« PreviousContinue »
reflecting on the careless inaccuracy of narrative in common matters, from which we may certainly conclude that there may be the same in what is more extraordinary. It is but just, however, to add, that the belief in second sight is not peculiar to the Highlands and Isles.
Some years after our tour, a cause was tried in the Court of Session, where the principal fact to be ascertained was, whether a ship-master, who used to frequent the Western Highlands and Isles, was drowned in one particular year or in the year after. A great number of witnesses from those parts were examined on each side, and swore directly contrary to each other upon this simple question. One of them, a very respectable chieftain, who told me a story of second sight which I have not mentioned, but which I too implicitly believed, had in this case, previous to this public examination, not only said, but attested under his hand, that he had seen the shipmaster in the year subsequent to that in which the court was finally satisfied he was drowned. When interrogated with the strictness of judicial inquiry, and under the awe of an oath, he recollected himself better, and retracted what he had formerly asserted, apologising for his inaccuracy by telling the judges, “ A man will say what he will not swear.” By many he was much censured, and it was maintained that every gentleman would be as attentive to truth without the sanction of an oath as with it. Dr. Johnson, though he himself was distinguished at all times by a scrupulous adherence to trath, controverted this proposition; and as a proof that this was not, though it ought to be, the case, urged the very different decisions of elections under Mr. Grenville's Act from those formerly made. « Gentlemen will not pronounce upon oath what they would have said and voted in the house, without that sanction."
However difficult it may be for men who believe in preternatural communications, in modern times, to satisfy those who are of a different opinion, they may easily refute the doctrine of their opponents, who impute a belief in second sight to superstition. To entertain a visionary notion that one sees a distant or future event may be called superstition, but the correspondence of the fact or event with such an impression on the fancy, though certainly very wonderful, if proved, has no more connection with superstition than magnetism or electricity.
After dinner, various topics were discussed; but I recollect only one particular. Dr. Johnson compared the different talents of Garrick and Foote as companions, and gave Garrick greatly the preference for elegance, though he allowed Foote extraordinary powers of entertain. ment. He said, “ Garrick is restrained by some principle, but Foote has the advantage of an unlimited range. Garrick has some delicacy of feeling; it is possible to put him out; you may get the better of him; but Foote is the most incompressible fellow that I ever knew: when you have driven him into a corner, and think you are sure of him, he runs through between your legs, or jumps over your head, and makes his escape."
Dr. Erskine and Mr. Robert Walker, two very respectable ministers of Edinburgh, supped with us, as did the Reverend Dr. Webster.* The conversation turned on the Moravian missions, and on the Methodists. Dr. Johnson observed in general, that missionaries were too sanguine in their accounts of their success among savages, and that much of what they tell is not to be believed. He owned that the Methodists had done good—had spread religious impressions among the vulgar part of mankind; but, he said, they had great bitterness against other Christians, and that he never could get a Methodist to explain in what he excelled others; that it always ended in the indispensable necessity of hearing one of their preachers.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 11. Principal Robertson came to us as we sat at breakfast. He advanced to Dr. Johnson, repeating a line of Virgil, which I forget. I suppose, either
“Post varios casus, per tot discrimina rerum,”+ or,
“-multum ille et terris jactatus, et alto.” Every body had accosted us with some studied compliment on our return. Dr. Johnson said, “I am really ashamed of the congratulations which we receive. We are addressed as if we had made a voyage to Nova Zembla, and suffered five persecutions in Japan.” And he afterwards remarked, that, “ to see a man come up with a formal air and a Latin line, when we had no fatigue and no danger, was provoking.” I told him he was not sensible of the danger, having lain under cover in the boat during the storm; he was like the chicken, that hides its head under its wing and then thinks itself safe.
* The two most eminent literary divines in Edinburgh, Robertson and Blair, held collegiate charges, and had for colleagues men directly opposed to them in views of Church polity and strict Calvinistic doctrine. Dr. John Erskine (born 1721, died 1803) was the colleague of Dr. Robertson in the Old Greyfriars. Dr. Robert Walker (born 1716, died 1783) was the colleague of Dr. Blair in the High Church. Both were able, excellent men, and more popular as preachers with the ordinary class of church goers than their illustrious associates. It was remarked, however, that though the two evangelical divines excelled in what Micah Balwhidder, in Galt's novel, called “ kirkfilling eloquence,” their literary colleagues, from their hearers being chiefly of the higher classes, were more successful in drawing money to the collections made at the church doors. In“Guy Mannering" will be found sketches of Erskine and Walker.- ED.
+ “Through various hazards and events we move."
Lord Elibank came to us, as did Sir William Forbes. The rash attempt in 1745 being mentioned, I observed, that it would make a fine piece of history. Dr. Johnson said it would. Lord Elibank doubted whether any man of this age could give it impartially.JOHNSON: “A man, by talking with those of different sides, who were actors in it, and putting down all that he hears, may in time collect the materials of a good narrative. You are to consider, all history was at first oral. I suppose Voltaire was fifty years in collecting his “ Louis XIV.” which he did in the way that I am proposing.–ROBERTSON: “ He did so. He lived much with all the great people who were concerned in that reign, and heard them talk of everything; and then either took Mr. Boswell's way, of writing down what he heard, or, which is as good, preserved it in his memory; for he has a wonderful memory.”—With the leave, however, of this elegant historian, no man's memory can preserve facts or sayings with such fidelity as may be done by writing them down when they are recent. -Dr. Robertson said, “it was now full time to make such a collection as Dr. Johnson suggested; for many of the people who were then in arms, were dropping off; and both Whigs and Jacobites were now come to talk with moderation.”—Lord Elibank said to him, “Mr. Robertson, the first thing that gave me a high opinion of you, was your saying in the Select Society,* while parties ran high, soon after the year 1745, that you did not think worse of a man's moral character for his having been in rebellion. This was venturing to utter a liberal sentiment, while both sides had a detestation of each other.”
Dr. Johnson observed, that being in rebellion from a notion of another's right, was not connected with depravity; and that we had this proof of it, that all mankind applauded the pardoning of rebels; which they would not do in the case of robbers and murderers. He said, with a smile, that “he wondered that the phrase of unnatural rebellion should be so much used, for that all rebellion was natural to man.
As I kept no Journal of any thing that passed after this morning, I shall, from memory, group together this and the other days, till that
* A society for debate in Edinburgh, consisting of the most eminent men.-Bos WELL.
[Established in 1754 by Allan Ramsay, the painter, son of the Scottish poet. An account of the “Select Society," drawn up by Dr. Carlyle, is given in the Appendix to Dugald Stewart's “Life of Dr. Robertson,” the historian, who was one of its most conspicuous members. The society became so fashionable that in 1759 it numbered 130 members, including all the literati of Edirburgh and its neighbourhood, and many of the gentry, who, though few of them took any share in the debates, thought themselves 60 well entertained and instructed that they gave punctual attendance.-Ed.]
on which Dr. Johnson departed for London. They were in all nine days; on which he dined at Lady Colvill's, Lord Hailes's, Sir Adolphus Oughton's, Sir Alexander Dick's, Principal Robertson's, Mr. Maclaurin's, and thrice at Lord Elibank's seat in the country, where we also passed two nights. He supped at the Honourable Alexander Gordon's, now one of our judges, by the title of Lord Rockville ; at Mr. Nairne's, now also one of our judges, by the title of Lord Dunsinnan; at Dr. Blair's, and Mr. Tytler's; and at my house thrice, one evening with a numerous company, chiefly gentlemen of the law; another with Mr. Menzies of Culdares, and Lord Monboddo, who disengaged himself on purpose to meet him; and the evening on which we returued from Lord Elibank’s, he supped with my wife and me by ourselves.
He breakfasted at Dr. Webster's, at old Mr. Drummond's, and at Dr. Blacklock’s; and spent one forenoon at my uncle Dr. Boswell's, who shewed him his curious museum; and, as he was an elegant scholar, and a physician bred in the school of Boerhaave, Dr. Johnson was pleased with his company.
On the mornings when he breakfasted at my house, he had, from ten o'clock till one or two, a constant levée of various persons, of very different characters and descriptions. I could not attend him, being obliged to be in the Court of Session; but my wife was so good as to devote the greater part of the morning to the endless task of pouring out tea for my friend and his visitors.
Such was the disposition of his time at Edinburgh. He said one evening to me, in a fit of languor, “Sir, we have been harassed by invitations.” I acquiesced. “Ay, sir, he replied ; but how much worse would it have been, if we had been reglected ?”
From what has been recorded in this Journal, it may well be supposed that a variety of admirable conversation has been lost, by my neglect to preserve it. I shall endeavour to recollect some of it, as well as I can. At Lady Colvill's, to whom I am proud to introduce any stranger of eminence, that he may see what dignity and grace is to be found in Scotland, an officer observed, that he had heard Lord Mansfield was not a great English lawyer.-JOHNSON: “ Why, sir, supposing Lord Mansfield not to have the splendid talents which he possesses, he must be a great English lawyer, from having been so long at the bar, and having passed through so many of the great offices of the law. Sir, you may as well maintain that a carrier, who has driven a packhorse between Edinburgh and Berwick for thirty years, does not know the road, as that Lord Mansfield does not know the law of England.”
At Mr. Nairne's, he drew the character of Richardson, the author
of “Clarissa," with a strong yet delicate pencil. I lament much that I have not preserved it: I only remember that he expressed a high opinion of his talents and virtues; but observed, that “ his perpetual study was to ward off petty inconveniences, and procure petty pleasures ; that his love of continual superiority was such, that he took care to be always surrounded by women, who listened to him implicitly, and did not venture to controvert his opinions; and that his desire of distinction was so great, that he used to give large vails to the Speaker Onslow's servants, that they might treat him with respect."
On the same evening, he would not allow that the private life of a judge in England, was required to be so strictly decorous as I supposed. “ Why then, sir, (said I), according to your account, an English judge may just live like a gentleman.”—JOHNSON : sir; if he can."
At Mr. Tytler's, I happened to tell that one evening, a great many years ago, when Dr. Hugh Blair and I were sitting together in the pit of Drury-lane play-house, in a wild freak of youthful extravagance, I entertained the audience prodigiously, by imitating the lowing of a cow. A little while after I had told this story, I differed from Dr. Johnson, I suppose too confidently, upon some point, which I now forget. He did not spare me. Nay, sir, (said he), if you cannot talk better as a man, I'd have you bellow like a cow."*
At Dr. Webster's, he said, that he believed hardly any man died without affectation. This remark appears to me to be well founded, and will account for many of the celebrated death-bed sayings which are recorded.
On one of the evenings at my house, when he told that Lord Lovat boasted to an English nobleman, that though he had not his wealthi, he had two thousand men whom he could at any time call into the field, the Honourable Alexander Gordon observed, that those two thousand men brought him to the block. † " True, sir,” said Dr. Johnson, " but you may just as well argue, concerning a man who * As I have been scrupulously exact in relating anecdotes concerning other per
I shall not withhold any part of this story, however ludicrous. I was so successful in this boyish frolic that the universal cry of the galleries was, “Encore the cow ! encore the cow!" In the pride of my heart, I attempted imitations of some other animals, but with very inferior effect. My reverend friend, anxious for my fame, with an air of the utmost gravity and earnestness addressed me thus : “My dear sir, I would confine myself to the cow."-BOSWELL.
+ This was one of Lord Lovat's usual boasting declarations respecting his clan. In 1724 Marshal Wade estimated the Frasers at 800. Mr. James Ferguson, the astronomer, visited Lord Lovat at Castle Downie, his lordship's seat in Inverness-shire, about 1740, and he says that 400 persons were kennelled in the lower apartments of the tower-like structure, the floors being covered with straw. “Of those wretched