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Mr. Thomson wished to bring the cause by appeal before the house of lords, but was dissuaded by the advice of the noble person who lately presided so ably in that most honourable house, and who was then attorney-general. As my readers will no doubt be glad also to read the opinion of this eminent man upon the same subject, I shall here insert it.
CASE. There is here with laid before you, “ 1. Petition for the reverend Mr. James Thomson,
minister of Dumfermline. “ 2. Answers thereto. '3. Copy of the judgement of the court of session
“ 4. Notes of the opinions of the judges, being the
reasons upon which their decree is grounded. “ These papers you will please to peruse, and give your opinion, “ Whether there is a probability of the above decree
of the court of session's being reversed, if Mr. Thomson should appeal from the same.”
“I don't think the appeal adviseable: not only because the value of the judgement is in no degree adequate to the expense; but because there are many chances, that upon the general complexion of the case, the impression will be taken to the disadvantage of the appellant.
“ It is impossible to approve the style of that sermon. But the complaint was not less ungracious from that man who had behaved so ill by his original libel, and at the time when he received the reproach he complains of. In the last article all the plaintiffs are equally concerned. It struck me also with some wonder, that the judges should think so much fervour apposite to the occasion of reproving the defendant for a little excess.
the first eight paragraphs on the 10th of May, and the remainder on the 13th, that there are in the whole only seven corrections, or rather variations, and those not considerable. Such were at once the vigorous and accurate emanations of his mind.-Boswell.
Upon the matter, however, I agree with them in condemning the behaviour of the minister, and in thinking it a subject fit for ecclesiastical censure, and even for an action, if any individual could qualifys a wrong, and a damage arising from it. But this I doubt. The circumstance of publishing the reproach in a pulpit, though extremely indecent, and culpable in another view, does not constitute a different sort of wrong, or any other rule of law, than would have obtained if the same words had been pronounced elsewhere. I don't know whether there be any difference in the law of Scotland, in the definition of slander, before the commissaries, or the court of session. The common law of England does not give way to actions for every reproachful word. An action cannot be brought for general damages, upon any words which import less than an offence cognisable by law; consequently no action could have been brought here for the words in question. Both laws admit the truth to be a justification in actions for words; and the law of England does the same in actions for libels. The judgement, therefore, seems to me to have been wrong, in that the court repelled that defence.
“ E. THURLOW.”
I am now to record a very curious incident in Dr. Johnson's life, which fell under my own observation ; of wbich “pars magna fui;” and which I am persuaded will, with the liberal-minded, be much to his credit.
My desire of being acquainted with celebrated men of every description, had made me, much about the same time, obtain an introduction to Dr. Samuel Johnson and to John Wilkes, esq. Two men more different could, perhaps, not be selected out of all mankind. They had even attacked one another with some asperity in their writings; yet I lived in habits of friendship with both. I could fully relish the excellence of each ; for I have ever delighted in that intellectual chymistry which can separate good qualities from evil in the same person. Sir John Pringle, “ mine own friend and
s It is curious to observe that lord Thurlow has here, perhaps in compliment to North Britain, made use of a term of the Scotch law, which to an English reader may require explanation. To qualify a wrong, is to point out and establish it.-BOSWELL.
father's friend,” between whom and Dr. Johnson I in vain wished to establish an acquaintance, as I respected and lived in intimacy with both of them, observed to me once, very ingeniously, “ It is not in friendship as in mathematicks, where two things, each equal to a third, are equal between themselves. You agree with Johnson as a middle quality, and you agree with me as a middle quality; but Johnson and I should not agree.” Sir John was not sufficiently flexible; so I desisted; knowing, indeed, that the repulsion was equally strong on the part of Johnson ; who, I know not from what cause, unless his being a Scotchman, had formed a very erroneous opinion of sir John. But I conceived an irresistible wish, if possible, to bring Dr. Johnson and Mr. Wilkes together. How to manage it, was a nice and difficult matter.
My worthy booksellers and friends, Messieurs Dilly in the Poultry, at whose hospitable and well covered table I have seen a greater number of literary men than at any other, except that of sir Joshua Reynolds, had invited me to meet Mr. Wilkes and some more gentlemen, on Wednesday, May 15th. “ Pray,” said I, “ let us have Dr. Johnson.”—“ What with Mr. Wilkes? not for the world,” said Mr. Edward Dilly: “ Dr. Johnson would never forgive me.”—“ Come,” said I, “ if you'll let me negotiate for you, I will be answerable that all shall go well.” DILLY. “ Nay, if you will take it upon you, I am sure I shall be very happy to see them both here."
Notwithstanding the high veneration which I entertained for Dr. Johnson, I was sensible that he was sometimes a little actuated by the spirit of contradiction, and by means of that I hoped I should gain my point. I was persuaded that if I had come upon him with a direct proposal, “ Sir,
will you dine in company with Jack Wilkes?” he would have flown into a passion, and would probably have answered, “ Dine with Jack Wilkes, sir? I'd as soon dine with Jack Ketch.h” I therefore, while we were sitting quietly by ourselves at his house in an evening, took occasion to open my plan thus :-“ Mr. Dilly, sir, sends his respectful compliments to you, and would be happy if you would do him the honour to dine with him on Wednesday next along with me, as I must soon go to Scotland.” JOHNSON. “Sir, I am obliged to Mr. Dilly. I will wait
BosweLL. “ Provided, sir, I suppose, that the company which he is to have is agreeable to you.” JOHNSON. “ What do you mean, sir? What do you take me for? Do you think I am so ignorant of the world, as to imagine that I am to prescribe to a gentleman what company he is to have at his table?" Boswell. “I beg your pardon, sir, for wishing to prevent you from meeting people whom you might not like. Perhaps he may have some of what he calls his patriotick friends with him.” JOHNSON. “ Well, sir, and what then? What care I for his patriotick friends ? Poh!” BOSWELL. " I should not be surprised to find Jack Wilkes there." Johnson. “ And if Jack Wilkes should be there, what is that to me, sir? My dear friend, let us have no more of this. I am sorry to be angry with you ; but really it is treating me strangely to talk to me as if I could not meet any company whatever, occasionally.” BoSWELL. “ Pray forgive me, sir: I meant well. But you shall meet whoever comes, for me." Thus I secured him, and told Dilly that he would find him very well pleased to be one of his guests on the day appointed.
Upon the much-expected Wednesday, I called on him about half an hour before dinner, as I often did when we were to dine out together, to see that he was ready in time, and to accompany him. I found him buffeting his books, as upon a former occasion', covered with dust, and
h This has been circulated as if actually said by Johnson; when the truth is, it was only supposed by me.—Boswell.
i See page 6 of this volume.
making no preparation for going abroad. “ How is this, sir ?” said I: “ Don't you recollect that you are to dine at Mr. Dilly's?” Johnson. “Sir, I did not think of going to Dilly's: it went out of my head. I have ordered dinner at home with Mrs. Williams.” BOSWELL. “ dear sir, you kuow you were engaged to Mr. Dilly, and I told him so.
He will expect you, and will be much disappointed if you don't come." JOHNSON. “ You must talk to Mrs. Williams about this."
Here was a sad dilemma. I feared that what I was so confident I had secured, would yet be frustrated. He had accustomed himself to show Mrs. Williams such a degree of humane attention, as frequently imposed some restraint upon him ; and I knew that if she should be obstinate, he would not stir. I hastened down stairs to the blind lady's room, and told her I was in great uneasiness, for Dr. Johnson had engaged to me to dine this day at Mr. Dilly's, but that he had told me he had forgotten his engagement, and had ordered dinner at home. “Yes, sir," said she, pretty peevishly, “ Dr. Johnson is to dine at home.”_"Madam,” said I, “his respect for you is such, that I know he will not leave you, unless you absolutely desire it. But as you have so much of his company, I hope you will be good enough to forego it for a day; as Mr. Dilly is a very worthy man, has frequently had agreeable parties at his house for Dr. Johnson, and will be vexed if the doctor neglects him to-day. And then, madam, be pleased to consider my situation : I carried the message, and I assured Mr. Dilly that Dr. Johnson was to come; and no doubt he has made a dinner, and invited a company, and boasted of the honour he expected to have. I shall be quite disgraced if the doctor is not there.” She gradually softened to my solicitations, which were certainly as earnest as most entreaties to ladies upon any occasion, and was graciously pleased to empower me to tell Dr. Johnson, “ That, all things considered, she thought he should certainly go.' I flew back to him, still in dust, and careless of what should be the event, “ indifferent in his choice to go or stay;" but as soon as I had announced