Sunday, 22d August
I sent a message to Professor Thomas Gordon, who came and breakfasted with us. He had secured seats for us at the English chapel. We found a respectable congregation, and an admirable organ, well played by Mr Tait.
We walked down to the shore. Dr Johnson laughed to hear that Cromwell's soldiers taught the Aberdeen people to make shoes and stockings, and to plant cabbages. He asked, if weaving the plaids was ever a domestick art in the Highlands, like spinning or knitting. They could not inform him here. But he conjectured probably, that where people lived so remote from each other, it was likely to be a domestick art; as we see it was among the ancients, from Penelope. I was sensible to-day, to an extraordinary degree, of Dr Johnson's excellent English pronunciation. I cannot account for its striking me more now than any other day: but it was as if new to me; and I listened to every sentence which he spoke, as to a musical composition. Professor Gordon gave him an account of the plan of education in his college. Dr Johnson said, it was similar to that at Oxford. Waller the poet's great grandson was studying here. Dr Johnson wondered that a man should send his son so far off, when there were so many good schools in England. He said, 'At a great school there is all the splendour and illumination of many minds; the radiance of all is concentrated in each, or at least reflected upon each. But we must own that neither a dull boy, nor an idle boy, will do so well at a great school as at a private one. For at a great school there are always boys enough to do well easily, who are sufficient to keep up the credit of the school; and after whipping being tried to no purpose, the dull or idle boys are left at the end of a class, having the appearance of going through the course, but learning nothing at all. Such boys may do good at a private school, where constant attention is paid to them, and they are watched. So that the question of publick or private education is not properly a general one; but whether one or the other is best for MY SON.'
We were told the present Mr Waller was a plain country gentleman; and his son would be such another. I observed, a family could not expect a poet but in a hundred generations. 'Nay,' said Dr Johnson, 'not one family in a hundred can expect a poet in a hundred generations.' He then repeated Dryden's celebrated lines,
Three poets in three distant ages born, &c.
and a part of a Latin translation of it done at Oxford: he did not then say by whom.[Footnote: London, 2d May, 1778. Dr Johnson acknowledged that he was himself the authour of the translation above alluded to, and dictated it to me as follows:
Quos laudet vales Graius Romanus et Anglus Tres tria temporibus secla dedere suis. Sublime ingenium Graius; Romanus habebat Carmen grande sonans; Anglus utrumque tulit. Nil majus Natura capit: clarare priores Quae potuere duos tertius unus habet.]
He received a card, from Sir Alexander Gordon, who had been his acquaintance twenty years ago in London, and who, 'if forgiven for not answering a line from him', would come in the afternoon. Dr Johnson rejoiced to hear of him, and begged he would come and dine with us. I was much pleased to see the kindness with which Dr Johnson received his old friend Sir Alexander; a gentleman of good family, Lismore, but who had not the estate. The King's College here made him Professor of Medicine, which affords him a decent subsistence. He told us that the value of the stockings exported from Aberdeen was, in peace, a hundred thousand pounds; and amounted, in time of war, to one hundred and seventy thousand pounds. Dr Johnson asked, what made the difference? Here we had a proof of the comparative sagacity of the two professors. Sir Alexander answered, 'Because there is more occasion for them in war.' Professor Thomas Gordon answered, 'Because the Germans, who are our great rivals in the manufacture of stockings, are otherwise employed in time of war.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, you have given a very good solution.'
At dinner, Dr Johnson ate several plate-fulls of Scotch broth, with barley and peas in it, and seemed very fond of the dish. I said, 'You never ate it before.' JOHNSON. 'No, sir; but I don't care how soon I eat it again.' My cousin, Miss Dallas, formerly of Inverness, was married to Mr Riddoch, one of the ministers of the English chapel here. He was ill, and confined to his room; but she sent us a kind invitation to tea, which we all accepted. She was the same lively, sensible, cheerful woman, as ever. Dr Johnson here threw out some jokes against Scotland. He said, 'You go first to Aberdeen; then to Enbru (the Scottish pronunciation of Edinburgh); then to Newcastle, to be polished by the colliers; then to York; then to London.' And he laid hold of a little girl, Stuart Dallas, niece to Mrs Riddoch, and, representing himself as a giant, said, he would take her with him! telling her, in a hollow voice, that he lived in a cave, and had a bed in the rock, and she should have a bed cut opposite to it!
He thus treated the point, as to prescription of murder in Scotland. 'A jury in England would make allowance for deficiencies of evidence, on account of lapse of time: but a general rule that a crime should not be punished, or tried for the purpose of punishment, after twenty years, is bad. It is cant to talk of the King's advocate delaying a prosecution from malice. How unlikely is it the King's advocate should have malice against persons who commit murder, or should even know them at all. If the son of the murdered man should kill the murderer who got off merely by prescription, I would help him to make his escape; though, were I upon his jury, I would not acquit him. I would not advise him to commit such an act. On the contrary, I would bid him submit to the determination of society, because a man is bound to submit to the inconveniences of it, as he enjoys the good: but the young man, though politically wrong, would not be morally wrong. He would have to say, "Here I am amongst barbarians, who not only refuse to do justice, but encourage the greatest of all crimes. I am therefore in a state of nature: for, so far as there is now law, it is a state of nature: and consequently, upon the eternal and immutable law of justice, which requires that he who sheds man's blood should have his blood shed, I will stab the murderer of my father."' We went to our inn, and sat quietly. Dr Johnson borrowed, at Mr Riddoch's, a volume of Massilon's Discourses on the Psalms: but I found he read little in it. Ogden too he sometimes took up, and glanced at; but threw it down again. I then entered upon religious conversation. Never did I see him in a better frame: calm, gentle, wise, holy. I said, 'Would not the same objection hold against the Trinity as against transubstantiation?' 'Yes,' said he, 'if you take three and one in the same sense. If you do, to be sure you cannot believe it: but the three persons in the Godhead are Three in one sense, and One in another. We cannot tell how; and that is the mystery!'
I spoke of the satisfaction of Christ. He said his notion was, that it did not atone for the sins of the world; but, by satisfying divine justice, by shewing that no less than the Son of God suffered for sin, it shewed to men and innumerable created beings, the heinousness of it, and therefore rendered it unnecessary for divine vengeance to be exercised against sinners, as it otherwise must have been; that in this way it might operate even in favour of those who had never heard of it: as to those who did hear of it, the effect it should produce would be repentance and piety, by impressing upon the mind a just notion of sin: that original sin was the propensity to evil, which no doubt was occasioned by the fall. He presented this solemn subject in a new light to me, [Footnote: My worthy, intelligent, and candid friend, Dr Kippis, informs me, that several divines have thus explained the mediation of our Saviour. What Dr Johnson now delivered, was but a temporary opinion; for he afterwards was fully convinced of the propitiatory sacrifice, as I shall shew at large in my future work, The life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.] and rendered much more rational and clear the doctrine of what our Saviour has done for us, as it removed the notion of imputed righteousness in co-operating; whereas by this view, Christ has done all already that he had to do, or is ever to do, for mankind, by making his great satisfaction; the consequences of which will affect each individual according to the particular conduct of each. I would illustrate this by saying, that Christ's satisfaction resembles a sun placed to shew light to men, so that it depends upon themselves whether they will walk the right way or not, which they could not have done without that sun, 'the sun of righteousness'. There is, however, more in it than merely giving light--'a light to lighten the Gentiles': for we are told, there is 'healing under his wings'. Dr Johnson said to me, 'Richard Baxter commends a treatise by Grotius, De Satisfactione Christi. I have never read it: but I intend to read it; and you may read it.' I remarked, upon the principle now laid down, we might explain the difficult and seemingly hard text, 'They that believe shall be saved; and they that believe not shall be damned.' They that believe shall have such an impression made upon their minds, as will make them act so that they may be accepted by God.
We talked of one of our friends taking ill, for a length of time, a hasty expression of Dr Johnson's to him, on his attempting to prosecute a subject that had a reference to religion, beyond the bounds within which the Doctor thought such topicks should be confined in a mixed company. JOHNSON. 'What is to become of society, if a friendship of twenty years is to be broken off for such a cause?' As Bacon says,
Who then to frail mortality shall trust, But limns the water, or but writes in dust.
I said, he should write expressly in support of Christianity; for that, although a reverence for it shines through his works in several places, that is not enough. 'You know,' said I, 'what Grotius has done, and what Addison has done. You should do also.' He replied, 'I hope I shall.'