed by English money.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, that is no defence: that makes you worse.’ Good MR BROWN, Keeper of the Advocates Library. ‘We had better say nothing about it.’ BOSWELL. ‘You would have been glad, however, to have had us last war, sir, to fight your battles!’ JOHNSON. ‘We should have had you for the same price, though there had been no Union, as we might have had Swiss, or other troops. No, no, I shall agree to a separation. You have only to GO HOME.’ Just as he had said this, I to divert the subject, shewed him the signed assurances of the three successive Kings of the Hanover family, to maintain the Presbyterian establishment in Scotland. ‘We’ll give you that,’ said he, ‘into the bargain.’
We next went to the great church of St Giles, which has lost its original magnificence in the inside, by being divided into four places of Presbyterian worship. ‘Come,’ said Dr Johnson jocularly to Principal Robertson, † ‘let me see what was once a church!’ We entered that division which was formerly called the New Church, and of late the High Church, so well known by the eloquence of Dr Hugh Blair. It is now very elegantly fitted up; but it was then shamefully dirty. Dr Johnson said nothing at the time; but when we came to the great door of the Royal Infirmary, where, upon a board, was this inscription, CLEAN YOUR FEET! he turned about slyly, and said, ‘There is no occasion for putting this at the doors of your churches!’
† [Note: I have hitherto called him Dr William Robertson, to distinguish him from Dr James Robertson, who is soon to make his appearance. But ‘Principal’, from his being the head of our college, is his usual designation, and is shorter; so I shall use it hereafter.]
We then conducted him down the Post-house stairs, Parliament Close, and made him look up from the Cow-gate to the highest building in Edinburgh (from which he had just descended), being thirteen floors or stories from the ground upon the back elevation; the front wall being built upon the edge of the hill, and the back wall rising from the bottom of the hill several stories before it comes to a level with the front wall. We proceeded to the College, with the Principal at our head. Dr Adam Fergusson, whose Essay on the History of Civil Society gives him a respectable place in the ranks of literature, was with us. As the College buildings are indeed very mean, the Principal said to Dr Johnson, that he must give them the same epithet that a Jesuit did when shewing a poor college abroad: Hae miseriae nostrae. Dr Johnson was, however, much pleased with the library, and with the conversation of Dr James Robertson, Professor of Oriental Languages, the Librarian. We talked of Kennicot’s edition of the Hebrew Bible, and hoped it would be quite faithful. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, I know not any crime so great that a man could contrive to commit, as poisoning the sources of eternal truth.’
I pointed out to him where there formerly stood an old wall enclosing part of the college, which I remember bulged out in a threatening manner, and of which there was a common tradition similar to that concerning Bacon’s study at Oxford, that it would fall upon some very learned man. It had some time before this been taken down, that the street might be widened, and a more convenient wall built. Dr Johnson, glad of an opportunity to have a pleasant hit at Scottish learning, said, ‘they have been afraid it never would fall’.
We shewed him the Royal Infirmary, for which, and for every other exertion of generous publick spirit in his power, that noble-minded citizen of Edinburgh, George Drummond, will be ever held in honourable remembrance. And we were too proud not to carry him to the Abbey of Holyrood House, that beautiful piece of architecture, but, alas! that deserted mansion of royalty, which Hamilton of Bangour, in one of his elegant poems, calls
A virtuous palace, where no monarch dwells.
I was much entertained while Principal Robertson fluently harangued to Dr Johnson, upon the spot, concerning scenes of his celebrated History of Scotland. We surveyed that part of the palace appropriated to the Duke of Hamilton, as Keeper, in which our beautiful Queen Mary lived, and in which David Rizzio was murdered; and also the State Rooms. Dr Johnson was a great reciter of all sorts of things serious or comical. I over-heard him repeating here, in a kind of muttering tone, a line of the old ballad, ‘Johnny Armstrong’s Last Good-Night’:
‘And ran him through the fair body!’†
† [Note: The stanza from which he took this line is:
But then rose up all Edinburgh,
They rose up by thousands three;
A cowardly Scot came John behind,
And ran him through the fair body!]
We returned to my house, where there met him, at dinner, the Duchess of Douglas, Sir Adolphus Oughton, Lord Chief Baron, Sir William Forbes, Principal Robertson, Mr Cullen, advocate. Before dinner, he told us of a curious conversation between the famous George Faulkner and him. George said that England had drained Ireland of fifty thousand pounds in specie, annually, for fifty years. ‘How so, sir!’ said Dr Johnson, ‘you must have a very great trade?’ ‘No trade.’ ‘Very rich mines?’ ‘No mines.’ ‘From whence, then, does all this money come?’ ‘Come! why out of the blood and bowels of the poor people of Ireland!’
He seemed to me to have an unaccountable prejudice against Swift; for I once took a liberty to ask him, if Swift had personally offended him, and he told me, he had not. He said to-day, ‘Swift is clear, but he is shallow. In coarse humour, he is inferior to Arbuthnot; in delicate humour, he is inferior to Addison: so he is inferior to his contemporaries; without putting him against the whole world. I doubt if the Tale of a Tub was his: it has so much more thinking, more knowledge, more power, more colour, than any of the works which are indisputably his. If it was his, I shall only say, he was impar sibi.’
We gave him as good a dinner as we could. Our Scotch muir-fowl, or growse, were then abundant, and quite in season; and, so far as wisdom and wit can be aided by administering agreeable sensations to the palate, my wife took care that our great guest should not be deficient.
Sir Adolphus Oughton, then our Deputy Commander in Chief, who was not only an excellent officer, but one of the most universal scholars I ever knew, had learned the Erse language, and expressed his belief in the authenticity of Ossian’s poetry. Dr Johnson took the opposite side of that perplexed question; and I was afraid the dispute would have run high between them. But Sir Adolphus, who had a very sweet temper, changed the discourse, grew playful, laughed at Lord Monboddo’s notion of men having tails, and called him a Judge, a posteriori, which amused Dr Johnson; and thus hostilities were prevented.
At supper we had Dr Cullen, his son the advocate, Dr Adam Fergusson, and Mr Crosbie, advocate. Witchcraft was introduced. Mr Crosbie said, he thought it the greatest blasphemy to suppose evil spirits counteracting the Deity, and raising storms, for instance, to destroy his creatures. JOHNSON. ‘Why, sir, if moral evil be consistent with the government of the Deity, why may not physical evil be also consistent with it? It is not more strange that there should be evil spirits, than evil embodied spirits. And as to storms, we know there are such things; and it is no worse that evil spirits raise them, than that they rise.’ CROSBIE. ‘But it is not credible, that witches should have effected what they are said in stories to have done.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, I am not defending their credibility. I am only saying, that your arguments are not good, and will not overturn the belief of witchcraft.’ (Dr Fergusson said to me, aside, ‘He is right.’) ‘And then, sir, you have all mankind, rude and civilized, agreeing in the belief of the agency of preternatural powers. You must take evidence: you must consider, that wise and great men have condemned witches to die.’ CROSBIE. ‘But an Act of Parliament put an end to witchcraft.’ JOHNSON. ‘No, sir; witchcraft had ceased; and therefore an Act of Parliament was passed to prevent persecution for what was not witchcraft. Why it ceased, we cannot tell, as we cannot tell the reason of many other things.’ Dr Cullen, to keep up the gratification of mysterious disquisition, with the grave address for which he is remarkable in his companionable as in his professional hours, talked, in a very entertaining manner, of people walking and conversing in their sleep. I am very sorry I have no note of this. We talked of the Ouran-Outang, and of Lord Monboddo’s thinking that he might be taught to speak. Dr Johnson treated this with ridicule. Mr Crosbie said, that Lord Monboddo believed the existence of every thing possible; in short, that all which is in posse might be found in esse. JOHNSON. ‘But, sir, it is as possible that the Ouran-Outang does not speak, as that he speaks. However, I shall not contest the point. I should have thought it not possible to find a Monboddo; yet HE exists.’ I again mentioned the stage. JOHNSON. ‘The appearance of a player, with whom I have drunk tea, counteracts the imagination that he is the character he represents. Nay, you know, nobody imagines that he is the character he represents. They say, “See Garrick! how he looks to-night! See how he’ll clutch the dagger!” That is the buz of the theatre.’
Sir William Forbes came to breakfast, and brought with him Dr Blacklock, whom he introduced to Dr Johnson, who received him with a most humane complacency. ‘Dear Blacklock, I am glad to see you!’ Blacklock seemed to be much surprised, when Dr Johnson said, ‘it was easier to him to write poetry than to compose his Dictionary. His mind was less on the stretch in doing the one than the other. Besides; composing a dictionary requires books and a desk: you can make a poem walking in the fields, or lying in bed.’ Dr Blacklock spoke of scepticism in morals and religion, with apparant uneasiness, as if he wished for more certainty. Dr Johnson, who had thought it all over, and whose vigorous understanding was fortified by much experience, thus encouraged the blind bard to apply to higher speculations what we willingly submit to in common life: in short, he gave him more familiarly the able and fair reasoning of Butler’s Analogy: ‘Why, sir, the greatest concern we have in this world, the choice of our profession, must be determined without demonstrative reasoning. Human life is not yet so well known, as that we can have it. And take the case of a man who is ill. I call two physicians: they differ in opinion. I am not to lie down, and die between them: I must do something.’ The conversation then turned on atheism; on that horrible book, Systeme de la Nature; and on the supposition of an eternal necessity, without design, without a governing mind. JOHNSON. ‘If it were so, why has it ceased? Why don’t we see men thus produced around us now? Why, at least, does it not keep pace, in some measure, with the progress of time? If it stops because there is now no need of it, then it is plain there is, and ever has been, an all-powerful intelligence. But stay!’ said he, with one of his satyrick laughs. ‘Hal ha! ha! I shall suppose Scotchmen made necessarily, and Englishmen by choice.’
At dinner this day, we had Sir Alexander Dick, whose amiable character, and ingenious and cultivated mind, are so generally known (he was then on the verge of seventy, and is now (1785) eighty-one, with his faculties entire, his heart warm, and his temper gay); Sir David Dalrymple; Lord Hailes; Mr Maclaurin, advocate; Dr Gregory, who now worthily fills his father’s medical chair; and my uncle, Dr Boswell. This was one of Dr Johnson’s best days. He was quite in his element. All was literature and taste, without any interruption. Lord Hailes, who is one of the best philologists in Great Britain, who has written papers in the World, and a variety of other works in prose and in verse, both Latin and English, pleased him highly. He told him, he had discovered the Life of Cheynel, in the Student, to be his. JOHNSON. ‘No one else knows it.’ Dr Johnson had, before this, dictated to me a law-paper, upon a question purely in the law of Scotland, concerning ‘vicious intromission’, that is to say, intermeddling with the effects of a deceased person, without a regular title; which formerly was understood to subject the intermeddler to payment of all the defunct’s debts. The principle has of late been relaxed. Dr Johnson’s argument was, for a renewal of its strictness. The paper was printed, with additions by me, and given into the Court of Session. Lord Hailes knew Dr Johnson’s part not to be mine, and pointed out exactly where it began, and where it ended. Dr Johnson said, ‘It is much, now, that his lordship can distinguish so.’
In Dr Johnson’s Vanity of Human Wishes, there is the following passage:
The teeming mother, anxious for her race,
Begs, for each birth, the fortune of a face:
Yet VANE could tell, what ills from beauty spring;
And SEDLEY curs’d the charms which pleas’d a king.
Lord Hailes told him, he was mistaken in the instances he had given of unfortunate fair ones; for neither Vane nor Sedley had a title to that description. His Lordship has since been so obliging as to send me a note of this, for the communication of which I am sure my readers will thank me.
The lines in the tenth Satire of Juvenal, according to my alteration, should have run thus:
Yet SHORE † could tell —;
And VALIERE ‡ curs’d —.
† [Note: Mistress of Edward IV.]
‡ [Note: Mistress of Louis XIV.]
The first was a penitent by compulsion, the second by sentiment; though the truth is, Mademoiselle de la Valiere threw herself (but still from sentiment) in the King’s way.
‘Our friend chose Vane, who was far from being well-looked; and Sedley, who was so ugly, that Charles II said, his brother had her by way of penance.’
Mr Maclaurin’s learning and talents enabled him to do his part very well in Dr Johnson’s company. He produced two epitaphs upon his father, the celebrated mathematician. One was in English, of which Dr Johnson did not change one word. In the other, which was in Latin, he made several alterations. In place of the very words of Virgil, Ubi luctus et pavor et plurima mortis imago, he wrote Ubi luctus regnant et pavor. He introduced the word prorsus into the line Mortalibus prorsus non absit solatium and after Hujus enim scripta evolve, he added, Mentemque tantarum rerum capacem corpori caduco superstitem crede; which is quite applicable to Dr Johnson himself.†
† [Note: Mr Maclaurin’s epitaph, as engraved on a marble tombstone, in the Gray-Friars church-yard, Edinburgh:
Infra situs est
Mathes. olim in Acad. Edin. Prof.
Electus ipso Newtono suadente.
H. L. P. F.
Non ut nomini paterno consulat,
Nam tali auxilio nil eget;
Sed ut in hoc infelici campo,
Ubi luctus regnant et pavor,
Mortalibus prorsus non absit solatium:
Hujus enim scripta evolve,
Mentemque tantarum rerum capacem
Corpori caduco superstitem crede.]
Mr Murray, advocate, who married a niece of Lord Mansfield’s and is now one of the Judges of Scotland, by the title of Lord Henderland, sat with us a part of the evening; but did not venture to say any thing, that I remember, though he is certainly possessed of talents which would have enabled him to have shewn himself to advantage, if too great anxiety had not prevented him.
At supper we had Dr Alexander Webster, who, though not learned, had such a knowledge of mankind, such a fund of information and entertainment, so clear a head and such accommodating manners, that Dr Johnson found him a very agreeable companion.
When Dr Johnson and I were left by ourselves, I read to him my notes of the opinions of our Judges upon the questions of Literary Property. He did not like them; and said, ‘they make me think of your Judges not with that respect which I should wish to do’. To the argument of one of them, that there can be no property in blasphemy or nonsense, he answered, ‘then your rotten sheep are mine! By that rule, when a man’s house falls into decay, he must lose it.’ I mentioned an argument of mine, that literary performances are not taxed. As Churchill says,
No statesman yet has thought it worth his pains
To tax our labours, or excite our brains;
and therefore they are not property. ‘Yet,’ said he, ‘we hang a man for stealing a horse, and horses are not taxed.’ Mr Pitt has since put an end to that argument.
On this day we set out from Edinburgh. We should gladly have had Mr Scott to go with us; but he was obliged to return to England. I have given a sketch of Dr Johnson: my readers may wish to know a little of his fellow traveller. Think then, of a gentleman of ancient blood, the pride of which was his predominant passion. He was then in his thirty-third year, and had been about four years happily married. His inclination was to be a soldier; but his father, a respectable judge, had pressed him into the profession of the law. He had travelled a good deal, and seen many varieties of human life. He had thought more than any body supposed, and had a pretty good stock of general learning and knowledge. He had all Dr Johnson’s principles, with some degree of relaxation. He had rather too little, than too much prudence, and, his imagination being lively, he often said things of which the effect was very different from the intention. He resembled sometimes
The best good man, with the worst natur’d muse.
He cannot deny himself the vanity of finishing with the encomium of Dr Johnson, whose friendly partiality to the companion of his Tour represents him as one, ‘whose acuteness would help my inquiry, and whose gaiety of conversation, and civility of manners, are sufficient to counteract the inconveniences of travel, in countries less hospitable than we have passed.’
Dr Johnson thought it unnecessary to put himself to the additional expense of bringing with him Francis Barber, his faithful black servant; so we were attended only by my man, Joseph Ritter, a Bohemian; a fine stately fellow above six feet high, who had been over a great part of Europe, and spoke many languages. He was the best servant I ever saw. Let not my readers disdain his introduction! For Dr Johnson gave him this character: ‘Sir, he is a civil man, and a wise man.’
From an erroneous apprehension of violence, Dr Johnson had provided a pair of pistols, some gun-powder, and a quantity of bullets: but upon being assured we should run no risk of meeting any robbers, he left his arms and ammunition in an open drawer, of which he gave my wife the charge. He also left in that drawer one volume of a pretty full and curious Diary of his Life, of which I have a few fragments; but the book has been destroyed. I wish female curiosity had been strong enough to have had it all transcribed, which might easily have been done; and I should think the theft, being pro bono publico, might have been forgiven. But I may be wrong. My wife told me she never once looked into it. She did not seem quite easy when we left her: but away we went!
Mr Nairne, advocate, was to go with us as far as St Andrews. It gives me pleasure that, by mentioning his name, I connect his title to the just and handsome compliment paid him by Dr Johnson, in his book: ‘A gentleman who could stay with us only long enough to make us know how much we lost by his leaving us.’ When we came to Leith, I talked with perhaps too boasting an air, how pretty the Frith of Forth looked; as indeed, after the prospect from Constantinople, of which I have been told, and that from Naples, which I have seen, I believe the view of that Frith and its environs, from the Castle Hill of Edinburgh, is the finest prospect in Europe. ‘Ay,’ said Dr Johnson, ‘that is the state of the world. Water is the same every where.
Una est injusti caerula forma maris. †
Non illic urbes, non tu mirabere silvas:
Una est injusti caerula forma maris.
— Ovid. Amor. II. xi.
Nor groves nor towns the ruthless ocean shows;
Unvaried still its azure surface flows.]
I told him the port here was the mouth of the river or water of Leith. ‘Not LETHE,’ said Mr Nairne. ‘Why, sir,’ said Dr Johnson, ‘when a Scotchman sets out from this port for England, he forgets his native country.’ NAIRNE. ‘I hope, sir, you will forget England here.’ JOHNSON. ‘Then ’twill be still more Lethe.’ He observed of the pier or quay, ‘you have no occasion for so large a one: your trade does not require it: but you are like a shopkeeper who takes a shop, not only for what he has to put into it, but that it may be believed he has a great deal to put into it’. It is very true, that there is now, comparatively, little trade upon the eastern coast of Scotland. The riches of Glasgow shew how much there is in the west; and perhaps we shall find trade travel westward on a great scale, as well as a small.
We talked of a man’s drowning himself. JOHNSON. ‘I should never think it time to make away with myself.’ I put the case of Eustace Budgell, who was accused of forging a will, and sunk himself in the Thames, before the trial of its authenticity came on. ‘Suppose, sir,’ said I, ‘that a man is absolutely sure, that, if he lives a few days longer, he shall be detected in a fraud, the consequence of which will be utter disgrace and expulsion from society.’ JOHNSON. ‘Then, sir, let him go abroad to a distant country; let him go to some place where he is NOT known. Don’t let him go to the devil where he IS known!’
He then said, ‘I see a number of people bare-footed here: I suppose you all went so before the Union. Boswell, your ancestors went so, when they had as much land as your family has now. Yet Auchinleck is the Field of Stones: there would be bad going bare-footed here. The lairds, however, did it.’ I bought some speldings, fish (generally whitings) salted and dried in a particular manner, being dipped in the sea and dried in the sun, and eaten by the Scots by way of a relish. He had never seen them, though they are sold in London. I insisted on scottifying † his palate; but he was very reluctant. With difficulty I prevailed with him to let a bit of one of them lie in his mouth. He did not like it.
† [Note: My friend, General Campbell, Governour of Madras, tells me, that they make speldings in the East Indies, particularly at Bombay, where they call them Bambaloes.]
In crossing the Frith, Dr Johnson determined that we should land upon Inch Keith. On approaching it, we first observed a high rocky shore. We coasted about, and put into a little bay on the north-west. We clambered up a very steep ascent, on which was very good grass, but rather a profusion of thistles. There were sixteen head of black cattle grazing upon the island. Lord Hailes observed to me, that Brantome calls it L’isle des Chevaux, and that it was probably ‘a SAFER stable’ than many others in his time. The fort, with an inscription on it, MARIA RE 1564, is strongly built. Dr Johnson examined it with much attention. He stalked like a giant among the luxuriant thistles and nettles. There are three wells in the island; but we could not find one in the fort. There must probably have been one, though now filled up, as a garrison could not subsist without it. But I have dwelt too long on this little spot. Dr Johnson afterwards bade me try to write a description of our discovering Inch Keith, in the usual style of travellers, describing fully every particular; stating the grounds on which we concluded that it must have once been inhabited, and introducing many sage reflections; and we should see how a thing might be covered in words, so as to induce people to come and survey it. All that was told might be true, and yet in reality there might be nothing to see. He said, ‘I’d have this island. I’d build a house, make a good landing-place, have a garden, and vines, and all sorts of trees. A rich man, of a hospitable turn, here, would have many visitors from Edinburgh.’ When we had got into our boat again, he called to me, ‘Come, now, pay a classical compliment to the island on quitting it.’ I happened luckily, in allusion to the beautiful Queen Mary, whose name is upon the fort, to think of what Virgil makes Aeneas say, on having left the country of his charming Dido:
Invitus, regina, tuo de littare cessi. †
† [Note: Unhappy queen! Unwilling I forsook your friendly state. — DRYDEN]
‘Very well hit off!’ said he.
We dined at Kinghorn, and then got into a post-chaise. Mr Nairne and his servant, and Joseph, rode by us. We stopped at Cupar, and drank tea. We talked of Parliament; and I said, I supposed very few of the members knew much of what was going on, as indeed very few gentlemen know much of their own private affairs. JOHNSON. ‘Why, sir, if a man is not of a sluggish mind, he may be his own steward. If he will look into his affairs, he will soon learn. So it is as to publick affairs. There must always be a certain number of men of business in Parliament.’ BOSWELL. ‘But consider, sir; what is the House of Commons? Is not a great part of it chosen by peers? Do you think, sir, they ought to have such an influence?’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes, sir. Influence must ever be in proportion to property; and it is right it should.’ BOSWELL. ‘But is there not reason to fear that the common people may be oppressed?’ JOHNSON. ‘No, sir. Our great fear is from want of power in government. Such a storm of vulgar force has broke in.’ BOSWELL. ‘It has only roared.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, it has roared, till the Judges in Westminster Hall have been afraid to pronounce sentence in opposition to the popular cry. You are frightened by what is no longer dangerous, like Presbyterians by popery.’ He then repeated a passage, I think, in Butler’s Remains, which ends, ‘and would cry, Fire! Fire! in Noah’s flood’. †
† [Note: The passage quoted by Dr Johnson is in the Character of the Assembly-man. Butler’s Remains, p. 232, edit. 1754. ‘He preaches, indeed, both in season and out of season; for he rails at Popery, when the land is almost lost in Presbytery; and would cry Fire! Fire! in Noah’s flood.’
There is no reason to believe that this piece was not written by Butler, but by Sir John Birkenhead; for Wood, in his Athenae Oxonienses. Vol. II. p. 460. enumerates it among that gentleman’s works, and gives the following account of it:
The Assembly-man (or The Character of an Assembly-man) written 1647, LOND. 1662-3, in three sheets in qu. The copy of it was taken from the author by those who said they could not rob, because all was theirs; so excised what they liked not; and so mangled and reformed it that it was no character of an Assembly, but of themselves. At length, after it had slept several years, the author published it, to avoid false copies. It is also reprinted in a book entit. Wit and Loyalty Revived, in a collection of some smart satyrs in verse and prose on the late times. LOND. 1682, qu. said to be written by Abr. Cowley, Sir John Birkenhead, and Hudibras, alias Sam. Butler.’ For this information I am indebted to Mr Reed, of Staple Inn.]
We had a dreary drive, in a dusky night, to St Andrews, where we arrived late. We found a good supper at Glass’s inn, and Dr Johnson revived agreeably. He said, ‘the collection called The Muses’ Welcome to King James (first of England, and sixth of Scotland), on his return to his native kingdom, shewed that there was then abundance of learning in Scotland; and that the conceits in that collection, with which people find fault, were mere mode’. He added, ‘we could not now entertain a sovereign so; that Buchanan had spread the spirit of learning amongst us, but we had lost it during the civil wars’. He did not allow the Latin poetry of Pitcairne so much merit as has been usually attributed to it; though he owned that one of his pieces, which he mentioned, but which I am sorry is not specified in my notes, was ‘very well’. It is not improbable that it was the poem which Prior has so elegantly translated.
After supper, we made a procession to Saint Leonard’s College, the landlord walking before us with a candle, and the waiter with a lantern. That college had some time before been dissolved; and Dr Watson, a professor here (the historian of Phillip II), had purchased the ground, and what buildings remained. When we entered his court, it seemed quite academical; and we found in his house very comfortable and genteel accommodation. †
† [Note: My Journal, from this day inclusive, was read by Dr Johnson.]
We rose much refreshed. I had with me a map of Scotland, a Bible, which was given me by Lord Mountstuart when we were together in Italy, and Ogden’s Sermons on Prayer. Mr Nairne introduced us to Dr Watson, whom we found a well-informed man, of very amiable manners. Dr Johnson, after they were acquainted, said, ‘I take great delight in him.’ His daughter, a very pleasing young lady, made breakfast. Dr Watson observed, that Glasgow University had fewer home-students, since trade increased, as learning was rather incompatible with it. JOHNSON. ‘Why, sir, as trade is now carried on by subordinate hands, men in trade have as much leisure as others; and now learning itself is a trade. A man goes to a bookseller, and gets what he can. We have done with patronage. In the infancy of learning, we find some great man praised for it. This diffused it among others. When it becomes general, an author leaves the great, and applies to the multitude.’ BOSWELL. ‘It is a shame that authors are not now better patronized.’ JOHNSON. ‘No, sir. If learning cannot support a man, if he must sit with his hands across till somebody feeds him, it is as to him a bad thing, and it is better as it is. With patronage, what flattery! What falsehood! While a man is in equilibria, he throws truth among the multitude, and lets them take it as they please: in patronage, he must say what pleases his patron, and it is an equal chance whether that be truth or falsehood.’ WATSON. ‘But is not the case now, that, instead of flattering one person, we flatter the age?’ JOHNSON. ‘No, sir. The world always lets a man tell what he thinks, his own way. I wonder however, that so many people have written, who might have let it alone. That people should endeavour to excel in conversation, I do not wonder; because in conversation praise is instantly reverberated.’
We talked of change of manners. Dr Johnson observed, that our drinking less than our ancestors was owing to the change from ale to wine. ‘I remember,’ said he, ‘when all the DECENT people in Lichfield got drunk every night, and were not the worse thought of. Ale was cheap, so you pressed strongly. When a man must bring a bottle of wine, he is not in such haste. Smoking has gone out. To be sure, it is a shocking thing, blowing smoke out of our mouths into other people’s mouths, eyes, and noses, and having the same thing done to us. Yet I cannot account, why a thing which requires so little exertion, and yet preserves the mind from total vacuity, should have gone out. Every man has something by which he calms himself: beating with his feet, or so. † I remember when people in England changed a shirt only once a week: a Pandour, when he gets a shirt, greases it to make it last. Formerly, good tradesmen had no fire but in the kitchen; never in the parlour, except on Sunday. My father, who was a magistrate of Lichfield, lived thus. They never began to have a fire in the parlour, but on leaving off business, or some great revolution of their life.’ Dr Watson said, the hall was as a kitchen, in old squires’ houses. JOHNSON. ‘No, sir. The hall was for great occasions, and never was used for domestick reflection.’ We talked of the Union, and what money it had brought into Scotland. Dr Watson observed, that a little money formerly went as far as a great deal now. JOHNSON. ‘In speculation, it seems that a smaller quantity of money, equal in value to a larger quantity, if equally divided, should produce the same effect. But it is not so in reality. Many more conveniences and elegancies are enjoyed where money is plentiful, than where it is scarce. Perhaps a great familiarity with it, which arises from plenty, makes us more easily part with it.’
† [Note: Dr Johnson used to practice this himself very much.]
After what Dr Johnson had said of St Andrews, which he had long wished to see, as our oldest university, and the seat of our Primate in the days of episcopacy, I can say little. Since the publication of Dr Johnson’s book, I find that he has been censured for not seeing here the ancient chapel of St Rule, a curious piece of sacred architecture. But this was neither his fault nor mine. We were both of us abundantly desirous of surveying such sort of antiquities: but neither of us knew of this. I am afraid the censure must fall on those who did not tell us of it. In every place, where there is any thing worthy of observation, there should be a short printed directory for strangers, such as we find in all the towns of Italy, and in some of the towns in England. I was told that there is a manuscript account of St Andrews, by Martin, secretary to Archbishop Sharp; and that one Douglas has published a small account of it. I inquired at a bookseller’s, but could not get it. Dr Johnson’s veneration for the Hierarchy is well known. There is no wonder then, that he was affected with a strong indignation, while he beheld the ruins of religious magnificence. I happened to ask where John Knox was buried. Dr Johnson burst out, ‘I hope in the high-way. I have been looking at his reformations.’
It was a very fine day. Dr Johnson seemed quite wrapt up in the contemplation of the scenes which were now presented to him. He kept his hat off while he was upon any part of the ground where the cathedral had stood. He said well, that ‘Knox had set on a mob, without knowing where it would end; and that differing from a man in doctrine was no reason why you should pull his house about his ears’. As we walked in the cloisters, there was a solemn echo, while he talked loudly of a proper retirement from the world. Mr Nairne said, he had an inclination to retire. I called Dr Johnson’s attention to this, that I might hear his opinion if it was right. JOHNSON. ‘Yes, when he has done his duty to society. In general, as every man is obliged not only to “love God, but his neighbour as himself”, he must bear his part in active life; yet there are exceptions. Those who are exceedingly scrupulous (which I do not approve, for I am no friend to scruples), and find their scrupulosity invincible, so that they are quite in the dark, and know not what they shall do, or those who can not resist temptations, and find they make themselves worse by being in the world, without making it better, may retire. I never read of a hermit, but in imagination I kiss his feet; never of a monastery, but I could fall on my knees, and kiss the pavement. But I think putting young people there, who know nothing of life, nothing of retirement, is dangerous and wicked. It is a saying as old as Hesiod,
Let youth in deeds, in counsel man engage;
Prayer is the proper duty of old age.†
† [Editorial Note: Johnson expresses this in the original Greek. — ED]
That is a very noble line: not that young men should not pray, or old men not give counsel, but that every season of life has its proper duties. I have thought of retiring, and have talked of it to a friend; but I find my vocation is rather to active life.’ I said, SOME young monks might be allowed, to shew that it is not age alone that can retire to pious solitude; but he thought this would only shew that they could not resist temptation.
He wanted to mount the steeples, but it could not be done. There are no good inscriptions here. Bad Roman characters he naturally mistook for half Gothick, half Roman. One of the steeples, which he was told was in danger, he wished not to be taken down; ‘for,’ said he, ‘it may fall on some of the posterity of John Knox; and no great matter!’ Dinner was mentioned. JOHNSON. ‘Ay, ay; amidst all these sorrowful scenes, I have no objection to dinner.’
We went and looked at the castle, where Cardinal Beaton was murdered, and then visited Principal Murison at his college, where is a good library-room; but the principal was abundantly vain of it, for he seriously said to Dr Johnson, ‘you have not such a one in England’.
The professors entertained us with a very good dinner. Present: Murison, Shaw, Cooke, Hill, Haddo, Watson, Flint, Brown. I observed, that I wondered to see him eat so well, after viewing so many sorrowful scenes of ruined religious magnificence. ‘Why,’ said he, ‘I am not sorry, after seeing these gentlemen; for they are not sorry.’ Murison said, all sorrow was bad, as it was murmuring against the dispensations of Providence. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, sorrow is inherent in humanity. As you cannot judge two and two to be either five, or three, but certainly four, so, when comparing a worse present state with a better which is past, you cannot but feel sorrow. It is not cured by reason, but by the incursion of present objects, which wear out the past. You need not murmur, though you are sorry.’ MURISON. ‘But St Paul says, “I have learnt, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.” ‘JOHNSON. ‘Sir, that relates to riches and poverty; for we see St Paul, when he had a thorn in the flesh, prayed earnestly to have it removed; and then he could not be content.’ Murison, thus refuted, tried to be smart, and drank to Dr Johnson, ‘Long may you lecture!’ Dr Johnson afterwards, speaking of his not drinking wine, said, ‘The Doctor spoke of lecturing’ (looking to him). ‘I give all these lectures on water.’
He defended requiring subscription in those admitted to universities, thus: ‘As all who come into the country must obey the King, so all who come into an university must be of the Church.’
And here I must do Dr Johnson the justice to contradict a very absurd and ill-natured story, as to what passed at St Andrews. It has been circulated, that, after grace was said in English, in the usual manner, he with the greatest marks of contempt, as if he had held it to be no grace in an university, would not sit down till he had said grace aloud in Latin. This would have been an insult indeed to the gentlemen who were entertaining us. But the truth was precisely thus. In the course of conversation at dinner, Dr Johnson, in very good humour, said, ‘I should have expected to have heard a Latin grace, among so many learned men: we had always a Latin grace at Oxford. I believe I can repeat it.’ Which he did, as giving the learned men in one place a specimen of what was done by the learned men in another place.
We went and saw the church, in which is Archbishop Sharp’s monument. I was struck with the same kind of feelings with which the churches of Italy impressed me. I was much pleased, to see Dr Johnson actually in St Andrews, of which we had talked so long. Professor Haddo was with us this afternoon, along with Dr Watson. We looked at St Salvador’s College. The rooms for students seemed very commodious, and Dr Johnson said, the chapel was the neatest place of worship he had seen. The key of the library could not be found; for it seems Professor Hill, who was out of town, had taken it with him. Dr Johnson told a joke he had heard of a monastery abroad, where the key of the library could never be found.
It was somewhat dispiriting, to see this ancient archiepiscopal city now sadly deserted. We saw in one of its streets a remarkable proof of liberal toleration; a nonjuring clergyman, strutting about in his canonicals, with a jolly countenance and a round belly, like a well-fed monk.
We observed two occupations united in the same person, who had hung out two sign-posts. Upon one was, JAMES HOOD, WHITE IRON SMITH (i.e. tin-plate worker). Upon another, THE ART OF FENCING TAUGHT, BY JAMES HOOD. Upon this last were painted some trees, and two men fencing, one of whom had hit the other in the eye, to shew his great dexterity; so that the art was well taught. JOHNSON. ‘Were I studying here, I should go and take a lesson. I remember Hope, in his book on this art, says, “the Scotch are very good fencers”.’
We returned to the inn, where we had been entertained at dinner, and drank tea in company with some of the professors, of whose civilities I beg leave to add my humble and very grateful acknowledgement to the honourable testimony of Dr Johnson, in his Journey.
We talked of composition, which was a favourite topick of Dr Watson’s, who first distinguished himself by lectures on rhetorick. JOHNSON. ‘I advised Chambers, and would advise every young man beginning to compose, to do it as fast as he can, to get a habit of having his mind to start promptly; it is so much more difficult to improve in speed than in accuracy.’ WATSON. ‘I own I am for much attention to accuracy in composing, lest one should get bad habits of doing it in a slovenly manner.’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, sir, you are confounding DOING inaccurately with the NECESSITY of doing inaccurately. A man knows when his composition is inaccurate, and when he thinks fit he’ll correct it. But, if a man is accustomed to compose slowly, and with difficulty, upon all occasions, there is danger that he may not compose at all, as we do not like to do that which is not done easily; and, at any rate, more time is consumed in a small matter than ought to be.’ WATSON. ‘Dr Hugh Blair has taken a week to compose a sermon.’ JOHNSON. ‘Then, sir, that is for want of the habit of composing quickly, which I am insisting one should acquire.’ WATSON. ‘Blair was not composing all the week, but only such hours as he found himself disposed for composition.’ JOHNSON. ‘Nay, sir, unless you tell me the time he took, you tell me nothing. If I say I took a week to walk a mile, and have had the gout five days, and been ill otherwise another day, I have taken but one day. I myself have composed about forty sermons. I have begun a sermon after dinner, and sent it off by the post that night. I wrote forty-eight of the printed octavo pages of the life of Savage at a sitting; but then I sat up all night. I have also written six sheets in a day of translation from the French.’ BOSWELL. ‘We have all observed how one man dresses himself slowly, and another fast.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes, sir; it is wonderful how much time some people will consume in dressing; taking up a thing and looking at it, and laying it down, and taking it up again. Every one should get the habit of doing it quickly. I would say to a young divine, “Here is your text; let me see how soon you can make a sermon.” Then I’d say, “Let me see how much better you can make it.” Thus I should see both his powers and his judgement.’
We all went to Dr Watson’s to supper. Miss Sharp, great grandchild of Archbishop Sharp, was there; as was Mr Craig, the ingenious architect of the new town of Edinburgh, and nephew of Thomson, to whom Dr Johnson has since done so much justice, in his Lives of the Poets.
We talked of memory, and its various modes. JOHNSON. ‘Memory will play strange tricks. One sometimes loses a single word. I once lost fugaces in the Ode Posthume, Posthume. I mentioned to him, that a worthy gentleman of my acquaintance actually forgot his own name. JOHNSON. ‘Sir. that was a morbid oblivion.’
Friday, 2Oth August
Dr Shaw, the professor of divinity, breakfasted with us. I took out my Ogden On Prayer, and read some of it to the company. Dr Johnson praised him. ‘Abernethy,’ said he, ‘allows only of a physical effect of prayer upon the mind, which may be produced many ways, as well as by prayer; for instance, by meditation. Ogden goes farther. In truth, we have the consent of all nations for the efficacy of prayer, whether offered up by individuals, or by assemblies; and Revelation has told us, it will be effectual.’ I said, ‘Leechman seemed to incline to Abernethy’s doctrine.’ Dr Watson observed, that Leechman meant to shew, that, even admitting no effect to be produced by prayer, respecting the Deity, it was useful to our own minds. He had given only a part of his system: Dr Johnson thought he should have given the whole.
Dr Johnson enforced the strict observance of Sunday. ‘It should be different,’ he observed, ‘from another day. People may walk, but not throw stones at birds. There may be relaxation, but there should be no levity.’
We went and saw Colonel Nairne’s garden and grotto. Here was a fine old plane tree. Unluckily the colonel said, there was but this and another large tree in the county. This assertion was an excellent cue for Dr Johnson, who laughed enormously, calling to me to hear it. He had expatiated to me on the nakedness of that part of Scotland which he had seen. His Journey has been violently abused, for what he has said upon this subject. But let it be considered, that, when Dr Johnson talks of trees, he means trees of good size, such as he was accustomed to see in England; and of these there are certainly very few upon the EASTERN COAST of Scotland. Besides, he said, that he meant to give only a map of the road; and let any traveller observe how many trees, which deserve the name, he can see from the road from Berwick to Aberdeen. Had Dr Johnson said, ‘there are NO trees’ upon this line, he would have said what is colloquially true; because, by no trees, in common speech, we mean few. When he is particular in counting, he may be attacked. I know not how Colonel Nairne came to say there were but TWO large trees in the county of Fife. I did not perceive that he smiled. There are certainly not a great many; but I could have shewn him more than two at Balmuto, from whence my ancestors came, and which now belongs to a branch of my family.
The grotto was ingeniously constructed. In the front of it were petrified stocks of fir, plane, and some other tree. Dr Johnson said, ‘Scotland has no right to boast of this grotto: it is owing to personal merit. I never denied personal merit to many of you.’ Professor Shaw said to me, as we walked, ‘This is a wonderful man: he is master of every subject he handles.’ Dr Watson allowed him a very strong understanding, but wondered at his total inattention to established manners, as he came from London.
I have not preserved, in my Journal, any of the conversation which passed between Dr Johnson and Professor Shaw; but I recollect Dr Johnson said to me afterwards, ‘I took much to Shaw.’
We left St Andrews about noon, and some miles from it observing, at Leuchars, a church with an old tower, we stopped to look at it. The manse, as the parsonage-house is called in Scotland, was close by. I waited on the minister, mentioned our names, and begged he would tell us what he knew about it. He was a very civil old man; but could only inform us, that it was supposed to have stood eight hundred years. He told us, there was a colony of Danes in his parish; that they had landed at a remote period of time, and still remained a distinct people. Dr Johnson shrewdly inquired whether they had brought women with them. We were not satisfied as to this colony.
We saw, this day, Dundee and Aberbrothick, the last of which Dr Johnson has celebrated in his Journey. Upon the road we talked of the Roman Catholick faith. He mentioned (I think) Tillotson’s argument against transubstantiation; ‘That we are as sure we see bread and wine only, as that we read in the Bible the text on which that false doctrine is founded. We have only the evidence of our senses for both. If,’ he added, ‘God had never spoken figuratively, we might hold that he speaks literally, when he says, “This is my body”.’ BOSWELL. ‘But what do you say, sir, to the ancient and continued tradition of the Church upon this point?’ JOHNSON. ‘Tradition, sir, has no place, where the Scriptures are plain; and tradition cannot persuade a man into a belief of transubstantiation. Able men, indeed, have said they believed it.’
This is an awful subject. I did not then press Dr Johnson upon it; nor shall I now enter upon a disquisition concerning the import of those words uttered by our Saviour,† which had such an effect upon many disciples, that they ‘went back, and walked no more with him’. The Catechism and solemn office for Communion, in the Church of England, maintain a mysterious belief in more than a mere commemoration of the death of Christ, by partaking of the elements of bread and wine.
† [Note: “Then Jesus said unto them, verily, verily. I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” See St John’s Gospel, chap. vi. 5 3, and following verses.]
Dr Johnson put me in mind, that, at St Andrews, I had defended my profession very well, when the question had again been started, whether a lawyer might honestly engage with the first side that offers him a fee. ‘Sir,’ said I, ‘it was with your arguments against Sir William Forbes: but it was much that I could wield the arms of Goliah.’
He said, our judges had not gone deep in the question concerning literary property. I mentioned Lord Monboddo’s opinion, that if a man could get a work by heart, he might print it, as by such an act the mind is exercised. JOHNSON. ‘No, sir; a man’s repeating it no more makes it his property, than a man may sell a cow which he drives home.’ I said, printing an abridgement of a work was allowed, which was only cutting the horns and tail off the cow. JOHNSON. ‘No, sir; ’tis making the cow have a calf.’
About eleven at night we arrived at Montrose. We found but a sorry inn, where I myself saw another waiter put a lump of sugar with his fingers into Dr Johnson’s lemonade, for which he called him ‘Rascal!’ It put me in great glee that our landlord was an Englishman. I rallied the Doctor upon this, and he grew quiet. Both Sir John Hawkins’s and Dr Burney’s History of Musick had then been advertised. I asked if this was not unlucky: would not they hurt one another? JOHNSON. ‘No, sir. They will do good to one another. Some will buy the one, some the other, and compare them; and so a talk is made about a thing, and the books are sold.’
He was angry at me for proposing to carry lemons with us to Sky, that he might be sure to have his lemonade. ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘I do not wish to be thought that feeble man who cannot do without any thing. Sir, it is very bad manners to carry provisions to any man’s house, as if he could not entertain you. To an inferior, it is oppressive; to a superior, it is insolent.’
Having taken the liberty, this evening, to remark to Dr Johnson, that he very often sat quite silent for a long time, even when in company with only a single friend, which I myself had sometimes sadly experienced, he smiled and said, ‘It is true, sir. Tom Tyers’ (for so he familiarly called our ingenious friend, who, since his death, has paid a biographical tribute to his memory) ‘Tom Tyers described me the best. He once said to me, “Sir, you are like a ghost: you never speak till you are spoken to” †
† [Note: This description of Dr Johnson, appears to have been borrowed from Tom Jones, Book XI. chap, ii. “The other, who like a ghost, only wanted to be spoke to, readily answered.’ &c.]
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48