Part 6 out of 12
contempt for the notion that the weather affects the human frame.
I told him that our friend Goldsmith had said to me, that he had come
too late into the world, for that Pope and other poets had taken up the
places in the Temple of Fame; so that, as but a few at any period can
possess poetical reputation, a man of genius can now hardly acquire it.
JOHNSON. 'That is one of the most sensible things I have ever heard of
Goldsmith. It is difficult to get literary fame, and it is every day
growing more difficult. Ah, Sir, that should make a man think of
securing happiness in another world, which all who try sincerely for it
may attain. In comparison of that, how little are all other things! The
belief of immortality is impressed upon all men, and all men act under
an impression of it, however they may talk, and though, perhaps, they
may be scarcely sensible of it.' I said, it appeared to me that some
people had not the least notion of immortality; and I mentioned a
distinguished gentleman of our acquaintance. JOHNSON. 'Sir, if it were
not for the notion of immortality, he would cut a throat to fill his
pockets.' When I quoted this to Beauclerk, who knew much more of the
gentleman than we did, he said, in his acid manner, 'He would cut a
throat to fill his pockets, if it were not for fear of being hanged.'
Dr. Johnson proceeded: 'Sir, there is a great cry about infidelity;
but there are, in reality, very few infidels. I have heard a person,
originally a Quaker, but now, I am afraid, a Deist, say, that he did not
believe there were, in all England, above two hundred infidels.'
He was pleased to say, 'If you come to settle here, we will have one day
in the week on which we will meet by ourselves. That is the happiest
conversation where there is no competition, no vanity, but a calm quiet
interchange of sentiments.' In his private register this evening is
thus marked, 'Boswell sat with me till night; we had some serious
talk.' It also appears from the same record, that after I left him he
was occupied in religious duties, in 'giving Francis, his servant, some
directions for preparation to communicate; in reviewing his life, and
resolving on better conduct.' The humility and piety which he
discovers on such occasions, is truely edifying. No saint, however, in
the course of his religious warfare, was more sensible of the unhappy
failure of pious resolves, than Johnson. He said one day, talking to an
acquaintance on this subject, 'Sir, Hell is paved with good
On Sunday, April 16, being Easter Day, after having attended the solemn
service at St. Paul's, I dined with Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Williams. I
maintained that Horace was wrong in placing happiness in _Nil
admirari_, for that I thought admiration one of the most agreeable of
all our feelings; and I regretted that I had lost much of my
disposition to admire, which people generally do as they advance in
life. JOHNSON. 'Sir, as a man advances in life, he gets what is better
than admiration--judgement, to estimate things at their true value.' I
still insisted that admiration was more pleasing than judgement, as love
is more pleasing than friendship. The feeling of friendship is like that
of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love, like being enlivened
with champagne. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; admiration and love are like being
intoxicated with champagne; judgement and friendship like being
enlivened. Waller has hit upon the same thought with you: but I don't
believe you have borrowed from Waller. I wish you would enable yourself
to borrow more.'
He then took occasion to enlarge on the advantages of reading, and
combated the idle superficial notion, that knowledge enough may be
acquired in conversation. 'The foundation (said he,) must be laid by
reading. General principles must be had from books, which, however, must
be brought to the test of real life. In conversation you never get a
system. What is said upon a subject is to be gathered from a hundred
people. The parts of a truth, which a man gets thus, are at such a
distance from each other that he never attains to a full view.'
'To BENNET LANGTON, ESQ.
'I have enquired more minutely about the medicine for the rheumatism,
which I am sorry to hear that you still want. The receipt is this:
'Take equal quantities of flour of sulphur, and _flour_ of mustard-seed,
make them an electuary with honey or treacle; and take a bolus as big as
a nutmeg several times a day, as you can bear it: drinking after it a
quarter of a pint of the infusion of the root of Lovage.
'Lovage, in Ray's _Nomenclature_, is Levisticum: perhaps the Botanists
may know the Latin name.
'Of this medicine I pretend not to judge. There is all the appearance of
its efficacy, which a single instance can afford: the patient was very
old, the pain very violent, and the relief, I think, speedy and lasting.
'My opinion of alterative medicine is not high, but _quid tentasse
nocebit_? if it does harm, or does no good, it may be omitted; but that
it may do good, you have, I hope, reason to think is desired by,
'Sir, your most affectionate,
'April 17, 1775.'
On Tuesday, April 18, he and I were engaged to go with Sir Joshua
Reynolds to dine with Mr. Cambridge, at his beautiful villa on the
banks of the Thames, near Twickenham. Dr. Johnson's tardiness was such,
that Sir Joshua, who had an appointment at Richmond, early in the day,
was obliged to go by himself on horseback, leaving his coach to Johnson
and me. Johnson was in such good spirits, that every thing seemed to
please him as we drove along.
Our conversation turned on a variety of subjects. He thought
portrait-painting an improper employment for a woman. 'Publick
practice of any art, (he observed,) and staring in men's faces, is very
indelicate in a female.' I happened to start a question, whether, when a
man knows that some of his intimate friends are invited to the house of
another friend, with whom they are all equally intimate, he may join
them without an invitation. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; he is not to go when he
is not invited. They may be invited on purpose to abuse him' (smiling).
As a curious instance how little a man knows, or wishes to know, his own
character in the world, or, rather, as a convincing proof that Johnson's
roughness was only external, and did not proceed from his heart, I
insert the following dialogue. JOHNSON. 'It is wonderful, Sir, how rare
a quality good humour is in life. We meet with very few good humoured
men.' I mentioned four of our friends, none of whom he would allow to
be good humoured. One was _acid_, another was _muddy_, and to the
others he had objections which have escaped me. Then, shaking his head
and stretching himself at ease in the coach, and smiling with much
complacency, he turned to me and said, 'I look upon _myself_ as a good
humoured fellow.' The epithet _fellow_, applied to the great
Lexicographer, the stately Moralist, the masterly Critick, as if he had
been Sam Johnson, a mere pleasant companion, was highly diverting; and
this light notion of himself struck me with wonder. I answered, also
smiling, 'No, no, Sir; that will _not_ do. You are good natured, but not
good humoured: you are irascible. You have not patience with folly
and absurdity. I believe you would pardon them, if there were time to
deprecate your vengeance; but punishment follows so quick after
sentence, that they cannot escape.'
I had brought with me a great bundle of Scotch magazines and
news-papers, in which his _Journey to the Western Islands_ was attacked
in every mode; and I read a great part of them to him, knowing they
would afford him entertainment. I wish the writers of them had been
present: they would have been sufficiently vexed. One ludicrous
imitation of his style, by Mr. Maclaurin, now one of the Scotch
Judges, with the title of Lord Dreghorn, was distinguished by him from
the rude mass. 'This (said he,) is the best. But I could caricature my
own style much better myself.' He defended his remark upon the general
insufficiency of education in Scotland; and confirmed to me the
authenticity of his witty saying on the learning of the Scotch;--'Their
learning is like bread in a besieged town: every man gets a little, but
no man gets a full meal.' 'There is (said he,) in Scotland, a
diffusion of learning, a certain portion of it widely and thinly spread.
A merchant there has as much learning as one of their clergy.'
He talked of Isaac Walton's _Lives_, which was one of his most favourite
books. Dr. Donne's _Life_, he said, was the most perfect of them. He
observed, that 'it was wonderful that Walton, who was in a very low
situation in life, should have been familiarly received by so many great
men, and that at a time when the ranks of society were kept more
separate than they are now.' He supposed that Walton had then given up
his business as a linen draper and sempster, and was only an authour;
and added, 'that he was a great panegyrist.' BOSWELL. 'No quality will
get a man more friends than a disposition to admire the qualities of
others. I do not mean flattery, but a sincere admiration.' JOHNSON.
'Nay, Sir, flattery pleases very generally. In the first place, the
flatterer may think what he says to be true: but, in the second place,
whether he thinks so or not, he certainly thinks those whom he flatters
of consequence enough to be flattered.'
No sooner had we made our bow to Mr. Cambridge, in his library, than
Johnson ran eagerly to one side of the room, intent on poring over the
backs of the books. Sir Joshua observed, (aside,) 'He runs to the
books, as I do to the pictures: but I have the advantage. I can see much
more of the pictures than he can of the books.' Mr. Cambridge, upon
this, politely said, 'Dr. Johnson, I am going, with your pardon, to
accuse myself, for I have the same custom which I perceive you have. But
it seems odd that one should have such a desire to look at the backs of
books.' Johnson, ever ready for contest, instantly started from his
reverie, wheeled about, and answered, 'Sir, the reason is very plain.
Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where
we can find information upon it. When we enquire into any subject, the
first thing we have to do is to know what books have treated of it. This
leads us to look at catalogues, and the backs of books in libraries.'
Sir Joshua observed to me the extraordinary promptitude with which
Johnson flew upon an argument. 'Yes, (said I,) he has no formal
preparation, no flourishing with his sword; he is through your body in
Johnson was here solaced with an elegant entertainment, a very
accomplished family, and much good company; among whom was Mr. Harris
of Salisbury, who paid him many compliments on his _Journey to the
The common remark as to the utility of reading history being made;--
JOHNSON. 'We must consider how very little history there is; I mean real
authentick history. That certain Kings reigned, and certain battles were
fought, we can depend upon as true; but all the colouring, all the
philosophy of history is conjecture.' BOSWELL. 'Then, Sir, you would
reduce all history to no better than an almanack, a mere
chronological series of remarkable events.' Mr. Gibbon, who must at that
time have been employed upon his _History_, of which he published the
first volume in the following year, was present; but did not step forth
in defence of that species of writing. He probably did not like to trust
himself with JOHNSON!
Johnson observed, that the force of our early habits was so great, that
though reason approved, nay, though our senses relished a different
course, almost every man returned to them. I do not believe there is any
observation upon human nature better founded than this; and, in many
cases, it is a very painful truth; for where early habits have been mean
and wretched, the joy and elevation resulting from better modes of life
must be damped by the gloomy consciousness of being under an almost
inevitable doom to sink back into a situation which we recollect with
disgust. It surely may be prevented, by constant attention and
unremitting exertion to establish contrary habits of superiour efficacy.
_The Beggar's Opera_, and the common question, whether it was pernicious
in its effects, having been introduced;--JOHNSON. 'As to this matter,
which has been very much contested, I myself am of opinion, that more
influence has been ascribed to _The Beggar's Opera_, than it in reality
ever had; for I do not believe that any man was ever made a rogue by
being present at its representation. At the same time I do not deny that
it may have some influence, by making the character of a rogue familiar,
and in some degree pleasing.' Then collecting himself as it were, to
give a heavy stroke: 'There is in it such a _labefactation_ of all
principles, as may be injurious to morality.'
While he pronounced this response, we sat in a comical sort of
restraint, smothering a laugh, which we were afraid might burst out. In
his _Life of Gay_, he has been still more decisive as to the
inefficiency of _The Beggar's Opera_ in corrupting society. But I
have ever thought somewhat differently; for, indeed, not only are the
gaiety and heroism of a highwayman very captivating to a youthful
imagination, but the arguments for adventurous depredation are so
plausible, the allusions so lively, and the contrasts with the ordinary
and more painful modes of acquiring property are so artfully displayed,
that it requires a cool and strong judgement to resist so imposing an
aggregate: yet, I own, I should be very sorry to have _The Beggar's
Opera_ suppressed; for there is in it so much of real London life, so
much brilliant wit, and such a variety of airs, which, from early
association of ideas, engage, soothe, and enliven the mind, that no
performance which the theatre exhibits, delights me more.
The late '_worthy_' Duke of Queensberry, as Thomson, in his
_Seasons_, justly characterises him, told me, that when Gay first shewed
him _The Beggar's Opera_, his Grace's observation was, 'This is a very
odd thing, Gay; I am satisfied that it is either a very good thing, or a
very bad thing.' It proved the former, beyond the warmest expectations
of the authour or his friends, Mr. Cambridge, however, shewed us to-day,
that there was good reason enough to doubt concerning its success. He
was told by Quin, that during the first night of its appearance it was
long in a very dubious state; that there was a disposition to damn it,
and that it was saved by the song,
'Oh ponder well! be not severe!'
the audience being much affected by the innocent looks of Polly, when
she came to those two lines, which exhibit at once a painful and
'For on the rope that hangs my Dear,
Depends poor Polly's life.'
Quin himself had so bad an opinion of it, that he refused the part of
Captain Macheath, and gave it to Walker, who acquired great celebrity
by his grave yet animated performance of it.
We talked of a young gentleman's marriage with an eminent singer, and
his determination that she should no longer sing in publick, though his
father was very earnest she should, because her talents would be
liberally rewarded, so as to make her a good fortune. It was questioned
whether the young gentleman, who had not a shilling in the world, but
was blest with very uncommon talents, was not foolishly delicate, or
foolishly proud, and his father truely rational without being mean.
Johnson, with all the high spirit of a Roman senator, exclaimed, 'He
resolved wisely and nobly to be sure. He is a brave man. Would not a
gentleman be disgraced by having his wife singing publickly for hire?
No, Sir, there can be no doubt here. I know not if I should not
_prepare_ myself for a publick singer, as readily as let my wife be
Johnson arraigned the modern politicks of this country, as entirely
devoid of all principle of whatever kind. 'Politicks (said he) are now
nothing more than means of rising in the world. With this sole view do
men engage in politicks, and their whole conduct proceeds upon it. How
different in that respect is the state of the nation now from what it
was in the time of Charles the First, during the Usurpation, and after
the Restoration, in the time of Charles the Second. _Hudibras_ affords a
strong proof how much hold political principles had then upon the minds
of men. There is in _Hudibras_ a great deal of bullion which will always
last. But to be sure the brightest strokes of his wit owed their force
to the impression of the characters, which was upon men's minds at the
time; to their knowing them, at table and in the street; in short, being
familiar with them; and above all, to his satire being directed against
those whom a little while before they had hated and feared. The
nation in general has ever been loyal, has been at all times attached to
the monarch, though a few daring rebels have been wonderfully powerful
for a time. The murder of Charles the First was undoubtedly not
committed with the approbation or consent of the people. Had that been
the case, Parliament would not have ventured to consign the regicides to
their deserved punishment. And we know what exuberance of joy there was
when Charles the Second was restored. If Charles the Second had bent all
his mind to it, had made it his sole object, he might have been as
absolute as Louis the Fourteenth.' A gentleman observed he would have
done no harm if he had. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, absolute princes seldom do
any harm. But they who are governed by them are governed by chance.
There is no security for good government.' CAMBRIDGE. 'There have been
many sad victims to absolute government.' JOHNSON. 'So, Sir, have there
been to popular factions.' BOSWELL. 'The question is, which is worst,
one wild beast or many?'
Johnson praised _The Spectator_, particularly the character of Sir Roger
de Coverley. He said, 'Sir Roger did not die a violent death, as has
been generally fancied. He was not killed; he died only because others
were to die, and because his death afforded an opportunity to Addison
for some very fine writing. We have the example of Cervantes making Don
Quixote die.--I never could see why Sir Roger is represented as a
little cracked. It appears to me that the story of the widow was
intended to have something superinduced upon it: but the superstructure
did not come.'
Somebody found fault with writing verses in a dead language, maintaining
that they were merely arrangements of so many words, and laughed at the
Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, for sending forth collections of
them not only in Greek and Latin, but even in Syriac, Arabick, and other
more unknown tongues. JOHNSON. 'I would have as many of these as
possible; I would have verses in every language that there are the means
of acquiring. Nobody imagines that an University is to have at once two
hundred poets; but it should be able to show two hundred scholars.
Pieresc's death was lamented, I think, in forty languages. And I
would have had at every coronation, and every death of a King, every
_Gaudium_, and every _Luctus_, University-verses, in as many languages
as can be acquired. I would have the world to be thus told, "Here is a
school where every thing may be learnt."'
Having set out next day on a visit to the Earl of Pembroke, at
Wilton, and to my friend, Mr. Temple, at Mamhead, in
Devonshire, and not having returned to town till the second of May, I
did not see Dr. Johnson for a considerable time, and during the remaining
part of my stay in London, kept very imperfect notes of his conversation,
which had I according to my usual custom written out at large soon after
the time, much might have been preserved, which is now irretrievably lost.
I can now only record some particular scenes, and a few fragments of his
_memorabilia_. But to make some amends for my relaxation of diligence in
one respect, I have to present my readers with arguments upon two law
cases, with which he favoured me.
On Saturday, the sixth of May, we dined by ourselves at the Mitre, and
he dictated to me what follows, to obviate the complaint already
mentioned, which had been made in the form of an action in the Court
of Session, by Dr. Memis, of Aberdeen, that in the same translation of a
charter in which _physicians_ were mentioned, he was called _Doctor of
'There are but two reasons for which a physician can decline the title
of _Doctor of Medicine_, because he supposes himself disgraced by the
doctorship, or supposes the doctorship disgraced by himself. To be
disgraced by a title which he shares in common with every illustrious
name of his profession, with Boerhaave, with Arbuthnot, and with Cullen,
can surely diminish no man's reputation. It is, I suppose, to the
doctorate, from which he shrinks, that he owes his right of practising
physick. A doctor of Medicine is a physician under the protection of the
laws, and by the stamp of authority. The physician, who is not a Doctor,
usurps a profession, and is authorised only by himself to decide upon
health and sickness, and life and death. That this gentleman is a
Doctor, his diploma makes evident; a diploma not obtruded upon him, but
obtained by solicitation, and for which fees were paid. With what
countenance any man can refuse the title which he has either begged or
bought, is not easily discovered.
'All verbal injury must comprise in it either some false position, or
some unnecessary declaration of defamatory truth. That in calling him
Doctor, a false appellation was given him, he himself will not pretend,
who at the same time that he complains of the title, would be offended
if we supposed him to be not a Doctor. If the title of Doctor be a
defamatory truth, it is time to dissolve our colleges; for why should
the publick give salaries to men whose approbation is reproach? It may
likewise deserve the notice of the publick to consider what help can be
given to the professors of physick, who all share with this unhappy
gentleman the ignominious appellation, and of whom the very boys in the
street are not afraid to say, _There goes the Doctor_.
'What is implied by the term Doctor is well known. It distinguishes him
to whom it is granted, as a man who has attained such knowledge of his
profession as qualifies him to instruct others. A Doctor of Laws is a
man who can form lawyers by his precepts. A Doctor of Medicine is a man
who can teach the art of curing diseases. There is an old axiom which no
man has yet thought fit to deny, _Nil dat quod non habet_. Upon this
principle to be Doctor implies skill, for _nemo docet quod non didicit_.
In England, whoever practises physick, not being a Doctor, must practise
by a licence: but the doctorate conveys a licence in itself.
'By what accident it happened that he and the other physicians were
mentioned in different terms, where the terms themselves were
equivalent, or where in effect that which was applied to him was the
most honourable, perhaps they who wrote the paper cannot now remember.
Had they expected a lawsuit to have been the consequence of such petty
variation, I hope they would have avoided it. But, probably, as they
meant no ill, they suspected no danger, and, therefore, consulted only
what appeared to them propriety or convenience.'
A few days afterwards I consulted him upon a cause, _Paterson and
others_ against _Alexander and others_, which had been decided by a
casting vote in the Court of Session, determining that the Corporation
of Stirling was corrupt, and setting aside the election of some of their
officers, because it was proved that three of the leading men who
influenced the majority had entered into an unjustifiable compact, of
which, however, the majority were ignorant. He dictated to me, after a
little consideration, the following sentences upon the subject:--
'There is a difference between majority and superiority; majority is
applied to number, and superiority to power; and power, like many other
things, is to be estimated _non numero sed pondere_. Now though the
greater _number_ is not corrupt, the greater _weight_ is corrupt, so
that corruption predominates in the borough, taken _collectively_,
though, perhaps, taken _numerically_, the greater part may be uncorrupt.
That borough, which is so constituted as to act corruptly, is in the eye
of reason corrupt, whether it be by the uncontrolable power of a few, or
by an accidental pravity of the multitude. The objection, in which is
urged the injustice of making the innocent suffer with the guilty, is an
objection not only against society, but against the possibility of
society. All societies, great and small, subsist upon this condition;
that as the individuals derive advantages from union, they may likewise
suffer inconveniences; that as those who do nothing, and sometimes those
who do ill, will have the honours and emoluments of general virtue and
general prosperity, so those likewise who do nothing, or perhaps do
well, must be involved in the consequences of predominant corruption.'
This in my opinion was a very nice case; but the decision was affirmed
in the House of Lords.
On Monday, May 8, we went together and visited the mansions of
Bedlam. I had been informed that he had once been there before with
Mr. Wedderburne, (now Lord Loughborough,) Mr. Murphy, and Mr. Foote; and
I had heard Foote give a very entertaining account of Johnson's
happening to have his attention arrested by a man who was very furious,
and who, while beating his straw, supposed it was William Duke of
Cumberland, whom he was punishing for his cruelties in Scotland, in
1746. There was nothing peculiarly remarkable this day; but the
general contemplation of insanity was very affecting. I accompanied him
home, and dined and drank tea with him.
Talking of an acquaintance of ours, distinguished for knowing an
uncommon variety of miscellaneous articles both in antiquities and
polite literature, he observed, 'You know, Sir, he runs about with
little weight upon his mind.' And talking of another very ingenious
gentleman, who from the warmth of his temper was at variance with
many of his acquaintance, and wished to avoid them, he said, 'Sir, he
leads the life of an outlaw.'
On Friday, May 12, as he had been so good as to assign me a room in
his house, where I might sleep occasionally, when I happened to sit with
him to a late hour, I took possession of it this night, found every
thing in excellent order, and was attended by honest Francis with a most
civil assiduity. I asked Johnson whether I might go to a consultation
with another lawyer upon Sunday, as that appeared to me to be doing work
as much in my way, as if an artisan should work on the day appropriated
for religious rest. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, when you are of consequence
enough to oppose the practice of consulting upon Sunday, you should do
it: but you may go now. It is not criminal, though it is not what one
should do, who is anxious for the preservation and increase of piety, to
which a peculiar observance of Sunday is a great help. The distinction
is clear between what is of moral and what is of ritual obligation.'
On Saturday, May 13, I breakfasted with him by invitation, accompanied
by Mr. Andrew Crosbie, a Scotch Advocate, whom he had seen at
Edinburgh, and the Hon. Colonel (now General) Edward Stopford, brother
to Lord Courtown, who was desirous of being introduced to him. His tea
and rolls and butter, and whole breakfast apparatus were all in such
decorum, and his behaviour was so courteous, that Colonel Stopford was
quite surprised, and wondered at his having heard so much said of
Johnson's slovenliness and roughness. I have preserved nothing of what
passed, except that Crosbie pleased him much by talking learnedly of
alchymy, as to which Johnson was not a positive unbeliever, but rather
delighted in considering what progress had actually been made in the
transmutation of metals, what near approaches there had been to the
making of gold; and told us that it was affirmed, that a person in the
Russian dominions had discovered the secret, but died without revealing
it, as imagining it would be prejudicial to society. He added, that it
was not impossible but it might in time be generally known.
It being asked whether it was reasonable for a man to be angry at
another whom a woman had preferred to him;--JOHNSON. 'I do not see, Sir,
that it is reasonable for a man to be angry at another, whom a woman has
preferred to him: but angry he is, no doubt; and he is loath to be angry
Before setting out for Scotland on the 23rd, I was frequently in his
company at different places, but during this period have recorded only
two remarks: one concerning Garrick: 'He has not Latin enough. He finds
out the Latin by the meaning rather than the meaning by the Latin.'
And another concerning writers of travels, who, he observed, 'were more
defective than any other writers.'
I passed many hours with him on the 17th, of which I find all my
memorial is, 'much laughing.' It should seem he had that day been in a
humour for jocularity and merriment, and upon such occasions I never
knew a man laugh more heartily. We may suppose, that the high relish of
a state so different from his habitual gloom, produced more than
ordinary exertions of that distinguishing faculty of man, which has
puzzled philosophers so much to explain. Johnson's laugh was as
remarkable as any circumstance in his manner. It was a kind of good
humoured growl. Tom Davies described it drolly enough: 'He laughs like a
'To BENNET LANGTON, ESQ.
'I have an old amanuensis in great distress. I have given what I
think I can give, and begged till I cannot tell where to beg again. I
put into his hands this morning four guineas. If you could collect three
guineas more, it would clear him from his present difficulty.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'May 21, 1775.'
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'I make no doubt but you are now safely lodged in your own habitation,
and have told all your adventures to Mrs. Boswell and Miss Veronica.
Pray teach Veronica to love me. Bid her not mind mamma.
'Mrs. Thrale has taken cold, and been very much disordered, but I hope
is grown well. Mr. Langton went yesterday to Lincolnshire, and has
invited Nicolaida to follow him. Beauclerk talks of going to Bath. I
am to set out on Monday; so there is nothing but dispersion.
'I have returned Lord Hailes's entertaining sheets, but must stay
till I come back for more, because it will be inconvenient to send them
after me in my vagrant state.
'I promised Mrs. Macaulay that I would try to serve her son at
Oxford. I have not forgotten it, nor am unwilling to perform it. If they
desire to give him an English education, it should be considered whether
they cannot send him for a year or two to an English school. If he comes
immediately from Scotland, he can make no figure in our Universities.
The schools in the north, I believe, are cheap; and, when I was a young
man, were eminently good.
'There are two little books published by the Foulis, Telemachus and
Collins's _Poems_, each a shilling: I would be glad to have them.
'Make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell, though she does not love me. You
see what perverse things ladies are, and how little fit to be trusted
with feudal estates. When she mends and loves me, there may be more hope
of her daughters.
'I will not send compliments to my friends by name, because I would be
loath to leave any out in the enumeration. Tell them, as you see them,
how well I speak of Scotch politeness, and Scotch hospitality, and
Scotch beauty, and of every thing Scotch, but Scotch oat-cakes, and
'Let me know the answer of Rasay, and the decision relating to Sir
'I am, my dearest Sir, with great affection,
'Your most obliged, and
'Most humble servant,
'May 27, 1775.'
After my return to Scotland, I wrote three letters to him, from which I
extract the following passages:--
'I have seen Lord Hailes since I came down. He thinks it wonderful that
you are pleased to take so much pains in revising his _Annals_. I told
him that you said you were well rewarded by the entertainment which you
had in reading them.'
'There has been a numerous flight of Hebrideans in Edinburgh this
summer, whom I have been happy to entertain at my house. Mr. Donald
Macqueen and Lord Monboddo supped with me one evening. They joined in
controverting your proposition, that the Gaelick of the Highlands and
Isles of Scotland was not written till of late.'
'My mind has been somewhat dark this summer. I have need of your
warming and vivifying rays; and I hope I shall have them frequently. I
am going to pass some time with my father at Auchinleck.'
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'I am returned from the annual ramble into the middle counties.
Having seen nothing I had not seen before, I have nothing to relate.
Time has left that part of the island few antiquities; and commerce has
left the people no singularities. I was glad to go abroad, and, perhaps,
glad to come home; which is, in other words, I was, I am afraid, weary
of being at home, and weary of being abroad. Is not this the state of
life? But, if we confess this weariness, let us not lament it, for all
the wise and all the good say, that we may cure it.
'For the black fumes which rise in your mind, I can prescribe nothing
but that you disperse them by honest business or innocent pleasure, and
by reading, sometimes easy and sometimes serious. Change of place is
useful; and I hope that your residence at Auchinleck will have many good
'That I should have given pain to Rasay, I am sincerely sorry; and am
therefore very much pleased that he is no longer uneasy. He still thinks
that I have represented him as personally giving up the Chieftainship. I
meant only that it was no longer contested between the two houses, and
supposed it settled, perhaps, by the cession of some remote generation,
in the house of Dunvegan. I am sorry the advertisement was not continued
for three or four times in the paper.
'That Lord Monboddo and Mr. Macqueen should controvert a position
contrary to the imaginary interest of literary or national prejudice,
might be easily imagined; but of a standing fact there ought to be no
controversy: If there are men with tails, catch an _homo caudatus_; if
there was writing of old in the Highlands or Hebrides, in the Erse
language, produce the manuscripts. Where men write, they will write to
one another, and some of their letters, in families studious of their
ancestry, will be kept. In Wales there are many manuscripts.
'I have now three parcels of Lord Hailes's history, which I purpose to
return all the next week: that his respect for my little observations
should keep his work in suspense, makes one of the evils of my journey.
It is in our language, I think, a new mode of history, which tells all
that is wanted, and, I suppose, all that is known, without laboured
splendour of language, or affected subtilty of conjecture. The exactness
of his dates raises my wonder. He seems to have the closeness of
Henault without his constraint.
'Mrs. Thrale was so entertained with your _Journal_, that she almost
read herself blind. She has a great regard for you.
'Of Mrs. Boswell, though she knows in her heart that she does not love
me, I am always glad to hear any good, and hope that she and the little
dear ladies will have neither sickness nor any other affliction. But she
knows that she does not care what becomes of me, and for that she may be
sure that I think her very much to blame.
'Never, my dear Sir, do you take it into your head to think that I do
not love you; you may settle yourself in full confidence both of my love
and my esteem; I love you as a kind man, I value you as a worthy man,
and hope in time to reverence you as a man of exemplary piety. I hold
you, as Hamlet has it, 'in my heart of hearts,' and therefore, it is
little to say, that I am, Sir,
'Your affectionate humble servant,
'London, Aug. 27, 1775.'
TO THE SAME.
'If in these papers there is little alteration attempted, do not
suppose me negligent. I have read them perhaps more closely than the
rest; but I find nothing worthy of an objection.
'Write to me soon, and write often, and tell me all your honest heart.
'I am Sir,
'Aug. 30, 1775.'
TO THE SAME.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'I now write to you, lest in some of your freaks and humours you should
fancy yourself neglected. Such fancies I must entreat you never to
admit, at least never to indulge: for my regard for you is so radicated
and fixed, that it is become part of my mind, and cannot be effaced but
by some cause uncommonly violent; therefore, whether I write or not, set
your thoughts at rest. I now write to tell you that I shall not very
soon write again, for I am to set out to-morrow on another journey.
* * * * *
'Your friends are all well at Streatham, and in Leicester-fields.
Make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell, if she is in good humour with me.
'I am, Sir, &c.
'September 14, 1775.'
What he mentions in such light terms as, 'I am to set out to-morrow on
another journey,' I soon afterwards discovered was no less than a tour
to France with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. This was the only time in his life
that he went upon the Continent.
'To MR. ROBERT LEVET.
'Sept. 18, 1775.
'We are here in France, after a very pleasing passage of no more than
six hours. I know not when I shall write again, and therefore I write
now, though you cannot suppose that I have much to say. You have seen
France yourself. From this place we are going to Rouen, and from
Rouen to Paris, where Mr. Thrale designs to stay about five or six
weeks. We have a regular recommendation to the English resident, so we
shall not be taken for vagabonds. We think to go one way and return
another, and for [?see] as much as we can. I will try to speak a little
French; I tried hitherto but little, but I spoke sometimes. If I
heard better, I suppose I should learn faster. I am, Sir,
'Your humble servant,
To THE SAME.
'Paris, Oct. 22, 1775.
'We are still here, commonly very busy in looking about us. We have been
to-day at Versailles. You have seen it, and I shall not describe it. We
came yesterday from Fontainbleau, where the Court is now. We went to see
the King and Queen at dinner, and the Queen was so impressed by Miss,
that she sent one of the Gentlemen to enquire who she was. I find all
true that you have ever told me of Paris. Mr. Thrale is very liberal,
and keeps us two coaches, and a very fine table; but I think our cookery
very bad. Mrs. Thrale got into a convent of English nuns, and I
talked with her through the grate, and I am very kindly used by the
English Benedictine friars. But upon the whole I cannot make much
acquaintance here; and though the churches, palaces, and some private
houses are very magnificent, there is no very great pleasure after
having seen many, in seeing more; at least the pleasure, whatever it be,
must some time have an end, and we are beginning to think when we shall
come home. Mr. Thrale calculates that, as we left Streatham on the
fifteenth of September, we shall see it again about the fifteenth of
'I think I had not been on this side of the sea five days before I found
a sensible improvement in my health. I ran a race in the rain this day,
and beat Baretti. Baretti is a fine fellow, and speaks French, I think,
quite as well as English.
'Make my compliments to Mrs. Williams; and give my love to Francis; and
tell my friends that I am not lost.
I am, dear Sir,
'Your affectionate humble, &c.
'To DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, Oct. 24, 1775.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'If I had not been informed that you were at Paris, you should have had
a letter from me by the earliest opportunity, announcing the birth of my
son, on the 9th instant; I have named him Alexander, after my father.
I now write, as I suppose your fellow traveller, Mr. Thrale, will return
to London this week, to attend his duty in Parliament, and that you will
not stay behind him.
'I send another parcel of Lord Hailes's _Annals_, I have undertaken to
solicit you for a favour to him, which he thus requests in a letter to
me: "I intend soon to give you _The Life of Robert Bruce_, which you
will be pleased to transmit to Dr. Johnson. I wish that you could assist
me in a fancy which I have taken, of getting Dr. Johnson to draw a
character of Robert Bruce, from the account that I give of that prince.
If he finds materials for it in my work, it will be a proof that I have
been fortunate in selecting the most striking incidents."
'I suppose by _The Life of Robert Bruce_, his Lordship means that part
of his _Annals_ which relates the history of that prince, and not a
'Shall we have _A Journey to Paris_ from you in the winter? You will, I
hope, at any rate be kind enough to give me some account of your French
travels very soon, for I am very impatient. What a different scene have
you viewed this autumn, from that which you viewed in autumn 1773! I
ever am, my dear Sir,
'Your much obliged and
'Affectionate humble servant,
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'I am glad that the young Laird is born, and an end, as I hope, put to
the only difference that you can ever have with Mrs. Boswell. I know
that she does not love me; but I intend to persist in wishing her well
till I get the better of her.
'Paris is, indeed, a place very different from the Hebrides, but it is
to a hasty traveller not so fertile of novelty, nor affords so many
opportunities of remark. I cannot pretend to tell the publick any thing
of a place better known to many of my readers than to myself. We can
talk of it when we meet.
'I shall go next week to Streatham, from whence I purpose to send a
parcel of the _History_ every post. Concerning the character of Bruce, I
can only say, that I do not see any great reason for writing it; but I
shall not easily deny what Lord Hailes and you concur in desiring.
'I have been remarkably healthy all the journey, and hope you and your
family have known only that trouble and danger which has so happily
terminated. Among all the congratulations that you may receive, I hope
you believe none more warm or sincere, than those of, dear Sir,
'Your most affectionate,
'November 16, 1775.'
'TO MRS. LUCY PORTER, IN LICHFIELD.
'This week I came home from Paris. I have brought you a little box,
which I thought pretty; but I know not whether it is properly a
snuff-box, or a box for some other use. I will send it, when I can find
an opportunity. I have been through the whole journey remarkably well.
My fellow-travellers were the same whom you saw at Lichfield, only we
took Baretti with us. Paris is not so fine a place as you would expect.
The palaces and churches, however, are very splendid and magnificent;
and what would please you, there are many very fine pictures; but I do
not think their way of life commodious or pleasant.
'Let me know how your health has been all this while. I hope the fine
summer has given you strength sufficient to encounter the winter.
'Make my compliments to all my friends; and, if your fingers will let
you, write to me, or let your maid write, if it be troublesome to you. I
am, dear Madam,
'Your most affectionate humble servant,
'November 16, 1775.'
TO THE SAME.
'Some weeks ago I wrote to you, to tell you that I was just come home
from a ramble, and hoped that I should have heard from you. I am afraid
winter has laid hold on your fingers, and hinders you from writing.
However, let somebody write, if you cannot, and tell me how you do, and
a little of what has happened at Lichfield among our friends. I hope you
are all well.
'When I was in France, I thought myself growing young, but am afraid
that cold weather will take part of my new vigour from me. Let us,
however, take care of ourselves, and lose no part of our health by
'I never knew whether you received the _Commentary on the New Testament_
and the _Travels_, and the glasses.
'Do, my dear love, write to me; and do not let us forget each other.
This is the season of good wishes, and I wish you all good. I have not
lately seen Mr. Porter, nor heard of him. Is he with you?
'Be pleased to make my compliments to Mrs. Adey, and Mrs. Cobb, and all
my friends; and when I can do any good, let me know.
'I am, dear Madam,
'Yours most affectionately,
It is to be regretted that he did not write an account of his travels in
France; for as he is reported to have once said, that 'he could write
the Life of a Broomstick,' so, notwithstanding so many former
travellers have exhausted almost every subject for remark in that great
kingdom, his very accurate observation, and peculiar vigour of thought
and illustration, would have produced a valuable work. During his visit
to it, which lasted but about two months, he wrote notes or minutes of
what he saw. He promised to show me them, but I neglected to put him in
mind of it; and the greatest part of them has been lost, or perhaps,
destroyed in a precipitate burning of his papers a few days before his
death, which must ever be lamented. One small paper-book, however,
entitled 'FRANCE II,' has been preserved, and is in my possession. It is
a diurnal register of his life and observations, from the 10th of
October to the 4th of November, inclusive, being twenty-six days, and
shows an extraordinary attention to various minute particulars. Being
the only memorial of this tour that remains, my readers, I am confident,
will peruse it with pleasure, though his notes are very short, and
evidently written only to assist his own recollection.
'Oct. 10. Tuesday. We saw the _Ecole Militaire_, in which one hundred
and fifty young boys are educated for the army. They have arms of
different sizes, according to the age;--flints of wood. The building is
very large, but nothing fine, except the council-room. The French have
large squares in the windows;--they make good iron palisades. Their
meals are gross.
'We visited the Observatory, a large building of a great height. The
upper stones of the parapet very large, but not cramped with iron. The
flat on the top is very extensive; but on the insulated part there is no
parapet. Though it was broad enough, I did not care to go upon it. Maps
were printing in one of the rooms.
'We walked to a small convent of the Fathers of the Oratory. In the
reading-desk of the refectory lay the lives of the Saints.
'Oct. 11. Wednesday. We went to see _Hotel de Chatlois_, a house not
very large, but very elegant. One of the rooms was gilt to a degree that
I never saw before. The upper part for servants and their masters was
'Thence we went to Mr. Monville's, a house divided into small
apartments, furnished with effeminate and minute elegance.--Porphyry.
'Thence we went to St. Roque's church, which is very large;--the lower
part of the pillars incrusted with marble.--Three chapels behind the
high altar;--the last a mass of low arches.--Altars, I believe, all
'We passed through _Place de Vendome_, a fine square, about as big as
Hanover-square.--Inhabited by the high families.--Lewis XIV. on
horse-back in the middle.
'Monville is the son of a farmer-general. In the house of Chatlois is a
room furnished with japan, fitted up in Europe.
'We dined with Boccage, the Marquis Blanchetti, and his lady.--The
sweetmeats taken by the Marchioness Blanchetti, after observing that
they were dear.--Mr. Le Roy, Count Manucci, the Abbe, the Prior, and
Father Wilson, who staid with me, till I took him home in the coach.
'Bathiani is gone.
'The French have no laws for the maintenance of their poor.--Monk not
necessarily a priest.--Benedictines rise at four; are at church an hour
and half; at church again half an hour before, half an hour after,
dinner; and again from half an hour after seven to eight. They may sleep
eight hours.--Bodily labour wanted in monasteries.
'The poor taken to hospitals, and miserably kept.--Monks in the convent
'Oct. 12. Thursday. We went to the Gobelins.--Tapestry makes a good
picture;--imitates flesh exactly.--One piece with a gold ground;--the
birds not exactly coloured.--Thence we went to the King's cabinet;--very
neat, not, perhaps, perfect.--Gold ore.--Candles of the candle-tree.--
Seeds.--Woods. Thence to Gagnier's house, where I saw rooms nine,
furnished with a profusion of wealth and elegance which I never had seen
before.--Vases.--Pictures.--The Dragon china.--The lustre said to be of
crystal, and to have cost 3,500L.--The whole furniture said to have cost
125,000L.--Damask hangings covered with pictures.--Porphyry.--This house
struck me.--Then we waited on the ladies to Monville's.--Captain Irwin
with us.--Spain. County towns all beggars.--At Dijon he could not
find the way to Orleans.--Cross roads of France very bad.--Five
soldiers.--Woman.--Soldiers escaped.--The Colonel would not lose five
men for the death of one woman.--The magistrate cannot seize a soldier
but by the Colonel's permission.--Good inn at Nismes.--Moors of Barbary
fond of Englishmen.--Gibraltar eminently healthy;--It has beef from
Barbary;--There is a large garden.--Soldiers sometimes fall from the
'Oct. 13. Friday. I staid at home all day, only went to find the Prior,
who was not at home.--I read something in Canus.--_Nec admiror, nec
Oct. 14. Saturday. We went to the house of Mr. Argenson, which was
almost wainscotted with looking-glasses, and covered with gold.--The
ladies' closet wainscotted with large squares of glass over painted
paper. They always place mirrours to reflect their rooms.
'Then we went to Julien's, the Treasurer of the Clergy:--30,000L a
year.--The house has no very large room, but is set with mirrours, and
covered with gold.--Books of wood here, and in another library.
'At D----'s I looked into the books in the lady's closet, and, in
contempt, shewed them to Mr. T.--_Prince Titi_; _Bibl. des Fees_, and
other books.--She was offended, and shut up, as we heard afterwards, her
'Then we went to Julien Le Roy, the King's watch-maker, a man of
character in his business, who shewed a small clock made to find the
longitude.--A decent man.
'Afterwards we saw the _Palais Marchand_, and the Courts of Justice,
civil and criminal.--Queries on the _Sellette_.--This building has
the old Gothick passages, and a great appearance of antiquity.--Three
hundred prisoners sometimes in the gaol.
'Much disturbed; hope no ill will be.
'In the afternoon I visited Mr. Freron the journalist. He spoke Latin
very scantily, but seemed to understand me.--His house not splendid, but
of commodious size.--His family, wife, son, and daughter, not elevated
but decent.--I was pleased with my reception.--He is to translate my
books, which I am to send him with notes.
'Oct. 15. Sunday. At Choisi, a royal palace on the banks of the Seine,
about 7m. from Paris.--The terrace noble along the river.--The rooms
numerous and grand, but not discriminated from other palaces.--The
chapel beautiful, but small.--China globes.--Inlaid tables.--Labyrinth.
--Sinking table.--Toilet tables.
'Oct. 16. Monday. The Palais Royal very grand, large, and lofty.--A very
great collection of pictures.--Three of Raphael.--Two Holy Family.--One
small piece of M. Angelo.--One room of Rubens--I thought the pictures of
'The Thuilleries.--Statues.--Venus.--Aen. and Anchises in his
arms.--Nilus.--Many more. The walks not open to mean persons.--Chairs at
night hired for two sous apiece.--Pont tournant.
'Austin Nuns.--Grate.--Mrs. Fermor, Abbess.--She knew Pope, and
thought him disagreeable.--Mrs. ------- has many books;--has seen
life.--Their frontlet disagreeable.--Their hood.--Their life easy.--Rise
about five; hour and half in chapel.--Dine at ten.--Another hour and
half at chapel; half an hour about three, and half an hour more at
seven:--four hours in chapel.--A large garden.--Thirteen
'At the Boulevards saw nothing, yet was glad to be there.--Rope-dancing
and farce.--Egg dance.
'N. [Note.] Near Paris, whether on week-days or Sundays, the roads
'Oct. 17, Tuesday. At the Palais Marchand I bought
A snuff-box, 24 L.
Table book 15
Scissars 3 p [pair] 18
63--2 12 6
'We heard the lawyers plead.--N. As many killed at Paris as there are
days in the year. _Chambre de question_.--Tournelle at the
Palais Marchand.--An old venerable building.
'The Palais Bourbon, belonging to the Prince of Conde. Only one small
wing shown;--lofty;--splendid;--gold and glass.--The battles of the
great Conde are painted in one of the rooms. The present Prince a
grandsire at thirty-nine.
'The sight of palaces, and other great buildings, leaves no very
distinct images, unless to those who talk of them. As I entered, my wife
was in my mind: she would have been pleased. Having now nobody to
please, I am little pleased.
'N. In France there is no middle rank.
'So many shops open, that Sunday is little distinguished at Paris.--The
palaces of Louvre and Thuilleries granted out in lodgings.
'In the _Palais de Bourbon_, gilt globes of metal at the fire-place.
'The French beds commended.--Much of the marble, only paste.
'The Colosseum a mere wooden building, at least much of it.
'Oct. 18. Wednesday. We went to Fontainebleau, which we found a large
mean town, crowded with people.--The forest thick with woods, very
extensive.--Manucci secured us lodgings.--The appearance of the
country pleasant. No hills, few streams, only one hedge.--I remember no
chapels nor crosses on the road.--Pavement still, and rows of trees.
'N. Nobody but mean people walk in Paris.
'Oct. 19. Thursday. At Court, we saw the apartments;--the King's
bed-chamber and council-chamber extremely splendid--Persons of all ranks
in the external rooms through which the family passes:--servants and
masters.--Brunet with us the second time.
'The introductor came to us;--civil to me.--Presenting.--I had
scruples.--Not necessary.--We went and saw the King and Queen at
dinner.--We saw the other ladies at dinner--Madame Elizabeth, with
the Princess of Guimene.--At night we went to a comedy. I neither saw
nor heard.--Drunken women.--Mrs. Th. preferred one to the other.
'Oct. 20. Friday. We saw the Queen mount in the forest--Brown habit;
rode aside: one lady rode aside.--The Queen's horse light grey;
martingale.--She galloped.--We then went to the apartments, and admired
them.--Then wandered through the palace.--In the passages, stalls and
shops.--Painting in Fresco by a great master, worn out.--We saw the
King's horses and dogs.--The dogs almost all English.--Degenerate.
'The horses not much commended.--The stables cool; the kennel filthy.
'At night the ladies went to the opera. I refused, but should have been
'The King fed himself with his left hand as we.
'Saturday, 21. In the night I got ground.--We came home to Paris.--I
think we did not see the chapel.--Tree broken by the wind.--The French
chairs made all of boards painted.
N. Soldiers at the court of justice.--Soldiers not amenable to the
'Faggots in the palace.--Every thing slovenly, except in the chief
rooms.--Trees in the roads, some tall, none old, many very young and
'Women's saddles seem ill made.--Queen's bridle woven with silver.--Tags
to strike the horse.
'Sunday, Oct. 22. To Versailles, a mean town. Carriages of business
passing.--Mean shops against the wall.--Our way lay through Seve, where
the China manufacture.--Wooden bridge at Seve, in the way to
Versailles.--The palace of great extent.--The front long; I saw it not
perfectly.--The Menagerie. Cygnets dark; their black feet; on the
ground; tame.--Halcyons, or gulls.--Stag and hind, young.--Aviary, very
large; the net, wire.--Black stag of China, small.--Rhinoceros, the horn
broken and pared away, which, I suppose, will grow; the basis, I think,
four inches 'cross; the skin folds like loose cloth doubled over his
body, and cross his hips; a vast animal, though young; as big, perhaps,
as four oxen.--The young elephant, with his tusks just appearing.--The
brown bear put out his paws;--all very tame.--The lion.--The tigers I
did not well view.--The camel, or dromedary with two bunches called the
Huguin, taller than any horse.--Two camels with one bunch.--Among the
birds was a pelican, who being let out, went to a fountain, and swam
about to catch fish. His feet well webbed: he dipped his head, and
turned his long bill sidewise. He caught two or three fish, but did not
'Trianon is a kind of retreat appendant to Versailles. It has an open
portico; the pavement, and, I think, the pillars, of marble.--There are
many rooms, which I do not distinctly remember--A table of porphyry,
about five feet long, and between two and three broad, given to Louis
XIV. by the Venetian State.--In the council-room almost all that was not
door or window, was, I think, looking-glass.--Little Trianon is a small
palace like a gentleman's house.--The upper floor paved with
brick.--Little Vienne.--The court is ill paved.--The rooms at the top
are small, fit to sooth the imagination with privacy. In the front of
Versailles are small basons of water on the terrace, and other basons, I
think, below them. There are little courts.--The great gallery is
wainscotted with mirrors, not very large, but joined by frames. I
suppose the large plates were not yet made.--The play-house was very
large.--The chapel I do not remember if we saw--We saw one chapel, but I
am not certain whether there or at Trianon.--The foreign office paved
with bricks.--The dinner half a Louis each, and, I think, a Louis
over.--Money given at Menagerie, three livres; at palace, six livres.
'Oct. 23. Monday. Last night I wrote to Levet.--We went to see the
looking-glasses wrought. They come from Normandy in cast plates, perhaps
the third of an inch thick. At Paris they are ground upon a marble
table, by rubbing one plate upon another with grit between them. The
various sands, of which there are said to be five, I could not learn.
The handle, by which the upper glass is moved, has the form of a wheel,
which may be moved in all directions. The plates are sent up with their
surfaces ground, but not polished, and so continue till they are
bespoken, lest time should spoil the surface, as we were told. Those
that are to be polished, are laid on a table, covered with several thick
cloths, hard strained, that the resistance may be equal; they are then
rubbed with a hand rubber, held down hard by a contrivance which I did
not well understand. The powder which is used last seemed to me to be
iron dissolved in aqua fortis: they called it, as Baretti said, _marc de
beau forte_, which he thought was dregs. They mentioned vitriol and
salt-petre. The cannon ball swam in the quicksilver. To silver them, a
leaf of beaten tin is laid, and rubbed with quicksilver, to which it
unites. Then more quicksilver is poured upon it, which, by its mutual
[attraction] rises very high. Then a paper is laid at the nearest end of
the plate, over which the glass is slided till it lies upon the plate,
having driven much of the quicksilver before it. It is then, I think,
pressed upon cloths, and then set sloping to drop the superfluous
mercury; the slope is daily heightened towards a perpendicular.
'In the way I saw the Greve, the Mayor's house, and the Bastile.
'We then went to Sans-terre, a brewer. He brews with about as much malt
as Mr. Thrale, and sells his beer at the same price, though he pays no
duty for malt, and little more than half as much for beer. Beer is sold
retail at 6d. a bottle. He brews 4,000 barrels a year. There are
seventeen brewers in Paris, of whom none is supposed to brew more than
he:--reckoning them at 3,000 each, they make 51,000 a year.--They make
their malt, for malting is here no trade. The moat of the Bastile is
'Oct. 24, Tuesday. We visited the King's library--I saw the _Speculum
humanae Salvationis_, rudely printed, with ink, sometimes pale,
sometimes black; part supposed to be with wooden types, and part with
pages cut on boards.--The Bible, supposed to be older than that of
Mentz, in 62: it has no date; it is supposed to have been printed
with wooden types.--I am in doubt; the print is large and fair, in two
folios.--Another book was shown me, supposed to have been printed with
wooden types;--I think, _Durandi Sanctuarium_ in 58. This is inferred
from the difference of form sometimes seen in the same letter, which
might be struck with different puncheons.--The regular similitude of
most letters proves better that they are metal.--I saw nothing but the
_Speculum_ which I had not seen, I think, before.
'Thence to the Sorbonne.--The library very large, not in lattices like
the King's. _Marbone_ and _Durandi_, q. collection 14 vol. _Scriptores
de rebus Gallicis_, many folios.--_Histoire Genealogique of France_, 9
vol.--_Gallia Christiana_, the first edition, 4to. the last, f. 12
vol.--The Prior and Librarian dined [with us]:--I waited on them
home.--Their garden pretty, with covered walks, but small; yet may hold
many students.--The Doctors of the Sorbonne are all equal:--choose those
who succeed to vacancies.--Profit little.
'Oct. 25. Wednesday. I went with the Prior to St. Cloud, to see Dr.
Hooke.--We walked round the palace, and had some talk.--I dined with our
whole company at the Monastery.--In the library,_Beroald_,--_Cymon_,--
_Titus_, from Boccace.--_Oratio Proverbialis_ to the Virgin, from
Petrarch; Falkland to Sandys; Dryden's Preface to the third vol. of
'Oct. 26. Thursday. We saw the china at Seve, cut, glazed, painted.
Bellevue, a pleasing house, not great: fine prospect.--Meudon, an old
palace.--Alexander, in Porphyry: hollow between eyes and nose, thin
cheeks.--Plato and Aristotle--Noble terrace overlooks the town.--St.
Cloud.--Gallery not very high, nor grand, but pleasing.--In the rooms,
Michael Angelo, drawn by himself, Sir Thomas More, Des Cartes, Bochart,
Naudacus, Mazarine.--Gilded wainscot, so common that it is not
minded.--Gough and Keene.--Hooke came to us at the inn.--A message from
'Oct. 27. Friday. I staid at home.--Gough and Keene, and Mrs. S----'s
friend dined with us.--This day we began to have a fire.--The weather is
grown very cold, and I fear, has a bad effect upon my breath, which has
grown much more free and easy in this country.
'Sat. Oct. 28. I visited the Grand Chartreux built by St. Louis.--It is
built for forty, but contains only twenty-four, and will not maintain
more. The friar that spoke to us had a pretty apartment.--Mr. Baretti
says four rooms; I remember but three.--His books seemed to be
French.--His garden was neat; he gave me grapes.--We saw the Place de
Victoire, with the statues of the King, and the captive nations.
We saw the palace and gardens of Luxembourg, but the gallery was
shut.--We climbed to the top stairs.--I dined with Colbrooke, who had
much company:--Foote, Sir George Rodney, Motteux, Udson, Taaf.--Called
on the Prior, and found him in bed.
'Hotel--a guinea a day.--Coach, three guineas a week.--Valet de
place, three l. a day.--_Avantcoureur_, a guinea a week.--
Ordinary dinner, six l. a head.--Our ordinary seems to be about five
guineas a day.--Our extraordinary expences, as diversions, gratuities,
clothes, I cannot reckon.--Our travelling is ten guineas a day.
'White stockings, 18l.--Wig.--Hat.
'Sunday, Oct. 29. We saw the boarding-school.--The _Enfans trouves_
.--A room with about eighty-six children in cradles, as sweet as
a parlour.--They lose a third; take in to perhaps more than seven
[years old]; put them to trades; pin to them the papers sent with them.
--Want nurses.--Saw their chapel.
'Went to St. Eustatia; saw an innumerable company of girls catechised,
in many bodies, perhaps 100 to a catechist.--Boys taught at one time,
girls at another.--The sermon; the preacher wears a cap, which he takes
off at the name:--his action uniform, not very violent.
'Oct. 30. Monday. We saw the library of St. Germain.--A very noble
collection.--_Codex Divinorum Officiorum_, 1459:--a letter, square like
that of the _Offices_, perhaps the same.--The _Codex_, by Fust and
Gernsheym.--_Meursius_, 12 v. fol.--_Amadis_, in French, 3 v. fol.--
CATHOLICON _sine colophone_, but of 1460.--Two other editions,
one by ... _Augustin. de Civitate Dei_, without name, date, or place,
but of Fust's square letter as it seems.
'I dined with Col. Drumgold;--had a pleasing afternoon.
'Some of the books of St. Germain's stand in presses from the wall, like
those at Oxford.
'Oct. 31. Tuesday. I lived at the Benedictines; meagre day; soup meagre,
herrings, eels, both with sauce; fryed fish; lentils, tasteless in
themselves. In the library; where I found _Maffeus's de Historia Indica:
Promontorium flectere, to double the Cape_. I parted very tenderly from
the Prior and Friar Wilkes.
_Maitre des Arts_, 2 y.--_Bacc. Theol_. 3 y.--_Licentiate_, 2
y.--_Doctor Th_. 2 y. in all 9 years.--For the Doctorate three
disputations, _Major, Minor, Sorbonica_.--Several colleges suppressed,
and transferred to that which was the Jesuits' College.
'Nov. 1. Wednesday. We left Paris.--St. Denis, a large town; the church
not very large, but the middle isle is very lofty and aweful.--On the
left are chapels built beyond the line of the wall, which destroy the
symmetry of the sides. The organ is higher above the pavement than any I
have ever seen.--The gates are of brass.--On the middle gate is the
history of our Lord.--The painted windows are historical, and said to be
eminently beautiful.--We were at another church belonging to a convent,
of which the portal is a dome; we could not enter further, and it was
'Nov. 2. Thursday. We came this day to Chantilly, a seat belonging to
the Prince of Conde.--This place is eminently beautified by all
varieties of waters starting up in fountains, falling in cascades,
running in streams, and spread in lakes.--The water seems to be too near
the house.--All this water is brought from a source or river three
leagues off, by an artificial canal, which for one league is carried
under ground.--The house is magnificent.--The cabinet seems well
stocked: what I remember was, the jaws of a hippopotamus, and a young
hippopotamus preserved, which, however, is so small, that I doubt its
reality.--It seems too hairy for an abortion, and too small for a mature
birth.--Nothing was in spirits; all was dry.--The dog, the deer; the
ant-bear with long snout.--The toucan, long broad beak.--The stables
were of very great length.--The kennel had no scents.--There was a
mockery of a village.--The Menagerie had few animals. For Dr. Blagden
see _post_, 1780 in Mr. Langton's _Collection_.--Two faussans, or
Brasilian weasels, spotted, very wild.--There is a forest, and, I think,
a park.--I walked till I was very weary, and next morning felt my feet
battered, and with pains in the toes.
'Nov. 3. Friday. We came to Compiegne, a very large town, with a royal
palace built round a pentagonal court.--The court is raised upon vaults,
and has, I suppose, an entry on one side by a gentle rise.--Talk of
painting,--The church is not very large, but very elegant and
splendid.--I had at first great difficulty to walk, but motion grew
continually easier.--At night we came to Noyon, an episcopal city.--The
cathedral is very beautiful, the pillars alternately gothick and
Corinthian.--We entered a very noble parochial church.--Noyon is walled,
and is said to be three miles round.
'Nov. 4. Saturday. We rose very early, and came through St. Quintin to
Cambray, not long after three.--We went to an English nunnery, to give a
letter to Father Welch, the confessor, who came to visit us in the
'Nov. 5. Sunday. We saw the cathedral.--It is very beautiful, with
chapels on each side. The choir splendid. The balustrade in one part
brass.--The Neff very high and grand.--The altar silver as far as it
is seen.--The vestments very splendid.--At the Benedictines church----'
Here his Journal ends abruptly. Whether he wrote any more after this
time, I know not; but probably not much, as he arrived in England about
the 12th of November. These short notes of his tour, though they may
seem minute taken singly, make together a considerable mass of
information, and exhibit such an ardour of enquiry and acuteness of
examination, as, I believe, are found in but few travellers, especially
at an advanced age. They completely refute the idle notion which has
been propagated, _that he could not see_; and, if he had taken the
trouble to revise and digest them, he undoubtedly could have expanded
them into a very entertaining narrative.
When I met him in London the following year, the account which he gave
me of his French tour, was, 'Sir, I have seen all the visibilities of
Paris, and around it; but to have formed an acquaintance with the people
there, would have required more time than I could stay. I was just
beginning to creep into acquaintance by means of Colonel Drumgold, a
very high man, Sir, head of _L'Ecole Militaire_, a most complete
character, for he had first been a professor of rhetorick, and then
became a soldier. And, Sir, I was very kindly treated by the English
Benedictines, and have a cell appropriated to me in their convent.'
He observed, 'The great in France live very magnificently, but the rest
very miserably. There is no happy middle state as in England. The
shops of Paris are mean; the meat in the markets is such as would be
sent to a gaol in England: and Mr. Thrale justly observed, that the
cookery of the French was forced upon them by necessity; for they could
not eat their meat, unless they added some taste to it. The French are
an indelicate people; they will spit upon any place. At Madame
----'s, a literary lady of rank, the footman took the sugar in his
fingers, and threw it into my coffee. I was going to put it aside;
but hearing it was made on purpose for me, I e'en tasted Tom's fingers.
The same lady would needs make tea _a l'Angloise_. The spout of the
tea-pot did not pour freely; she bad the footman blow into it. France
is worse than Scotland in every thing but climate. Nature has done more
for the French; but they have done less for themselves than the Scotch
It happened that Foote was at Paris at the same time with Dr. Johnson,
and his description of my friend while there, was abundantly ludicrous.
He told me, that the French were quite astonished at his figure and
manner, and at his dress, which he obstinately continued exactly as in
London;--his brown clothes, black stockings, and plain shirt. He
mentioned, that an Irish gentleman said to Johnson, 'Sir, you have not
seen the best French players.' JOHNSON. 'Players, Sir! I look on them as
no better than creatures set upon tables and joint-stools to make faces
and produce laughter, like dancing dogs.'--'But, Sir, you will allow
that some players are better than others?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, as some
dogs dance better than others.'
While Johnson was in France, he was generally very resolute in speaking
Latin. It was a maxim with him that a man should not let himself down,
by speaking a language which he speaks imperfectly. Indeed, we must have
often observed how inferiour, how much like a child a man appears, who
speaks a broken tongue. When Sir Joshua Reynolds, at one of the dinners
of the Royal Academy, presented him to a Frenchman of great distinction,
he would not deign to speak French, but talked Latin, though his
Excellency did not understand it, owing, perhaps, to Johnson's English
pronunciation: yet upon another occasion he was observed to speak
French to a Frenchman of high rank, who spoke English; and being asked
the reason, with some expression of surprise,--he answered, 'because I
think my French is as good as his English.' Though Johnson understood
French perfectly, he could not speak it readily, as I have observed at
his first interview with General Paoli, in 1769; yet he wrote it, I
imagine, pretty well, as appears from some of his letters in Mrs.
Piozzi's collection, of which I shall transcribe one:--
_A Madame La Comtesse de----_.
'July 16, 1775.
'Oui, _Madame, le moment est arrive, et il faut que je parte. Mais
pourquoi faut il partir? Est ce que je m'ennuye? Je m'ennuyerai
ailleurs. Est ce que je cherche ou quelque plaisir, ou quelque
soulagement? Je ne cherche rien, je n'espere rien. Aller voir ce que jai
vu, etre un peu rejoue, un peu degoute, me resouvenir que la vie se
passe en vain, me plaindre de moi, m'endurcir aux dehors; void le tout
de ce qu'on compte pour les delices de l'annee. Que Dieu vous donne,
Madame, tous les agremens de la vie, avec un esprit qui peut en jouir
sans s'y livrer trop_.'
Here let me not forget a curious anecdote, as related to me by Mr.
Beauclerk, which I shall endeavour to exhibit as well as I can in that
gentleman's lively manner; and in justice to him it is proper to add,
that Dr. Johnson told me I might rely both on the correctness of his
memory, and the fidelity of his narrative. 'When Madame de Boufflers was
first in England, (said Beauclerk,) she was desirous to see Johnson.
I accordingly went with her to his chambers in the Temple, where she was
entertained with his conversation for some time. When our visit was
over, she and I left him, and were got into Inner Temple-lane, when all
at once I heard a noise like thunder. This was occasioned by Johnson,
who it seems, upon a little recollection, had taken it into his head
that he ought to have done the honours of his literary residence to a
foreign lady of quality, and eager to shew himself a man of gallantry,
was hurrying down the stair-case in violent agitation. He overtook us
before we reached the Temple-gate, and brushing in between me and Madame
de Boufflers, seized her hand, and conducted her to her coach. His dress
was a rusty brown morning suit, a pair of old shoes by way of slippers,
a little shrivelled wig sticking on the top of his head, and the sleeves
of his shirt and the knees of his breeches hanging loose. A considerable
crowd of people gathered round, and were not a little struck by this
He spoke Latin with wonderful fluency and elegance. When Pere
Boscovich was in England, Johnson dined in company with him at Sir
Joshua Reynolds's, and at Dr. Douglas's, now Bishop of Salisbury. Upon
both occasions that celebrated foreigner expressed his astonishment at
Johnson's Latin conversation. When at Paris, Johnson thus characterised
Voltaire to Freron the Journalist: '_Vir est acerrimi ingenii et
'TO DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, Dec. 5, 1775.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'Mr. Alexander Maclean, the young Laird of Col, being to set out
to-morrow for London, I give him this letter to introduce him to your
acquaintance. The kindness which you and I experienced from his brother,
whose unfortunate death we sincerely lament, will make us always
desirous to shew attention to any branch of the family. Indeed, you have
so much of the true Highland cordiality, that I am sure you would have
thought me to blame if I had neglected to recommend to you this
Hebridean prince, in whose island we were hospitably entertained.
'I ever am with respectful attachment, my dear Sir,
'Your most obliged
'And most humble servant,
Mr. Maclean returned with the most agreeable accounts of the polite
attention with which he was received by Dr. Johnson.
In the course of this year Dr. Burney informs me that 'he very
frequently met Dr. Johnson at Mr. Thrale's, at Streatham, where they had
many long conversations, often sitting up as long as the fire and
candles lasted, and much longer than the patience of the servants
A few of Johnson's sayings, which that gentleman recollects, shall here
'I never take a nap after dinner but when I have had a bad night, and
then the nap takes me.'
'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
'More is learned in publick 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
'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---- was an instance of
early cultivation, but in what did it terminate? In marrying a little
Presbyterian parson, who keeps an infant boarding-school, 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 musick, 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 any body 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
'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 would be
silent, I wrote to him December 18, 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 prolifick of evil,
hath figured that you may have somehow taken offence at some part of my
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'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 yet 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 Col 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,
'December, 23, 1775.'
1776: AETAT. 67--In 1776, Johnson wrote, so far as I can discover,
nothing for the publick: 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.
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'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 dispatch 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,
'Your affectionate humble servant,
'Jan. 10, 1776.'
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 manour of Auchinleck, (pronounced
_Affleck_,) 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, stiling him in the charter,
_dilecto familiari nostro_; and assigning, as the cause of the grant,
_pro bono et fideli servitio nobis praestito_. 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
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
re-purchased 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.
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
'To James Boswell, Esq.
'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 quite 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 tell 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
'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
'I am, dear Sir, most affectionately,
'Your humble servant,
'London, Jan. 15, 1776.'
TO THE SAME.
'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
'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
'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 possession, with such power over it, that he can sell it, and do
with the money what he will, without any legal impediment. But when he
extends his power beyond his own life, by settling the order of
succession, the law makes your consent necessary.
'Let us suppose that he sells the land to risk the money in some
specious adventure, and in that adventure loses the whole; his posterity
would be disappointed; but they could not think themselves injured or
robbed. If he spent it upon vice or pleasure, his successors could only
call him vicious and voluptuous; they could not say that he was
injurious or unjust.
'He that may do more may do less. He that, by selling, or squandering,
may disinherit a whole family, may certainly disinherit part, by a
'Laws are formed by the manners and exigencies of particular times, and
it is but accidental that they last longer than their causes: the
limitation of feudal succession to the male arose from the obligation of
the tenant to attend his chief in war.
'As times and opinions are always changing, I know not whether it be not
usurpation to prescribe rules to posterity, by presuming to judge of
what we cannot know: and I know not whether I fully approve either your
design or your father's, to limit that succession which descended to you
unlimited. If we are to leave _sartum tectum_ to posterity, what we
have without any merit of our own received from our ancestors, should
not choice and free-will be kept unviolated? Is land to be treated with
more reverence than liberty?--If this consideration should restrain your
father from disinheriting some of the males, does it leave you the power
of disinheriting all the females?
'Can the possessor of a feudal estate make any will? Can he appoint, out
of the inheritance, any portions to his daughters? There seems to be a
very shadowy difference between the power of leaving land, and of
leaving money to be raised from land; between leaving an estate to
females, and leaving the male heir, in effect, only their steward.
'Suppose at one time a law that allowed only males to inherit, and
during the continuance of this law many estates to have descended,
passing by the females, to remoter heirs. Suppose afterwards the law
repealed in correspondence with a change of manners, and women made
capable of inheritance; would not then the tenure of estates be changed?
Could the women have no benefit from a law made in their favour? Must
they be passed by upon moral principles for ever, because they were once
excluded by a legal prohibition? Or may that which passed only to males
by one law, pass likewise to females by another?
'You mention your resolution to maintain the right of your brothers:
I do not see how any of their rights are invaded.
'As your whole difficulty arises from the act of your ancestor, who
diverted the succession from the females, you enquire, very properly,
what were his motives, and what was his intention; for you certainly are
not bound by his act more than he intended to bind you, nor hold your
land on harder or stricter terms than those on which it was granted.
'Intentions must be gathered from acts. When he left the estate to his
nephew, by excluding his daughters, was it, or was it not, in his power
to have perpetuated the succession to the males? If he could have done
it, he seems to have shown, by omitting it, that he did not desire it to
be done; and, upon your own principles, you will not easily prove your
right to destroy that capacity of succession which your ancestors have
'If your ancestor had not the power of making a perpetual settlement;
and if, therefore, we cannot judge distinctly of his intentions, yet his
act can only be considered as an example; it makes not an obligation.
And, as you observe, he set no example of rigorous adherence to the line
of succession. He that overlooked a brother, would not wonder that
little regard is shown to remote relations.
'As the rules of succession are, in a great part, purely legal, no man
can be supposed to bequeath any thing, but upon legal terms; he can
grant no power which the law denies; and if he makes no special and
definite limitation, he confers all the power which the law allows.
'Your ancestor, for some reason, disinherited his daughters; but it no
more follows that he intended this act as a rule for posterity, than the
disinheriting of his brother.
'If, therefore, you ask by what right your father admits daughters to
inheritance, ask yourself, first, by what right you require them to be
'It appears, upon reflection, that your father excludes nobody; he only
admits nearer females to inherit before males more remote; and the
exclusion is purely consequential.
'These, dear Sir, are my thoughts, immethodical and deliberative; but,
perhaps, you may find in them some glimmering of evidence.
'I cannot, however, but again recommend to you a conference with Lord
Hailes, whom you know to be both a Lawyer and a Christian.
'Make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell, though she does not love me.
'I am, Sir,
'Your affectionate servant,
'Feb. 3, 1773'
I had followed his recommendation and consulted Lord Hailes, who upon
this subject had a firm opinion contrary to mine. His Lordship
obligingly took the trouble to write me a letter, in which he discussed
with legal and historical learning, the points in which I saw much
difficulty, maintaining that 'the succession of heirs general was the
succession, by the law of Scotland, from the throne to the cottage, as
far as we can learn it by record;' observing that the estate of our
family had not been limited to heirs male; and that though an heir male
had in one instance been chosen in preference to nearer females, that
had been an arbitrary act, which had seemed to be best in the
embarrassed state of affairs at that time; and the fact was, that upon a
fair computation of the value of land and money at the time, applied to
the estate and the burthens upon it, there was nothing given to the heir
male but the skeleton of an estate. 'The plea of conscience (said his
Lordship,) which you put, is a most respectable one, especially when
_conscience_ and _self_ are on different sides. But I think that
conscience is not well informed, and that self and she ought on this
occasion to be of a side.'
This letter, which had considerable influence upon my mind, I sent to
Dr. Johnson, begging to hear from him again, upon this interesting
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'Having not any acquaintance with the laws or customs of Scotland, I
endeavoured to consider your question upon general principles, and found
nothing of much validity that I could oppose to this position: "He who
inherits a fief unlimited by his ancestors, inherits the power of
limiting it according to his own judgement or opinion." If this be true,
you may join with your father.
'Further consideration produces another conclusion: "He who receives a
fief unlimited by his ancestors, gives his heirs some reason to
complain, if he does not transmit it unlimited to posterity. For why
should he make the state of others worse than his own, without a
reason?" If this be true, though neither you nor your father are about
to do what is quite right, but as your father violates (I think) the
legal succession least, he seems to be nearer the right than yourself.
'It cannot but occur that "Women have natural and equitable claims as
well as men, and these claims are not to be capriciously or lightly
superseded or infringed." When fiefs implied military service, it is
easily discerned why females could not inherit them; but that reason is
now at an end. As manners make laws, manners likewise repeal them.
'These are the general conclusions which I have attained. None of them
are very favourable to your scheme of entail, nor perhaps to any scheme.
My observation, that only he who acquires an estate may bequeath it
capriciously, if it contains any conviction, includes this position
likewise, that only he who acquires an estate may entail it
capriciously. But I think it may be safely presumed, that "he who
inherits an estate, inherits all the power legally concomitant;" and
that "He who gives or leaves unlimited an estate legally limitable, must
be presumed to give that power of limitation which he omitted to take
away, and to commit future contingencies to future prudence." In these
two positions I believe Lord Hailes will advise you to rest; every other
notion of possession seems to me full of difficulties and embarrassed
'If these axioms be allowed, you have arrived now at full liberty
without the help of particular circumstances, which, however, have in
your case great weight. You very rightly observe, that he who passing by
his brother gave the inheritance to his nephew, could limit no more than
he gave; and by Lord Hailes's estimate of fourteen years' purchase, what
he gave was no more than you may easily entail according to your own
opinion, if that opinion should finally prevail.
'Lord Hailes's suspicion that entails are encroachments on the dominion
of Providence, may be extended to all hereditary privileges and all
permanent institutions; I do not see why it may not be extended to any
provision for the present hour, since all care about futurity proceeds
upon a supposition, that we know at least in some degree what will be
future. Of the future we certainly know nothing; but we may form
conjectures from the past; and the power of forming conjectures,
includes, in my opinion, the duty of acting in conformity to that
probability which we discover. Providence gives the power, of which
reason teaches the use.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your most faithful servant,
'Feb. 9. 1776.'
'I hope I shall get some ground now with Mrs. Boswell; make my
compliments to her, and to the little people.
'Don't burn papers; they may be safe enough in your own box,--you will
wish to see them hereafter.'
To THE SAME.
'To the letters which I have written about your great question I have
nothing to add. If your conscience is satisfied, you have now only your
prudence to consult. I long for a letter, that I may know how this
troublesome and vexatious question is at last decided. I hope that it
will at last end well. Lord Hailes's letter was very friendly, and very
seasonable, but I think his aversion from entails has something in it
like superstition. Providence is not counteracted by any means which
Providence puts into our power. The continuance and propagation of
families makes a great part of the Jewish law, and is by no means
prohibited in the Christian institution, though the necessity of it
continues no longer. Hereditary tenures are established in all civilised
countries, and are accompanied in most with hereditary authority. Sir
William Temple considers our constitution as defective, that there is
not an unalienable estate in land connected with a peerage; and Lord
Bacon mentions as a proof that the Turks are Barbarians, their want of
Stirpes, as he calls them, or hereditary rank. Do not let your mind,
when it is freed from the supposed necessity of a rigorous entail, be
entangled with contrary objections, and think all entails unlawful, till
you have cogent arguments, which I believe you will never find. I am
afraid of scruples.
'I have now sent all Lord Hailes's papers; part I found hidden in a
drawer in which I had laid them for security, and had forgotten them.
Part of these are written twice: I have returned both the copies. Part I
had read before.
'Be so kind as to return Lord Hailes my most respectful thanks for his
first volume; his accuracy strikes me with wonder; his narrative is far
superiour to that of Henault, as I have formerly mentioned.
'I am afraid that the trouble, which my irregularity and delay has cost
him, is greater, far greater, than any good that I can do him will ever
recompense; but if I have any more copy, I will try to do better.
'Pray let me know if Mrs. Boswell is friends with me, and pay my
respects to Veronica, and Euphemia, and Alexander.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'February, 15, 1775 .'
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.