Wednesday, 25th August
We got up between seven and eight, and found Mr Boyd in the dining-room, with tea and coffee before him, to give us breakfast. We were in an admirable humour. Lady Errol had given each of us a copy of an ode by Beattie, on the birth of her son, Lord Hay. Mr Boyd asked Dr Johnson, how he liked it. Dr Johnson, who did not admire it, got off very well, by taking it out, and reading the second and third stanzes of it with much melody. This, without his saying a word, pleased Mr Boyd. He observed, however, to Dr Johnson, that the expression as to the family of Errol,
A thousand years have seen it shine compared with what went before,
was an anticlimax, and that it would have been better
Ages have seen, etc.
Dr Johnson said, 'So great a number as a thousand is better. Dolus latet in universalibus. Ages might be only two ages.' He talked of the advantage of keeping up the connections of relationship, which produce much kindness. 'Every man,' said he, 'who comes into the world, has need of friends. If he has to get them for himself, half his life is spent, before his merit is known. Relations are a man's ready friends who support him. When a man is in real distress, he flies into the arms of his relations. An old lawyer, who had much experience in making wills, told me, that after people had deliberated long, and thought of many for their executors, they settled at last by fixing on their relations. This shews the universality of the principle.'
I regretted the decay of respect for men of family, and that a Nabob now would carry an election from them. JOHNSON. 'Why, sir, the Nabob will carry it by means of his wealth, in a country where money is highly valued, as it must be where nothing can be had without money; but, if it comes to personal preference, the man of family will always carry it. There is generally a scoundrelism about a low man.' Mr Boyd said, that was a good ism.
I said, I believed mankind were happier in the ancient feudal state of subordination, than they are in the modern state of independency. JOHNSON. To be sure, the CHIEF was: but we must think of the number of individuals. That THEY were less happy, seems plain; for that state from which all escape as soon as they can, and to which none return after they have left it, must be less happy; and this is the case with the state of dependance on a chief or great man.'
I mentioned the happiness of the French in their subordination, by the reciprocal benevolence and attachment between the great and those in lower rank. Mr Boyd gave us an instance of their gentlemanly spirit. An old Chevalier de Malthe, of ancient noblesse, but in low circumstances, was in a coffee-house at Paris, where was Julien, the great manufacturer at the Gobelins, of the fine tapestry, so much distinguished both for the figures and the colours. The chevalier's carriage was very old. Says Julien, with a plebeian insolence, 'I think, sir, you had better have your carriage new painted.' The chevalier looked at him with indignant contempt, and answered, 'Well, sir. you may take it home and DYE it!' All the coffee-house rejoiced at Julien's confusion.
We set out about nine. Dr Johnson was curious to see one of those structures which northern antiquarians call a Druid's temple. I had a recollection of one at Strichen; which I had seen fifteen years ago: so we went four miles out of our road, after passing Old Deer, and went thither. Mr Fraser, the proprietor, was at home, and shewed it to us. But I had augmented it in my mind; for all that remains is two stones set up on end, with a long one laid upon them, as was usual and one stone at a little distance from them. That stone was the capital one of the circle which surrounded what now remains. Mr Fraser was very hospitable. [Footnote: He is the worthy son of a worthy father, the late Lord Strichen, one of our judges, to whose kind notice I was much obliged. Lord Strichen was a man not only honest, but highly generous: for after his succession to the family estate, he paid a large sum of debts contracted by his predecessor, which he was not under any obligation to pay. Let me here, for the credit of Ayrshire, my own county, record a noble instance of liberal honesty in William Hutchison, drover, in Lanehead, Kyle, who formerly obtained a full discharge from his creditors upon a composition of his debts: but upon being restored to good circumstances, invited his creditors last winter to a dinner, without telling the reason, and paid them their full sums, principal and interest. They presented him with a piece of plate, with an inscription to commemorate this extraordinary instance of true worth; which should make some people in Scotland blush, while, though mean themselves, they strut about under the protection of great alliance conscious of the wretchedness of numbers who have lost by them, to whom they never think of making reparation, but indulge themselves and their families in most unsuitable expence.] There was a fair at Strichen; and he had several of his neighbours from it at dinner. One of them, Dr Fraser, who had been in the army, remembered to have seen Dr Johnson at a lecture on experimental philosophy, at Lichfield. The doctor recollected being at the lecture; and he was surprised to find here somebody who knew him.
Mr Fraser sent a servant to conduct us by a short passage into the high-road. I observed to Dr Johnson, that I had a most disagreeable notion of the life of country gentlemen; that I left Mr Fraser just now, as one leaves a prisoner in a jail. Dr Johnson said, that I was right in thinking them unhappy; for that they had not enough to keep their minds in motion.
I started a thought this afternoon which amused us a great part of the way. 'If,' said I, 'our club should come and set up in St Andrews, as a college, to teach all that each of us can, in the several departments of learning and taste, we should rebuild the city: we should draw a wonderful concourse of students.' Dr Johnson entered fully into the spirit of this project. We immediately fell to distributing the offices. I was to teach civil and Scotch law; Burke, politicks and eloquence; Garrick, the art of publick speaking; Langton was to be our Grecian, Colman our Latin professor; Nugent to teach physick; Lord Charlemont, modern history; Beauclerk, natural philosophy; Vesey, Irish antiquities, or Celtick learning;[Footnote: Since the first edition, it has been suggested by one of the clubs, who knew Mr Vesey better than Dr Johnson and I, that we did not assign him a proper place; for he was quite unskilled in Irish antiquities and Celtick learning, but might with propriety have been made professor of architecture, which he understood well, and has left a very good specimen of his knowledge and taste in that art, by an elegant house built on a plan of his own formation, at Lucan, a few miles from Dublin.] Jones, Oriental learning; Goldsmith, poetry and ancient history; Chamier, commercial politicks; Reynolds, painting, and the arts which have beauty for their object; Chambers, the law of England. Dr Johnson at first said. 'I'll trust theology to nobody but myself.' But, upon due consideration, that Percy is a clergyman, it was agreed that Percy should teach practical divinity and British antiquities; Dr Johnson himself, logick, metaphysicks and scholastick divinity. In this manner did we amuse ourselves, each suggesting, and each varying or adding, till the whole was adjusted. Dr Johnson said, we only wanted a mathematician since Dyer died, who was a very good one; but as to every thing else, we should have a very capital university, [Footnote: Our club, originally at the Turk's Head, Gerrard Street, then at Prince's, Sackville Street, now at Baxter's Dover Street, which at Mr Garrick's funeral acquired a name for the first time, and was called The Literary Club, was instituted in 1764, and now consists of thirty-five members. It has, since 1773, been greatly augmented; and though Dr Johnson with justice observed, that, by losing Goldsmith, Garrick, Nugent, Chamier, Beauclerk, we had lost what would make an eminent club, yet when I mention, as an accession, Mr Fox, Dr George Fordyce, Sir Charles Bunbury, Lord Offory, Mr Gibbon, Dr Adam Smith, Mr R. B. Sheridan, the Bishops of Kilaloe and St Asaph, Dean Marlay, Mr Steevens, Mr Dunning, Sir Joseph Banks, Dr Scott of the Commons, Earl Spencer, Mr Windham of Norfolk, Lord Elliot, Mr Malone, Dr Joseph Warton, the Rev. Thomas Warton, Lord Lucan, Mr Burke junior, Lord Palmerston, Dr Burney, Sir William Hamilton, and Dr Warren, it will be acknowledged that we might establish a second university of high reputation.]
We got at night to Banff. I sent Joseph on to Duff house: but Earl Fife was not at home, which I regretted much, as we should have had a very elegant reception from his lordship. We found here but an indifferent inn. [Footnote: Here, unluckily the windows had no pullies; and Dr Johnson, who was constantly eager for fresh air, had much struggling to get one of them kept open. Thus he had a notion impressed upon him, that this wretched defect was general in Scotland; in consequence of which he has erroneously enlarged upon it in his Journey. I regretted that he did not allow me to read over his book before it was printed. I should have changed very little; but I should have suggested an alteration in a few places where he has laid himself open to be attacked. I hope I should have prevailed with him to omit or soften his assertion, that 'a Scotsman must be a sturdy moralist, who does not prefer Scotland to truth', for I really think it is not founded; and it is harshly said.] Dr Johnson wrote a long letter to Mrs Thrale. I wondered to see him write so much so easily. He verified his own doctrine that 'a man may always write when he will set himself DOGGEDLY to it'.