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SIR WILLIAM FORBES.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 15.
Mr. Scott came to breakfast, at which I introduced to Dr. Johnson and him my friend Sir William Forbes, now of Pitsligo; a man of whom too much good cannot be said; who, with distinguished abilities and application in his profession of a banker, is at once a good companion and a good Christian, which I think is saying enough. Yet it is but justice to record, that once, when he was in a dangerous illness, he was watched with the anxious apprehension of a general calamity; day and night his house was beset with affectionate inquiries; and upon his recovery, Te
Deum was the universal chorus from the hearts of his countrymen.*
Mr. Johnson was pleased with my daughter Veronica,t then a child of about four months old. She had the appearance of listening to him. motions seemed to her to be intended for her amusement; and when he stopped she fluttered, and made a little infantine noise, and a kind of signal for him to begin again. She would be held close to him; which was a proof, from simple nature, that his figure was not horrid. Her fondness for him endeared her still
This excellent citizen and patriot was born at Edinburgh, April 5th, 1739, and died there November 12th, 1806.
"Scarce had lamented Forbes paid
The tribute to his minstrel's shade,
The tale of friendship scarce was told,
Ere the narrator's heart was cold
Far may we search before we find
A heart so manly and so kind."
MARMION, INTROD. CANTO IV. Scott here alludes to Sir W. Forbes's "Life of Dr. Beattie," a copious and interesting memoir. Independently of his exertions and honours as a banker and citizen of Edinburgh, Sir William was a great and beneficent rural improver. He had, like Warren Hastings, been able to realise an early and strong desire to recover the ancient inheritance of his family, which was forfeited to the Crown in 1746, and had afterwards passed through different hands. This he accomplished, adding to the purchase other contiguous lands, on which he planted a village, built and endowed a church and schools, and proved himself to be emphatically the father of his people.-ED.
+ The saint's name of Veronica was introduced into our family through my great
more to me, and I declared she should have five hundred pounds of additional fortune.
We talked of the practice of the law. Sir William Forbes said he thought an honest lawyer should never undertake a cause which he was satisfied was not a just one. “Sir," said Mr. Johnson, “ a lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause which he undertakes, unless his client ask his opinion, and then he is bound to give it honestly. The justice or injustice of the cause is to be decided by the judge. Consider, sir, what is the purpose of courts of justice. It is that every man may have his cause fairly tried, by men appointed to try causes. A lawyer is not to tell what he knows to be a lie; he is not to produce what he knows to be a false deed; but he is not to usurp the province of the jury and the judge, and determine what shall be the effect of evidence-what shall be the result of legal argument. As it rarely happens that a man is fit to plead his own cause, lawyers are a class of the community who by study and experience have acquired the art and power of arranging evidence, and of applying to the points at issue what the law has settled. A lawyer is to do for his client all that his client might fairly do for himself, if he could. If by a superiority of attention, of knowledge, of skill, and a better method of communication, he has the advantage of his adversary, it is an advantage to which he is entitled. There must always be some advantage, on one side or other; and it is better that advantage should be had by talents than by chance. If lawyers were to undertake no causes till they were sure they were just, a man might be precluded altogether from a trial of his claim, though, were it judicially examined, it might be found a very just claim." This was sound, practical doctrine, and rationally repressed a too refined scrupulosity of conscience.
Emigration was at this time a common topic of discourse. Dr
grandmother Veronica, Countess of Kincardine, a Dutch lady of the noble house of Sommelsdyck, of which there is a full account in Bayle's Dictionary. The family had once a princely right in Surinam. The governor of that settlement was appointed by the States General, the town of Amsterdam, and Sommelsdyck. The States General have acquired Sommelsdyck's right; but the family has still great dignity and opulence, and by intermarriages is connected with many other noble families. When I was at the Hague 1 was received with all the affection of kindred. The present Sommelsdyck has an important charge in the Republic, and is as worthy a man as lives. He has honoured me with his correspondence for these twenty years. My great-grandfather, the husband of the Countess Veronica, was Alexander, Earl of Kincardine, that eminent Royalist, whose character is given by Burnet in his History of his own Times. From him the blood of Bruce flows in my veins. Of such ancestry who would not be proud? And as Nihil est, nisi hoc sciat alter, is peculiarly true of genealogy, who would not be glad to seize a fair opportunity to let it be known?-Boswell.
[Miss Veronica Boswell lived to repay her father's doating fondness by watching over him with unwearied care during his last illness. Her pious labours hastened her own death, which took place Sept. 26, 1795, in her twenty-second year.-ED.]
Johnson regretted it as hurtful to human happiness; "For," said he, "it spreads mankind, which weakens the defence of a nation, and les sens the comfort of living. Men, thinly scattered, make a shift, but a bad shift, without many things. A smith is ten miles off; they'll do without a nail or a staple. A tailor is far from them; they'll botch their own clothes. It is being concentrated which produces high convenience."
Sir William Forbes, Mr. Scott and I accompanied Mr. Johnson to the chapel founded by Lord Chief Baron Smith for the service of the Church of England. The Rev. Mr. Carr, the senior clergyman, preached from these words, "Because the Lord reigneth, let the earth be glad." I was sorry to think Mr. Johnson did not attend to the sermon, Mr. Carr's low voice not being strong enough to reach his hearing. A selection of Mr. Carr's sermons has, since his death, been published by Sir William Forbes, and the world has acknowledged their uncommon merit. I am well assured Lord Mansfield has pronounced them to be excellent.*
Here I obtained a promise from Lord Chief Baron Ord that he would dine at my house next day. I presented Mr. Johnson to his lordship, who politely said to him, "I have not the honour of knowing you, but I hope for it, and to see you at my house. I am to wait on you to-morrow." This respectable English judge will be long remembered in Scotland, where he built an elegant house, and lived in it magnificently.t His own ample fortune, with the addition of his salary, enabled him to be splendidly hospitable. It may be fortunate for an individual amongst ourselves to be Lord Chief Baron, and a most worthy man now has the office; but in my opinion it is better for Scotland in general that some of our public employments should be filled by gentlemen of distinction from the south side of the Tweed, as we have the benefit of promotion in England. Such an interchange would make a beneficial mixture of manners, and render our union more complete. Lord Chief Baron Ord was on good terms with us all, in a narrow country filled with jarring interests and keen parties, and though I well knew his opinion to be the same with my own, he kept himself aloof at a very critical period indeed, when the Douglas cause shook the sacred security of birthright in Scotland to its foundation; a cause which, had it happened before the Union, when there was no appeal to a British House of Lords, would have left the great fortress of honours and of property in ruins.
When we got home Dr. Johnson desired to see my books. He
The Rev. George Carr was born at Newcastle in 1704. He was thirty-nine years senior clergyman of the Episcopal Chapel at Edinburgh, and died August 18, 1776. See Forbes's "Life of Beattie."-ED.
+ Baron Ord died at Edinburgh, February 12, 1778.—Ed.
took down Ogden's "Sermons on Prayer," on which I set a very high value, having been much edified by them, and he retired with them to his room. He did not stay long, but soon joined us in the drawingroom. I presented to him Mr. Robert Arbuthnot, a relation of the celebrated Dr. Arbuthnot, and a man of literature and taste. To him we were obliged for a previous recommendation, which secured us a very agreeable reception at St. Andrews, and which Dr. Johnson, in his "Journey," ascribes to some invisible friend.*
Of Dr. Beattie Mr. Johnson said, "Sir, he has written like a man conscious of the truth, and feeling his own strength. Treating your adversary with respect is giving him an advantage to which he is not entitled. The greatest part of men cannot judge of reasoning, and are impressed by character; so that if you allow your adversary a respectable character, they will think that, though you differ from him, you may be in the wrong. Sir, treating your adversary with respect is striking soft in a battle. And as to Hume, a man who has so much conceit as to tell all mankind that they have been bubbled for ages, and he is the wise man who sees better than they, a man who has so little scrupulosity as to venture to oppose those principles which have been thought necessary to happiness, is he to be surprised if another man comes and laughs at him? If he is the great man he thinks himself, all this cannot hurt him; it is like throwing peas against a rock." He added " something much too rough," both as to Mr. Hume's head and heart, which I suppress Violence is, in my opinion, not suitable to the Christian cause. sides, I always lived on good terms with Mr. Hume, though I have frankly told him I was not clear that it was right in me to keep company with him. "But," said I, "how much better are you than your books!" He was cheerful, obliging, and instructive; he was charitable to the poor; and many an agreeable hour have I passed with him. I have preserved some entertaining and interesting memoirs of him, particularly when he knew himself to be dying, which I may some time or other communicate to the world. I shall not, however,
* Dr. Beattie, in a letter to Mrs. Montague, gives a high character of this gentleman, who had been in business at Peterhead, and was afterwards Secretary to the Board of Trustees for Fisheries and Manufactures in Scotland. He died November 5th, 1803. -ED.
+ Beattie's "Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, in Opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism," had been published three years before, in May, 1770. The warmth with which he attacked Hume made many friends and many enemies to the book, and contributed to its success. It is now justly placed below the moral and critical dissertations of the same author.-ED.
The communication was never made. No good Life of Hume was published until 1846, when a copious and able memoir, founded on family papers and other authentic materials, was written by Mr. J. Hill Burton, Advocate.-ED.
extol him so very highly as Dr. Adam Smith does, who says, in a
letter to Mr. Strahan the printer,
While we were talking, there
came a note to me from Dr William Robertson.
* This letter, though shattered by the sharp shot of Dr. Horne of Oxford's wit, in the character of "One of the People called Christians," is still prefixed to Mr. Hume's excellent "History of England," like a poor invalid on the piquet guard, or like a list of quack medicines sold by the same bookseller, by whom a work of whatever nature is published; for it has no connexions with his history, let it have what it may with what are called his philosophical works. A worthy friend of mine in London was lately consulted by a lady of quality, of most distinguished merit, what was the best "History of England" for her son to read. My friend recommended Hume's. But upon recollecting that its usher was a superlative panegyric on one who endeavoured to sap the credit of our holy religion, he revoked his recommendation. I am really sorry for this ostentatious alliance, because I admire "The Theory of Moral Sentiments," and value the greatest part of "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of