Page images


[ocr errors]

The writer of an epitaph should not be considered as saying nothing but what is strictly true. Allowance must be made for some degree of exaggerated praise. In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.”

“There is now less flogging in our great schools than formerly, but then less is learned there ; so that what the boys get at one end they lose at the other."

“More is learned in public than in private schools from emulation ; there is the collision of mind with mind, or the radiation of many minds pointing to one centre. Though few boys make their own exercises, yet, if a good exercise is given up, out of a great number of boys, it is made by somebody.”

I hate by-roads in education. Education is as well known, and has long been as well known as ever it can be. Endeavouring to make children prematurely wise is useless labour. Suppose they have more knowledge at five or six years old than other children, what use can be made of it? It will be lost before it is wanted, and the waste of so much time and labour of the teacher can never be repaid. Too much is expected from precocity, and too little performed. Miss [Aikin]" was an instance of early cultivation, but in what did it terminate ? In marrying a little Presbyterian parson, who keeps an infant boardingschool, so that all her employment now is,

“To suckle fools, and chronicle small beer.' She tells the children, ' This is a cat, and that is a dog, with four legs and a tail ; see there! you are much better than a cat or a dog, for you can speak. If I had bestowed such an education on a daughter, and had discovered that she thought of marrying such a fellow, I would have sent her to the Congress.

After having talked slightingly of music, he was observed to listen very attentively while Miss Thrale played on the harpsichord, and with eagerness he called to her, 'Why don't you dash away like Burney ?' Dr. Burney upon this said to him, 'I believe, Sir, we shall make a musician of you at last.' Johnson, with candid complacency, replied, 'Sir, I shall be glad to have a new sense given to me.''

“He had come down one morning to the breakfast-room, and been a considerable time by himself before anybody appeared. When on a subsequent day he was twitted by Mrs. Thrale for being very late, which he generally was, he defended himself by alluding to the extraordinary morning when he had been too early. 'Madam, I do not like to come down to vacuity.'

“ Dr. Burney having remarked that Mr. Garrick was beginning to look old, he said, 'Why, Sir, you are not to wonder at that; no man's face has had more wear and tear.'”

Not having heard from him for a longer time than I supposed he

Miss Letitia Aikin, afterwards Mrs. Barbauld.--Ed.

would be silent, I wrote to him December 18th, not in good spirits. “ Sometimes I have been afraid that the cold which has gone over Europe this year like a sort of pestilence. has seized you severely ; sometimes my imagination, which is upon occasions prolific of evil, hath figured that you may have somehow taken offence at some part of my conduct."


December 23, 1775. “ Never dream of any offence. How should you offend me? I consider your friendship as a possession, which I intend to hold till you take it from me, and to lament if ever by my fault I should lose it. However, when such suspicions find their way into your mind, always give them vent; I shall make haste to disperse them ; but hinder their first ingress if you can. Consider such thoughts as morbid.

“Such illness as may excuse my omission to Lord Hailes, I cannot honestly plead. I have been hindered, I know not how, by a succession of petty obstructions. I hope to mend immediately, and to send next post to his Lordship. Mr. Thrale would have written to you if I had omitted; he sends his compliments, and wishes to see you.

“You and your lady will now have no more wrangling about feudal inheritance. How does the young Laird of Auchinleck ? I suppose Miss Veronica is grown a reader and discourser.

“I have just now got a cough, but it has never get hindered me from sleeping; I have had quieter nights than are common with me.

“I cannot but rejoice that Joseph' has had the wit to find the way back. He is a fine fellow, and one of the best travellers in the world.

“ Young Coll brought me your letter. He is a very pleasing youth. I took him two days ago to the Mitre, and we dined together. I was as civil as I had the means of being.

“I have had a letter from Rasay, acknowledging, with great appearance of satisfaction, the insertion in the Edinburgh paper. I am very glad that it was done.

“My compliments to Mrs. Boswell, who does not love me; and of all the rest, I need only send them to those that do; and I am afraid it will give you very little trouble to distribute them. I am, my dear, dear Sir,

“ Your affectionate humble servant,


In 1776, Johnson wrote, so far as I can discover, nothing for the public; but that his mind was still ardent, and fraught with generous wishes to attain to still higher degrees of literary excellence, is proved by his private notes of this year, which I shall insert in their proper place.

I Joseph Ritter, a Bohemian, who was in my service many years, and attended Dr. Johnson and me in our Tour to the Hebrides. After having left me for some time, he had not returned to me.-BOSWELL.


Jan. 10, 1776. “I have at last sent you all Lord Hailes's papers. While I was in France, I looked very often into Henault; but Lord Hailes, in my opinion, leaves him far and far behind. Why I did not despatch so short a perusal sooner, when I look back, I am utterly unable to discover; but human moments are stolen away by a thousand petty impediments which leave no trace behind them. I have been afflicted, through the whole Christmas, with the general disorder, of which the worst effect was a cough, which is now much mitigated, though the country, on which I look from a window at Streatham, is now covered with a deep snow. Mrs. Williams is very ill; every body else is as usual.

“Among the papers, I found a letter to you which I think you had not opened ; and a paper for The Chronicle,' which I suppose it not necessary now to insert. I return them both.

“I have, within these few days, had the honour of receiving Lord Hailes's first volume, for which I return my most respectful thanks.

"I wish you, my dearest friend, and your haughty lady, (for I know she does not love me,) and the young ladies, and the young Laird, all happiness. Teach the young gentleman, in spite of his mamma, to think and speak well of, Sir,

“ Your affectionate humble servant,


At this time was in agitation a matter of great consequence to me and my family, which I should not obtrude upon the world, were it not that the part which Dr. Johnson's friendship for me made him take in it, was the occasion of an exertion of his abilities, which it would be injustice to conceal. That what he wrote upon the subject may be understood, it is necessary to give a state of the question, which I shall do as briefly as I can.

In the year 1504, the barony or manor of Auchinleck (pronounced Afléck) in Ayrshire, which belonged to a family of the same name with the lands, having fallen to the Crown by forfeiture, James the Fourth, King of Scotland, granted it to Thomas Boswell, a branch of an ancient family in the county of Fife, styling him in the character dilecto familiari nostro; and assigning, as the cause of the grant, “pro bono et fideli servitio nobis præstito.Thomas Boswell was slain in battle fighting along with his sovereign, at the fatal field of Flodden, in 1513.

From this very honourable founder of our family, the estate was transmitted, in a direct series of heirs male, to David Boswell, my father's great-grand-uncle, who had no sons, but four daughters, who were all respectably married, the eldest to Lord Cathcart.

David Boswell, being resolute in the military feudal principle of continuing the male succession, passed by his daughters, and settled the estate on his nephew by his next brother, who approved of the deed, and

[ocr errors]

renounced any pretensions which he might possibly have, in preference to his son. But the estate having been burthened with large portions to the daughters, and other debts, it was necessary for the nephew to sell a considerable part of it, and what remained was still much encumbered.

The frugality of the nephew preserved, and, in some degree, relieved the estate. His son, my grandfather, an eminent lawyer, not only repurchased a great part of what had been sold, but acquired other lands ; and my father, who was one of the Judges of Scotland, and had added considerably to the estate, now signified his inclination to take the privilege allowed by our law,' to secure it to his family in perpetuity, by an entail, which on account of his marriage articles, could not be done without my consent.

In the plan of entailing the estate, I heartily concurred with him, though I was the first to be restrained by it ; but we unhappily differed as to the series of heirs which should be established, or in the language of our law, called to the succession. My father had declared a predilection for heirs general, that is, males and females indiscriminately. He was willing, however, that all males descending from his grandfather, should be preferred to females ; but would not extend that privilege to males deriving their descent from a higher source. I, on the other hand, had a zealous partiality for heirs male, however remote, which I maintained by arguments which appeared to me to have considerable weight.? And in the particular case of our family, I apprehended that we were under an implied obligation, in honour and good faith, to transmit the estate by the same tenure which we held it, which was as heirs male, excluding nearer females. I therefore, as I thought conscientiously, objected to my father's scheme.

i Acts of Parliament of Scotland, 1685, Cap. 22.—BOSWELL. 2 As first, the opinion of some distinguished naturalists, that our species is transmitted through males only, the female being all along no more than a nidus, or nurse as Mother Earth is to plants of every sort; which notion seems to be confirmed by that text of Scripture “He was yet in the luins of his FATHER when Melchisedeck met him;" (Heb. vii. 10), and consequently, that a man's grandson by a daughter, instead of being his surest descendant, as is vulgarly said, has, in reality, no connection whatever with his blood. And, secondly, independent of this theory, (which if true, should completely exclude heirs general), that if the preference of a male to a female, without regard to primogeniture (as a son, though niuch younger, nay, even a grandson by a son, to a daughter) be once admitted, as it universally is, it must be equally reasonable and proper in the most remote degree of descent from an original proprietor of an estate as in the nearest; because, however distant from the representative at the time, that remote heir male, upon the failure of those nearer to the original proprietor than he is, becomes in fact the nearest male to him, and is, therefore, preferable as his representative, to a female descendant. A little extension of mind will enable us easily to perceive that a son's son, in continuation to whatever length of time, is preferable to a son's daughter, in the succession to an ancient inheritance; in which regard should be had to the representation of the original proprietor, and not to that of one of his descendants.

I am aware of Blackstone's admirable demonstration of the reasonableness of the legal succession, upon the principle of there being the greatest probability that the nearest heir of the person who last dies proprietor of an estate, is of the blood of the first purchaser. But supposing a pedigree to be carefully authenticated through all its branches, instead of mere probability there will be a certainty that the nearest heir male at whatever period, has the same right of blood with the first heir male, namely, the original purchaser's eldest son.105WELL.



My opposition was very displeasing to my father, who was entitled to great respect and deference; and I had reason to apprehend disagreeable consequences from my non-compliance with his wishes. After much perplexity and uneasiness, I wrote to Dr. Johnson, stating the case, with all its difficulties, at full length, and earnestly requesting that he would consider it at leisure, and favour me with his friendly opinion and advice,


London, Jan. 15, 1776. “I was much impressed by your letter, and if I can form upon your case any resolution satisfactory to myself, will very gladly impart it; but whether I am equal to it, I do not know. It is a case compounded of law and justice, and requires a mind versed in juridical disquisitions. Could not you


your whole mind to Lord Hailes? He is, you know, both a Christian and a lawyer. I suppose he is above partiality, and above loquacity; and, I believe, he will not think the time lost in which he may quiet a disturbed, or settle a wavering mind. Write to me as any thing occurs to you; and if I find myself stopped by want of facts necessary to be known, I will make inquiries of you as my doubts arise.

"If your former resolutions should be found only fanciful, you decide rightly in judging that your father's fancies may claim the preference; but whether they are fanciful or rational, is the question. I really think Lord Hailes could help us.

“Make my compliments to dear Mrs. Boswell, and tell her that I hope to be wanting in nothing that I can contribute to bring you all out of your troubles.

“I am, dear Sir, most affectionately,

“Your humble servant,



Feb. 3, 1776. “I am going to write upon a question which requires more knowledge of local law, and more acquaintance with the general rules of inheritance, than I can claim; but I write because you request it.

“Land is, like any other possession, by natural right wholly in the power of its present owner: and may be sold, given, or bequeathed, absolutely or conditionally, as judgment shall direct, or passion incite.

“But natural right would avail little without the protection of law; and the primary notion of law is restraint in the exercise of natural right. A man is therefore, in society, not fully master of what he calls his own, but he still retains all the power which law does not take from him,

In the exercise of the right which law either leaves or gives, regard is to be paid to moral obligations.

“Of the estate which we are now considering, your father still retains such

« PreviousContinue »