« PreviousContinue »
The professors of the university being informed of our arrival, Dr. Stevenson, Dr. Reid, and Mr. Anderson, breakfasted with us. Mr. Anderson accompanied us while Dr. Johnson viewed this beautiful city. He had told me, that one day in London, when Dr. Adam Smith was boasting of it, he turned to him and said, "Pray, sir, have you ever seen Brentford ?" This was surely a strong instance of his impatience and spirit of contradiction. I put him in mind of it to-day, while he expressed his admiration of the elegant buildings, and whispered him, "Don't you feel some remorse ?"
We were received in the college by a number of the professors, who showed all due respect to Dr. Johnson; and then we paid a visit to the principal, Dr. Leechman, at his own house, where Dr. Johnson had the satisfaction of being told that his name had been gratefully celebrated in one of the parochial congregations in the Highlands, as the person to whose influence it was chiefly owing that the New Testament was allowed to be translated into the Erse language. It seems some political members of the Society in Scotland for propa
gating Christian Knowledge, had opposed this pious undertaking, as tending to preserve the distiction between the Highlanders and Lowlanders. Dr. Johnson wrote a long letter upon the subject to a friend, which being shown to them, made them ashamed, and afraid of being publicly exposed; so they were forced to a compliance. It is now in my possession, and is, perhaps, one of the best productions of his masterly pen.*
Professors Reid and Anderson, and the two Messieurs Foulis, the Elzevirs of Glasgow, dined and drank tea with us at our inn, after which, the professors went away; and I, having a letter to write, left my fellow-traveller with Messieurs Foulis. Though good and ingenious men, they had that unsettled speculative mode of conversation which is offensive to a man regularly taught at an English school and university. I found that, instead of listening to the dictates of the sage, they had teazed him with questions and doubtful disputations. He came in a flutter to me and desired I might come back again, for he could not bear these men. "O ho! sir," said I, "you are flying to me for refuge!" He never, in any situation, was at a loss for a ready repartee. He answered, with a quick vivacity, "It is of two evils choosing the least." I was delighted with this flash bursting from the cloud which hung upon his mind, closed my letter directly, and joined the company.
We supped at Professor Anderson's. The general impression upon my memory is, that we had not much conversation at Glasgow, where the professors, like their brethren at Aberdeen, did not venture to expose themselves much to the battery of cannon which they knew might play upon them. Dr. Johnson, who was fully conscious of his own superior powers, afterwards praised Principal Robertson for his caution in this respect. He said to me, "Robertson, sir, was in the right. Robertson is a man of eminence, and the head of a college at Edinburgh. He had a character to maintain, and did well not to risk its being lessened."
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 30.
We set out towards Ayrshire. I sent Joseph on to Loudoun, with a message, that if the earl was at home, Dr. Johnson and I would have the honour to dine with him. Joseph met us on the road, and reported that the earl "jumped for joy," and said, "I shall be very happy to see them."-We were received with a most pleasing courtesy by his lordship, and by the countess his mother, who, in her ninetyfifth year, had all her faculties quite unimpaired. This was a very
* The letter was addressed to Mr. W. Drummond, and will be found in Boswell's Life of Johnson, under date 1766.-ED.
cheering sight to Dr. Johnson, who had an extraordinary desire for long life. Her ladyship was sensible and well-informed, and had seen a great deal of the world. Her lord had held several high offices, and she was sister to the great Earl of Stair.
I cannot here refrain from paying a just tribute to the character of John, Earl of Loudoun, who did more service to the county of Ayr in general, as well as to individuals in it, than any man we have ever had. It is painful to think that he met with much ingratitude from persons both in high and low rank; but such was his temper, such his knowledge of "base mankind,"* that, as if he had expected no other return, his mind was never soured, and he retained his goodhumour and benevolence to the last. The tenderness of his heart was proved in 1745-6, when he had an important command in the Highlands, and behaved with a generous humanity to the unfortunate. I cannot figure a more honest politician; for, though his interest in our county was great, and generally successful, he not only did not deceive by fallacious promises, but was anxious that people should not deceive themselves by too sanguine expectations. His kind and dutiful attention to his mother was unremitted. At his house was true hospitality--a plain but a plentiful table; and every guest, being left at perfect freedom, felt himself quite easy and happy. While I live, I shall honour the memory of this amiable man.
At night, we advanced a few miles farther, to the house of Mr. Campbell of Treesbank, who was married to one of my wife's sisters, and were entertained very agreeably by a worthy couple.
SUNDAY OCTOBER 31.
We reposed here in tranquillity. Dr. Johnson was pleased to find a numerous and excellent collection of books, which had mostly belonged to the Reverend Mr. John Campbell, brother of our host. I was desirous to have procured for my fellow-traveller, to-day, the company of Sir John Cuninghame, of Caprington, whose castle was but two miles from us. He was a very distinguished scholar, was long abroad, and during part of the time lived much with the learned Cuninghame, the opponent of Bentley as a critic upon Horace. He wrote Latin with great elegance, and, what is very remarkable, read Homer and Ariosto through every year. I wrote to him to request he would come to us; but unfortunately he was prevented by indisposition.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 1.
Though Dr. Johnson was lazy, and averse to move, I insisted that he should go with me, and pay a visit to the Countess of Eglintoune,
"The unwilling gratitude of base mankind."-Pope.-BOSWELL.
mother of the late and present earl. I assured him, he would find himself amply recompensed for the trouble; and he yielded to my solicitations, though with some unwillingness. We were well mounted, and had not many miles to ride. He talked of the attention that is necessary in order to distribute our charity judiciously. "If thoughtlessly done, we may neglect the most deserving objects; and, as every man has but a certain proportion to give, if it is lavished upon those who first present themselves, there may be nothing left for such as have a better claim. A man should first relieve those who are nearly connected with him, by whatever tie; and then, if he has anything to spare, may extend his bounty to a wider circle.
As we passed very near the castle of Dundonald, which was one of the many residences of the kings of Scotland, and in which Robert the Second lived and died, Dr. Johnson wished to survey it particularly. It stands on a beautiful rising ground, which is seen at a great distance on several quarters, and from whence there is an extensive prospect of the rich district of Cuninghame, the western sea, the Isle of Arran, and a part of the northern coast of Ireland. It has long
been unroofed; and, though of considerable size, we could not, by any power of imagination, figure it as having been a suitable habitation for majesty. Dr. Johnson, to irritate my old Scottish enthusiasm, was very jocular on the homely accommodation of "King Bob," and roared and laughed till the ruins echoed.
Lady Eglintoune, though she was now in her eighty-fifth year, and had lived in the retirement of the country for almost half a century, was still a very agreeable woman. She was of the noble house of Kennedy, and had all the elevation which the consciousness of such birth inspires. Her figure was majestic, her manners high-bred, her reading extensive, and her conversation elegant. She had been the admiration of the gay circles of life, and the patroness of poets. Dr. Johnson was delighted with his reception here. Her principles in church and state were congenial with his. She knew all his merit, and had heard much of him from her son, Earl Alexander, who loved to cultivate the acquaintance of men of talents in every department.
All who knew his lordship, will allow that his understanding and accomplishments were of no ordinary rate. From the gay habits which he had early acquired, he spent too much of his time with men, and in pursuits far beneath such a mind as his. He afterwards became sensible of it, and turned his thoughts to objects of importance; but was cut off in the prime of his life. I cannot speak, but with emotions of the most affectionate regret, of one, in whose company many of my early days were passed, and to whose kindness I was much indebted.
Often must I have occasion to upbraid myself, that, soon after our return to the main-land, I allowed indolence to prevail over me so much, as to shrink from the labour of continuing my Journal with the same minuteness as before; sheltering myself in the thought that we had done with the Hebrides, and not considering that Dr. Johnson's Memorabilia were likely to be more valuable when we were restored to a more polished society. Much has thus been irrecoverably lost.
In the course of our conversation this day, it came out that Lady Eglintoune was married the year before Dr. Johnson was born, upon which she graciously said to him that she might have been his mother, and that she now adopted him; and, when we were going away, she embraced him, saying, "My dear son, farewell!" My friend was much pleased with this day's entertainment, and owned that I had done well to force him out.*
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 2.
We were now in a country not only "of saddles and bridles," but of post-chaises; and, having ordered one from Kilmarnock, we got to Auchinleck before dinner.
My father was not quite a year and a half older than Dr. Johnson; but his conscientious discharge of his laborious duty as a judge in Scotland, where the law proceedings are almost all in writing-a severe complaint which ended in his death-and the loss of my mother, a woman of almost unexampled piety and goodness, had, before this time, in some degree affected his spirits, and rendered him less disposed to exert his faculties; for he had originally a very strong mind and cheerful temper. He assured me, he never had felt one moment of what is called low spirits, or uneasiness, without a real cause. He had a great many good stories, which he told uncommonly well, and he was remarkable for " humour, incolumi gravitate," as Lord Monboddo used to characterise it. His age, his office, and his character, had long given him an acknowledged claim to great
*Lady Eglintoune was the daughter of Sir Archibald Kennedy of Culzean. She lived seven years after the date of the above visit, dying in 1780 at the great age of ninety-one. Her charms were commemorated by Allan Ramsay, Hamilton of Bangour, and other lesser poets. She was the most celebrated beauty of that period. Even at eighty-four Johnson said she had "little reason to accuse time of depredations on her beauty." Her fine complexion was a source of mystery and envy. "As her secret may be of service to modern beauties," says Mr. Chambers, "I shall, in kindness to the sex, divulge it: she never used paint, but washed her face periodically with sow's milk!" ("Traditions of Edinburgh.") Her son, Earl Alexander, the early patron of Boswell, was, as is well known, shot by Murgo Campbell, whose gun he attempted to wrest from him under the impression that Campbell was a poacher. This unhappy occurrence took place in 1769.-ED.