FAMOUS SCOTS SERIES
The following Volumes are now ready:—
THOMAS CARLYLE. By Hector C. Macpherson. ALLAN RAMSAY. By Oliphant Smeaton. HUGH MILLER. By W. Keith Leask. JOHN KNOX. By A. Taylor Innes. ROBERT BURNS. By Gabriel Setoun. THE BALLADISTS. By John Geddie. RICHARD CAMERON. By Professor Herkless. SIR JAMES Y. SIMPSON. By Eve Blantyre Simpson. THOMAS CHALMERS. By Professor W. Garden Blaikie. JAMES BOSWELL. By W. Keith Leask.
* * * * *
The designs and ornaments of this volume are by Mr Joseph Brown, and the printing from the press of Messrs Turnbull & Spears, Edinburgh.
* * * * *
GEORGE BIRKBECK HILL, D.C.L.; M.A. Pembroke (Johnson's) College, Oxford;
CHIEF OF JOHNSON SCHOLARS AND EDITORS; AND HIMSELF MOST "CLUBABLE" OF MEN.
* * * * *
The literature of the Johnsonian period has assumed, in spite of the lexicographer's own dislike of that adjective, prodigious dimensions. After the critical labours of Malone, Murphy, Croker, J. B. Nichols, Macaulay, Carlyle, Rogers, Fitzgerald, Dr Hill and others, it may appear hazardous to venture upon such a well-ploughed field where the pitfalls are so numerous and the materials so scattered. I cannot, however, refrain from the expression of the belief that in this biography of Boswell will be found something that is new to professed students of the period, and much to the class of general readers that may lead them to reconsider the verdict at which they may have arrived from the brilliant but totally misleading essay by Lord Macaulay. At least, the writer cherishes the hope that it will materially add to the correct understanding and the enjoyment of Boswell's great work, the Life of Johnson.
My best thanks are due to J. Pearson & Co., 5 Pall Mall Place, London, for the use of unpublished letters by Boswell and of his boyish common-place book. And if "our Boswell" could indulge an honest pride in availing himself of a dedication to Sir Joshua Reynolds, as to a person of the first eminence in his department, so may I entertain the same feeling in inscribing this sketch to Dr Hill who, amid the pressure of other Johnson labours, has yet found time to revise the proof sheets of my book.
W. K. L.
ABERDEEN, December 1896.
EARLY DAYS—MEETS JOHNSON—1740-63 9
THE CONTINENT—CORSICA—1763-66 35
EDINBURGH BAR—STRATFORD JUBILEE—1766-69 54
LOVE AFFAIRS—LITERARY CLUB—1766-73 76
TOUR TO THE HEBRIDES—1773 88
EDINBURGH LIFE—DEATH OF JOHNSON—1773-84 113
THE ENGLISH BAR—DEATH—1784-95 122
IN LITERATURE 143
EARLY DAYS—MEETS JOHNSON. 1740-1763
'Behind yon hills, where Lugar flows.'—BURNS.
'Every Scotchman,' says Sir Walter Scott, 'has a pedigree. It is a national prerogative, as inalienable as his pride and his poverty. My birth was neither distinguished nor sordid.' What, however, was but a foible with Scott was a passion in James Boswell, who has on numerous occasions obtruded his genealogical tree in such a manner as to render necessary some acquaintance with his family and lineage. The family of Boswell, or Bosville, dates from the Normans who came with William the Conqueror to Hastings. Entering Scotland in the days of the sore saint, David I., they had spread over Berwickshire and established themselves, at least in one branch, at Balmuto in Fife. A descendant of the family, Thomas Boswell, occupies in the genealogy of the biographer the position of prominence which Wat of Harden holds in the line of the novelist. He obtained a grant of the lands in Ayrshire belonging to the ancient house of Affleck of that ilk, when they had passed by forfeiture into the hands of the king. Pitcairn, in his Collection of Criminal Trials is inclined to regard this ancestor as the chief minstrel in the royal train of James IV.; but, as he fell at Flodden, this may be taken as being at least not proven, nor would the position of this first literary man in the family have been quite pleasing to the pride of race so often shewn by his descendant. A Yorkshire branch of the family, with the spelling of their name as Bosville, was settled at Gunthwait in the West Riding, and its head was hailed as 'his chief' by Bozzy, whose gregarious instincts led him to trace and claim relationship in a way even more than is national. By marriage and other ties the family in Scotland was connected with the most ancient and distinguished houses in the land.
The great grandfather of the biographer was the Earl of Kincardine who is mentioned by Gilbert Burnet in his History of His Own Time. He had married a Dutch lady, of the noble house of Sommelsdyck who had once held princely rank in Surinam. With that branch also of the name did Boswell, in later years, establish a relationship at the time of his continental tour, when at the Hague he found the head holding 'an important charge in the Republick, and is as worthy a man as lives, and has honoured me with his correspondence these twenty years.' From the Earl Boswell boasted 'the blood of Bruce in my veins,' a descent which he seizes every opportunity of making known to his readers, and to which we find him alluding in a letter of 10th May, 1786, now before us, to Mickle, the translator of the Lusiad, with a promise to 'tell you what I know about our common ancestor, Robert the Bruce.' When Johnson, in the autumn of 1773, visited the ancestral seat of his friend, Boswell, 'in the glow of what, I am sensible, will in a commercial age be considered as a genealogical enthusiasm,' did not forget to remind his illustrious Mentor of his relationship to the Royal Personage, George the Third, 'whose pension had given Johnson comfort and independence.' It would have required a much greater antiquarian than Johnson, who could scarcely tell the name of his own grandfather, to have traced the well-nigh twenty generations of connecting links between Bruce and the third of the Guelph dynasty on the throne.
From Veronica Sommelsdyck, the wife of this royal ancestor (whose title is now merged in the earldom of Elgin), was 'introduced into our family the saint's name,' born by Boswell's own eldest daughter, and other consequences of a much graver nature were destined to ensue. 'For this marriage,' says Ramsay of Ochtertyre, 'their posterity paid dear,' for to it was due, increased no doubt as it was through the inter-marriages in close degrees between various scions of the house, the insanity which is now recognised by all students of his writings in Boswell himself, and which made its appearance in the clearest way in the case of his second daughter. His grandfather James adopted the profession of law in which he obtained some distinction, and left three children—Alexander, the father of the subject of this sketch, John, who followed the practice of medicine, and a daughter Veronica, married to Montgomerie of Lainshaw, whose daughter became the wife of her cousin Bozzy.
Alexander Boswell, Lord Auchinleck, married his cousin Euphemia Erskine. In the writings of the son the father makes a considerable figure, while his mother, 'of the family of Buchan, a woman of almost unexampled piety and goodness,' as he styles her, is but a dim name in the background, as with John Stuart Mill who has written a copious autobiography, and left it to the logical instincts of his readers to infer that he had a mother. The profession of law was adopted by the father, who, after a residence abroad at Leyden where he graduated, passed as advocate at the Scottish bar in 1729, from which, after a distinguished career, he was appointed to the sheriffdom of Wigton, and ultimately raised to the bench in 1754, with the title of Lord Auchinleck. He possessed, says his son, 'all the dignified courtesy of an old baron,' of the school of Cosmo Bradwardine as we may say, and not only was he an excellent scholar, but, from the intimacy he had cultivated with the Gronovii and other literati of Leyden, he was a collector of classical manuscripts and a collator of the texts and editions of Anacreon. His library was rich in curious editions of the classics, and was in some respects not excelled by any private collection in Great Britain, and the reputation of the Auchinleck library was greatly increased by the black-letter tastes and publications of his grandson. A strong Whig and active Presbyterian, he was much esteemed in public and in private life. The son had on his northern tour the pleasure to note, both at Aberdeen and at Inverness, the high regard in which the old judge was held, and to find his name and connection a very serviceable means of introduction to the travellers in their 'transit over the Caledonian hemisphere.' Like the father of Scott, who kept the whole bead-roll of cousins and relations and loved a funeral, Lord Auchinleck bequeathed to his eldest son at least one characteristic, the attention to relatives in the remotest degree of kin. On the bench, like the judges in Redgauntlet, Hume, Kames, and others, he affected the racy Doric; and his 'Scots strength of sarcasm, which is peculiar to a North Briton,' was on many an occasion lamented by his son who felt it, and acknowledged by Johnson on at least one famous occasion. In the Boswelliana are preserved many of old Auchinleck's stories which Lord Monboddo says he could tell well with wit and gravity—stories of the circuit and bar type of Braxfield and Eskgrove, such as Scott used to tell to the wits round the fire of the Parliament House. In his younger days he had been a beau, and his affectation of red heels to his shoes and of red stockings, when brought under the notice of his son by a friend, so affected Bozzy that he could hardly sit on his chair for laughing. A great gardener and planter like others of the race of old Scottish judges he had extended, in the classic style of architecture then in fashion, the family mansion, and had, as Johnson found, 'advanced the value of his lands with great tenderness to his tenants.' Past the older residence flowed the river Lugar, here of considerable depth, and then bordered with rocks and shaded with wood—the old castle whose 'sullen dignity' was the nurse of Boswell's devotion to the feudal principles and 'the grand scheme of subordination,' of which he lets us hear so much when he touches on 'the romantick groves of my ancestors.'
James Boswell, the immortal biographer of Johnson, was born in Edinburgh on October 29, 1740. The earliest fact which is known about him is one which he himself would have described as 'a whimsical or characteristical' anecdote, and which he had told to Johnson:—'Boswell in the year 1745 was a fine boy, wore a white cockade, and prayed for King James, till one of his uncles, General Cochrane, gave him a shilling on condition that he would pray for King George, which he accordingly did. So you see that Whigs of all ages are made the same way.' It may have been these early signs of perversity that led his father to be strict in dealing with him, for we cannot doubt that Boswell in the London Magazine for 1781, is giving us a picture of domestic life when he writes as follows:—'I knew a father who was a violent Whig, and used to upbraid his son with being deficient in "noble sentiments of liberty," while at the same time he made this son live under his roof in such bondage, that he was not only afraid to stir from home without leave, but durst scarcely open his mouth in his father's presence.' For some time he was privately educated under the tuition of the Rev. John Dun, who was presented in 1752 to the living of Auchinleck by the judge, and finally at the High School and the University of Edinburgh. There he met with two friends with whom, to the close of his life, he was destined to have varied and close relations. One was Henry Dundas, first Lord Melville, and by "Harry the Ninth" Bozzy, in his ceaseless attempts to secure place and promotion, constantly attempted to steer, while that Pharos of Scotland, as Lord Cockburn calls him, was as constantly inclined to be diffident of the abilities, or at least the vagaries, of his suitor.
The other friend was William Johnson Temple, son of a Northumberland gentleman of good family, and grandfather of the present Archbishop of Canterbury. Temple was a little older than Boswell, who for upwards of thirty-seven years maintained an uninterrupted correspondence with him. As he is the Atticus of Boswell, we insert here a detailed account of him in order to avoid isolated references and allusions in the course of the narrative. On leaving Edinburgh he entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge; after taking the usual degrees, he was presented by Lord Lisburne to the living of Mamhead in Devon, which was followed by that of St Gluvias in Cornwall. Strangely enough for one who was an intimate friend of Boswell, he was no admirer of Johnson (whose name, by a curious coincidence, was a part of his own), and a strong Whig and water-drinker, 'a bill which,' says Bozzy humorously, 'was ever one which meets with a determined resistance and opposition in my lower house.' As the friend of Gray and of Mason, he must have been possessed of some share of ability, yet over his moral character the admirers and critics of Boswell are divided. To some he appears as the true and faithful Atticus to the Cicero of his friend, the Mentor and honest adviser in all times of danger and trial. To others he seems but to have possessed, in a minor degree, all the failings of Boswell himself, and it would appear the most natural inference to believe that, had Temple been endowed with greater force of mental or moral character, the results would have been seen in many ways upon the actions of his friend. In his wife he was unfortunate, and, at one time at least, he attempted to secure a colonial chaplaincy in order to effect a separation. He was the writer of an Essay on the Clergy; their Studies and Recreations, 1774; Historical and Political Memoirs, 1777; Abuse of Unrestrained Power, 1778; all of which have completely passed from the memory of man. But he lives with a fair claim to fame, as the correspondent of Boswell, who calls him 'best of friends' to 'a weak distemper'd soul that swells in sudden gusts, and sinks again in calms.' A chance memorandum by Temple, on the death of Gray, displaying considerable felicity of phrase and insight, was sent by Boswell to the London Magazine of March 1772, from which it was copied by Mason in his Life of Gray, and in an adapted form it was used by Johnson himself in his sketch of the poet's work, in his Lives of the Poets. The discovery of the Letters to Temple is one of the happiest accidents in literature, and without them the true life of Boswell could not be written. To neither Macaulay nor Carlyle were they known for use in their famous reviews. On the death of Temple in 1796, one year after the decease of his friend, his papers passed into the possession of his son-in-law, who retired to France, where he died. Some fifty years ago, a gentleman making purchases in a shop at Boulogne, observed that the wrapper was a scrap of a letter, which formed part of a bundle bought shortly before from a travelling hawker. On investigation, the letters were found to be the correspondence of Boswell with Temple, and all doubts as to their genuineness were conclusively set at rest by their bearing the London and Devon post marks, and the franks of well known names. But the internal evidence alone, as we shall see, would be sufficient to establish their authenticity. Published in 1857 by Bentley, under the careful editorship of Mr Francis, they constitute, along with the no less happy discovery in 1854, behind an old press in Sydney, of Campbell's Diary of a Visit to England—though Professor Jowett was inclined to doubt the authenticity of the latter—the most valuable accession of evidence to the Johnsonian circle of interest, and they shed on Boswell and his method a light which otherwise would leave much in darkness, or, at least, but ensure a general acceptance of the harsher features in the criticism by Macaulay. From the remark by Boswell to Temple—'remember and put my letters into a book neatly; see which of us does it first,' it has been inferred that he meditated, in some sort of altered appearance, their republication. That Temple entertained the same idea on his part we know from his own words, and from the title under which Boswell suggested their issue—Remarks on Various Authors, in a Series of Letters to James Boswell, Esq. But that Boswell himself ever did intend the publication of his own must be pronounced, by all that know what lies behind their printed form, a moral impossibility.
The first preserved letter is dated from Edinburgh, July 29, 1758. It reveals at once the historic Boswell, such as he remained to the close, the cheerful self-confidence, the gregarious instincts, the pleasing air of moralizing, and the easy flow of style. 'Some days ago I was introduced to your friend Mr Hume; he is a most discreet affable man as ever I met with, and has really a great deal of learning, a choice collection of books ... we talk a good deal of genius, fine learning, improving our style, etc., but I am afraid solid learning is much worn out. Mr Hume is, I think, a very proper person for a young man to cultivate an acquaintance with.' Then he digresses to 'my passion for Miss W——t,' of whom, he assures his friend, he is 'excessively fond, so don't be surprised if your grave, sedate, philosophic friend who used to carry it so high, and talk with such a composed indifference of the beauteous sex, should all at once commence Don Quixote for his adorable Dulcinea.' We catch sight of him, at eighteen, going on the northern circuit with his father and Lord Hailes. There, by the advice of an Edinburgh acquaintance, Love, an old actor at Drury Lane, but then a teacher of elocution in the town, he began 'an exact journal,' and on that journey it was that Hailes made Boswell aware of the fact that was to henceforward colour the entire tide of his life, the existence of Dr Johnson as a great writer in London, 'which grew up in my fancy into a kind of mysterious veneration, by figuring to myself a state of solemn elevated abstraction, in which I supposed him to live in the immense metropolis of London.' Such were the links, the advice of this obscure player to keep a journal, and the report given to the youth by the judge in their postchaise. As early as December 1758 we hear of his having 'published now and then the production of a leisure hour in the magazines,' and of his life in Edinburgh he writes, 'from nine to ten I attend the law class; from ten to eleven study at home, and from one to two attend a class on Roman Antiquities; the afternoon and evening I always spend in study. I never walk except on Saturdays.' A full allowance, surely, all this for one who regrets his sad impotence in study, and writes the letters to Lord Hailes which we shall quote later.
Even at this period he betrays the fatal defect which remains with him through life, the indulgence in 'the luxury of noble sentiments,' and the easy and irritating Micawber-like genteel roll with which he turns off a moral platitude or finely vague sentiment, in the belief that good principles constitute good character. 'As our minds improve in knowledge,' he writes, 'may the sacred flame still increase until at last we reach the glorious world above when we shall never be separated, but enjoy an everlasting society of bliss.... I hope by Divine assistance, you shall still preserve your amiable character amidst all the deceitful blandishments of vice and folly.' While still at Edinburgh he produced The Coquettes, or the Gallant in the Closet, by Lady Houston, but it was ruined on the third night, and found to be merely a translation of one of the feeblest plays of Thomas Corneille. This play was long believed to be by Boswell, but his part was merely the providing the translator with a prologue, nor was the fact revealed till long after by the lady herself.
In November 1759 he entered the class of moral philosophy under Adam Smith at Glasgow. Perhaps his father had thought that in the more sedate capital of the West, and in close propinquity to Auchinleck, there would be less scope for the long career of eccentricities upon which he was now to enter. If such, however, had been the intention, it was destined to a rude awakening. All his life Bozzy affected the company of players, among whom he professed to find 'an animation and a relish of existence,' and at this period he tells us he was flattered by being held forth as a patron of literature. In the course of his assiduous visits to the local theatre he met with an old stage-struck army officer from Ireland, Francis Gentleman, who had sold his commission to risk his chances on the boards. By this worthy an edition of Southern's Oroonoko was dedicated to Boswell, and in the epistle are found some of his qualities:—
'But when with honest pleasure she can find Sense, taste, religion, and good nature join'd, There gladly will she raise her feeble Voice Nor fear to tell that Boswell is her Choice.'
Thus early had the youthful patron of the drama blossomed into notoriety, and having also commenced attendance at the Roman Catholic Chapel he had now resolved to become a priest, though curiously enough he began this career by eloping, as we are assured by Ramsay of Ochtertyre, with a Roman Catholic actress. His father followed the pair to London, and there, it would seem, prevailed on the erratic neophyte to abandon his fair partner, whose existence would certainly have been a fatal barrier to the proposed priesthood. At least, like his friend Gibbon of later days, if he sighed as a lover, he obeyed as a son, and a compromise by which he was to enter on the profession of arms was effected. His father called on Archibald, Duke of Argyll, an old campaigner with Marlborough. 'My Lord,' said the Duke, 'I like your son; this boy must not be shot at for three shillings and sixpence a day.' This scene reads like a pre-arranged affair calculated to flatter the erratic Bozzy out of his warlike schemes, for which it is clear he was never fitted. Indeed, the true aim was really, as he confesses to Temple, a wish to be 'about court, enjoying the happiness of the beau monde and the company of men of genius.' Temple had come forward with an offer of a thousand pounds to obtain a commission for him in the Guards, and Boswell assures us repeatedly, 'I had from earliest years a love for the military life.' Yet we can with equal difficulty figure 'our Bozzy' as priest or soldier. Like Hogg who hankered after the post of militia ensign with 'nerves not,' as Lockhart says, 'heroically strung,' Boswell in his own Letter to the People of Scotland confesses himself 'not blest with high heroic blood, but rather I think troubled with a natural timidity of personal danger, which it costs me some philosophy to overcome.' Nor was his devotion to charmer or chapel likely to weather the dissipated life he led in London. In later life he may have had thoughts of his own feelings when he proposed to publish, from the manuscript in his possession, the life of Sir Robert Sibbald. That antiquary had been pressed by the Duke of Perth to come over to the Papists, and for some time embraced the ancient religion, until the rigid fasting led him to reconsider the controversy and he returned to Protestantism. Bozzy thought the remark of his friend, that as ladies love to see themselves in a glass, so a man likes to see and review himself in his journal, 'a very pretty allusion,' and we may be sure, in spite of his reticence, that his own case was present at the time to his mind. His distressed father enlisted the interest of Lord Hailes, who requested Dr Jortin, Prebendary of St Paul's, to take in hand the flighty youth, and to persuade him to renounce the errors of the Church of Rome for those of the Church of England, for it was plain that Boswell had broken loose from his old moorings, and some middle course might, it was hoped, prove to be possible. 'Your young gentleman,' writes Jortin to Hailes, 'called at my house. I was gone out for the day; he then left your letter and a note with it for me, promising to be with me on Saturday morning. But from that time to this I have heard nothing of him. He began, I suppose, to suspect some design upon him, and his new friends may have represented me to him as a heretic and an infidel, whom he ought to avoid as he would the plague.' More likely the Catholic fit had passed away. But what a light does this phase, erratic even among his countless vagaries, shed on his relation to Johnson! Never, we may rest assured, did he tell the sage of this hidden passage in his life; yet how often do we find him putting leading questions to his friend and Mentor on all points of Catholic doctrine and casuistry, purgatory, and the invocation of the saints, confession, and the mass! There can be no doubt that this wrench left a deep impress on the confused religious views of Boswell, and this is the clue which explains the opening conversation with Johnson at the beginning of their intimacy. 'I acknowledged,' he writes, 'that though educated strictly in the principles of religion, I had for some time been misled into a certain degree of infidelity; but I was now come to a better way of thinking, and was fully satisfied of the truth of the Christian revelation, though I was not clear as to every point considered to be orthodox.' Never in any way does he refer to this episode of his life, but the Life of Johnson is, as we shall have occasion to show, the life in many ways also of its author, who says of himself that, 'from a certain peculiarly frank, open, and ostentatious disposition which he avows, his history, like that of the old Seigneur Michael de Montaigne, is to be traced in his writings.'
Left to himself and the guidance of the writer Derrick, 'my first tutor in the ways of London, who shewed me the town in all its variety of departments, both literary and sportive,' he was now busily spelling through the pages of the Gull's Hornbook. From this course of idle dissipation he was saved by the interposition of an Ayrshire neighbour of the family, the Earl of Eglintoun, though were we to credit the account of the waif himself the Earl 'insisted that young Boswell should have an apartment in his house.' Certain it is that by his lordship he was taken to Newmarket and introduced to the members of the Jockey Club. He would appear to have fancied himself a regularly elected member, for here his eccentricity broke forth into a yet more violent form. Calling for pen and paper, while the sporting fraternity gathered round, he produced the Cub at Newmarket, which he printed and dedicated to the Duke of York in a characteristically Boswellian strain. In doggerel which defies rhyme or reason he tells how his patron
'By chance a curious cub has got On Scotia's mountains newly caught;'
and then—the first of his many portraits drawn by himself, and prophetic of the lover of hospitable boards and good cheer as we know him in his works—he describes the writer as
'Not of the iron race Which sometimes Caledonia grace; Though he to combat should advance, Plumpness shone in his countenance; And belly prominent declared That he for beef and pudding cared; He had a large and ponderous head, That seemed to be composed of lead; From which hung down such stiff, lank hair, As might the crows in autumn scare.'
At this time it is likely took place the escapade with which he must have convulsed the gravity of the Edinburgh literati invited to meet Johnson on their return from the Hebrides. 'I told, when Dr Hugh Blair was sitting with me in the pit of Drury Lane, in a wild freak of youthful extravagance I entertained the audience prodigiously by imitating the lowing of a cow. I was so successful in this boyish frolic that the universal cry of the galleries was "encore the cow." In the pride of my heart I attempted imitations of other animals, but with very inferior effect.' Blair's advice was, says Scott, 'Stick to the coo, man,' in his peculiar burr, but we can imagine how this unforeseen reminiscence must have confused the divine. After an ineffectual effort to enter himself at the Inner Temple, the 'cub' had to return in April 1761 to Edinburgh.
Old Edinburgh was nothing if not convivial. Writing to Temple and confessing that his London life had 'not been entirely as it ought to be,' he appeals to him for pity in his present surroundings. Imagine 'a young fellow,' he cries, 'whose happiness was always centred in London, hauled away to the town of Edinburgh, obliged to conform to every Scottish custom, or be laughed at—"Will ye hae some jeel? Oh fie, oh fie!"—his flighty imagination quite cramped, and be obliged to study Corpus Juris Civilis and live in his father's strict family; is there any wonder, sir, that the unlucky dog should be somewhat fretful? Yoke a Newmarket courser to a dung cart, and I'll lay my life on't he'll either caper or kick most confoundedly, or be as stupid and restive as an old battered post-horse.' Among the many clubs of the time Boswell instituted a jovial society called the Soaping Club which met weekly in a tavern. The motto of the members was 'Every man soap his own beard,' a rather recondite witticism which their founder declares equivalent to the reigning phrase of 'Every man in his humour.' It may be suggested here that in this company of feeble Bacchanalians Boswell had copied the Rabelaisian fay ce que vous voudras of the Franciscans of Medmenham Abbey with Sandwich, Wilkes, and others. At any rate, as their self-constituted laureate, he produced the following extraordinary song, which can be paralleled for inanity only by the stave he sang before Pitt in the Guildhall of London, as a means of attracting the notice of the Premier with a view to Parliament. The song is characteristically Boswellian.
'Boswell of Soapers the King On Tuesdays at Tom's does appear, And when he does talk or does sing, To him ne'er a one can come near. For he talks with such ease and such grace, That all charm'd to attention we sit, And he sings with so comic a face That our sides are just ready to split.
Boswell is modest enough, Himself not quite Phoebus he thinks, He never does flourish with snuff, And hock is the liquor he drinks. And he owns that Ned Colquet the priest May to something of honour pretend, And he swears that he is not in jest, When he calls this same Colquet his friend.
Boswell is pleasant and gay, For frolic by nature design'd; He heedlessly rattles away When the company is to his mind. "This maxim," he says, "you may see, We never can have corn without chaff;" So not a bent sixpence cares he, Whether with him or at him you laugh.
Boswell does women adore, And never once means to deceive, He's in love with at least half a score; If they're serious he smiles in his sleeve. He has all the bright fancy of youth, With the judgment of forty and five; In short, to declare the plain truth, There is no better fellow alive.'
This, it must be confessed, is sad stuff even for a laureate of twenty, and is jesting with difficulty. Every man, says Johnson, has at one time or other of his life an ambition to set up for a wag, but that a man who had completed the Life of Johnson should in after years complacently refer to this character of himself and 'traits in it which time has not yet altered, that egotism and self-applause which he is still displaying, yet it would seem with a conscious smile,' is scarcely credible were it not out-distanced by graver weaknesses.
For about this date he published An Elegy upon the Death of an Amiable Young Lady, flanked by three puffing epistles from himself and his friends, Erskine and Dempster. In the same year appeared his Ode to Tragedy—by a Gentleman of Scotland, with a dedication to—James Boswell, Esq.!—'for your particular kindness to me, and chiefly for the profound respect with which you have always treated me.' We hear of his 'old hock' humour, a favourite phrase with him for his Bacchanalian tastes, and we find the author limning himself as possessing
'A soul by nature formed to feel Grief sharper than the tyrant's steel, And bosom big with swelling thought From ancient lore's remembrance brought.'
In 1760 had appeared a Collection of Original Poems, published by Donaldson in Edinburgh on the model of Dodsley's Miscellanies. It comprised poems by Blacklock, Beattie, and others, and a second volume was issued by Erskine as editor in 1762. To it Boswell contributed nearly thirty pieces along with Home, the author of Douglas, Macpherson of Ossian fame or notoriety, John Maclaurin and others. The merits of the volume are beneath notice, and Boswell's contributions of Odes, Epigrams, Letters, Epistles, are of the traditional character; but An Epistle from a London Buck to his Friend must have been read by his father with regret, and by his mother of 'almost unexampled piety and goodness' with shame. There is only one poem that calls for attention, the Evening Walk in the Abbey Church of Holyrood House, the original, perhaps, of Fergusson's lament on the state of neglect of the then deserted mansion of royalty, where
'the thistle springs In domicile of ancient Kings, Without a patriot to regret Our palace and our ancient state.'
A third volume was announced for publication 'about eighteen months hence,' but the public had enough of this coagulated jargon as Carlyle would have styled it, and critics and readers are spared the task of its consideration.
Yet all this time he was in the enjoyment of the best company that Edinburgh could afford; he was admitted a member of the Select Society, and his circle embraced such men as Lord Somerville, Lord Hailes, Dr Blair, Kames, Robertson, Hume, Home, Jupiter Carlyle and others. 'Lord Auchinleck,' he quaintly adds, 'took the trouble himself to give him a regular course of instruction in law, a circumstance of singular benefit, and of which Mr Boswell has ever expressed a strong and grateful sense.' But his sense was not such as to restrain him from a mock-heroic correspondence with Andrew Erskine, brother of the Earl of Kellie. Erskine must have been possessed of some parts, for he was the correspondent of Burns and was intimate with George Thomson the composer, yet we can fancy the consternation of the old judge when this farrago of the new humour was published in London in 1763. Writing from his father's house, he thus begins:—'Dear Erskine, no ceremony I beseech you! Give me your hand. How is my honest Captain Andrew? How goes it with the elegant Lady A——? the lovely, sighing Lady J——? and how, oh how, does that glorious luminary Lady B—— do? you see I retain my usual volatility. The Boswells, you know, came over from Normandy with William the Conqueror; and some of us possess the spirit of our ancestors, the French. I do, for one. A pleasant spirit it is. Vive la bagatelle is the maxim. A light heart may bid defiance to fortune.' Again the old man would find 'Allow me a few more words. I live here in a remote corner of an old ruinous house, where my ancestors have been very jovial. What a solemn idea rushes on my mind! They are all gone: I must follow. Well, and what then? Let me shift about to another subject. The best I can think of is a sound sleep; so good-night.' In fact, like Sir Fretful Plagiary in the Critic, Bozzy was so covetous of popularity that he would rather be abused than be not mentioned at all. Little augury, too, of success at the bar could his father find in the following portrait of his son: 'the author of the Ode to Tragedy is a most excellent man; he is of an ancient family in the west of Scotland, upon which he values himself not a little. At his nativity there appeared omens of his future greatness; his parts are bright, and his education has been good; he has travelled in post-chaises miles without number; he is fond of seeing much of the world; he eats of every good dish, especially apple pie; he drinks old hock; he has a very fine temper; he is somewhat of a humourist, and a little tinctured with pride; he has a good, manly countenance, and he owns himself to be amorous; he has infinite vivacity; yet is at times observed to have a melancholy cast.'
Nothing but the most obtuse vanity could ever have induced Bozzy to publish all this. 'Curiosity,' he declares in the preface, 'is the most prevalent of all our passions, and the curiosity for reading letters is the most prevalent of all kinds of curiosity. Had any man in the three kingdoms found the following letters directed, sealed, and addressed, with post-marks—provided he could have done so honestly—he would have read every one of them.' There is the true Boswell in this characteristic confession, the Boswell that read in the private diaries of Johnson, and, with an eye to biographical materials, had admitted an impulse to carry them off, and never see him more. 'Why, sir,' said the doctor, 'I do not think you could have helped it.'
After this it was no wonder that his father was induced to allow his return to London, 'Where a man may soap his own beard, and enjoy whatever is to be had in this transitory state of things, and every agreeable whim may be indulged without censure.' The Duke of Queensbery, the patron of Gay, was one of those to whom he was recommended now that he inclined to 'persist in his fondness for the Guards, or rather, in truth, for the metropolis,' but he suspected some arrangement between his father and the Duke by which the commission was delayed. For some months he spent a random life as the occupier of Temple's chambers in the vicinity of Johnson. Little could be expected of the friend of Churchill and Wilkes, yet Boswell now was at the turning point of his career.
'This is to me,' he writes in his great work, 'a memorable year; for in it I had the happiness to obtain the acquaintance of that extraordinary man whose memoirs I am now writing; an acquaintance which I shall ever esteem as one of the most fortunate circumstances of my life.' We have seen how Lord Hailes, had on the 1758 circuit, mentioned to him the name of Johnson; how in Glasgow Gentleman had given him a representation of 'dictionary Johnson;' how Derrick in 1760, during his first visit to London, had promised to introduce this youth of twenty to the great dictator of literature; and Sheridan, the father of the dramatist, when in Edinburgh in 1761, giving public lectures on elocution, had made a similar promise. But on his return to London at the end of 1762, Boswell had found that Sheridan had quarrelled with Johnson, and Derrick had retired to Bath as master of the ceremonies in succession to Beau Nash. Luckily Derrick had before introduced his friend to Davies, the bookseller in Covent Garden, who as 'one of the best imitators of Johnson's voice and manner' only increased the ardour of Boswell for the meeting. Now the hour was come and the man. Yet surely never could there have been a more apparently unpropitious time chosen. Number 45 of the North Briton denouncing Bute and his Scotch favourites had appeared on April 23rd. The minister had bowed to the storm and resigned, while the writer of the libel had been arrested under a general warrant and discharged on the 30th of the month under appeal, either to be hanged, thought Adam Smith, or to get Bute impeached in six months. Alexander Cruden, of Concordance fame, was rambling over London in his lucid interval like an inverted Old Mortality, busy with a sponge obliterating every hated '45' scrawled over the walls and every conceivable spot in the city against his country. Yet at such an hour it was that the famous meeting of Johnson and his biographer took place.
'At last, on Monday the 16th of May, when I was sitting in Mr Davies' back-parlour, after having drunk tea with him and Mrs Davies, Johnson unexpectedly came into the shop; and Mr Davies having perceived him through the glass door in the room in which we were sitting, advancing towards us,—he announced his awful approach to me, somewhat in the manner of an actor in the part of Horatio, when he addresses Hamlet on the appearance of his father's ghost, "Look, my lord, it comes." I found that I had a very perfect idea of Johnson's figure, from the portrait of him painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds.... Mr Davies mentioned my name, and respectfully introduced me to him. I was much agitated; and recollecting his prejudice against the Scotch, of which I had heard much, I said to Davies, "Don't tell where I come from."—"From Scotland," cried Davies roguishly. "Mr Johnson," said I, "I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it." ... "That, sir, I find is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help." This stroke stunned me a good deal; and when we had sat down, I felt myself not a little embarrassed, and apprehensive of what might come next.... Eager to take any opening to get into conversation with him, I ventured to say, "Oh, sir, I cannot think Mr Garrick would grudge such a trifle to you." "Sir," said he, with a stern look, "I have known David Garrick longer than you have done, and I know no right you have to talk to me on the subject." Perhaps I deserved this check,' etc., etc.
Next day Boswell called on Davies, who assured him that the doctor would not take it amiss if he were to visit him; and so, a week later, 'after being entertained by the witty sallies of Messieurs Thornton, Wilkes, Churchill and Lloyd,' from whom he would hear plenty of vigorous abuse of his country, and whose names we may take it as certain were not mentioned to his new friend, Boswell boldly repaired to Johnson. Nothing is more striking than the contrast between the hitherto reckless Bozzy and the easy assurance and composure with which he faces Johnson, sits up with the sage, sups at the Mitre, leads the conversation, and apparently holds his own in the discussions. Doubtless, the 'facility of manners' which Adam Smith has said was a feature of the man, was here of service to him, and no less so would have been the flattering way in which he managed to inform Johnson of his reputation over the Border. Boswell was not slow to write to Lord Hailes, knowing full well how the report of such an acquaintance and friendship would be welcome at Auchinleck as the signs of an approaching reformation. Goldsmith, whom he met shortly after, he entertained at the Mitre with a party of friends, among whom was the Rev. Dr John Ogilvie, the author of some portentous and completely forgotten epics, but who is not yet quite lost to sight as the writer of the sixty-second paraphrase of Scripture, 'Lo! in the last of days behold.' A subsequent 'evening by ourselves' he describes to Lord Hailes in the wariest manner, so as to secure his father's consent to a plan of travel. The old judge had wished his son to follow the profession of law which had now in their family become quite hereditary, and had coupled this with a scheme of study at Utrecht, after the plan he had himself followed at Leyden. A compromise had, in fact, been arranged by which this was to be pursued, and the career of arms dropped. Nothing can be more adroit than the way in which the young hopeful about to embark on the grand tour manages in his despatch to his lordship, with an eye to the Home Office, to suggest the furtherance of his own ideas under the supposed guise of Johnson's approval. 'He advises me to combat idleness as a distemper, to read five hours every day, but to let inclination direct me what to read. He is a great enemy to a stated plan of study. He advises me when abroad to go to places where there is most to be seen and learned. He is not very fond of the notion of spending a whole winter in a Dutch town. He thinks I may do much more by private study than by attending lectures. He would have me to perambulate (a word in his own style) Spain, also to visit the northern kingdoms, where more that is new is to be seen than in France or Italy, but he is not against me seeing these warmer regions.'
Here, in fact, is the germ of the tour to the Baltic they had hoped when at Dunvegan one day to carry out, for which Johnson, when in his sixty-eighth year was still ready, and which Boswell thought would have made them acquainted with the King of Sweden, and the Empress of Russia. On a later day of the month he asked his friend to the Mitre to meet his uncle Dr John, 'an elegant scholar and a physician bred in the School of Boerhaave,' and George Dempster, M.P. for the Forfar Burghs. As the latter was infected with the sceptical views of Hume, there would seem to have been a scene, for in the Life Johnson is made to say, 'I have not met with any man for a long time who has given me such general displeasure,' but Boswell, ever with an eye for copy, writes to Temple, 'it was a very fertile evening, and my journal is stored with its fruits.' Then to Lord Hailes he writes: 'Entre nous of Dempster,—Johnson had seen a pupil of Hume and Rousseau totally unsettled as to principles. I had infinite satisfaction in hearing solid truth confuting vain subtilty. I thank God that I have got acquainted with Mr Johnson. He has done me infinite service. He has assisted me to obtain peace of mind; he has assisted me to become a rational Christian; I hope I shall ever remain so.' Pleasantly all this would sound at home. There would be less now heard of his father's threat in May to disinherit him, and of the son's appeal to Lord Hailes to intercede with him—'to have patience with me for a year or two, and I may be what he pleases.' On July 15th he has had a long letter from his father, full of affection and good counsel. 'Honest man,' he writes to Temple, 'he is now happy. He insists on having my solemn promise. The only question is, how much I am to promise.' Then on the 25th he has his letters of credit and his introductions to people in Holland. 'They have been sent open for me to seal, so I have been amused to see the different modes of treating that favourite subject myself.' He is to be allowed L240 a year, but he is determined not to be straitened, nor to encourage the least narrowness, but to draw on his father when necessary. Wilkes had gone to France, but had let him have some franks 'to astonish a few North Britons.' Parting for a time with Temple, whose family was now in straitened circumstances, he assures him that their friendship should be 'an exalted comfort' to him in his distress, and concludes characteristically enough with advice to Temple's younger brother in the army for his establishment in 'solid notions of religion and morality.'
Before he bids his native land good-night, there is a final letter to Hailes with his father, Jortin, and the actress all well in his mind's eye. 'My scepticism,' he says, 'was not owing to thinking wrong, but to not thinking at all. It is a matter of great moment to keep a sense of religion constantly impressed upon our minds. If that divine guest does not occupy part of the space, vain intruders will,'—the fine old roll of Micawber to the close. Johnson on the 5th August started with him for Harwich in the stage coach, half in hopes of visiting Holland in the summer, and accompanying Bozzy in a tour through the Netherlands. 'I must see thee out of England,' said the old man kindly. On the beach they parted, and 'as the vessel put out to sea, I kept my eyes upon him for a considerable time, while he remained rolling his majestic frame in his usual manner; and at last I perceived him walk back into the town and he disappeared.' Boswell's attendance upon his new friend had not escaped the notice of the doctor's circle. 'Who,' asked one, 'is this Scotch cur at Johnson's heels?' 'Not a cur, but a bur,' was Goldsmith's reply, 'and he has the faculty of sticking.' With what effect the world was to know.
THE CONTINENT—CORSICA. 1763-66
'That's from Paoli of Corsica.'—GOLDSMITH, 'The Good Natured Man.'
'Utrecht,' writes Boswell, 'seeming at first very dull to me after the animated scenes of London, my spirits were grievously affected.' But the depression was not destined to last, and soon we hear of his having wearied of the proposed two years' course of study. The custom of legal training in some of the universities of the Continent was about this time coming to a close, though for long it had remained usual, at least with the landed classes of Scotland, to secure such an extended field of study for the bar by an attendance at some of the more developed schools of jurisprudence in Holland. Cunningham, the celebrated critic of Bentley, had given prelections in Leyden, and no reader of the Heart of Midlothian will forget the laments of the inimitable Bartoline Saddletree over his not being sent to Leyden or Utrecht to study the Institutes and the Pandects. Since the days of Gilbert Jack at Leyden, the connection between Holland and the Scottish universities had been close, and the garrets of Amsterdam had been crowded before the Revolution by refugees from both Scotland and England who maintained, upon their return, the ties they had contracted in their exile. Even Fielding had been sent to Leyden for law, and just before the visit of Boswell, to which his father had consented rather as a compromise than from any practical benefit that might ensue, the law of Scotland, largely based on Roman and feudal precedents, had received fresh extensions of conveyancing and other branches of jurisprudence, through the mass of forfeited estates brought into the market after the suppression of the Jacobite Rebellions. What country, then, could so rapidly afford such a course of legal study as the Protestant and commercial Holland? The reputation of Boerhaave had drawn medical students from all quarters, and Boswell's uncle John, and the celebrated Monro primus of the Edinburgh Medical School had been among the number. Goldsmith in 1755 met Irish medical students there, and some twenty years before the time we have reached Carlyle of Inveresk had found in Leyden 'an established lodging-house' where his countrymen, Gregory and Dickson, were domiciled, and numerous others, among whom he expressly mentions Charles Townshend, Askew the Greek scholar, Johnston of Westerhall, Doddeswell, afterwards Chancellor of the Exchequer, and John Wilkes then entering, at eighteen, on the career of profligacy that was to render him notorious. Carlyle describes their meetings at each other's rooms twice or thrice a week, when they drank coffee, supped on Dutch red herrings, eggs and salad, and never sat beyond the decent hour of twelve. For such a style of living Boswell's annual allowance of L240 was certainly handsome in a place where the fuel, chiefly peat, was the only expensive item.
But such a quiet style of life was not congenial to the lively tastes of our traveller. He soon tired of the civil law lectures of Professor Trotz, and longed for fresh woods and pastures new. He sighed to be upon his travels again. Of his life abroad some isolated notes may be gathered from the Boswelliana, and, as has been mentioned, he sought out his relatives at the Hague 'of the first fashion,' the Sommelsdycks, and with his facility of manners, and his father's credentials to the literati and scholars of the place, his circle of acquaintance was large and influential. We hear of an intimacy with the Rev. William Brown, minister of the Scottish congregation at Utrecht, the father of Principal Laurence Brown of Marischal College, Aberdeen; and with Sir Joseph Yorke, whom he met later in Ireland, then the Ambassador at the Hague, he would appear to have been acquainted. But Sir Joseph does not seem to have welcomed the easy manners of his young friend, and the dull life of the burgomasters was little suited to Boswell who ridicules their portly figures and their clothes which they wore as if they had been 'luggage.'
The two years' course of study was abruptly reduced to one. At its close we trace him at Berlin in July 1764, and in close relations with the British Envoy at the Prussian Court. Fortunately for Boswell this was both a countryman and a friend of his father's, Sir Andrew Mitchell, the late M.P. for the Banff Burghs. By the Ambassador he was introduced to the best society in the capital, and from Berlin he wrote to his father representing the urgent necessity of extending his travels, and, till the letter in reply should arrive, he proceeded into Hanover and Brunswick. On his return to Berlin towards the end of August he found a letter waiting him from Lord Auchinleck, who was naturally chagrined at the breakdown of his scheme of compromise. A visit to Paris he was prepared to allow, but the return of the wanderer to Utrecht was peremptorily commanded. The family of the Envoy was now at Spa, but next day Boswell wrote him a letter urging him to intercede with his father for the proposed extension. The letter is a very long one, and its abridgement even is impossible here, but few more Boswellian productions can be found. He has, he tells Sir Andrew, a melancholy disposition, and to escape from the gloom of dark speculation he has made excursions into the fields of folly, and in this tone of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes he rambles on. The words of St Paul, 'I must see Rome,' he finds are borne in upon him, and such a journey would afford him the talk for a lifetime, the more so that he was no libertine and disclaimed all intentions of travelling as Milord Anglois, but simply as the scholar and the man of elegant curiosity. Did not Sir Andrew as the loved and respected friend of his father think that the son had a claim to protest before he considered any act regarding himself as passed, and would not the Envoy remonstrate or persuade the father as to the justice of his wish? No reply was sent to this, but the judge, thinking that discretion was the wiser part in circumstances where it was useless to dictate without the means to enforce compliance, yielded reluctant consent to the scheme of an Italian tour. Gravely then does Bozzy rebuke Sir Andrew and for this occasion he forgives him, 'for I just say the same to young people when I advise. Believe me,' he somewhat irrelevantly adds, 'I have a soul.'
Fortune followed him wherever he turned. George, tenth Earl Marischal, and brother of Frederick the Great's general, Marshal Keith, had joined the Earl of Mar in the rising of 1715, and had made an ineffectual descent in 1719 on Glenshiel with the Spaniards. But in the '45 he had taken no part, and he revealed to the British Government the existence of the Bourbon Family Compact. In return, his attainder had been removed by George II., and on his brief visit to Scotland he had lived with Boswell's father in Ayrshire, perhaps as a friend of the Commissioners for the forfeited estates, when the occasion had been seized by Macpherson for an ode, 'attempted after the manner of Pindar,' in the fustian style of the translator of Ossian. With him or by his credentials Boswell went the round of the German courts, passing by Mannheim and Geneva, reaching the latter towards the end of December. The reader is struck with the airy assurance and self-possession which the laureate of the Soapers and the Newmarket Cub manifests on the grand tour, conducting himself at three and twenty with complete success at the courts of German princes, conversing with plenipotentiaries and dignitaries of all sorts in French and Italian, for German had not yet risen into sufficient historical or diplomatic importance to add to the linguistic burdens of mankind. Lord Marischal as the governor of Neufchatel had acted as the protector of Rousseau, and so was able to furnish his companion with a letter of introduction, hinting at his enthusiastic nature and describing him to the philosopher as a visionary hypochondriac. Voltaire he interviewed at Ferney, and he managed to please the great man by repeating—a characteristic trait of Bozzy, who believed such tale-bearing to be vastly conducive to the practice of benevolence—Johnson's criticism upon Frederick the Great's writings, 'such as you may suppose Voltaire's foot-boy to do, who has been his amanuensis.' He broached the subject of the philosophy of the unconscious, and was eager to know how ideas forgotten at the time were yet later on recollected. The other replied by a quotation from Thomson's Winter with the writer's question, as to the winds,
'In what far distant region of the sky Hushed in silence sleep ye when 'tis calm?'
The attempt to draw out Voltaire upon the tour to the Hebrides, which Boswell and Johnson had been vaguely talking over, produced only the rather sarcastic query if he wished him to accompany them, with a look 'as if I had talked of going to the North Pole.' Of his visit to the wild philosopher, as he styles Rousseau, we have no notice, beyond the general remark that they had agreed to differ alike in politics and religion, but that there were points ou nos ames sont unies. The feudal dogmas of Boswell and his rigid adherence to his pet idea of 'the grand scheme of subordination' were of course not likely to be pleasing to the sceptical aqua fortis of the sombre Genevese, with his belief in the fraternity of mankind and the greatness of the untutored Indian.
Boswell crossed the Alps, and either then or upon his homeward journey visited Bologna, Venice, and Mantua. He passed through Rome and, unknown to either, may have met Gibbon in the Eternal City into whose mind, some weeks before, 'as I sat musing among the ruins of the Capitol while the bare-footed friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter,' had started the idea of writing the Decline and Fall. In the city he met Andrew Lumsden, the Secretary of Prince Charles Edward, but we are not informed if the young Jacobite of five, who had prayed for the exiled family now sought any opportunity of making himself known to the object of his devotion. Naples brought him into the more congenial society of Wilkes with whom, he says, he 'enjoyed many classical scenes with peculiar relish.' When Churchill had died at Boulogne in the arms of Wilkes, the latter had retired to Naples to inscribe his sorrow 'in the close style of the ancients' upon an urn of alabaster which had been the gift of Winckelmann, and in that city now he was, as the literary executor, preparing annotations on the works of Churchill. Boswell managed with his curious want of tact in such matters, fitting the man who could suggest cards to a dying friend with an uneasy conscience, to hint that the poet had 'bounced into the regions below,' and to render the Il Bruto Inglese, by which the papers of the land referred to Wilkes and liberty, by a version significant of the notorious ugliness of his gay acquaintance. Naples, as with Milton, was the limit of his tour, and from it he returned to Rome. He reached that city in April 1765, and dispatched a letter to Rousseau, then 'living in romantick retirement' in Switzerland, requesting his promised introduction to the Corsican general, 'which if he refused, I should certainly go without it, and probably be hanged as a spy.' The wild philosopher was as good as his word, and the letter met the traveller at Florence. 'The charms of sweet Siena detained me no longer than they should have done, I required the hardy air of Corsica to brace me, after the delights of Tuscany,' an enigmatical turn of expression upon which light is thrown later, when we discuss the love affairs of Boswell, by a reference to a dark-eyed 'signora' on whom the tender traveller had glanced. At Leghorn he was within one day's sail of Corsica.
Pascal Paoli was the Garibaldi of his day. When his father in 1738 had been driven from the island by the French, he had retired with him to Naples where he entered a military college and followed the profession of arms. The way was paved for his return by the disturbances in the island in 1755, and so successful was he in his guerilla warfare as general against the Genoese, the owners of Corsica, that they were speedily driven to sue for peace. It was in a sort of lull in the storm of hostilities that our traveller made his unexpected appearance, and the adroit way in which he managed to lay his plans of action and to carry them out with such complete success calls for our admiration. In his Tour he simply says that 'having resolved to pass some years abroad (this is excellent, after his letter to Sir Andrew) for my instruction and entertainment, I conceived a design of visiting the Island of Corsica. I wished for something more than just the common course of what is called the tour of Europe, and Corsica occurred to me as a place where nobody else had been.' It may have been suggested to him by Rousseau, who had been engaged in some vague scheme of philandering philanthropy by which the wild philosopher was to play the Solon and the Lycurgus of the distressed islanders, and establish a fresh code of laws upon the basis of his new fraternity, but with which 'this steady patriot of the world alone,' as Canning styles him, 'the friend of every country but his own,' managed to mix in a much more practical way some not very honourable, if characteristic, intrigues for the surrender of the island to France.
Bozzy, at all events, was determined to make a bold bid for fame. Nothing like this had occurred, as an opening, during all his tour. The dangers of the plan were fully known to him, and the possibility was laid before his eyes of capture at the hands of the Barbary corsairs and a term of imprisonment at Algiers. Our adventurer waited on the commodore in command of the British squadron in the bay of Leghorn, and he was provided with a passport, the value of which against the threatened dangers does not sufficiently appear. Before he left Leghorn, his proposed visit had come to be regarded in a very serious light by Italian politicians. They saw in him an envoy from the British intrusted with powers to negotiate a treaty with Corsica, and all disclaimers of any such intention were politely treated as an evasion. Bozzy was in consequence viewed as 'a very close young man,' a trait that at no time of his life was ever applicable to James Boswell, on whom, indeed, the advice given by Sir Henry Wotton to Milton would have been thrown away. Putting out to sea in a Tuscan vessel bound for Capo Corso for wine, he had two days to spend on board in consequence of a dead calm. 'At sunset,' he says, 'all the people in the ship sang Ave Maria with great devotion and some melody.' One recalls the similar circumstances under which Cardinal Newman found himself becalmed on the orange-boat in the Straits of Bonifacio. For some hours he had put himself in spirits by taking a hand at the oar, and at seven in the evening of the second day they landed in the harbour of Centuri. He delivered his credentials, and on Sunday heard a Corsican sermon, where the preacher told of Catharine of Siena who wished to be laid in the mouth of the awful pit, that she might stop it up, and so prevent the falling in of more souls. 'I confess, my brethren,' cried the friar, 'I have not such zeal, but I do what I can, I warn you how to avoid it.'
At Corte, the capital of the island, he waited boldly upon the Supreme Council. He was gravely received, as befitted a supposed British envoy, and lodged in the apartment of Paoli in a Franciscan convent. Next day, the old petitioner for a commission in the Guards found the first and last military experience of his life. Three French deserters waited on him in the belief that he came to recruit soldiers for Scotland, and 'begged to have the honour of going along with me.' Nor was the idea so absurd as he seems to have viewed it, for from the Scots Magazine of a somewhat later date we learn that British Volunteers and Highlanders disbanded after the wars had been enlisted in the service of Paoli. But it is not improbable that the deserters had heard of Boswell's nationality from the woman of Penrith whom he found in the island, married to a French soldier in the army of the Pretender, whose fortunes she had followed when they had passed through Carlisle on the retreat from Derby. Another feature of Boswell, one whose consideration and explanation we shall attempt later on, now for the first time meets us, his inveterate love for interviewing criminals, and accordingly, 'as I wished to see all things in Corsica,' he had a meeting with the hangman who seemed sensible of his situation. The inhabitants crowded round him at a village as he advanced, and questioned the traveller, as Coleridge at Valetta found himself similarly interrogated, as to his professing himself a Christian when he did not believe in the Pope—e perche, and why? The old candidate for the priesthood managed to deftly evade this query by an assurance that in Britain the people were too far off and in a theological climate of their own. He was in the highest humour, and in this unusual flow of spirits he harangued the men of Bastelica with great fluency, getting, however, at Sollacaro somewhat nervous as the interview with the Corsican leader drew nigh. Paoli lived in constant dread of assassination, and the sudden arrival of this mysterious stranger was strongly calculated to arouse suspicions. For ten minutes, in silence, he looked at Boswell, who broke in with the remark that he was a gentleman from Scotland upon his travels and had lately visited Rome from which, having seen the ruins of one brave people, he was now come to view the rise of another. The general was not quite set at ease by this sententiously balanced sentence, and years after he told Miss Burney about his impressions at the time of the mysterious stranger. It shews the ruling passion strong in life, and that Boswell, as 'the chiel' amang them takin' notes,' forgot the rules of ordinary courtesy and prudence in the gratification of his darling method. 'He came to my country sudden,' said Paoli in his broken English, 'and he fetched me some letters of recommending him. And I supposed, in my mente he was in the privacy one espy; for I look away from him to my other companies, and when I look back to him I behold it in his hands his tablet, and one pencil. O, he was at the work, I give it you my honour, of writing down all what I say to some persons whatsoever in the room. I was angry enough, pretty much so. But soon I found out I was myself the monster he came to observe. O, he is a very good man Mr Boswell at the bottom, so witty, cheerful, so talkable. But at the first, Oh I was indeed fache of the sufficient.' This first glimpse of Bozzy at work is delightful. He was in fact "making himself," all unknown the while, as Shortreed said of Scott over the Liddesdale raids.
He dined with the general and suite. In spite of, perhaps by very reason of, his protestations of having no diplomatic mission, the highest attention was shewn him as an accredited envoy from St James'. In the morning chocolate was served up to him on a silver salver with the national arms; he rode out on the general's horse, with guards marching before him. Paoli knew sufficient English to maintain the dialogue, having picked up some slight knowledge of the tongue from Irish refugee officers in the Neapolitan service. His library was turned over by his inquisitive guest, who found among the books some odd volumes of The Spectator and The Tatler, Pope's Essay on Man, Gulliver's Travels, and Barclay's Apology for the Quakers. His good humour, as it had won on the general, endeared the supposed ambasciadore Inglese to the peasants, and he had a Corsican dress made for him. Of that dress—'in which I walked about with an air of true satisfaction'—every one who has heard of James Boswell has read, and it is inseparable somehow from our conceptions of the man and writer.
We select from this Corsican Tour—the least known to the general reader of Boswell's three great works—what seems to us the gem of the book:—'One day they must needs hear me play upon my German flute. To have told my honest natural visitants, 'Really, gentlemen, I play very ill,' and put on such airs as we do in our genteel companies, would have been highly ridiculous. I therefore immediately complied with their request. I gave them one or two Italian airs, and then some of our beautiful old Scots tunes, Gilderoy, The Lass o' Patie's Mill, Corn Riggs are Bonny.' The pathetick simplicity and pastoral gaiety of the Scots musick will always please those who have the genuine feelings of nature. The Corsicans were charmed with the specimens I gave them, though I may now say that they were very indifferently performed. My good friends insisted also to have an English song from me. I endeavoured to please them in this, too. I sung them 'Hearts of Oak are our Ships, Hearts of Oak are our Men.' I translated it into Italian for them, and never did I see men so delighted as the Corsicans were. 'Cuore di querco,' cried they, 'bravo Inglese!' It was quite a joyous riot. I fancied myself to be a recruiting sea officer. I fancied all my chorus of Corsicans aboard the British fleet.'
How admirable is the style of all this, equal quite to Goldsmith's best and lightest touch! Exquisite, too, is that picture of Bozzy, as the rollicking British stage-tar of tradition, in his rendering of Garrick's song, the gems from the Opera and the national melodies. Allan Ramsay's song in Corsica is to be equalled only by Goldsmith on his tour when he played, but not for amusement, Barbara Allan and Johnny Armstrong's Good Night before the doors of Italian convents and Flemish homesteads.
But the highstrung Bozzy had to experience a revulsion of low feelings to which he was ever prone. He is soon in a sort of Byronic fit, and he continues in a strain with which we should have not credited the 'gay classic friend of Jack Wilkes' and of that Sienese signora, unless he had turned evidence against himself. He declared his feelings to Paoli, as he had done to Johnson, whose curt advice had been not to confuse or resolve the common consequences of irregularity into an unalterable decree of destiny. To the general he now attributed his feeling of the vanity of life, the exhaustion in the very heat of youth of all the sweets of being, and the incapacity for taking part in active life to his 'metaphysical researches,' his reasoning beyond his depth on such subjects as it is not given to man to know. These hesitances the other wisely pushed aside with the soldierly advice to strengthen his mind by the perusal of Livy and Plutarch. In return Bozzy gave an imitation of 'my revered friend Mr Samuel Johnson,' little dreaming that all three would one day be intimate in London, and the general's house in Portman Square be always at the traveller's disposal. From the palace, as he styles it, of Paoli, Nov. 1765 he wrote to Johnson, as he had done before, 'from a kind of superstition agreeable to him as to myself,' from what he calls loca solennia—places of solemn interest. 'I dare to call this a spirited tour. I dare to challenge your approbation;' and, reading it twenty years later in the original which the old man had preserved, he found it full of 'generous enthusiasm.' No account of the continental travels of Boswell would be complete without the reproduction of his letter to the doctor from Wittenberg. It is one of the most important for the more subtle shades of psychology in the writer's character.
'Sunday, Sept. 30, 1764.
MY EVER DEAR AND MUCH RESPECTED SIR,—You know my solemn enthusiasm of mind. You love me for it, and I respect myself for it, because in so far I resemble Mr Johnson. You will be agreeably surprized when you learn the reason of my writing this letter. I am at Wittenberg in Saxony. I am in the old church where the Reformation was first preached, and where some of the Reformers lie interred. I cannot resist the serious pleasure of writing to Mr Johnson from the tomb of Melancthon. My paper rests upon the gravestone of that great and good man who was undoubtedly the best of all the Reformers.... At this tomb, then, my ever dear and respected friend! I vow to thee an eternal attachment. It shall be my study to do what I can to render your life happy: and if you die before me, I shall endeavour to do honour to your memory and, elevated by the remembrance of you, persist in noble piety. May God, the father of all beings, ever bless you! and may you continue to love your most affectionate friend, and devoted servant,—JAMES BOSWELL.'
So early had Boswell made his resolve to be the biographer of Johnson. On the very day of his introduction to him, he had taken notes of all that had passed in Davies' back-parlour. He was none of the men that do things by halves, and blunder into a kind of success, as some of his depreciators have thought.
Six weeks he had been in Corsica. The first day of December saw him land at Genoa on his return, Lyons was reached on the third day of the new year, Paris one week later. Here Rousseau who had preceded him to London had provided him with a curious commission, the bringing over into England of his mistress Therese Levasseur. The easy-going Hume thus announces the fact to his friend the Countess de Boufflers. 'Mademoiselle sets out with a friend of mine, a young gentleman, very good humoured, very agreeable, and very mad. He has such a rage for literature that I dread some event fatal to my friend's honour. For remember the story of Terentia who was first married to Cicero, then to Sallust, and at last in her old age married a young nobleman, who imagined that she must possess some secret which would convey to him eloquence and genius.' A letter he found waiting from Johnson, together with one announcing the death of his mother. No more was heard about a second year at Utrecht. He crossed to London, and was again with his old friend, who had moved from the Temple to a good house in Johnson's Court, in Fleet Street. Goldsmith was no longer the obscure writer whom he had left behind, but the author of the Vicar of Wakefield and the Traveller. The club had been founded. He was encouraged by the sage to publish his account of his travels in Corsica—'you cannot go to the bottom, but all that you tell us will be new.'
He dined at the Mitre as of old, and presented Temple to Johnson. No word about his companion across the Channel, naturally enough, reached the old man's ears, but he mentioned Rousseau; though he recognised he was now in a new moral atmosphere where every attempt was resented to 'unhinge or weaken good principles.' On a modified defence of the philosopher, whose works he professed had afforded him edification, he did venture, but thinking it enough to defend one at a time Boswell said nothing 'of my gay friend Wilkes.' In the Paris salons of that winter Wilkes, Sterne, Foote, Hume, and Rousseau, had been the received lions. Hume had taken up the wild philosopher whose melodramatic Armenian dress had been the attraction at the houses of the leaders of society, the ladies who (says Horace Walpole who was there this year) 'violated all the duties of life and gave very pretty suppers.' It was the day of Anglomania on the Continent, when the name of Chatham was a name to conjure with, and Hume was expounding deism to the great ladies,—'when the footmen were in the room,' adds the shocked Horace,—lionizing Hume 'who is the only thing they believe in implicitly; which they must do, for I defy them to understand any language that he speaks,' in allusion to the broad Scottish accent of the philosopher.
The fantastic attire of Rousseau may have suggested to Bozzy the Corsican dress in his valise, or he may have construed into a command, willingly enough, the hint Paoli had dropped to let them know at home how affairs were going. He waited on Chatham with it, and was received pompously but graciously, says the Earl of Buchan who was present, for a touch of melodrama was not uncongenial to the great minister, the 'Pericles of Great Britain,' as the general had styled him. Bozzy thanked him 'for the very genteel manner in which you are pleased to treat me.' In return, Chatham eulogized Paoli as one of Plutarch's men, as Cardinal de Retz had said of Montrose.
He saw Auchinleck in somewhat altered circumstances from those in which, four years before, he had left his father's house, riding through Glasgow 'in a cocked hat, a brown wig, brown coat made in the court fashion, red vest, corduroy small clothes, and long military-looking boots, with his servant riding a most aristocratic distance behind.' He had left it likely to vex the soul of his father, the laureate of doggerel, threatening to be the disgrace of the family; he returned as the acquaintance, in varying degrees of intimacy, of Johnson, Wilkes, Churchill, Goldsmith, the Earl Marischal, Voltaire, Rousseau, Paoli, Chatham, and plenipotentiaries of all kinds. A wonderful list for the raw youth they had known at home; yet nowhere in all his intercourse does he show the least want of self-possession or easy bearing. The 'facility of manners' and his good humour had carried him all through his curious experiences with German courts and Italian peasants. A 'spirited tour,' truly, if perhaps the moral results had been greater. The nobility and gentry of this country were welcomed abroad with but too great avidity. Italy, the garden of Europe, Bozzy declared to be the Covent Garden, and isolated passages in his book shew that he could not claim, like Milton, to have borne himself truly 'in all these places where so many things are considered lawful.' Fox, we know, did not escape the contagion of the grand tour, and Boswell had been 'caught young.'
Nor will the reader find much fault in what the adverse critics have unduly emphasized—his interviewing or forcing himself upon men. A man, as Johnson said to him when seeking an interlocutor on this point, always makes himself greater as he increases his knowledge. When he was at Dunvegan on his northern tour, and Colonel Macleod seemed to hint at this, Bozzy offers as his defence of what 'has procured me much happiness' the eagerness he ever felt to share the society of men distinguished by their rank or talents. If a man, he adds, is praised for seeking knowledge, though mountains and seas are in his way, he may be pardoned in the pursuit of the same object under difficulties as great though of a different kind. And the defence will not be refused him for the use he has made of the means. Wisdom and literature alike are justified of their children, and the masters in either are not so numerous that we can afford to quarrel with them, or wrangle over their respective merits. 'Sensation,' said Johnson, 'is sensation,' and the pretty general feeling now is that in his department Boswell is a master.
From his first setting out, he had written down every night what he had noted during the day, 'throwing together that I might afterwards make a selection at leisure.' He was to try his 'prentice hand on his Tour in Corsica before shewing his strength in his two greater works. Mrs Barbauld regarded him as no ordinary traveller, with
'Working thoughts which swelled the breast Of generous Boswell, when with noble aim And views beyond the narrow beaten track By trivial fancy trod, he turned his course From polished Gallia's soft delicious vales.'
Such thoughts were perhaps really foreign to that traveller, yet Dr Hill assures us that by every Corsican of education the name of Boswell is known and honoured. One curious circumstance is given. At Pino, when Boswell fancying himself 'in a publick house' or inn, had called for things, the hostess had said una cosa dopo un altra, signore, 'one thing after another, sir.' This has lingered as a memento of Bozzy in Corsica, and has been found by Dr Hill to be preserved among the traditions in the Tomasi family. Translations of the book in Italian, Dutch, French, and German, spread abroad the name of the traveller who, if like a prophet without honour in his own country, has not been without it elsewhere.
EDINBURGH BAR—STRATFORD JUBILEE. 1766-69
'A clerk, foredoomed his father's soul to cross, Who pens a stanza, when he should engross.'—POPE.
The return of the prodigal to Auchinleck would seem at first to have been attended with some satisfaction to both father and son. The father might now believe that he was entitled to consideration from the son, as a reward for his long-continued indulgence to the traveller, who might in his turn reflect on the advantages which he derived from such a protracted tour. Accordingly, in his papers of the April of this year, we find the following entry:—'My father said to me, "I am much pleased with your conduct in every respect." After all my anxiety while abroad, here is the most perfect approbation and calm of mind. I never felt such sollid (sic) happiness.' But the philosopher, who with Paoli had compared his mind to a camera obscura, reappears unfortunately in the next entry. 'But I find I am not so happy with this approbation and this calm as I expected to be. But why do I say alas! when I really look upon this life merely as a transient state?' To this curious expression of Boswell we shall refer when we discuss at the close his religious and philosophical views, but it is distressing to find such whimsicalities colouring his sense of the old man's kindness when he writes but shortly after, 'I must stay at Auchinleck, I have there just the kind of complaining proper for me. All must complain, and I more than most of my fellow-creatures.'
On the 26th July 1766 he passed advocate at the bar. On putting on his gown he remarked to his brother-advocates, as he says, that his natural propensities had led him to a military life, but now that he had been pressed by his father into the service he did not doubt but that he should shew as good results as those who had joined as volunteers. His gay friend Wilkes had declared that he would be out-distanced in the professional race by dull plodders and blockheads, but at the outset he appears to have started with a fair amount of zest. He dedicated his inaugural thesis to the son of the Earl of Bute, Lord Mountstuart, with whom he had travelled in Italy, and on whom he flattered himself he had made some impression, the first of Boswell's many ineffectual attempts to secure place and promotion, for on a seat in Parliament he had four years before set his heart. A copy of the thesis was sent to Johnson, who by this time had rather cooled over the proposed publication by his friend of a book on Corsica. 'You have no materials,' he said, 'which others have not or may not have. You have warmed your imagination. I wish there were some cure like the lover's leap for all heads of which some single idea has obtained an unreasonable and irregular possession. Mind your own affairs and leave the Corsicans to theirs.' Touching on the faulty Latinity of the essay, 'Ruddiman,' added the old man, 'is dead.' On entering his new career Bozzy began by vows for his good conduct. These, a remnant of his old Catholic days, we shall find him renewing again and again, ludicrously and pathetically enough, however, as we draw to the close. Sometimes they appear with reference to matters with which the knowledge of the unpublished parts of the letters to Temple, now in the possession of an American collector, has to deal without suggesting unduly to the more fastidious sense of the present day the vagaries and weaknesses of their writer. Johnson protested against this attempt to 'enchain his volatility' by vows. But Boswell replies that they may be useful to one 'of a variable judgment and irregular inclinations. For my part, without affecting to be a Socrates, I am sure I have a more than ordinary struggle to maintain with the Evil Principle, and all the methods I can devise are little enough to keep me tolerably steady in the paths of rectitude.' Could the doctor have read even the published correspondence he would have been at no loss for a detailed commentary on this defence.
And coming events now cast their shadow before. That curious feature of Boswell's character, the mixture of religious sentiments and the Sterne vein of pietistic moralizing united with laxity in practice, appears strangely enough in the letter to Temple, dated in the February of 1767, and sent to his friend who had just been ordained to the living of Mamhead in Devon. 'I view,' he writes, 'the profession of a clergyman in an amiable and respectable light. Don't be moved by declamations against ecclesiastical history, as if that could blacken the sacred order.' He admits that ecclesiastical history is not the best field for the display of the virtues in that profession, but we are to judge of the thousands of worthy divines who have been a blessing to their parishes. He exhorts his friend to labour cheerfully in the vineyard and to leave not a tare in Mamhead. In Edinburgh it appears there were specimens; for after this pious homily he confesses quietly his own liaison with 'a dear infidel' of a married woman. But the love affairs of Boswell, one of the most curious and 'characteristical' (as he would himself have phrased it) episodes in his life we shall discuss in a connected form in the next chapter, in order to secure clearness of treatment and concentration of detail.