« PreviousContinue »
and what he wrote to me concerning it is so much to my credit as the biographer of Johnson, that my readers will, I hope, grant me their indulgence for here inserting it: “It is not once or twice going over it,” says Sir William, “that will satisfy me; for I find in it a high degree of instruction as well as entertainment; and I derive more benefit from Dr. Johnson's admirable discussions than I should be able to draw from his personal conversation; for, I suppose there is not a man in the world to whom he discloses his sentiments so freely as to yourself."
I cannot omit a curious circumstance which occurred at Edensor inn, close to Chatsworth, to survey the magnificence of which I had gone a considerable way out of my road to Scotland. The inn was then kept by a very jolly landlord, whose name, I think, was Malton. He happened to mention that “the celebrated Dr. Johnson had been in his house." I inquired who this Dr. Johnson was, that I might hear my host's notion of him. “Sir,” said he, “ Johnson, the great writer; Oddity, as they call him. He's the greatest writer in England; he writes for the ministry; he has a correspondence abroad, and lets them know what's going on.”
My friend, who had a thorough dependence upon the authenticity of my relation, without any embellishment, as falsehood or fiction is too gently called, laughed a good deal at this representation of himself.
“ MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
“MY DEAR SIR,
Edinburgh, Sept. 29, 1777. "By the first post I inform you of my safe arrival at my own house, and that I had the comfort of finding my wife and children all in good health.
“When I look back upon our late interview, it appears to me to have answered expectation better than almost any scheme of happiness that I ever put in execution. My journal is stored with wisdom and wit; and my memory is filled with the recollection of lively and affectionate feelings, which now, I think, yield me more satisfaction than at the time when they were first excited. I have experienced this upon other occasions. , I shall be obliged to you if you will explain it to me; for it seems wonderful that pleasure should be more vivid at a distance than when near. I wish you may find yourself in a humour to do me this favour; but I flatter myself with no strong hope of it; for I have observed that, unless upon very serious occasions, your letters to me are not answers to those which I write."
[I then expressed much uneasiness that I had mentioned to him the name of the gentleman who had told me the story so much to his disadvantage, the truth of which he had completely refuted; for that my having done so might be interpreted as a breach of confidence, and offend one whose society I valued—therefore earnestly requesting that no notice might be taken of it to anybody, till I should be in London, and have an opportunity to talk it over with the gentleman.]
TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
“ DEAR SIR,
London, Nov. 29, 1777. “You will wonder, or you have wondered, why no letter has come from me. What you wrote at your return, had in it such a strain of cowardly caution as gave me no pleasure. I could not well do what you wished: I had no need to vex you with a refusal. I have seen Mr. Beauclerk, and as to him have set all right, without any inconvenience, so far as I know, to you. Mrs. Thrale had forgot the story. You may now be at ease.
“ And at ease I certainly wish you for the kindness that you showed in coming so long a journey to see me. It was pity to keep you so long in pain; but, upon reviewing the matter, I do not see what I could have done better than I did.
“I hope you found at your return my dear enemy and all her little people quite well, and had no reason to repent of your journey. I think on it with great gratitude.
"I was not well when you left me at the Doctor's, and I grew worse; yet I stayed on, and at Lichfield was very ill. Travelling, however, did not make me worse; and when I came to London, I complied with a summons to go to Brighthelmstone, where I saw Beauclerk, and stayed three days.
“Our CLUB has recommenced last Friday, but I was not there. Langton. has another wench. Mrs. Thrale is in hopes of a young brewer. They got by their trade last year a very large sum, and their expenses are proportionate.
“Mrs. Williams's health is very bad. And I have had for some time a very difficult and laborious respiration; but I am better by purges, abstinence, and other methods. I am yet, however, much behind hand in my health and rest.
“Dr. Blair's sermons are now universally commended; but let him think that I had the honour of: first finding and first praising his excellences. I did not stay to add my voice to that of the public.
"My dear Friend, let me thank you once more for your visit; you did me great honour, and I hope met with nothing that displeased you. I stayed long at Ashbourne, not much pleased, yet awkward at departing. I then went to Lichfield, where I found my friend at Stowhill very dangerously diseased. Such is life. Let us try to pass it well, whatever it be, for there is surely something beyond it. Well, now, I hope all is well. Write as soon as you can to, dear Sir,
“ Your affectionate servant,
1 A darguter born to him.-BOSWELL.
“ TO DR. SAMUEL JOHNSOX. “MY DEAR SIR,
Edinburgh, Nov. 29, 1777. “ This day's post has at length relieved me from much uneasiness, by bringing me a letter from you. I was, indeed, doubly uneasy-on my own account and yours. I was very anxious to be secured against any bad consequences from my imprudence in mentioning the gentleman's name who had told me a story to your disadvantage; and as I could hardly suppose it possible that you would delay so long to make me easy, unless you were ill, I was not a little apprehensive about you. You must not be offended, when I venture to tell you that you appear to me to have been too rigid upon this occasion. The · cowardly caution which gave you no pleasure, was suggested to me by a friend here, to whom I mentioned the strange story and the detection of its falsity, as an instance how one may be deceived by what is apparently very good authority. But, as I am still persuaded that as I might have obtained the truth, without mentioning the gentleman's name, it was wrong in me to do it, I cannot see that you are just in blaming my caution; but if you were ever so just in your disapprobation, might you not have dealt more tenderly with me?
“I went to Auchinleck about the middle of October, and passed some time with my father very comfortably.
“I am engaged in a criminal prosecution against a country schoolmaster, for indecent behaviour to his female scholars. There is no statute against such abominable conduct; but it is punishable at common law. I shall be obliged .to you for your assistance in this extraordinary trial.
“I ever am, my dear Sir,
About this time I wrote to Johnson giving him an account of the decision of the Negro cause, by the Court of Session, which by those who hold even the mildest and best regulated slavery in abomination (of which number I do not hesitate to declare that I am none), should be remembered with high respect, and to the credit of Scotland; for it went upon a much broader ground than the case of Somerset, which was decided in England ;' being truly the general question, whether a perpetual obligation of service to one master in any mode should be sanctified by the law of a free country. A negro, then called Joseph Knight, a native of Africa, who having been brought to Jamaica in the usual course of the slave-trade, and purchased by a Scotch gentleman in that island, had attended his master to Scotland ; where it was officiously suggested to him that he would be found entitled to his liberty without any limitation. He accordingly brought his action, in the course of which the advocates on both sides did themselves great honour. Mr. Maclaurin has had the praise of Johnson, for his argument in favour of the negro, and Mr. Macconochie distinguished himself on the same side, by his ingenuity and extraordinary research. Mr. Cullen, on the part of the master, discovered good information and sound reasoning; in which he was well supported by Mr. James Ferguson, remarkable for a manly understanding, and a knowledge both of books and the world. But I cannot too highly praise the speech which Mr. Henry Dundas generously contributed to the cause of the sooty stranger. Mr. Dundas’s Scottish accent, which has been so often in vain obtruded as an objection to his powerful abilities in Parliament, was no disadvantage to him in his own country. And I do declare, that upon this memorable question he impressed me, and I believe all his audience, with such feelings as were produced by some of the most eminent orations of antiquity. This testimony I liberally give to the excellence of an old friend, with whom it has been my lot to differ very widely upon many political topics ; yet I persuade myself without malice. A great majority of the Lords of Session decided for the negro. But four of their number, the Lord President, Lord Elliott, Lord Monboddo, and Lord Covington, resolutely maintained the lawfulness of a status, which has been acknowledged in all ages and countries, and that when freedom flourished, as in old Greece and Rome.
i See State Trials, vol. xi. p. 339, and Mr. Hargrave's argument.--BOSWELL.
“ TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ. “ DEAR SIR,
December 27, 1777. “ This is the time of the year in which all express their good wishes to their friends, and I send mine to you and your family. May your lives be long, happy, and good. I have been much out of order, but, I hope, do not grow worse.
“ The crime of the schoolmaster whom you are engaged to prosecute is very great, and may be suspected to be too common. In our law it would be a breach of the peace and a misdemeanour; that is, a kind of indefinite crime, not capital, but punishable at the discretion of the Court. You cannot want matter; all that needs to be said will easily occur.
“Mr. Shaw, the author of the Gaelic Grammar, desires me to make a request for him to Lord Eglintoune, that he may be appointed Chaplain to one of the new-raised regiments.
“All our friends are as they were ; little has happened to them of either good or bad. Mrs. Thrale ran a great black hair-dressing pin into her eye; but by great evacuation she kept it from inflaming, and it is almost well. Miss
• The motto to it was happily chosen:
“Quamvis ille niger, quamvis tu candidus esses." I cannot avoid mentioning a circumstance no legs strange than true, that a brother Advocate in considerable practice, but of whom it certainly cannot be said, Ingenuas didicit fideliter artes, asked Mr. Maclaurin, with a face of flippant assurance, “ Are these words your own?”.
Reynolds has been out of order, but is better. Mrs. Williams is in a very poor state of health.
“If I should write on, I should, perhaps, write only complaints, and therefore I will content myself with telling you, that I love to think on you, and to hear from you; and that I am, dear Sir,
“ Yours faithfully,
“ TO DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
Edinburgh, Jan. 8, 1778. “Your congratulations upon a new year are mixed with complaint : mine must be so too. My wife has for some time been very ill, having been confined to the house these three months by a severe cold, attended with alarming symptoms.
[Here I gave a particular account of the distress which the person, upon every account most dear to me, suffered ; and of the dismal state of apprehension in which I now was: adding, that I never stood more in need of his consoling philosophy.]
“Did you ever look at a book written by Wilson, a Scotchman, under the Latin name of Volusenus, according to the custom of literary men at a certain period. It is entitled ' De Animi Tranquillitate.' I earnestly desire tranquillity. Bona res quies ; but I fear I shall never attain it: for, when unoccupied, I grow gloomy, and occupation agitates me to feverishness.
“I am, dear Sir,
“ JAMES BOSWELL."
" TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ. “ DEAR SIR,
Jan. 24, 1778. “ To a letter so interesting as your last, it is proper to return some answer, however little I may be disposed to write.
“ Your alarm at your lady's illness was reasonable, and not disproportionate to the appearance of the disorder. I hope your physical friend's conjecture is now verified, and all fear of a consumption at an end: a little care and exercise will then restore her. London is a good air for ladies; and if you bring her hither I will do for her what she did for me-I will retire from my apartments for her accommodation. Behave kindly to her, and keep her cheerful.
“You always seem to call for tenderness. Know then, that in the first month of the present year I very highly esteem and very cordially love you. I hope to tell you this at the beginning of every year as long as we live; and why should we trouble ourselves to tell or hear it oftener?
“Tell Veronica, Euphemia, and Alexander, that I wish them, as well as their parents, many happy years.