Sunday, April 9, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 164

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of 18th Century Oral History Studies; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Missing Case of Scotch, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, oils, steel engravings by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas) for penmarqanasaw™ productions.

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After breakfast I departed, and pursued my journey northwards.

From this meeting at Ashbourne I derived a considerable accession to my Johnsonian store. I communicated my original Journal to Sir William Forbes, in whom I have always placed deserved confidence; and what he wrote to me concerning it is so much to my credit as the biographer of Johnson, that my readers will, I hope, grant me their indulgence for here inserting it: 

'It is not once or twice going over it (says Sir William,) that will satisfy me; for I find in it a high degree of instruction as well as entertainment; and I derive more benefit from Dr. Johnson's admirable discussions than I should be able to draw from his personal conversation; for, I suppose there is not a man in the world to whom he discloses his sentiments so freely as to yourself.'


'Edinburgh, Sept. 29, 1777.


'By the first post I inform you of my safe arrival at my own house, and that I had the comfort of finding my wife and children all in good health. 

'When I look back upon our late interview, it appears to me to have answered expectation better than almost any scheme of happiness that I ever put in execution. My Journal is stored with wisdom and wit; and my memory is filled with the recollection of lively and affectionate feelings, which now, I think, yield me more satisfaction than at the time when they were first excited. I have experienced this upon other occasions.

I shall be obliged to you if you will explain it to me; for it seems wonderful that pleasure should be more vivid at a distance than when near. I wish you may find yourself in a humour to do me this favour; but I flatter myself with no strong hope of it; for I have observed, that unless upon very serious occasions, your letters to me are not answers to those which I write.'



'I hope you found at your return my dear enemy and all her little people quite well, and had no reason to repent of your journey. I think on it with great gratitude.

'I was not well when you left me at the Doctor's, and I grew worse; yet I staid on, and at Lichfield was very ill. Travelling, however, did not make me worse; and when I came to London, I complied with a summons to go to Brighthelmston, where I saw Beauclerk, and staid three days.

'Our CLUB has recommenced last Friday, but I was not there. Langton has another wench. Mrs. Thrale is in hopes of a young brewer. They got by their trade last year a very large sum, and their expenses are proportionate. 

'Mrs. Williams's health is very bad. And I have had for some time a very difficult and laborious respiration; but I am better by purges, abstinence, and other methods. I am yet, however, much behind hand in my health and rest.

'My dear friend, let me thank you once more for your visit; you did me great honour, and I hope met with nothing that displeased you. I staid long at Ashbourne, not much pleased, yet aukward at departing. I then went to Lichfield, where I found my friend at Stow-hill very dangerously diseased. Such is life. Let us try to pass it well, whatever it be, for there is surely something beyond it. 

'Well, now I hope all is well, write as soon as you can to, dear Sir, 
'Your affectionate servant,
'London, Nov. 25, 1777.'


'Edinburgh, Nov. 29, 1777.


'This day's post has at length relieved me from much uneasiness, by bringing me a letter from you.

* * * * *

'I am engaged in a criminal prosecution against a country schoolmaster, for indecent behaviour to his female scholars. There is no statute against such abominable conduct; but it is punishable at common law. I shall be obliged to you for your assistance in this extraordinary trial. I ever am, my dear Sir,

'Your faithful humble servant,


About this time I wrote to Johnson, giving him an account of the decision of the Negro cause. A great majority of the Lords of Session decided for the negro. But four of their number, the Lord President, Lord Elliock, Lord Monboddo, and Lord Covington, resolutely maintained the lawfulness of a status, which has been acknowledged in all ages and countries, and that when freedom flourished, as in old Greece and Rome.



'This is the time of the year in which all express their good wishes to their friends, and I send mine to you and your family. May your lives be long, happy, and good. I have been much out of order, but, I hope, do not grow worse. 

'The crime of the schoolmaster whom you are engaged to prosecute is very great, and may be suspected to be too common. In our law it would be a breach of the peace, and a misdemeanour: that is, a kind of indefinite crime, not capital, but punishable at the discretion of the Court. You cannot want matter: all that needs to be said will easily occur.

'All our friends are as they were; little has happened to them of either good or bad. Mrs. Thrale ran a great black hair-dressing pin into her eye; but by great evacuation she kept it from inflaming, and it is almost well. Miss Reynolds has been out of order, but is better. Mrs. Williams is in a very poor state of health.

'If I should write on, I should, perhaps, write only complaints, and therefore I will content myself with telling you, that I love to think on you, and to hear from you; and that I am, dear Sir,

'Yours faithfully,


'December 27, 1777.'


'Edinburgh, Jan. 8, 1778. 


'Your congratulations upon a new year are mixed with complaint: mine must be so too. My wife has for some time been very ill, having been confined to the house these three months by a severe cold, attended with alarming symptoms.

[Here I gave a particular account of the distress which the person, upon every account most dear to me, suffered; and of the dismal state of apprehension in which I now was: adding that I never stood more in need of his consoling philosophy.]

I earnestly desire tranquillity but I fear I shall never attain it: for, when unoccupied, I grow gloomy, and occupation agitates me to feverishness.

* * * * * 

'I am, dear Sir, 

'Your most affectionate humble servant, 




'To a letter so interesting as your last, it is proper to return some answer, however little I may be disposed to write. 

'Your alarm at your lady's illness was reasonable, and not disproportionate to the appearance of the disorder. I hope your physical friend's conjecture is now verified, and all fear of a consumption at an end: a little care and exercise will then restore her. London is a good air for ladies; and if you bring her hither, I will do for her what she did for me— I will retire from my apartments, for her accommodation. Behave kindly to her, and keep her cheerful.

'You always seem to call for tenderness. Know then, that in the first month of the present year I very highly esteem and very cordially love you. I hope to tell you this at the beginning of every year as long as we live; and why should we trouble ourselves to tell or hear it oftener? 

'Tell Veronica, Euphemia, and Alexander, that I wish them, as well as their parents, many happy years. 

'You have ended the negro's cause much to my mind. 

'I am, dear Sir, 

'Your's affectionately, 


'January 24, 1778.'

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part 165

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