Neither the Rev. Mr Nisbet, the established minister, nor the Rev. Mr Spooner, the episcopal minister, were in town. Before breakfast, we went and saw the town-hall, where is a good dancing-room, and other rooms for tea-drinking. The appearance of the town from it is very well; but many of the houses are built with their ends to the street, which looks awkward. When we came down from it, I met Mr Gleg, a merchant here. He went with us to see the English chapel. It is situated on a pretty dry spot, and there is a fine walk to it. It is really an elegant building, both within and without. The organ is adorned with green and gold. Dr Johnson gave a shilling extraordinary to the clerk, saying, ‘He belongs to an honest church.’ I put him in mind, that episcopals were but DISSENTERS here; they were only TOLERATED. ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘we are here, as Christians in Turkey.’ He afterwards went into an apothecary’s shop, and ordered some medicine for himself, and wrote the prescription in technical characters. The boy took him for a physician.
I doubted much which road to take, whether to go by the coast, or by Lawrence Kirk and Monboddo. I knew Lord Monboddo and Dr Johnson did not love each other: yet I was unwilling not to visit his lordship; and was also curious to see them together. †
† [Note: There were several points of similarity between them: learning, clearness of head, precision of speech, and a love of research on many subjects which people in general do not investigate. Foote paid Lord Monboddo the compliment of saying, that he was ‘an Elzevir edition of Johnson’.
It has been shrewdly observed that Foote must have meant a diminutive, or POCKET edition.]
I mentioned my doubts to Dr Johnson, who said, he would go two miles out of his way to see Lord Monboddo. I therefore sent Joseph forward, with the following note.
Montrose, 21 August.
My dear Lord,
Thus far I am come with Mr Samuel Johnson. We must be at Aberdeen to-night. I know you do not admire him so much as I do; but I cannot be in this country without making you a bow at your old place, as I do not know if I may again have an opportunity of seeing Monboddo. Besides, Mr Johnson says, he would go two miles out of his way to see Lord Monboddo. I have sent forward my servant, that we may know if your lordship be at home. I am ever, my dear lord,
Most sincerely yours,
As we travelled onwards from Montrose, we had the Grampion hills in our view, and some good land around us, but void of trees and hedges. Dr Johnson has said ludicrously, in his Journey, that the HEDGES were of STONE; for, instead of the verdant THORN to refresh the eye, we found the bare WALL or DIKE intersecting the prospect. He observed, that it was wonderful to see a country so divested, so denuded of trees.
We stopped at Lawrence Kirk, where our great grammarian, Ruddiman, was once schoolmaster. We respectfully remembered that excellent man and eminent scholar, by whose labours a knowledge of the Latin language will be preserved in Scotland, if it shall be preserved at all. Lord Gardenston, one of our judges, collected money to raise a monument to him at this place, which I hope will be well executed. I know my father gave five guineas towards it. Lord Gardenston is the proprietor of Lawrence Kirk, and has encouraged the building of a manufacturing village, of which he is exceedingly fond, and has written a pamphlet upon it, as if he had founded Thebes, in which, however there are many useful precepts strongly expressed. The village seemed to be irregularly built, some of the houses being of clay, some of brick, and some of brick and stone. Dr Johnson observed, they thatched well here.
I was a little acquainted with Mr Forbes, the minister of the parish. I sent to inform him that a gentleman desired to see him. He returned for answer, ‘that he would not come to a stranger’. I then gave my name, and he came. I remonstrated to him for not coming to a stranger; and, by presenting him to Dr Johnson, proved to him what a stranger might sometimes be. His Bible inculcates ‘be not forgetful to entertain strangers’, and mentions the same motive. He defended himself by saying, he had once come to a stranger who sent for him; and he found him ‘a little worth person!’
Dr Johnson insisted on stopping at the inn, as I told him that Lord Gardenston had furnished it with a collection of books, that travellers might have entertainment for the mind, as well as the body. He praised the design, but wished there had been more books, and those better chosen.
About a mile from Monboddo, where you turn off the road, Joseph was waiting to tell us my lord expected us to dinner. We drove over a wild moor. It rained, and the scene was somewhat dreary. Dr Johnson repeated, with solemn emphasis, Macbeth’s speech on meeting the witches. As we travelled on, he told me, ‘Sir, you got into our club by doing what a man can do. † Several of the members wished to keep you out. Burke told me, he doubted if you were fit for it: but, now you are in, none of them are sorry. Burke says, that you have so much good humour naturally, it is scarce a virtue.’ BOSWELL. ‘They were afraid of you, sir, as it was you who proposed me.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, they knew, that if they refused you, they’d probably never have got in another. I’d have kept them all out. Beauclerk was very earnest for you.’ BOSWELL. ‘Beauclerk has a keenness of mind which is very uncommon.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes, sir; and every thing comes from him so easily. It appears to me that I labour, when I say a good thing.’ BOSWELL. ‘You are loud, sir; but it is not an effort of mind.’
† [Note: This, I find, is considered as obscure. I suppose Dr Johnson meant, that I assiduously and earnestly recommended myself to some of the members, as in a canvass for an election into Parliament.]
Monboddo is a wretched place, wild and naked, with a poor old house; though, if I recollect right, there are two turrets which mark an old baron’s residence. Lord Monboddo received us at his gate most courteously; pointed to the Douglas arms upon his house, and told us that his great-grandmother was of that family, ‘In such houses,’ said he, ‘our ancestors lived, who were better men than we.’ ‘No, no, my lord,’ said Dr Johnson. ‘We are as strong as they, and a great deal wiser.’ This was an assault upon one of Lord Monboddo’s capital dogmas, and I was afraid there would have been a violent altercation in the very close, before we got into the house. But his lordship is distinguished not only for ‘ancient metaphysicks’, but for ancient politesse, la vieille cour, and he made no reply.
His lordship was drest in a rustick suit, and wore a little round hat; he told us, we now saw him as Farmer Burnett, and we should have his family dinner, a farmer’s dinner. He said, ‘I should not have forgiven Mr Boswell, had he not brought you here, Dr Johnson.’ He produced a very long stalk of corn, as a specimen of his crop, and said, ‘You see here the loetas segetes.’ He added, that Virgil seemed to be as enthusiastick a farmer as he, and was certainly a practical one. JOHNSON. ‘It does not always follow, my lord, that a man who has written a good poem on an art, has practised it. Philip Miller told me, that in Philips’s “Cyder”, a poem, all the precepts were just, and indeed better than in books written for the purpose of instructing; yet Philips had never made cyder.’
I started the subject of emigration. JOHNSON. ‘To a man of mere animal life, you can urge no argument against going to America, but that it will be some time before he will get the earth to produce. But a man of any intellectual enjoyment will not easily go and immerse himself and his posterity for ages in barbarism.’
He and my lord spoke highly of Homer. JOHNSON. ‘He had all the learning of his age. The shield of Achilles shews a nation in war, a nation in peace; harvest sport, nay stealing.’ †
† [Note: My note of this is much too short. Brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio. Yet as I have resolved that THE VERY Journal WHICH DR JOHNSON READ, shall be presented to the publick, I will not expand the text in any considerable degree, though I may occasionally supply a word to complete the sense, as I fill up the blanks of abbreviation in the writing; neither of which can be said to change the genuine Journal. One of the best criticks of our age conjectures that the imperfect passage above has probably been as follows: ‘In his book we have an accurate display of a nation in war, and a nation in peace; the peasant is delineated as truly as the general; nay, even harvest-sport, and the modes of ancient theft are described.’]
MONBODDO. ‘Ay, and what we’ (looking to me)?‘would call a parliament-house scene; a cause pleaded.’ JOHNSON. ‘That is part of the life of a nation in peace. And there are in Homer such characters of heroes, and combinations of qualities of heroes, that the united powers of mankind ever since have not produced any but what are to be found there.’ MONBODDO. ‘Yet no character is described.’ JOHNSON. ‘No; they all develope themselves. Agamemnon is always a gentleman-like character; he has always <Greek>. That the ancients held so, is plain from this; that Euripides, in his Hecuba, makes him the person to interpose.’ †
† [Note: Dr Johnson modestly said, he had not read Homer so much as he wished he had done. But this conversation shews how well he was acquainted with the Moeonian bard; and he has shewn it still more in his criticism upon Pope’s Homer, in his Life of that poet. My excellent friend, Mr Langton, told me, he was once present at a dispute between Dr Johnson and Mr Burke, on the comparative merits of Homer and Virgil, which was carried on with extraordinary abilities on both sides. Dr Johnson maintained the superiority of Homer.]
MONBODDO. ‘The history of manners is the most valuable. I never set a high value on any other history.’ JOHNSON. ‘Nor I; and therefore I esteem biography, as giving us what comes near to ourselves, what we can turn to use.’ BOSWELL. ‘But in the course of general history, we find manners. In wars, we see the dispositions of people, their degrees of humanity, and other particulars.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes; but then you must take all the facts to get this; and it is but a little you get.’ MONBODDO. ‘And it is that little which makes history valuable.’ Bravo! thought I; they agree like two brothers. MONBODDO. ‘I am sorry, Dr Johnson, you were not longer at Edinburgh, to receive the homage of our men of learning.’ JOHNSON. ‘My lord, I received great respect and great kindness.’ BOSWELL. ‘He goes back to Edinburgh after our tour.’ We talked of the decrease of learning in Scotland, and the Muses’ Welcome. JOHNSON. ‘Learning is much decreased in England, in my remembrance.’ MONBODDO. ‘You, sir, have lived to see its decrease in England, I its extinction in Scotland.’ However, I brought him to confess that the High School of Edinburgh did well. JOHNSON. ‘Learning has decreased in England, because learning will not do so much for a man as formerly. There are other ways of getting preferment. Few bishops are now made for their learning. To be a bishop, a man must be learned in a learned age, factious in a factious age; but always of eminence. Warburton is an exception; though his learning alone did not raise him. He was first an antagonist to Pope, and helped Theobald to publish his Shakspeare; but, seeing Pope the rising man, when Crousaz attacked his Essay on Man, for some faults which it has, and some which it has not, Warburton defended it in the Review of that time. This brought him acquainted with Pope, and he gained his friendship. Pope introduced him to Allen, Allen married him to his niece: so, by Allen’s interest and his own, he was made a bishop. But then his learning was the sine qua non: he knew how to make the most of it; but I do not find by any dishonest means.’ MONBODDO. ‘He is a great man.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes; he has great knowledge, great power of mind. Hardly any man brings greater variety of learning to bear upon his point.’ MONBODDO. ‘He is one of the greatest lights of your church.’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, we are not so sure of his being very friendly to us. He blazes, if you will, but that is not always the steadiest light. Lowth is another bishop who has risen by his learning.’
Dr Johnson examined young Arthur, Lord Monboddo’s son, in Latin. He answered very well; upon which he said, with complacency, ‘Get you gone! When King James comes back, † you shall be in the “Muses’ Welcome”!’ My lord and Dr Johnson disputed a little, whether the savage or the London shopkeeper had the best existence; his lordship, as usual, preferring the savage. My lord was extremely hospitable, and I saw both Dr Johnson and him liking each other better every hour.
† [Note: I find, some doubt has been entertained concerning Dr Johnson’s meaning here. It is to be supposed that he meant, ‘when a king shall again be entertained in Scotland’.]
Dr Johnson having retired for a short time, his lordship spoke of his conversation as I could have wished. Dr Johnson had said, ‘I have done greater feats with my knife than this;’ though he had eaten a very hearty dinner. My lord, who affects or believes he follows an abstemious system, seemed struck with Dr Johnson’s manner of living. I had a particular satisfaction in being under the roof of Monboddo, my lord being my father’s old friend, and having been always very good to me. We were cordial together. He asked Dr Johnson and me to stay all night. When I said we must be at Aberdeen, he replied, ‘Well, I am like the Romans: I shall say to you, “Happy to come — happy to depart!”’ He thanked Dr Johnson for his visit. JOHNSON. ‘I little thought, when I had the honour to meet your lordship in London, that I should see you at Monboddo.’ After dinner, as the ladies were going away, Dr Johnson would stand up. He insisted that politeness was of great consequence in society. ‘It is,’ said he, ‘fictitious benevolence. It supplies the place of it amongst those who see each other only in publick, or but little. Depend upon it, the want of it never fails to produce something disagreeable to one or other. I have always applied to good breeding, what Addison in his Cato says of honour:
Honour’s a sacred tie; the law of Kings;
The noble mind’s distinguishing perfection,
That aids and strengthens Virtue where it meets her.
And imitates her actions where she is not.
When he took up his large oak stick, he said, ‘My lord, that’s Homerick;’ thus pleasantly alluding to his lordship’s favourite writer.
Gory, my lord’s black servant, was sent as our guide, to conduct us to the high road. The circumstance of each of them having a black servant was another point of similarity between Johnson and Monboddo. I observed how curious it was to see an African in the north of Scotland, with little or no difference of manners from those of the natives. Dr Johnson laughed to see Gory and Joseph riding together most cordially. ‘Those two fellows,’ said he, ‘one from Africa, the other from Bohemia, seem quite at home.’ He was much pleased with Lord Monboddo to-day. He said, he would have pardoned him for a few paradoxes, when he found he had so much that was good: but that, from his appearance in London, he thought him all paradox; which would not do. He observed, that his lordship had talked no paradoxes to-day. ‘And as to the savage and the London shopkeeper,” said he, ‘I don’t know but I might have taken the side of the savage equally, had any body else taken the side of the shopkeeper.’ He had said to my lord, in opposition to the value of the savage’s courage, that it was owing to his limited power of thinking, and repeated Pope’s verses, in which ‘Macedonia’s madman’ is introduced, and the conclusion is,
Yet ne’er looks forward farther than his nose.
I objected to the last phrase, as being low. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, it is intended to be low: it is satire. The expression is debased, to debase the character.’
When Gory was about to part from us, Dr Johnson called to him, ‘Mr Gory, give me leave to ask you a question! Are you baptized?’ Gory told him he was, and confirmed by the Bishop of Durham. He then gave him a shilling.
We had tedious driving this afternoon, and were somewhat drowsy. Last night I was afraid Dr Johnson was beginning to faint in his resolution; for he said, ‘If we must ride much, we shall not go; and there’s an end on’t.’ To-day, when he talked of Sky with spirit, I said, ‘Why, sir, you seemed to me to despond yesterday. You are a delicate Londoner; you are a maccaroni; you can’t ride.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, I shall ride better than you. I was only afraid I should not find a horse able to carry me.’ I hoped then there would be no fear of getting through our wild tour.
We came to Aberdeen at half an hour past eleven. The New Inn, we were told, was full. This was comfortless. The waiter, however, asked if one of our names was Boswell, and brought me a letter left at the inn: it was from Mr Thrale, enclosing one to Dr Johnson. Finding who I was, we were told they would contrive to lodge us by putting us for a night into a room with two beds. The waiter said to me in the broad strong Aberdeenshire dialect, ‘I thought I knew you, by your likeness to your father.’ My father puts up at the New Inn, when on his circuit. Little was said to-night. I was to sleep in a little press-bed in Dr Johnson’s room. I had it wheeled out into the dining-room, and there I lay very well.
I sent a message to Professor Thomas Gordon, who came and breakfasted with us. He had secured seats for us at the English chapel. We found a respectable congregation, and an admirable organ, well played by Mr Tait.
We walked down to the shore. Dr Johnson laughed to hear that Cromwell’s soldiers taught the Aberdeen people to make shoes and stockings, and to plant cabbages. He asked, if weaving the plaids was ever a domestick art in the Highlands, like spinning or knitting. They could not inform him here. But he conjectured probably, that where people lived so remote from each other, it was likely to be a domestick art; as we see it was among the ancients, from Penelope. I was sensible to-day, to an extraordinary degree, of Dr Johnson’s excellent English pronunciation. I cannot account for its striking me more now than any other day: but it was as if new to me; and I listened to every sentence which he spoke, as to a musical composition. Professor Gordon gave him an account of the plan of education in his college. Dr Johnson said, it was similar to that at Oxford. Waller the poet’s great grandson was studying here. Dr Johnson wondered that a man should send his son so far off, when there were so many good schools in England. He said, ‘At a great school there is all the splendour and illumination of many minds; the radiance of all is concentrated in each, or at least reflected upon each. But we must own that neither a dull boy, nor an idle boy, will do so well at a great school as at a private one. For at a great school there are always boys enough to do well easily, who are sufficient to keep up the credit of the school; and after whipping being tried to no purpose, the dull or idle boys are left at the end of a class, having the appearance of going through the course, but learning nothing at all. Such boys may do good at a private school, where constant attention is paid to them, and they are watched. So that the question of publick or private education is not properly a general one; but whether one or the other is best for MY SON.’
We were told the present Mr Waller was a plain country gentleman; and his son would be such another. I observed, a family could not expect a poet but in a hundred generations. ‘Nay,’ said Dr Johnson, ‘not one family in a hundred can expect a poet in a hundred generations.’ He then repeated Dryden’s celebrated lines,
Three poets in three distant ages born, &c.
and a part of a Latin translation of it done at Oxford: he did not then say by whom.†
† [Note: London, 2d May, 1778. Dr Johnson acknowledged that he was himself the authour of the translation above alluded to, and dictated it to me as follows:
Quos laudet vales Graius Romanus et Anglus
Tres tria temporibus secla dedere suis.
Sublime ingenium Graius; Romanus habebat
Carmen grande sonans; Anglus utrumque tulit.
Nil majus Natura capit: clarare priores
Quae potuere duos tertius unus habet.]
He received a card, from Sir Alexander Gordon, who had been his acquaintance twenty years ago in London, and who, ‘if forgiven for not answering a line from him’, would come in the afternoon. Dr Johnson rejoiced to hear of him, and begged he would come and dine with us. I was much pleased to see the kindness with which Dr Johnson received his old friend Sir Alexander; a gentleman of good family, Lismore, but who had not the estate. The King’s College here made him Professor of Medicine, which affords him a decent subsistence. He told us that the value of the stockings exported from Aberdeen was, in peace, a hundred thousand pounds; and amounted, in time of war, to one hundred and seventy thousand pounds. Dr Johnson asked, what made the difference? Here we had a proof of the comparative sagacity of the two professors. Sir Alexander answered, ‘Because there is more occasion for them in war.’ Professor Thomas Gordon answered, ‘Because the Germans, who are our great rivals in the manufacture of stockings, are otherwise employed in time of war.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, you have given a very good solution.’
At dinner, Dr Johnson ate several plate-fulls of Scotch broth, with barley and peas in it, and seemed very fond of the dish. I said, ‘You never ate it before.’ JOHNSON. ‘No, sir; but I don’t care how soon I eat it again.’ My cousin, Miss Dallas, formerly of Inverness, was married to Mr Riddoch, one of the ministers of the English chapel here. He was ill, and confined to his room; but she sent us a kind invitation to tea, which we all accepted. She was the same lively, sensible, cheerful woman, as ever. Dr Johnson here threw out some jokes against Scotland. He said, ‘You go first to Aberdeen; then to Enbru (the Scottish pronunciation of Edinburgh); then to Newcastle, to be polished by the colliers; then to York; then to London.’ And he laid hold of a little girl, Stuart Dallas, niece to Mrs Riddoch, and, representing himself as a giant, said, he would take her with him! telling her, in a hollow voice, that he lived in a cave, and had a bed in the rock, and she should have a bed cut opposite to it!
He thus treated the point, as to prescription of murder in Scotland. ‘A jury in England would make allowance for deficiencies of evidence, on account of lapse of time: but a general rule that a crime should not be punished, or tried for the purpose of punishment, after twenty years, is bad. It is cant to talk of the King’s advocate delaying a prosecution from malice. How unlikely is it the King’s advocate should have malice against persons who commit murder, or should even know them at all. If the son of the murdered man should kill the murderer who got off merely by prescription, I would help him to make his escape; though, were I upon his jury, I would not acquit him. I would not advise him to commit such an act. On the contrary, I would bid him submit to the determination of society, because a man is bound to submit to the inconveniences of it, as he enjoys the good: but the young man, though politically wrong, would not be morally wrong. He would have to say, “Here I am amongst barbarians, who not only refuse to do justice, but encourage the greatest of all crimes. I am therefore in a state of nature: for, so far as there is now law, it is a state of nature: and consequently, upon the eternal and immutable law of justice, which requires that he who sheds man’s blood should have his blood shed, I will stab the murderer of my father.”’ We went to our inn, and sat quietly. Dr Johnson borrowed, at Mr Riddoch’s, a volume of Massilon’s Discourses on the Psalms: but I found he read little in it. Ogden too he sometimes took up, and glanced at; but threw it down again. I then entered upon religious conversation. Never did I see him in a better frame: calm, gentle, wise, holy. I said, ‘Would not the same objection hold against the Trinity as against transubstantiation?’ ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘if you take three and one in the same sense. If you do, to be sure you cannot believe it: but the three persons in the Godhead are Three in one sense, and One in another. We cannot tell how; and that is the mystery!’
I spoke of the satisfaction of Christ. He said his notion was, that it did not atone for the sins of the world; but, by satisfying divine justice, by shewing that no less than the Son of God suffered for sin, it shewed to men and innumerable created beings, the heinousness of it, and therefore rendered it unnecessary for divine vengeance to be exercised against sinners, as it otherwise must have been; that in this way it might operate even in favour of those who had never heard of it: as to those who did hear of it, the effect it should produce would be repentance and piety, by impressing upon the mind a just notion of sin: that original sin was the propensity to evil, which no doubt was occasioned by the fall. He presented this solemn subject in a new light to me, † and rendered much more rational and clear the doctrine of what our Saviour has done for us, as it removed the notion of imputed righteousness in co-operating; whereas by this view, Christ has done all already that he had to do, or is ever to do, for mankind, by making his great satisfaction; the consequences of which will affect each individual according to the particular conduct of each. I would illustrate this by saying, that Christ’s satisfaction resembles a sun placed to shew light to men, so that it depends upon themselves whether they will walk the right way or not, which they could not have done without that sun, ‘the sun of righteousness’. There is, however, more in it than merely giving light —‘a light to lighten the Gentiles’: for we are told, there is ‘healing under his wings’. Dr Johnson said to me, ‘Richard Baxter commends a treatise by Grotius, De Satisfactione Christi. I have never read it: but I intend to read it; and you may read it.’ I remarked, upon the principle now laid down, we might explain the difficult and seemingly hard text, ‘They that believe shall be saved; and they that believe not shall be damned.’ They that believe shall have such an impression made upon their minds, as will make them act so that they may be accepted by God.
† [Note: My worthy, intelligent, and candid friend, Dr Kippis, informs me, that several divines have thus explained the mediation of our Saviour. What Dr Johnson now delivered, was but a temporary opinion; for he afterwards was fully convinced of the propitiatory sacrifice, as I shall shew at large in my future work, The life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.]
We talked of one of our friends taking ill, for a length of time, a hasty expression of Dr Johnson’s to him, on his attempting to prosecute a subject that had a reference to religion, beyond the bounds within which the Doctor thought such topicks should be confined in a mixed company. JOHNSON. ‘What is to become of society, if a friendship of twenty years is to be broken off for such a cause?’ As Bacon says,
Who then to frail mortality shall trust,
But limns the water, or but writes in dust.
I said, he should write expressly in support of Christianity; for that, although a reverence for it shines through his works in several places, that is not enough. ‘You know,’ said I, ‘what Grotius has done, and what Addison has done. You should do also.’ He replied, ‘I hope I shall.’
Principal Campbell, Sir Alexander Gordon, Professor Gordon, and Professor Ross, visited us in the morning, as did Dr Gerard, who had come six miles from the country on purpose. We went and saw the Marischal College, † and at one o’clock we waited on the magistrates in the town hall, as they had invited us in order to present Dr Johnson with the freedom of the town, which Provost Jopp did with a very good grace. Dr Johnson was much pleased with this mark of attention, and received it very politely.
† [Note: Dr Beattie was so kindly entertained in England, that he had not yet returned home.]
There was a pretty numerous company assembled. It was striking to hear all of them drinking ‘Dr Johnson! Dr Johnson!’ in the town-hall of Aberdeen, and then to see him with his burgess-ticket, or diploma, † in his hat, which he wore as he walked along the street, according to the usual custom. It gave me great satisfaction to observe the regard, and indeed fondness too, which every body here had for my father.
† [Note: Dr Johnson’s burgess-ticket was in these words:
Aberdoniae, vigesimo tertio die mensis Augusti, anno Domini millesimo septingentesimo septuagesimo tertio, in presentia honorabilium virorum, Jacobi Jopp, armigeri, praepositi, Adami Duff, Gulielmi Young, Georgii Marr, et Gulielmi Forbes, Balivorum, Gulielmi Rainie Decani guildae, et Joannis Nicoll Thesaurarii dicti burgi.
Quo die vir generosus et doctrina clarus, Samuel Johnson, LL. D. receptus et admissus fuit in municipes et fratres guildae praefati burgi de Aberdeen. In deditissimi amoris et affectus ac eximiae observantiae tesseram, quibus dicti Magistratus eum amplectuntur. Extractum per me, ALEX. CARNEGIE.]
While Sir Alexander Gordon conducted Dr Johnson to old Aberdeen, Professor Gordon and I called on Mr Riddoch, whom I found to be a grave worthy clergyman. He observed, that, whatever might be said of Dr Johnson while he was alive, he would, after he was dead, be looked upon by the world with regard and astonishment, on account of his Dictionary.
Professor Gordon and I walked over to the Old College, which Dr Johnson had seen by this time. I stepped into the chapel, and looked at the tomb of the founder, Archbishop Elphinston, of whom I shall have occasion to write in my History of James IV of Scotland, the patron of my family.
We dined at Sir Alexander Gordon’s. The Provost, Professor Ross, Professor Dunbar, Professor Thomas Gordon, were there. After dinner came in Dr Gerard, Professor Leslie, Professor Macleod. We had little or no conversation in the morning; now we were but barren. The professors seemed afraid to speak.
Dr Gerard told us that an eminent printer was very intimate with Warburton. JOHNSON. ‘Why, sir, he has printed some of his works, and perhaps bought the property of some of them. The intimacy is such as one of the professors here may have with one of the carpenters who is repairing the college.’ ‘But,’ said Gerard, ‘I saw a letter from him to this printer, in which he says, that the one half of the clergy of the Church of Scotland are fanaticks, and the other half infidels.’ JOHNSON. ‘Warburton has accustomed himself to write letters just as he speaks, without thinking any more of what he throws out. When I read Warburton first, and observed his force, and his contempt of mankind, I thought he had driven the world before him; but I soon found that was not the case; for Warburton, by extending his abuse, rendered it ineffectual.’
He told me, when we were by ourselves, that he thought it very wrong in the printer, to shew Warburton’s letter, as it was raising a body of enemies against him. He thought it foolish in Warburton to write so to the printer; and added, ‘Sir, the worst way of being intimate, is by scribbling.’ He called Warburton’s Doctrine of Grace a poor performance, and so he said was Wesley’s Answer. ‘Warburton,’ he observed, ‘had laid himself very open. In particular, he was weak enough to say, that, in some disorders of the imagination, people had spoken with tongues, had spoken languages which they never knew before; a thing as absurd as to say, that, in some disorders of the imagination, people had been known to fly.’
I talked of the difference of genius, to try if I could engage Gerard in a disquisition with Dr Johnson; but I did not succeed. I mentioned, as a curious fact, that Locke had written verses. JOHNSON. ‘I know of none, sir, but a kind of exercise prefixed to Dr Sydenham’s Works, in which he has some conceits about the dropsy, in which water and burning are united; and how Dr Sydenham removed fire by drawing off water, contrary to the usual practice, which is to extinguish fire by bringing water upon it. I am not sure that there is a word of all this; but it is such kind of talk.’ †
† [Note: All this, as Dr Johnson suspected at the time, was the immediate invention of his own lively imagination; for there is not one word of it in Mr Locke’s complimentary performance. My readers will, I have no doubt, like to be satisfied, by comparing them: and, at any rate, it may entertain them to read verses composed by our great metaphysician, when a Bachelor in Physick.
Febriles aestus, victumque ardoribus orbem
Flevit, non tantis par Medicina malis.
Et post mille artes, medicae tentamina curae,
Ardet adhuc Febris; nec velit arte regi.
Praeda sumus flammis; solum hoc speramus ab igne,
Ut restet paucus, quem capit urna, cinis.
Dum quaerit medicus febris caussamque, modumque,
Flammarum et tenebras, et sine luce faces;
Quas tractat patitur flammas, et febre calescens,
Corruit ipse suis victima rapta focis.
Qui tardos potuit morbos, artusque trementes,
Sistere, febrili se videt igne rapi.
Sic faber exesos fulsit tibicine muros;
Dum trahit antiquas lenta ruina domos.
Sed si flamma vorax miseras incenderit aedes,
Unica flagrantes tunc sepelire salus.
Fit fuga, tectonicas nemo tunc invocat artes;
Cum perit artificis non minus usta domus.
Se tandem Sydenham febrisque Scholaeque furori]
We spoke of Fingal. Dr Johnson said calmly, ‘If the poems were really translated, they were certainly first written down. Let Mr Macpherson deposite the manuscript in one of the colleges at Aberdeen, where there are people who can judge; and, if the professors certify the authenticity, then there will be an end of the controversy. If he does not take this obvious and easy method, he gives the best reason to doubt; considering too, how much is against it a priori.’
We sauntered after dinner in Sir Alexander’s garden, and saw his little grotto, which is hung with pieces of poetry written in a fair hand. It was † agreeable to observe the contentment and kindness of this quiet, benevolent man. Professor Macleod was brother to Macleod of Talisker, and brother-in-law to the Laird of Col. He gave me a letter to young Col. I was weary of this day, and began to think wishfully of being again in motion. I was uneasy to think myself too fastidious, whilst I fancied Dr Johnson quite satisfied. But he owned to me that he was fatigued and teased by Sir Alexander’s doing too much to entertain him. I said, it was all kindness. JOHNSON. ‘True, sir: but sensation is sensation.’ BOSWELL. ‘It is so: we feel pain equally from the surgeon’s probe, as from the sword of the foe.’
Opponens, morbi quaerit, et artis opem.
Non temere incusat tectae putedinis ignes;
Nec fictus, febres qui fovet, humor erit,
Non bilem ille movet, nulla hic pituita; Salutis
Quae spes, si fallax ardeat intus aqua
Nec doctas magno rixas ostentat hiatu,
Quis ipsis major febribus ardor inest.
Innocuas placide corpus jubet urere flammas,
Et justo rapidos temperat igne focos.
Quid febrim exstinguat; varius quid postulat usus,
Solari aegrotos, qua potes arte, docet.
Hactenus ipsa suum timuit Natura calorem,
Dum saepe incerto, quo calet, igne perit:
Dum reparat tacitos male provida sanguinis ignes,
Praelusit busto, fit calor iste rogus.
Jam secura suas foveant praecordia flammas,
Quem Natura negat, dat Medicina modum.
Nec solum faciles compescit sanguinis aestus,
Dum dubia est inter spemque metumque salus;
Sed fatale malum domuit, quodque astra malignum
Credimus, iratam vel genuisse Stygem.
Extorsit Lachesi cultros, Pestique venenum
Abstulit, et tantos non sinit esse metus.
Quis tandem arte nova domitam mitescere Pestem
Credat, et antiquas ponere posse minas
Post tot mille neces, cumulataque funera busto,
Victa jacet, parvo vulnere, dira Lues.
Aetheriae quanquam spargunt contagia flammae,
Quicquid inest istis ignibus, ignis erit.
Delapsae coelo flammae licet acrius urant,
Has gelida exstingui non nisi morte putas
Tu meliora paras victrix Medicina; tuusque,
Pestis qua superat cuncta, triumphus eris.
Vive liber, victis febrilibus ignibus; unus
Te simul et mundum qui manet, ignis erit.
J. LOCK, A. M. Ex. Aede Christi, Oxon.]
We visited two booksellers’ shops, and could not find Arthur Johnston’s Poems. We went and sat near an hour at Mr Riddoch’s. He could not tell distinctly how much education at the college here costs, which disgusted Dr Johnson. I had pledged myself that we should go to the inn, and not stay supper. They pressed us, but he was resolute. I saw Mr Riddoch did not please him. He said to me, afterwards, ‘Sir, he has no vigour in his talk.’ But my friend should have considered that he himself was not in good humour; so that it was not easy to talk to his satisfaction. We sat contentedly at our inn. He then became merry, and observed how little we had either heard or said at Aberdeen: that the Aberdonians had not started a single mawkin (the Scottish word for hare) for us to pursue.
We set out about eight in the morning, and breakfasted at Ellon. The landlady said to me, ‘Is not this the great Doctor that is going about through the country?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Ay,’ said she, ‘we heard of him, I made an errand into the room on purpose to see him. There’s something great in his appearance: it is a pleasure to have such a man in one’s house; a man who does so much good. If I had thought of it, I would have shewn him a child of mine, who has had a lump on his throat for some time.’ ‘But,’ said I, ‘he is not a doctor of physick.’ ‘Is he an oculist?’ said the landlord. ‘No,’ said I, ‘he is only a very learned man.’ LANDLORD. ‘They say he is the greatest man in England, except Lord Mansfield.’ Dr Johnson was highly entertained with this, and I do think he was pleased too. He said, ‘I like the exception: to have called me the greatest man in England, would have been an unmeaning compliment: but the exception marked that the praise was in earnest; and, in SCOTLAND, the exception must be LORD MANSFIELD, or — SIR JOHN PRINGLE.’
He told me a good story of Dr Goldsmith. Graham, who wrote Telemachus, a Masque, was sitting one night with him and Dr Johnson, and was half drunk. He rattled away to Dr Johnson: ‘You are a clever fellow, to be sure; but you cannot write an essay like Addison, or verses like the Rape of the Lock.’ At last he said, † ‘DOCTOR, I should be happy to see you at Eaton.’ ‘I shall be glad to wait on you,’ answered Goldsmith. ‘No,’ said Graham, ‘’tis not you I mean, Dr MINOR; ’tis Dr MAJOR, there.’ Goldsmith was excessively hurt by this. He afterwards spoke of it himself. ‘Graham,’ said he, ‘is a fellow to make one commit suicide.’
† [Note: I am sure I have related this story exactly as Dr Johnson told it to me: but a friend who has often heard him tell it, informs me that he usually introduced a circumstance which ought not to be omitted. ‘At last, sir, Graham, having now got to about the pitch of looking at one man, and talking to another, said DOCTOR &c. ‘What effect.’ Dr Johnson used to add, ‘this had on Goldsmith, who was as irascible as a hornet, may be easily conceived.’]
We had received a polite invitation to Slains castle. We arrived there just at three o’clock, as the bell for dinner was ringing. Though, from its being just on the north-east Ocean, no trees will grow here, Lord Errol has done all that can be done. He has cultivated his fields so as to bear rich crops of every kind, and he has made an excellent kitchen-garden, with a hot-house. I had never seen any of the family: but there had been a card of invitation written by the honourable Charles Boyd, the earl’s brother. We were conducted into the house, and at the dining-room door were met by that gentleman, whom both of us at first took to be Lord Errol; but he soon corrected our mistake. My lord was gone to dine in the neighbourhood, at an entertainment given by Mr Irvine of Drum. Lady Errol received us politely, and was very attentive to us during the time of dinner. There was nobody at table but her ladyship, Mr Boyd, and some of the children, their governour and governess. Mr Boyd put Dr Johnson in mind of having dined with him at Cumming the Quaker’s, along with Mr Hall and Miss Williams: this was a bond of connection between them. For me, Mr Boyd’s acquaintance with my father was enough. After dinner, Lady Errol favoured us with a sight of her young family, whom she made stand up in a row. There were six daughters and two sons. It was a very pleasing sight.
Dr Johnson proposed our setting out. Mr Boyd said, he hoped we would stay all night; his brother would be at home in the evening, and would be very sorry if he missed us. Mr Boyd was called out of the room. I was very desirous to stay in so comfortable a house, and I wished to see Lord Errol. Dr Johnson, however, was right in resolving to go, if we were not asked again, as it is best to err on the safe side in such cases, and to be sure that one is quite welcome. To my great joy, when Mr Boyd returned, he told Dr Johnson that it was Lady Errol who had called him out, and said that she would never let Dr Johnson into the house again, if he went away that night; and that she had ordered the coach, to carry us to view a great curiosity on the coast, after which we should see the house. We cheerfully agreed.
Mr Boyd was engaged, in 1745-6, on the same side with many unfortunate mistaken noblemen and gentlemen. He escaped, and lay concealed for a year in the island of Arran, the ancient territory of the Boyds. He then went to France, and was about twenty years on the continent. He married a French lady, and now lived very comfortably at Aberdeen, and was much at Slains castle. He entertained us with great civility. He had a pompousness or formal plenitude in his conversation which I did not dislike. Dr Johnson said, there was too much elaboration in his talk. It gave me pleasure to see him, a steady branch of the family, setting forth all its advantages with much zeal. He told us that Lady Errol was one of the most pious and sensible women in the island; had a good head, and as good a heart. He said, she did not use force or fear in educating her children. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, she is wrong; I would rather have the rod to be the general terror to all, to make them learn, than tell a child, if you do thus or thus, you will be more esteemed than your brothers or sisters. The rod produces an effect which terminates itself. A child is afraid of being whipped, and gets his task, and there’s an end on’t; whereas, by exciting emulation, and comparisons of superiority, you lay the foundation of lasting mischief; you make brothers and sisters hate each other.’
During Mr Boyd’s stay in Arran, he had found a chest of medical books, left by a surgeon there, and had read them till he acquired some skill in physick, in consequence of which he is often consulted by the poor. There were several here waiting for him as patients. We walked round the house till stopped by a cut made by the influx of the sea. The house is built quite upon the shore; the windows look upon the main ocean, and the King of Denmark is Lord Errol’s nearest neighbour on the north-east.
We got immediately into the coach, and drove to Dunbui, a rock near the shore, quite covered with sea-fowls; then to a circular bason of large extent, surrounded with tremendous rocks. On the quarter next the sea, there is a high arch in the rock, which the force of the tempest has driven out. This place is called Buchan’s Buller, or the Buller of Buchan, and the country people call it the Pot. Mr Boyd said it was so called from the French Bouloir. It may be more simply traced from Boiler in our own language. We walked round this monstrous cauldron. In some places, the rock is very narrow; and on each side there is a sea deep enough for a man of war to ride in; so that it is somewhat horrid to move along. However, there is earth and grass upon the rock, and a kind of road marked out by the print of feet; so that one makes it out pretty safely: yet it alarmed me to see Dr Johnson striding irregularly along. He insisted on taking a boat, and sailing into the Pot. We did so. He was stout, and wonderfully alert. The Buchan-men all shewing their teeth, and speaking with that strange sharp accent which distinguishes them, was to me a matter of curiosity. He was not sensible of the difference of pronunciation in the south and north of Scotland, which I wondered at.
As the entry into the Buller is so narrow that oars cannot be used as you go in, the method taken is to row very hard when you come near it, and give the boat such a rapidity of motion that it glides in. Dr Johnson observed what an effect this scene would have had, were we entering into an unknown place. There are caves of considerable depth; I think, one on each side. The boatmen had never entered either of them far enough to know the size. Mr Boyd told us that it is customary for the company at Peterhead well, to make parties, and come and dine in one of the caves here.
He told us, that, as Slains is at a considerable distance from Aberdeen, Lord Errol, who has a very large family, resolved to have a surgeon of his own. With this view he educated one of his tenant’s sons, who is now settled in a very neat house and farm just by, which we saw from the road. By the salary which the earl allows him, and the practice which he has had, he is in very easy circumstances. He had kept an exact account of all that had been laid out on his education, and he came to his lordship one day, and told him that he had arrived at a much higher situation than ever he expected; that he was now able to repay what his lordship had advanced, and begged he would accept of it. The earl was pleased with the generous gratitude and genteel offer of the man; but refused it. Mr Boyd also told us, Cumming the Quaker first began to distinguish himself, by writing against Dr Leechman on prayer, to prove it unnecessary, as God knows best what should be, and will order it without our asking — the old hackneyed objection.
When we returned to the house we found coffee and tea in the drawing-room. Lady Errol was not there, being, as I supposed, engaged with her young family. There is a bow-window fronting the sea. Dr Johnson repeated the ode, Jam satis terris, while Mr Boyd was with his patients. He spoke well in favour of entails, to preserve lines of men whom mankind are accustomed to reverence. His opinion was that so much land should be entailed as that families should never fall into contempt, and as much left free as to give them all the advantages of property in case of any emergency. ‘If,’ said he, ‘the nobility are suffered to sink into indigence, they of course become corrupt; they are ready to do whatever the king chooses; therefore it is fit they should be kept from becoming poor, unless it is fixed that when they fall below a certain standard of wealth they shall lose their peerages. We know the House of Peers have made noble stands, when the House of Commons durst not. The two last years of Parliament they dare not contradict the populace.’
This room is ornamented with a number of fine prints, and with a whole length picture of Lord Errol, by Sir Joshua Reynolds. This led Dr Johnson and me to talk of our amiable and elegant friend, whose panegyrick he concluded by saying, ‘Sir Joshua Reynolds, sir, is the most invulnerable man I know; the man with whom if you should quarrel, you would find the most difficulty how to abuse.’
Dr Johnson observed, the situation here was the noblest he had ever seen, better than Mount Edgecumbe, reckoned the first in England; because, at
Mount Edgecumbe, the sea is bounded by land on the other side, and, though there is there the grandeur of a fleet, there is also the impression of there being a dock-yard, the circumstances of which are not agreeable. At Slains is an excellent old house. The noble owner has built of brick, along the square in the inside, a gallery, both on the first and second story, the house being no higher; so that he has always a dry walk, and the rooms, to which formerly there was no approach but through each other, have now all separate entries from the gallery, which is hung with Hogarth’s works, and other prints. We went and sat a while in the library. There is a valuable numerous collection. It was chiefly made by Mr Falconer, husband to the late Countess of Errol in her own right. This earl has added a good many modern books.
About nine the earl came home. Captain Gordon of Park was with him. His lordship put Dr Johnson in mind of their having dined together in London, along with Mr Beauclerk. I was exceedingly pleased with Lord Errol. His dignified person and agreeable countenance, with the most unaffected affability, gave me high satisfaction. From perhaps a weakness, or, as I rather hope, more fancy and warmth of feeling than is quite reasonable, my mind is ever impressed with admiration for persons of high birth, and I could, with the most perfect honesty, expatiate on Lord Errol’s good qualities; but he stands in no need of my praise. His agreeable manners and softness of address prevented that constraint which the idea of his being Lord High Constable of Scotland might otherwise have occasioned. He talked very easily and sensibly with his learned guest. I observed that Dr Johnson, though he shewed that respect to his lordship, which, from principle, he always does to high rank, yet, when they came to argument, maintained that manliness which becomes the force and vigour of his understanding. To shew external deference to our superiors, is proper: to seem to yield to them in opinion, is meanness. †
† [Note: Lord Chesterfield, in his letters to his son, complains of one who argued in an indiscriminate manner with men of all ranks. Probably the noble lord had felt with some uneasiness what it was to encounter stronger abilities than his own. If a peer will engage at foils with his inferior in station, he must expect that his inferior in station will avail himself of every advantage; otherwise it is not a fair trial of strength and skill. The same will hold in a contest of reason, or of wit. A certain king entered the lists of genius with Voltaire. The consequence was, that, though the king had great and brilliant talents, Voltaire had such a superiority that his majesty could not bear it; and the poet was dismissed, or escaped, from that court. In the reign of James I of England. Crichton, Lord Sanquhar, a peer of Scotland, from a vain ambition to excel a fencing-master in his own art, played at rapier and dagger with him. The fencing-master, whose fame and bread were at stake, put out one of his lordship’s eyes. Exasperated at this. Lord Sanquhar hired ruffians, and had the fencing-master assassinated; for which his lordship was capitally tried, condemned, and hanged. Not being a peer of England, he was tried by the name of Robert Crichton, Esq.; but he was admitted to be a baron of three hundred years standing. See the State Trials; and the History of England by Hume, who applauds the impartial justice executed upon a man of high rank.]
The earl said grace, both before and after supper, with much decency. He told us a story of a man who was executed at Perth, some years ago, for murdering a woman who was with child by him, and a former child he had by her. His hand was cut off: he was then pulled up; but the rope broke, and he was forced to lie an hour on the ground, till another rope was brought from Perth, the execution being in a wood at some distance, at the place where the murders were committed. ‘There,’ said my lord, ‘I see the hand of Providence.’ I was really happy here. I saw in this nobleman the best dispositions and best principles; and I saw him, in my mind’s eye, to be the representative of the ancient Boyds of Kilmarnock. I was afraid he might have urged drinking, as, I believe, he used formerly to do, but he drank port and water out of a large glass himself, and let us do as we pleased. He went with us to our rooms at night; said, he took the visit very kindly; and told me, my father and he were very old acquaintances; that I now knew the way to Slains, and he hoped to see me there again.
I had a most elegant room; but there was a fire in it which blazed; and the sea, to which my windows looked, roared; and the pillows were made of the feathers of some sea-fowl, which had to me a disgreeable smell: so that, by all these causes, I was kept awake a good while. I saw, in imagination, Lord Errol’s father, Lord Kilmarnock (who was beheaded on Tower Hill in 1746), and I was somewhat dreary. But the thought did not last long, and I fell asleep.
We got up between seven and eight, and found Mr Boyd in the dining-room, with tea and coffee before him, to give us breakfast. We were in an admirable humour. Lady Errol had given each of us a copy of an ode by Beattie, on the birth of her son, Lord Hay. Mr Boyd asked Dr Johnson, how he liked it. Dr Johnson, who did not admire it, got off very well, by taking it out, and reading the second and third stanzes of it with much melody. This, without his saying a word, pleased Mr Boyd. He observed, however, to Dr Johnson, that the expression as to the family of Errol,
A thousand years have seen it shine compared with what went before,
was an anticlimax, and that it would have been better
Ages have seen, etc.
Dr Johnson said, ‘So great a number as a thousand is better. Dolus latet in universalibus. Ages might be only two ages.’ He talked of the advantage of keeping up the connections of relationship, which produce much kindness. ‘Every man,’ said he, ‘who comes into the world, has need of friends. If he has to get them for himself, half his life is spent, before his merit is known. Relations are a man’s ready friends who support him. When a man is in real distress, he flies into the arms of his relations. An old lawyer, who had much experience in making wills, told me, that after people had deliberated long, and thought of many for their executors, they settled at last by fixing on their relations. This shews the universality of the principle.’
I regretted the decay of respect for men of family, and that a Nabob now would carry an election from them. JOHNSON. ‘Why, sir, the Nabob will carry it by means of his wealth, in a country where money is highly valued, as it must be where nothing can be had without money; but, if it comes to personal preference, the man of family will always carry it. There is generally a scoundrelism about a low man.’ Mr Boyd said, that was a good ism.
I said, I believed mankind were happier in the ancient feudal state of subordination, than they are in the modern state of independency. JOHNSON. To be sure, the CHIEF was: but we must think of the number of individuals. That THEY were less happy, seems plain; for that state from which all escape as soon as they can, and to which none return after they have left it, must be less happy; and this is the case with the state of dependance on a chief or great man.’
I mentioned the happiness of the French in their subordination, by the reciprocal benevolence and attachment between the great and those in lower rank. Mr Boyd gave us an instance of their gentlemanly spirit. An old Chevalier de Malthe, of ancient noblesse, but in low circumstances, was in a coffee-house at Paris, where was Julien, the great manufacturer at the Gobelins, of the fine tapestry, so much distinguished both for the figures and the colours. The chevalier’s carriage was very old. Says Julien, with a plebeian insolence, ‘I think, sir, you had better have your carriage new painted.’ The chevalier looked at him with indignant contempt, and answered, ‘Well, sir. you may take it home and DYE it!’ All the coffee-house rejoiced at Julien’s confusion.
We set out about nine. Dr Johnson was curious to see one of those structures which northern antiquarians call a Druid’s temple. I had a recollection of one at Strichen; which I had seen fifteen years ago: so we went four miles out of our road, after passing Old Deer, and went thither. Mr Fraser, the proprietor, was at home, and shewed it to us. But I had augmented it in my mind; for all that remains is two stones set up on end, with a long one laid upon them, as was usual and one stone at a little distance from them. That stone was the capital one of the circle which surrounded what now remains. Mr Fraser was very hospitable. †
† [Note: He is the worthy son of a worthy father, the late Lord Strichen, one of our judges, to whose kind notice I was much obliged. Lord Strichen was a man not only honest, but highly generous: for after his succession to the family estate, he paid a large sum of debts contracted by his predecessor, which he was not under any obligation to pay. Let me here, for the credit of Ayrshire, my own county, record a noble instance of liberal honesty in William Hutchison, drover, in Lanehead, Kyle, who formerly obtained a full discharge from his creditors upon a composition of his debts: but upon being restored to good circumstances, invited his creditors last winter to a dinner, without telling the reason, and paid them their full sums, principal and interest. They presented him with a piece of plate, with an inscription to commemorate this extraordinary instance of true worth; which should make some people in Scotland blush, while, though mean themselves, they strut about under the protection of great alliance conscious of the wretchedness of numbers who have lost by them, to whom they never think of making reparation, but indulge themselves and their families in most unsuitable expence.]
There was a fair at Strichen; and he had several of his neighbours from it at dinner. One of them, Dr Fraser, who had been in the army, remembered to have seen Dr Johnson at a lecture on experimental philosophy, at Lichfield. The doctor recollected being at the lecture; and he was surprised to find here somebody who knew him.
Mr Fraser sent a servant to conduct us by a short passage into the high-road. I observed to Dr Johnson, that I had a most disagreeable notion of the life of country gentlemen; that I left Mr Fraser just now, as one leaves a prisoner in a jail. Dr Johnson said, that I was right in thinking them unhappy; for that they had not enough to keep their minds in motion.
I started a thought this afternoon which amused us a great part of the way. ‘If,’ said I, ‘our club should come and set up in St Andrews, as a college, to teach all that each of us can, in the several departments of learning and taste, we should rebuild the city: we should draw a wonderful concourse of students.’ Dr Johnson entered fully into the spirit of this project. We immediately fell to distributing the offices. I was to teach civil and Scotch law; Burke, politicks and eloquence; Garrick, the art of publick speaking; Langton was to be our Grecian, Colman our Latin professor; Nugent to teach physick; Lord Charlemont, modern history; Beauclerk, natural philosophy; Vesey, Irish antiquities, or Celtick learning;† Jones, Oriental learning; Goldsmith, poetry and ancient history; Chamier, commercial politicks; Reynolds, painting, and the arts which have beauty for their object; Chambers, the law of England.
† [Note: Since the first edition, it has been suggested by one of the clubs, who knew Mr Vesey better than Dr Johnson and I, that we did not assign him a proper place; for he was quite unskilled in Irish antiquities and Celtick learning, but might with propriety have been made professor of architecture, which he understood well, and has left a very good specimen of his knowledge and taste in that art, by an elegant house built on a plan of his own formation, at Lucan, a few miles from Dublin.]
Dr Johnson at first said. ‘I’ll trust theology to nobody but myself.’ But, upon due consideration, that Percy is a clergyman, it was agreed that Percy should teach practical divinity and British antiquities; Dr Johnson himself, logick, metaphysicks and scholastick divinity. In this manner did we amuse ourselves, each suggesting, and each varying or adding, till the whole was adjusted. Dr Johnson said, we only wanted a mathematician since Dyer died, who was a very good one; but as to every thing else, we should have a very capital university, †
† [Note: Our club, originally at the Turk’s Head, Gerrard Street, then at Prince’s, Sackville Street, now at Baxter’s Dover Street, which at Mr Garrick’s funeral acquired a name for the first time, and was called The Literary Club, was instituted in 1764, and now consists of thirty-five members. It has, since 1773, been greatly augmented; and though Dr Johnson with justice observed, that, by losing Goldsmith, Garrick, Nugent, Chamier, Beauclerk, we had lost what would make an eminent club, yet when I mention, as an accession, Mr Fox, Dr George Fordyce, Sir Charles Bunbury, Lord Offory, Mr Gibbon, Dr Adam Smith, Mr R. B. Sheridan, the Bishops of Kilaloe and St Asaph, Dean Marlay, Mr Steevens, Mr Dunning, Sir Joseph Banks, Dr Scott of the Commons, Earl Spencer, Mr Windham of Norfolk, Lord Elliot, Mr Malone, Dr Joseph Warton, the Rev. Thomas Warton, Lord Lucan, Mr Burke junior, Lord Palmerston, Dr Burney, Sir William Hamilton, and Dr Warren, it will be acknowledged that we might establish a second university of high reputation.]
We got at night to Banff. I sent Joseph on to Duff house: but Earl Fife was not at home, which I regretted much, as we should have had a very elegant reception from his lordship. We found here but an indifferent inn. †
† [Note: Here, unluckily the windows had no pullies; and Dr Johnson, who was constantly eager for fresh air, had much struggling to get one of them kept open. Thus he had a notion impressed upon him, that this wretched defect was general in Scotland; in consequence of which he has erroneously enlarged upon it in his Journey. I regretted that he did not allow me to read over his book before it was printed. I should have changed very little; but I should have suggested an alteration in a few places where he has laid himself open to be attacked. I hope I should have prevailed with him to omit or soften his assertion, that ‘a Scotsman must be a sturdy moralist, who does not prefer Scotland to truth’, for I really think it is not founded; and it is harshly said.]
Dr Johnson wrote a long letter to Mrs Thrale. I wondered to see him write so much so easily. He verified his own doctrine that ‘a man may always write when he will set himself DOGGEDLY to it’.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48