Journal Of A Tour To The Hebrides With Samuel Johnson

Thursday, 19th August

We rose much refreshed. I had with me a map of Scotland, a Bible, which was given me by Lord Mountstuart when we were together in Italy, and Ogden’s Sermons on Prayer. Mr Nairne introduced us to Dr Watson, whom we found a well-informed man, of very amiable manners. Dr Johnson, after they were acquainted, said, ‘I take great delight in him.’ His daughter, a very pleasing young lady, made breakfast. Dr Watson observed, that Glasgow University had fewer home-students, since trade increased, as learning was rather incompatible with it. JOHNSON. ‘Why, sir, as trade is now carried on by subordinate hands, men in trade have as much leisure as others; and now learning itself is a trade. A man goes to a bookseller, and gets what he can. We have done with patronage. In the infancy of learning, we find some great man praised for it. This diffused it among others. When it becomes general, an author leaves the great, and applies to the multitude.’ BOSWELL. ‘It is a shame that authors are not now better patronized.’ JOHNSON. ‘No, sir. If learning cannot support a man, if he must sit with his hands across till somebody feeds him, it is as to him a bad thing, and it is better as it is. With patronage, what flattery! What falsehood! While a man is in equilibria, he throws truth among the multitude, and lets them take it as they please: in patronage, he must say what pleases his patron, and it is an equal chance whether that be truth or falsehood.’ WATSON. ‘But is not the case now, that, instead of flattering one person, we flatter the age?’ JOHNSON. ‘No, sir. The world always lets a man tell what he thinks, his own way. I wonder however, that so many people have written, who might have let it alone. That people should endeavour to excel in conversation, I do not wonder; because in conversation praise is instantly reverberated.’

We talked of change of manners. Dr Johnson observed, that our drinking less than our ancestors was owing to the change from ale to wine. ‘I remember,’ said he, ‘when all the DECENT people in Lichfield got drunk every night, and were not the worse thought of. Ale was cheap, so you pressed strongly. When a man must bring a bottle of wine, he is not in such haste. Smoking has gone out. To be sure, it is a shocking thing, blowing smoke out of our mouths into other people’s mouths, eyes, and noses, and having the same thing done to us. Yet I cannot account, why a thing which requires so little exertion, and yet preserves the mind from total vacuity, should have gone out. Every man has something by which he calms himself: beating with his feet, or so. [Footnote: Dr Johnson used to practice this himself very much.] I remember when people in England changed a shirt only once a week: a Pandour, when he gets a shirt, greases it to make it last. Formerly, good tradesmen had no fire but in the kitchen; never in the parlour, except on Sunday. My father, who was a magistrate of Lichfield, lived thus. They never began to have a fire in the parlour, but on leaving off business, or some great revolution of their life.’ Dr Watson said, the hall was as a kitchen, in old squires’ houses. JOHNSON. ‘No, sir. The hall was for great occasions, and never was used for domestick reflection.’ We talked of the Union, and what money it had brought into Scotland. Dr Watson observed, that a little money formerly went as far as a great deal now. JOHNSON. ‘In speculation, it seems that a smaller quantity of money, equal in value to a larger quantity, if equally divided, should produce the same effect. But it is not so in reality. Many more conveniences and elegancies are enjoyed where money is plentiful, than where it is scarce. Perhaps a great familiarity with it, which arises from plenty, makes us more easily part with it.’

After what Dr Johnson had said of St Andrews, which he had long wished to see, as our oldest university, and the seat of our Primate in the days of episcopacy, I can say little. Since the publication of Dr Johnson’s book, I find that he has been censured for not seeing here the ancient chapel of St Rule, a curious piece of sacred architecture. But this was neither his fault nor mine. We were both of us abundantly desirous of surveying such sort of antiquities: but neither of us knew of this. I am afraid the censure must fall on those who did not tell us of it. In every place, where there is any thing worthy of observation, there should be a short printed directory for strangers, such as we find in all the towns of Italy, and in some of the towns in England. I was told that there is a manuscript account of St Andrews, by Martin, secretary to Archbishop Sharp; and that one Douglas has published a small account of it. I inquired at a bookseller’s, but could not get it. Dr Johnson’s veneration for the Hierarchy is well known. There is no wonder then, that he was affected with a strong indignation, while he beheld the ruins of religious magnificence. I happened to ask where John Knox was buried. Dr Johnson burst out, ‘I hope in the high-way. I have been looking at his reformations.’

It was a very fine day. Dr Johnson seemed quite wrapt up in the contemplation of the scenes which were now presented to him. He kept his hat off while he was upon any part of the ground where the cathedral had stood. He said well, that ‘Knox had set on a mob, without knowing where it would end; and that differing from a man in doctrine was no reason why you should pull his house about his ears’. As we walked in the cloisters, there was a solemn echo, while he talked loudly of a proper retirement from the world. Mr Nairne said, he had an inclination to retire. I called Dr Johnson’s attention to this, that I might hear his opinion if it was right. JOHNSON. ‘Yes, when he has done his duty to society. In general, as every man is obliged not only to “love God, but his neighbour as himself”, he must bear his part in active life; yet there are exceptions. Those who are exceedingly scrupulous (which I do not approve, for I am no friend to scruples), and find their scrupulosity invincible, so that they are quite in the dark, and know not what they shall do, or those who can not resist temptations, and find they make themselves worse by being in the world, without making it better, may retire. I never read of a hermit, but in imagination I kiss his feet; never of a monastery, but I could fall on my knees, and kiss the pavement. But I think putting young people there, who know nothing of life, nothing of retirement, is dangerous and wicked. It is a saying as old as Hesiod,

[words in Greek] [Footnote: Let youth in deeds, in counsel man engage; Prayer is the proper duty of old age. ]

That is a very noble line: not that young men should not pray, or old men not give counsel, but that every season of life has its proper duties. I have thought of retiring, and have talked of it to a friend; but I find my vocation is rather to active life.’ I said, SOME young monks might be allowed, to shew that it is not age alone that can retire to pious solitude; but he thought this would only shew that they could not resist temptation.

He wanted to mount the steeples, but it could not be done. There are no good inscriptions here. Bad Roman characters he naturally mistook for half Gothick, half Roman. One of the steeples, which he was told was in danger, he wished not to be taken down; ‘for,’ said he, ‘it may fall on some of the posterity of John Knox; and no great matter!’ Dinner was mentioned. JOHNSON. ‘Ay, ay; amidst all these sorrowful scenes, I have no objection to dinner.’

We went and looked at the castle, where Cardinal Beaton was murdered, and then visited Principal Murison at his college, where is a good library-room; but the principal was abundantly vain of it, for he seriously said to Dr Johnson, ‘you have not such a one in England’.

The professors entertained us with a very good dinner. Present: Murison, Shaw, Cooke, Hill, Haddo, Watson, Flint, Brown. I observed, that I wondered to see him eat so well, after viewing so many sorrowful scenes of ruined religious magnificence. ‘Why,’ said he, ‘I am not sorry, after seeing these gentlemen; for they are not sorry.’ Murison said, all sorrow was bad, as it was murmuring against the dispensations of Providence. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, sorrow is inherent in humanity. As you cannot judge two and two to be either five, or three, but certainly four, so, when comparing a worse present state with a better which is past, you cannot but feel sorrow. It is not cured by reason, but by the incursion of present objects, which wear out the past. You need not murmur, though you are sorry.’ MURISON. ‘But St Paul says, “I have learnt, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.” ‘JOHNSON. ‘Sir, that relates to riches and poverty; for we see St Paul, when he had a thorn in the flesh, prayed earnestly to have it removed; and then he could not be content.’ Murison, thus refuted, tried to be smart, and drank to Dr Johnson, ‘Long may you lecture!’ Dr Johnson afterwards, speaking of his not drinking wine, said, ‘The Doctor spoke of lecturing’ (looking to him). ‘I give all these lectures on water.’

He defended requiring subscription in those admitted to universities, thus: ‘As all who come into the country must obey the King, so all who come into an university must be of the Church.’

And here I must do Dr Johnson the justice to contradict a very absurd and ill-natured story, as to what passed at St Andrews. It has been circulated, that, after grace was said in English, in the usual manner, he with the greatest marks of contempt, as if he had held it to be no grace in an university, would not sit down till he had said grace aloud in Latin. This would have been an insult indeed to the gentlemen who were entertaining us. But the truth was precisely thus. In the course of conversation at dinner, Dr Johnson, in very good humour, said, ‘I should have expected to have heard a Latin grace, among so many learned men: we had always a Latin grace at Oxford. I believe I can repeat it.’ Which he did, as giving the learned men in one place a specimen of what was done by the learned men in another place.

We went and saw the church, in which is Archbishop Sharp’s monument. I was struck with the same kind of feelings with which the churches of Italy impressed me. I was much pleased, to see Dr Johnson actually in St Andrews, of which we had talked so long. Professor Haddo was with us this afternoon, along with Dr Watson. We looked at St Salvador’s College. The rooms for students seemed very commodious, and Dr Johnson said, the chapel was the neatest place of worship he had seen. The key of the library could not be found; for it seems Professor Hill, who was out of town, had taken it with him. Dr Johnson told a joke he had heard of a monastery abroad, where the key of the library could never be found.

It was somewhat dispiriting, to see this ancient archiepiscopal city now sadly deserted. We saw in one of its streets a remarkable proof of liberal toleration; a nonjuring clergyman, strutting about in his canonicals, with a jolly countenance and a round belly, like a well-fed monk.

We observed two occupations united in the same person, who had hung out two sign-posts. Upon one was, JAMES HOOD, WHITE IRON SMITH (i.e. tin-plate worker). Upon another, THE ART OF FENCING TAUGHT, BY JAMES HOOD. Upon this last were painted some trees, and two men fencing, one of whom had hit the other in the eye, to shew his great dexterity; so that the art was well taught. JOHNSON. ‘Were I studying here, I should go and take a lesson. I remember Hope, in his book on this art, says, “the Scotch are very good fencers”.’

We returned to the inn, where we had been entertained at dinner, and drank tea in company with some of the professors, of whose civilities I beg leave to add my humble and very grateful acknowledgement to the honourable testimony of Dr Johnson, in his Journey.

We talked of composition, which was a favourite topick of Dr Watson’s, who first distinguished himself by lectures on rhetorick. JOHNSON. ‘I advised Chambers, and would advise every young man beginning to compose, to do it as fast as he can, to get a habit of having his mind to start promptly; it is so much more difficult to improve in speed than in accuracy.’ WATSON. ‘I own I am for much attention to accuracy in composing, lest one should get bad habits of doing it in a slovenly manner.’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, sir, you are confounding DOING inaccurately with the NECESSITY of doing inaccurately. A man knows when his composition is inaccurate, and when he thinks fit he’ll correct it. But, if a man is accustomed to compose slowly, and with difficulty, upon all occasions, there is danger that he may not compose at all, as we do not like to do that which is not done easily; and, at any rate, more time is consumed in a small matter than ought to be.’ WATSON. ‘Dr Hugh Blair has taken a week to compose a sermon.’ JOHNSON. ‘Then, sir, that is for want of the habit of composing quickly, which I am insisting one should acquire.’ WATSON. ‘Blair was not composing all the week, but only such hours as he found himself disposed for composition.’ JOHNSON. ‘Nay, sir, unless you tell me the time he took, you tell me nothing. If I say I took a week to walk a mile, and have had the gout five days, and been ill otherwise another day, I have taken but one day. I myself have composed about forty sermons. I have begun a sermon after dinner, and sent it off by the post that night. I wrote forty-eight of the printed octavo pages of the life of Savage at a sitting; but then I sat up all night. I have also written six sheets in a day of translation from the French.’ BOSWELL. ‘We have all observed how one man dresses himself slowly, and another fast.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes, sir; it is wonderful how much time some people will consume in dressing; taking up a thing and looking at it, and laying it down, and taking it up again. Every one should get the habit of doing it quickly. I would say to a young divine, “Here is your text; let me see how soon you can make a sermon.” Then I’d say, “Let me see how much better you can make it.” Thus I should see both his powers and his judgement.’

We all went to Dr Watson’s to supper. Miss Sharp, great grandchild of Archbishop Sharp, was there; as was Mr Craig, the ingenious architect of the new town of Edinburgh, and nephew of Thomson, to whom Dr Johnson has since done so much justice, in his Lives of the Poets.

We talked of memory, and its various modes. JOHNSON. ‘Memory will play strange tricks. One sometimes loses a single word. I once lost fugaces in the Ode Posthume, Posthume. I mentioned to him, that a worthy gentleman of my acquaintance actually forgot his own name. JOHNSON. ‘Sir. that was a morbid oblivion.’