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MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
Edinburgh, Sept. 6, 1777. [After informing him that I was to set out next day, in order to meet him at Ashbourne :- -]
“ I have a present for you from lord Hailes; the fifth book of Lactantius, which he bas published with Latin notes. He is also to give you a few anecdotes for your life of Thomson, who I find was private tutor to the present earl of Hadington, Jord Hailes's cousin, a circumstance not mentioned by Dr. Murdoch. I have keen expectations of delight from your edition of the English poets".
“I am sorry for poor Mrs. Williams's situation. You will, however, have the comfort of reflecting on your kindness to her. Mr. Jackson's death, and Mrs. Aston's palsy, are gloomy circumstances. Yet surely we should be habituated to the uncertainty of life and health. When my mind is unclouded by melancholy, I consider the temporary distresses of this state of being as “light afflictions,” by stretching my mental view into that glorious after-existence, when they will appear to be as nothing. But present pleasures and present pains must be felt. I lately read Rasselas over again with great satisfaction.
Since you are desirous to hear about Macquarry's sale, I shall inform you particularly. The gentleman who purchased Ulva is Mr. Campbell of Auchnaba: our friend Macquarry was proprietor of two-thirds of it, of which the rent was 1561. 5s. 1d. This parcel was set up at 4,0691. 5s. 1d. but it sold for no less than 5,5401. The other third of Ulva with the island of Staffa, belonged to Macquarry of Ormaig. Its rent, including that of Staffa, 831. 12s. 2 d. -set up at 2,1781. 16s. 4d.-sold for no less than 3,5401. The laird of Col wished to purchase Ulva, but he thought the price too high. There may, indeed, be great improvements made there, both in fishing and agriculture ; but the interest of the purchase-money exceeds the rent so very much, that I doubt if the bargain will be profitable. There is an island called Little Colonsay, of 101. yearly rent, which I am informed has belonged to the Macquarrys of Ulva for many ages, but which was lately claimed by the presbyterian synod of Argyll, in consequence of a grant made to them by queen Anne. It is believed that their claim will be dismissed, and that Little Colonsay will also be sold for the advantage of Macquarry's creditors. What think you of purchasing this island, and endowing a school or college there, the master to be a clergyman of the church of England ? How venerable would such an institution make the name of Dr. Samuel Johnson in the Hebrides! I have, like yourself, a wonderful pleasure in recollecting our travels in those islands. The pleasure is, I think, greater than it reasonably should be, considering that we had not much either of beauty or elegance to charm our imaginations, or of rude novelty to astonish. Let us, by all means, have another expedition. I shrink a little from our scheme of going up the Balticko. I am
n See p. 103, note.
• It appears that Johnson, now in his sixty-eighth year, was seriously inclined to realize the project of our going up the Baltick, which I had started when we were in the isle of Sky; for he thus writes to Mrs. Thrale; Letters, vol. i.
“ Ashbourne, Sept. 13, 1777. “ Boswell, I believe, is coming. He talks of being here to-day: I shall be glad 10 see him : but he shrinks from the Baltick expedition, which, I think, is the best scheme in our power : what we shall substitute, I know not. He wants to see Wales; but, except the woods of Bachycraigh, what is there in Wales, that can fill the hunger of ignorance, or quench the thirst of curiosity ? We may, perhaps, form some scheme or other; but, in the phrase of Hockley in the Hole, it is pity he has not a better bottom.”
Such an ardour of mind, and vigour of enterprise, is admirable at any age but more particularly so at the advanced period at which Johnson was then arrived. I am sorry now that I did not insist on our executing that scheme. Besides the other objects of curiosity and observation, to have seen my illustrious friend received, as he probably would have been, by a prince so eminently distinguished for his variety of talents and acquisitions as the late king of Sweden; and by the empress of Russia, whose extraordinary abilities, information, and magnanimity astonish the world, would have afforded a noble subject for contemplation and record. This reflection may possibly be thought too visionary by the more sedate and cold blooded part of my readers; yet I own, I frequently indulge it with an earnest, unavailing regret.—Boswell.
sorry you have already been in Wales; for I wish to see it. Shall we go to Ireland, of which I have seen but little ? We shall try to strike out a plan when we are at Ashbourne. I am ever “ Your most faithful humble servant,
“ JAMES Boswell.”
TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
“ DEAR SIR,—I write to be left at Carlisle, as you direct me; but you cannot have it. Your letter, dated Sept. 6th, was not at this place till this day, Thursday, Sept. 11th ; and I hope you will be here before this is at Carlisle P. However, what you have not going, you may have returning; and as I believe I shall not love you less after our interview, it will then be as true as it is now, that I set a very high value upon your friendship, and kindness as one of the chief felicities of
my life. Do not fancy that an intermission of writing is a decay of kindness. No man is always in a disposition to write ; nor has any man at all times something to say.
“ That distrust which intrudes so often on your mind is a mode of melancholy, which, if it be the business of a wise man to be happy, it is foolish to indulge ; and if it be a duty to preserve our faculties entire for their proper use, it is criminal. Suspicion is very often an useless pain. From that, and all other pains, I wish you free and safe ; for I am, dear sir, “ Most affectionately yours,
“ SAM. JOHNSON. Ashbourne, Sept. 11. 1777.”
On Sunday evening, Sept. 14th, I arrived at Ashbourne, and drove directly up to Dr. Taylor's door. Dr. Johnson and he appeared before I had got out of the post-chaise, and welcomed me cordially.
p It so happened. The letter was forwarded to my house at Edinburgh. --BOSWELL.
I told them that I had travelled all the preceding night, and gone to bed at Leek, in Staffordshire; and that when I rose to go to church in the afternoon, I was informed there had been an earthquake, of which, it seems, the shock had been felt, in some degree, at Ashbourne. JOHNSON. “Sir, it will be much exaggerated in publick talk : for, in the first place, the common people do not accurately adapt their thoughts to the objects ; nor, secondly, do they accurately adapt their words to their thoughts: they do not mean to lie; but, taking no pains to be exact, they give you very false accounts. A great part of their language is proverbial. If any thing rocks at all, they say.it rocks like a cradle;' and in this way they go on."
The subject of grief for the loss of relations and friends being introduced, I observed that it was strange to consider how soon it in general wears away. Dr. Taylor mentioned a gentleman of the neighbourhood as the only instance he had ever known of a person who had endeavoured to retain grief. He told Dr. Taylor, that after his lady's death, which affected him deeply, he resolved that the grief, which he cherished with a kind of sacred fondness, should be lasting; but that he found he could not keep it long. JOHNSON. “All grief for what cannot in the course of nature be helped, soon wears away ;
in some sooner, indeed, in some later: but it never continues very Jong, unless where there is madness, such as will make a man have pride so fixed in his mind, as to imagine himself a king; or any other passion in an unreasonable way: for all unnecessary grief is unwise, and therefore will not be long retained by a sound mind. If, indeed, the cause of our grief is occasioned by our own misconduct; if grief is mingled with remorse of conscience, it should be lasting. BOSWELL. “ But, sir, we do not approve of a man who very soon forgets the loss of a wife or a friend.” John
Sir, we disapprove of him, not because he soon forgets his grief; for the sooner it is forgotten the better; but because we suppose, that if he forgets his wife or his friend soon, he has not had much affection for them."
I was somewhat disappointed in finding that the edition of the English poets, for which he was to write prefaces and lives, was not an undertaking directed by him; but that he was to furnish a preface and life to any poet the booksellers pleased. I asked him if he would do this to any dunce's works, if they should ask him. JOHNSON. “Yes, sir; and say he was a dunce.” My friend seemed now not much to relish talking of this edition.
On Monday, September 15th, Dr. Johnson observed, that every body commended such parts of his Journey to the Western Islands, as were in their own way. instance,” said he, “Mr. Jackson (the all-knowing) told me, there was more good sense upon trade in it, than he should hear in the house of commons in a year, except from Burke. Jones commended the part which treats of language; Burke that which describes the inhabitants of mountainous countries.”
After breakfast, Johnson carried me to see the garden belonging to the school of Ashbourne, which is very prettily formed upon a bank, rising gradually behind the house. The reverend Mr. Langley, the head master, accompanied us.
While we sat basking in the sun upon a seat here, I introduced a common subject of complaint, the very small salaries which many curates have; and I maintained, “that no man should be invested with the character of a clergyman, unless he has a security for such an income as will enable him to appear respectable; that, therefore, a clergyman should not be allowed to have a curate, unless he gives him a hundred pounds a year; if he cannot do that, let him perform the duty himself.” JOHNSON. “To be sure, sir, it is wrong that any clergyman should be without a reasonable income; but as the church revenues were sadly diminished at the reformation, the clergy who have livings cannot afford, in many instances, to give good salaries to curates, without leaving themselves too little; and if no curate were to be permitted unless he had a hundred pounds a year, their number would be very small, which