Sunday, 5th September
I walked to the parish church of Slate, which is a very poor one. There are no church bells in the island. I was told there were once some; what has become of them, I could not learn. The minister not being at home, there was no service. I went into the church and saw the monument of Sir James Macdonald, which was elegantly executed at Rome, and has the following inscription, written by his friend, George Lord Lyttelton:
To the memory Of SIR JAMES MACDONALD, BART. Who in the flower of youth, Had attained to so eminent a degree of knowledge in Mathematics, Philosophy, Languages, And in every other branch of useful and polite learning. As few have acquired in a long life Wholly devoted to study: Yet to this erudition he joined What can rarely be found with it. Great talents for business, Great propriety of behaviour, Great politeness of manners! His eloquence was sweet, correct, and flowing; His memory vast and exact; His judgement strong and acute; All which endowments, united With the most amiable temper And every private virtue, Procured him, not only in his own country, But also from foreign nations, The highest marks of esteem. In the year of our Lord 1766, The 25th of his life, After a long and extremely painful illness, Which he supported with admirable patience and fortitude, He died at Rome, Where, notwithstanding the difference of religion. Such extraordinary honours were paid to his memory, As had never graced that of any other British subject, Since the death of Sir Philip Sydney. The fame he left behind him is the best consolation To his afflicted family,
And to his countrymen in this isle. For whose benefit he had planned Many useful improvements, Which his fruitful genius suggested. And his active spirit promoted. Under the sober direction Of a clear and enlightened understanding. Reader, bewail our loss, And that of all Britain. In testimony of her love, And as the best return she can make To her departed son. For the constant tenderness and affection Which, even to his last moments, He shewed for her. His much afflicted mother. The LADY MARGARET MACDONALD, Daughter to the EARL of EGLINTOUNE, Erected this Monument, A.D. 1768.
[Footnote: This extraordinary young man, whom I had the pleasure of knowing intimately, having been deeply regretted by his country, the most minute particulars concerning him must be interesting to many. I shall therefore insert his two last letters to his mother. Lady Margaret Macdonald, which her ladyship has been pleased to communicate to me.
Rome, July 9th, 1766.
My Dear Mother,
Yesterday's post brought me your answer to the first letter in which I acquainted you of my illness. Your tenderness and concern upon that account are the same I have always experienced, and to which I have often owed my life. Indeed it never was in so great danger as it has been lately; and though it would have been a very great comfort to me to have had you near me, yet perhaps I ought to rejoice, on your account, that you had not the pain of such a spectacle. I have been now a week in Rome, and wish I could continue to give you the same good accounts of my recovery as I did in my last: but I must own that for three days past. I have been in a very weak and miserable state, which however seems to give no uneasiness to my physician. My stomach has been greatly out of order, without any visible cause; and the palpitation does not decrease. I am told that my stomach will soon recover its tone, and that the palpitation must cease in time. So I am willing to believe; and with this hope support the little remains of spirits which I can be supposed to have, on the forty-seventh day of such an illness. Do not imagine I have relapsed--I only recover slower than I expected. If my letter is shorter than usual, the cause of it is a dose of physick, which has weakened me so much to-day, that I am not able to write a long letter. I will make up for it next post, and remain always
Your most sincerely affectionate son, J. Macdonald.
He grew gradually worse; and on the night before his death he wrote as follows from Frescati:
My Dear Mother,
Though I did not mean to deceive you in my last letter from Rome, yet certainly you would have very little reason to conclude of the very great and constant danger I have gone through ever since that time. My life, which is still almost entirely desperate, did not at that time appear to me so, otherwise I should have represented, in its true colours, a fact which acquires very little horror by that means, and comes with redoubled force by deception. There is no circumstance of danger and pain of which I have not had the experience, for a continued series of above a fortnight; during which time I have settled my affairs, after my death, with as much distinctness as the hurry and the nature of the thing could admit of. In case of the worst, the Abbe Grant will be my executor in this part of the world, and Mr Mackenzie in Scotland, where my object has been to make you and my younger brother as independent of the eldest as possible.]
Dr Johnson said, the inscription should have been in Latin, as every thing intended to be universal and permanent, should be.
This being a beautiful day, my spirits were cheered by the mere effect of climate. I had felt a return of spleen during my stay at Armidale, and had it not been that I had Dr Johnson to contemplate, I should have sunk into dejection; but his firmness supported me. I looked at him, as a man whose head is turning giddy at sea looks at a rock, or any fixed object. I wondered at his tranquillity. He said, 'Sir, when a man retires into an island, he is to turn his thoughts intirely to another world. He has done with this.' BOSWELL. 'It appears to me, sir, to be very difficult to unite a due attention to this world, and that which is to come; for, if we engage eagerly in the affairs of life, we are apt to be totally forgetful of a future state; and, on the other hand, a steady contemplation of the awful concerns of eternity renders all objects here so insignificant, as to make us indifferent and negligent about them.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, Dr Cheyne has laid down a rule to himself on this subject, which should be imprinted on every mind: "To neglect nothing to secure my eternal peace, more than if I had been certified I should die within the day: nor to mind any thing that my secular obligations and duties demanded of me, less than if I had been ensured to live fifty years more."
I must here observe, that though Dr Johnson appeared now to be philosophically calm, yet his genius did not shine forth as in companies, where I have listened to him with admiration. The vigour of his mind was, however, sufficiently manifested, by his discovering no symptoms of feeble relaxation in the dull, 'weary, flat and unprofitable' state in which we now were placed.
I am inclined to think that it was on this day he composed the following Ode upon the Isle of Sky, which a few days afterwards he shewed me at Raysay:
Ponti profundis clausa recessibus, Strepens procellis, rupibus obsita, Quam grata defesso virentem Skia sinum nebulosa pandis.
His cura, credo, sedibus exulat; His blanda certe pax habitat locis: Non ira, non moeror quietis Insidias meditatur horis.
At non cavata rupe latescere, Menti nec aegrae montibus aviis Prodest vagari, nec frementes E scopulo numerare fluctus
Humana virtus non sibi sufficit, Datur nee aequum cuique animum sibi Parare posse, ut Stoicorum Secta crepet nimis alta fallax.
Exaestuantis pectoris impetum. Rex summe, solus tu regis arbiter, Mentisque, te tollente, surgunt, Te recidunt moderante fluctus.
[Footnote: VARIOUS READINGS. Line 2. In the manuscript. Dr Johnson, instead of rupibus obsita, had written imbribus uvida. and uvida nubibus, but struck them both out. Lines 15 & 16. Instead of these two lines, he had written, but afterwards struck out, the following:
Parare posse, utcunque jactet Grandiloquus nimis alta Zeno.]
After supper, Dr Johnson told us, that Isaac Hawkins Browne drank freely for thirty years, and that he wrote his poem, De Animi Immortalitate, in some of the last of these years. I listened to this with the eagerness of one, who, conscious of being himself fond of wine, is glad to hear that a man of so much genius and good thinking as Browne had the same propensity.