Footsteps of Dr. Johnson (Scotland)/Chapter 1

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Edinburgh (August 14–18). The White Horse Inn.

On Friday, August 6th, 1773, Dr. Johnson set off from London on his famous tour to the Western Islands of Scotland. His companion as far as Newcastle was Robert Chambers, Principal of New Inn Hall, Oxford, who had been lately appointed one of the new judges for India, and was going down to his native town to take leave of his family. The two friends travelled in a post-chaise. "Life has not many better things than this," said Johnson once when he was driven rapidly along in one with Boswell.[1] It was too costly a pleasure for him to indulge in often unless he could find a companion to share the expense. The charge for a chaise and pair of horses for two passengers from London to Edinburgh could scarcely have been kept under twenty-two pounds.[2] The weather was bright and hot.[3] At Newcastle Chambers's place in the chaise was taken by a fellow-townsman who was destined to go far beyond him in the career of the law—William Scott, afterwards Lord Stowell, the great judge of the High Court of Admiralty. The travellers entered Scotland by Berwick-on-Tweed, passing near to those nine wells which gave their name to the estate which had come down to David Hume's father through many generations. Very likely they dined at Dunbar, that "high and windy town," and thought, as they crossed the Brocksburn, how Cromwell's horse and foot charged across it in the mingled light of the harvest-moon and the early dawn on that September morning one hundred and twenty-three years before. Their next stage would bring them to Haddington, past the ruined Abbey where nearly a hundred years later that great Scotchman, Johnson's foremost champion, was often with a contrite and almost broken heart to seek his wife's grave in the desolate chancel. As they drove on they passed by the wide plain, shut in by the sea on one side and by a morass on the other, over which, only twenty-eight years earlier, on another misty morning in September, the rude Highlanders had chased Cope's English Dragoons in shameful and headlong flight. Evening had overtaken the travellers by this time, so that they could not have seen "the one solitary thorn bush round which lay the greatest number of slain," or the grey tower of the church of Preston Pans, whence the afternoon before the battle, young Alexander Carlyle had looked down upon the two armies.[4] They passed Pinkie, where the Protector Somerset's soldiers had made such a savage massacre of the routed Scotch; and Carberry Hill, where Mary took her last farewell of Bothwell as she gave herself up to the Scottish lords. They passed, too, the serfs of Tranent and Preston Pans, "the colliers and salters who were in a state of slavery and bondage, bound to the collieries or salt-works for life."[5]

Entering Edinburgh by the road which goes near Holyrood House, and driving along the Canongate, they alighted at the entrance to White Horse Close, at the end of which stood the White Horse Inn. The sign, the crest of the house of Hanover, had probably been adopted on the accession of George I., and was a proof of loyalty to the reigning family. In London in the year 1761 there were forty-nine alleys, lanes and yards which were so called.[6] It was, however, said that the name had been given as a memorial of a white horse which, by winning a race on Leith Sands, had saved its master, the inn-keeper, from ruin.[7] According to the Scotch custom the inn was generally known not by its sign, but by the name of its landlord.[8] Thus Boswell calls this house Boyd's Inn. In the Edinburgh Directory for 1773–4 we find under the letter B, at the head of the Stablers, "Boyd, James, canongate head." In the present time, when an inn, however small, assumes the dignified title of Hotel, we may admire the modesty of these Edinburgh innkeepers, not one of whom pretended to be anything more than a stabler. In fact they scarcely deserved any higher name; their houses were on a level with the inn at Rochester where the two carriers in Falstaff's time passed so restless a night. A traveller who had stayed in this house a year or two before Johnson's visit, described it as being "crowded and confused. The master lives in the stable, the mistress is not equal to the business. You must not expect breakfast before nine o'clock, and you must think yourself happy if you do not find every

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room fresh mopped."[9] The date of 1683 inscribed upon the large window above the outside steps,[10] showed that even in Johnson's time it was an old house. For the whole of the eighteenth century it was one of the chief starting places for the stage-coaches. It sank later on into a carrier's inn, says Sir Walter Scott, "and has since been held unworthy even of that occupation. It was a base hovel."[11] Yet James Boyd, who kept it, retired with a fortune of several thousand pounds. That he: possessed napery to the value of five hundred pounds is stated by Chambers to be a well-authenticated fact. "A large room in the house was the frequent scene of the marriages of runaway English couples. On one of the windows were scratched the words:

'Jeremiah and Sarah Bentham, 1768.'"[12]

It was from this miserable inn that Johnson, on August 14th, sent the following note to Boswell's house:

"Mr. Johnson sends his compliments to Mr. Boswell, being just arrived at Boyd's.
"Saturday night."

Boswell went to him directly, and learnt from Scott that "the Doctor had unluckily had a bad specimen of Scottish cleanliness. He then drank no fermented liquor. He asked to have his lemonade made sweeter; upon which the waiter, with his greasy fingers, lifted a lump of sugar, and put it into it. The Doctor, in indignation, threw it out of the window. Scott said he was afraid that he would have knocked the waiter down." Boswell at once carried off Johnson to his own house. Scott he left behind with the sincere regret that he had not also a room for him. Could the future eminence of the great judge have been foreseen, or had his "amiable manners" been generally known, surely some one would have been found eager to welcome him as a guest and rescue him from the Canongate Stabler. "He was one of the pleasantest men I ever knew," wrote Sir Walter Scott, fifty-five years later, when he met him at a dinner at Richmond Park, "looking very frail and even comatose."[13] He lived some while longer, and did not die till the memory of this jaunt, and of everything else had been lost in the forgetfulness in which his mind sank beneath the burthen of fourscore years and ten.[14] Let us hope that on his first visit to Edinburgh, like Matthew Bramble, "he got decent lodgings in the house of a widow gentlewoman."[15]

The old inn still stands, a picturesque ruin and an interesting memorial of the discomfort of a long race of wandering strangers. No one here ever repeated with emotion, either great or small, Shenstone's lines:

"Whoe'er has travelled life's dull round,
Where'er his stages may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found
The warmest welcome at an inn."[16]

With a. little care it could have been made a. place where "a man might take his ease in his inn," for it stood aloof from the noise of the street, was well-built and was sufficiently roomy. An outside stone staircase, which after a few steps turned right and left, led up to the first floor, where doubtless, according to the common Scotch custom, the principal rooms were placed. With its turrets and its gables it must have looked pleasant enough to the young runaway couples as they hurried in from the Canongate, and passed the outside staircases and open galleries of the houses on each side of the Close, and so went up to the large room where many a name was scratched with a diamond ring on the pane. "And they are gone," gone like the lovers of St. Agnes' Eve.[17]

James's Court.

"Boswell," wrote Johnson to Mrs. Thrale, "has very handsome and spacious rooms; level with the ground on one side of the house, and on the other four stories high." At this time, he was living in James's Court, on the northern side of the Lawnmarket, having lately removed from Chessel's Buildings in the Canongate. It is not easy for the stranger who passes from the thronged street under the low archway into that quiet, but gloomy, and even shabby-looking court, to picture to himself the gay and lively company which once frequented it. Now ragged, bare-footed children are playing about; in some of the windows there are broken and patched panes of glass, while high above one's head, from the different storeys, are
hanging out to dry garments of various sorts and hues, on a curious kind of framework, let down by a pulley and string, till it stands out square from the wall. Some of the houses are coloured with a yellow wash, in others the stones round the windows and at the corners are painted red. The uncoloured stone is a grey darkened by years of smoke. The lower windows are guarded by iron gratings. On the southern, or Lawnmarket side, a block of building juts out, and makes a division in the Court. This projection looks as ancient as any part, and was doubtless there in those old days when the place was inhabited by a select set of gentlemen, "who kept a clerk to record their names and proceedings, had a scavenger of their own, clubbed in many public measures, and had balls and assemblies among themselves."[18] It must have pleasantly recalled to Boswell the chambers which had been lent him in the Temple that summer in which he first became acquainted with Johnson, for it, too, was a nest of lawyers. There were inhabiting it at this time thirteen advocates, among them Lord Elibank, seven Writers to the Signet and Clerks of Session, a Commissioner, and two first clerks of advocates. The other householders were only six in number: two physicians, one of whom was Sir John Pringle,[19] the President of the Royal Society of London, a teller in the Old Bank, a teacher of French, a dancing-mistress, and a gentlewoman. Pringle, who was Boswell's intimate friend, was one of "the three topics "which he begged Johnson to avoid at his father's house—Presbyterianism and Whiggism being the other two. If any one of these subjects were introduced an altercation was certain to follow, for all three were as dear to Lord Auchinleck as they were distasteful to Johnson. Here Hume had lived till very lately in a house "which was very cheerful and even elegant, but was too small," he complained, "to display his great talents for cookery." Nevertheless it had been the one spot to which, when abroad, his heart untravelled had fondly turned. Even in the palace at Fontainebleau, while fresh from the flattery of the three young princes who were in turn to be kings of France, in this high tide of his fortune it was for "his easy-chair and his retreat in James's Court that twice or thrice a day" he longed. Here he had welcomed Benjamin Franklin, here Adam Smith had been his frequent guest, and here he had offered a shelter to Rousseau. In his absence from Edinburgh Dr. Blair had been his tenant, and here, no doubt, had written some of those sermons and lectures which were to attain so wide a popularity, and then to sink into as deep a neglect. The time once was when Blair's shrine would have drawn a crowd of pilgrims.

Hume and Boswell had for a short time been very near neighbours, as it was in the same block of buildings[20] that they lived. If the elder man had entertained the American patriot, Franklin, the younger had entertained the Corsican patriot, Pascal Paoli. He could boast, moreover, of the distinguished guests who thronged his house during Johnson's two visits, both at his first coming and on his return from the Hebrides. Judges, and advocates who were destined one day to sit on the bench, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, men and women of high birth, authors, divines, physicians, all came to see and hear the famous Englishman. We can picture to ourselves the sedan-chairs passing in under the low gateway, bearing the fine ladies and gentlemen who came to attend "the levée which he held from ten o'clock in the morning till one or two." The echo of the strong loud voice with the slow deliberate utterance still almost seems to sound in our ears as we wander about in this dreary spot. "I could not attend him," writes Boswell, "being obliged to be in the Court of Session; but my wife was so good as to devote the greater part of the morning to the endless task of pouring out tea for my friend and his visitors."

More than one caller, as he gazed on the huge frame, the scarred face, and the awkward strange movements of the man of whom they had heard so much, might have exclaimed with Lord Elibank, that "hardly anything seemed more improbable than to see Dr. Johnson in Scotland." What Edinburgh said and thought of him we should greatly like to know. But no letters recording his visit seem to be extant. Even the very house has disappeared. Time, which has spared everything else in this old Court, has not spared it. More than thirty years ago it was burnt to the ground. We should have liked to wander about the rooms, and wonder which was the bedchamber that Mrs. Boswell, "to show all respect to the Sage," so politely resigned to him; and where it was that Veronica, that precocious babe of four months, by wishing " to be held close to him, gave a proof from simple nature that his figure was not horrid." Where, we should have asked, was the dinner given him at which Mrs. Boswell did her best "to aid wisdom and wit by administering agreeable sensations to the palate"? Where, too, were the carpets spread on which he let the wax of the candles drop, by turning them with their heads downwards when they did not burn bright enough? In what closet did Boswell keep his books, whence on Sunday, with pious purpose, Johnson took down Ogden's Sermons, and retired with them to his own room? They did not, however, detain him long, and he soon rejoined the company. Which was the breakfast-room where Sir William Forbes introduced to him the blind scholar and poet, Dr. Blacklock? "Dear Dr. Blacklock, I am glad to see you," he said, with a most humane complacency. "I looked on him with reverence,” he wrote to Mrs. Thrale. It has all utterly passed away; Forbes himself has been Sir Walter Scott's “lamented Forbes”[21] for more than fourscore years. All has passed away; not only the talk about Burke, and Garrick, and Hume, and Whitefield, and genius, and witchcraft, and the comparative difficulty of verse-making and dictionary-making; but even the very walls which might have caught it in its echoes. Where this famous old house once stood now stands a modern bank, contrasting but ill in its more elaborate architecture with the severe, and even stern, simplicity of the ancient buildings. Nevertheless we are at no loss to picture to ourselves the home of Hume and Boswell, Their land occupied one half of the northern side of the Court; the other half, which no doubt corresponded with it in almost every respect, happily escaped the flames. It is so solidly built that if it is spared by the rage of fire and of modern improvement, it has little to fear from time. Its situation, looking down as it does with its northern front on the Mound, and the pleasant gardens in the valley below, has kept it from sinking in public estimation so much as most of the neighbouring buildings. It has indeed seen better days, but it has not lost all the outward signs of respectability; its panes are neither broken nor patched. The ground-floor, which was, we may assume, on the same plan as Boswell’s house, is occupied by a book-binder,[22] who courteously showed me all over it. There were traces left in this busy workshop of past splendour, and I could see how handsome and spacious the rooms had once been. In the windows were deep recesses, where it must have been pleasant enough on a bright summer's day to sit in the cool shade and look out over the heads of the elm trees waving below, across the sparkling waters of the Forth, on the hills of Fife in the far distance. A stone staircase, furnished with iron gates, led down from the level of the Court to the street four storeys below, where the foundations of this lofty pile are laid in the rock. The staircase had its occupant, for at one of the windows a mat-maker was busy at his trade.[23]

There is no memorial to remind passers-by of the men who have made James's Court so famous. The stranger, as he climbs up the Lawnmarket to the Castle, is little likely to notice the obscure archway through which so gay and bright and learned a company was ever passing to and fro. In the public gardens Allan Ramsay, John Wilson and Adam Black have each their statue. Viscount Melville's column lifts its head in St. Andrew's Square, far above David Hume's modest house, and in its inscription, in all probability, lies. The virtues and the glories of George IV. are lavishly commemorated. Even good Queen Charlotte is not suffered to be forgotten. In Chambers Street the name of the founder of Chambers' Journal is meant to live. On the finest site in all Edinburgh the insignificance of the fifth Duke of Buccleugh will struggle for immortality. We look in vain for the statue of David Hume, of Adam Smith, and of James Boswell. What street, what square, what bridge bear their names? Where does Edinburgh proudly boast to the stranger that she is the birth place of the philosopher whose name is great in the history of the world, and of the biographer whose work has never been equalled? Where does she make it known that to her ancient city the author of the Wealth of Nations retired to spend the closing years of his life and to die? If no nobler monuments can be raised, surely some bronze tablet or graven stone might keep fresh the memory of the spot where Adam Smith had his chamber, where Benjamin Franklin came to visit David Hume, where Rousseau was offered a shelter, and where James Boswell's guests were Pascal Paoli and Samuel Johnson.

A Stroll through Edinburgh.

It was in good company that Johnson, on the morning of Monday, August 16, "walked out to see some of the things which they had to show in Edinburgh," for he was under the guidance of the historian of Scotland. "I love Robertson," Johnson had said a few years earlier, "and I won't talk of his book." If Boswell had reported any part of this saying we may hope that it was only the first half, for he who neglects the author makes but a poor recompense by loving the man. At all events, Robertson was not troubled with diffidence, for at Holyrood "he fluently harangued" his companion on the scenes described in his History. No doubt he told many of those anecdotes for which Johnson that morning had declared his love as they breakfasted together, and look care not to attempt "to weave them into a system." As they passed into the Lawnmarket they had not before them that wide expanse which in the present day makes so noble an end to the High Street. The view was obstructed by the Weigh House, the Luckenbooths, the Tolbooth, and the Guard House.[24] At the Weigh House the boast, perhaps, was made that so great was the trade of the town that the public weighing-machine which was there kept brought in no less than a sum of £500 every year. At the Tolbooth and the Guard House, that " long low ugly building," which looked like "a black snail crawling up the High Street,"[25] something, perhaps, was said of the Porteous riots. But the real story of the Heart of Mid-Lothian could only have been told them by that little child of scarce two years in the College Wynd, how the wild mob on that September night, seven-and-thirty years before, burnt down the massive gate of the jail, and dragged their wretched prisoner by torchlight to the gallows, and how Jeanie Deans could not tell a lie even to save her sister from a shameful death. There was no one but this bright-eyed boy who could have even pointed out in the Luckenbooths the stall where poor Peter Peebles and Paul Plainstanes had for years carried on "that great line of business as mercers and linendrapers," which in the end led to a lawsuit that is famous all the world over. Having no one to tell them of all this they passed on through Parliament Close, "which new-fangled affectation has termed a square,"[26] to the Parliament House, which still showed "the grave grey hue that had been breathed over it by one hundred and fifty years," and which was still free from the disgrace of "bright freestone and contemptible decorations." The "sorrow and indignation," which the restorer's wanton changes aroused troubled a later generation.[27] Here it was that the Court of Session sat, the High Court of Justice of Scotland. It was in these August days empty of lawyers, for the Vacation had just begun; but Johnson on his return saw it also in term time, and thought "the pleading too vehement and too much addressed to the passions of the judges. It was not the Areopagus," he said. Here Henry Erskine, the brother of the famous Chancellor, slipped a shilling into Boswell's hands, who had introduced him to Johnson, saying that it was for the sight of his bear, and here Lord Auchinleck, seeing the great man enter, whispered to one of his brethren on the Bench that it was Ursa Major. In the Outer Hall had once sat the ancient Parliament of Scotland. Here it was that Lord Belhaven, at perhaps its last meeting, made that pathetic speech which drew tears from the audience. Here every day during term time there was a very Babel of a Court of Justice. Like Westminster Hall of old it was the tribunal of many judges, as well as the gathering ground of advocates, solicitors, suitors, witnesses, and idlers in general. Here it was that "the Macer shouted with all his well-remembered brazen strength of lungs: "Poor Peter Peebles versus Plainstanes, per Dumtoustie et Tough:—Maister Da-a-niel Dumtoustie." Here it was that a famous but portly wag of later days, "Peter" Robinson, seeing Scott with his tall conical white head passing through, called out to the briefless crowd about the fire-place, "Hush, boys, here comes old Peveril—I see the Peak." Scott looked round and replied, "Ay, ay, my man, as weel Peveril o' the Peak ony clay as Peter o' the Painch" (paunch).[28] Here Thomas Carlyle, a student of the University, not yet fourteen years old, on the afternoon of the November day on which he first saw Edinburgh, "was dragged in to a scene" which he never forgot:

"An immense hall, dimly lighted from the top of the walls, and perhaps with candles burning in it here and there, all in strange chiaroscuro, and filled with what I thought (exaggeratively) a thousand or two of human creatures, all astir in a boundless buzz of talk, and simmering about in every direction, some solitary, some in groups. By degrees I noticed that some were in wig and black gown, some not, but in common clothes, all well dressed; that here and there on the sides of the hall, were little thrones with enclosures, and steps leading up, red-velvet figures sitting in said thrones, and the black-gowned eagerly speaking to them; advocates pleading to judges as I easily understood. How they could be heard in such a grinding din was somewhat a mystery. Higher up on the walls, stuck there like swallows in their nests, sate other humbler figures. These I found were the sources of certain wildly plangent lamentable kinds of sounds or echoes which from time to time pierced the universal noise of feet and voices, and rose unintelligibly above it, as if in the bitterness of incurable woe. Criers of the Court, I gradually came to understand. And this was Themis in her 'Outer House,' such a scene of chaotic din and hurlyburly as I had never figured before."[29]

Here every year, on the evening of the King's birthday, there was a scene of loyal riot. At the cost of the city funds, some fifteen hundred guests, on the invitation of the magistrates, "roaring, drinking, toasting, and quarrelling," drank the royal healths to a late hour of the night. "The wreck and the fumes of that hot and scandalous night" tainted the air of the Court for a whole week.[30] From the Hall our travellers passed into the Inner House, where the fifteen judges sat together as "a Court of Review." Like Carlyle, Johnson saw "great Law Lords this and that, great advocates, alors célèbres, as Thiers has it." There were Hailes, and Kames, and Monboddo, on the Bench, and Henry Dundas, Solicitor General. The judges wore long robes of scarlet faced with white, but though their dignity was great, their salaries were small when compared with those paid to their brethren in Westminster Hall. The President had but £1.300 a year, and each of the fourteen Lords of Session but £700. Six of them, among whom was Boswell's father, received each £300 more as a Commissioner of Justiciary.[31] The room, or rather "den," in which they sat, "was so cased in venerable dirt that it was impossible to say whether it had ever been painted. Dismal though the hole was, the old fellows who had been bred there never looked so well anywhere else."[32]

In the same great pile of buildings as the Law Courts is the Advocates' Library, "of which Dr. Johnson took a cursory view." He, no doubt, "respectfully remembered "there its former librarian, Thomas Ruddiman, "that excellent man and eminent scholar," just as he remembered him a few days later at Laurencekirk, the scene of his labours as a schoolmaster. Perhaps a second time he "regretted that his farewell letter to the Faculty of Advocates when he resigned the office of their Librarian, was not, as it should have been, in Latin." According to Ruddiman's successor, David Hume, it was but "a petty office of forty or fifty guineas a year," yet "a genteel one" too. When that great writer came to write his letter of resignation, he used the curtest of English, and took care to express his contempt for the Curators. Two or three years earlier they had censured him for buying some French books, which they accounted "indecent and unworthy of a place in a learned library" and he had not forgiven them.[33] It was in the Laigh (or Under) Parliament House beneath, in which at this time were deposited the records of Scotland, that Johnson, "rolling about in this old magazine of antiquities," uttered those memorable words which have overcome the reluctance or the indolence of many an author: "A man may write at anytime if he will set himself doggedly to it."

It was but a step from the Parliament House to the great church of St. Giles. Perhaps Johnson went round by the eastern end, and mourned over the fate which had befallen Dunedin's Cross less than twenty years before. A full century and more was to pass away before "the work of the Vandals" was undone, as far as it could be undone, by the pious affection of one of the greatest of Scotchmen.[34] Perhaps he turned to the west, and passed, little recking it, over the grave of John Knox. Even Boswell, Edinburgh-born though he was, did not know where the great Reformer lay buried and a few days later asked where the spot was. "'I hope in the highway,' Dr. Johnson burst out." In the pavement of Parliament Close, a "way of common trade," a small stone inscribed "I. K. 1572," marks where he rests. St. Giles' was at this time "divided into four places of Presbyterian worship. 'Come,' said Johnson jocularly to Dr. Robertson, 'let me see what was once a church.'" Writing to Mrs. Thrale the next day he said: "I told Robertson I wished to see the cathedral because it had once been a church." Its "original magnificence," the loss of which Boswell justly lamented, has been partly restored by the lavish changes of late years. Nevertheless, the student of history may in his turn lament that in this restoration there has of necessity disappeared much that was interesting. "There was swept away, with as much indifference as if it had been of yesterday, that plain, square, galleried apartment," which, as the meeting-place of the General Assembly, "had beheld the best exertions of the best men in the Kingdom ever since the year 1640."[35] Jenny Geddes and her stool, moreover, are reluctant to answer the summons of the imagination in a scene which she herself would scarcely have recognized. Johnson went into only one of the four divisions, the New, or the High Church, as it was beginning to be called. Here Blair was preaching those sermons which passed through editions almost innumerable, and now can be bought in their calf binding for a few pence at almost any bookstall. The New Church was formed out of the ancient choir. In it were ranged the seats of the King, the judges, and the magistrates of the city. When Johnson saw it, "it was shamefully dirty. He said nothing at the time; but when he came to the great door of the Royal Infirmary, where upon a board was this inscription, 'Clean your feet,' he turned about slily and said, 'There is no occasion for putting this at the doors of your churches.'" Pennant also had noticed "the slovenly and indecent manner in which Presbytery kept the houses of God. In many parts of Scotland," he said, "our Lord seems still to be worshipped in a stable, and often in a very wretched one."[36] Nevertheless, it seemed likely that some improvement would soon be made, and that orthodoxy and dirt would not be held inseparable companions. In one or two highly favoured spots the broom and scrubbing-brush had, perhaps, already made their appearance; for according to Smollett "the good people of Edinburgh no longer thought dirt and cobwebs essential to the house of God."[37] It might still have been impossible "for the united rhetoric of mankind to prevail with Jack to make himself clean;"[38] yet example must at last have an effect. Scotchmen had travelled and had returned from their travels, and no doubt had brought back a certain love for decency and cleanliness even in churches. In one respect, it was noticed, they surpassed their neighbours. Their conduct during service was more becoming. "They did not make their bows and cringes in the middle of their very prayers as was done in England." They always waited till the sermon was over and the blessing given before they looked round and made their civilities to their friends and persons of distinction.[39]

I inquired in vain when I was in Edinburgh for the Post-house Stairs, down which Johnson on leaving St. Giles was taken to the Cowgate. Together with so much that was ancient they have long since disappeared. He was now at the foot of the highest building in the town. As he turned round and looked upwards he saw a house that rose above him thirteen storeys high, being built like James's Court on a steep slope. It has suffered the same fate as Boswell's house, having been destroyed by fire more than sixty years ago.[40] From the Cowgate Robertson led the way up the steep hill to the College of which he was the Principal. They passed through "that narrow dismal alley," the College Wynd, famous to all time as the birthplace of Sir Walter Scott. Johnson would have been pleased indeed could he have known how that bright young genius would one day delight in his poems, and how the last line of manuscript that he was to send to the press would be a quotation from the Vanity of Human Wishes.[41] "Hæ miseriæ nostræ," were the melancholy words which Robertson uttered as he showed his companion the mean buildings in which his illustrious University was lodged. Johnson, in the narrative of his tour, no doubt remembering what he saw both here and at St. Andrew's, grieved over a nation which, "while its merchants or its nobles are raising palaces suffers its universities to moulder into dust." Robertson, in an eloquent Memorial, had lately pleaded the cause of learning. The courts and buildings of the College were so mean, he said, that a stranger would mistake them for almshouses. Instead of a spacious quadrangle there were three paltry divisions, encompassed partly with a range of low and even of ruinous houses, and partly with walls which threatened destruction to the passers-by. Boswell tells of one portion of the wall which, bulging out, was supposed, like "Bacon's mansion," to "tremble o'er the head" of every scholar, being destined to fall when a man of extraordinary learning should go under it. It had lately been taken down. " hey were afraid it never would fall," said Johnson, glad of an opportunity to have a pleasant hit at Scottish learning. In spite of its poverty and the meanness of its buildings, such was the general reputation of the University, above all of the School of Medicine, that students flocked to it from all parts of Great Britain and Ireland, from the English settlements in North America and the West Indies, and even from distant countries in Europe. Their number at this time was not less than six or seven hundred; by 1789 it had risen to one thousand and ninety. The Principal did not allow himself to be soothed into negligence by this success. He grieved that "with a literary education should be connected in youth ideas of poverty, meanness, dirtiness, and darkness." The sum of money which he asked for was not large in a country whose wealth was so rapidly increasing. For £6,500—not quite double the amount which he had been lately paid for his History of Charles V.—sixteen "teaching rooms" could be provided, while £8,500 more would supply everything else that was needed. Yet it was not till 1789 that the foundation stone was laid of the New College of Edinburgh. Happily Robertson was spared to play his part on that great clay. Preceded by the Mace, with the Professor of Divinity on his right hand, and the Professor of Church History on his left, followed by the rest of his colleagues according to seniority, and by the students, each man wearing a sprig of green laurel in his hat, he headed the procession of the University.[42]

However mean were the buildings in general, with the library Johnson was much pleased. Fifty years earlier a traveller had noticed that "the books in it were cloistered with doors of wire which none could open but the keeper, more commodious than the multitude of chains used in the English libraries."[43] I was surprised
to find that so late as 1723 the use of chains was generally continued in England. Yet about that time one of the Scotch exhibitioners at Balliol College reported that the knives and forks were chained to the tables in the Hall,[44] so that it was likely that at least as great care was taken with books of value. Johnson's attention does not seem to have been drawn to an inscription over one of the doors, which the French traveller, Saint-Fond, read with surprise—Musis et Christo. Had he noticed it, it would scarcely have failed to draw forth some remark.

From the College the party went on to the Royal Infirmary. In the Bodleian Library I have found a copy of the History and Statutes of that institution printed in 1749. In it is given a table of the three kinds of diet which the patients were to have—"low, middle, and full." The only vegetable food allowed was oatmeal and barley-meal, rice and panado.[45] There was no tea, coffee, or cocoa. The only drink was ale, but in "low diet" it was not to be taken. It is to be hoped that the Infirmary was not under the
Footsteps of Dr. Johnson-121.jpg



same severe ecclesiastical discipline as the workhouse. There the first failure to attend Divine worship was to be followed by the loss of the next meal, while for the second failure the culprit was "to be denied victuals for a whole day."[46]

The last sight which Johnson was shown in his "running about Edinburgh" was the Abbey of Holyrood House, "that deserted mansion of royalty," as Boswell calls it with a sigh. It was more the absence of a charwoman than of a king that was likely to rouse the regrets of an Englishman. "The stately rooms," wrote Wesley, "are dirty as stables."[47] Even the chapel was in a state of "miserable neglect."[48] It was in Holyrood that Robertson "fluently harangued" on the scenes of Scottish history. In the room in which David Rizzio was murdered "Johnson was overheard repeating in a kind of muttering tone, a line of the old ballad, Johnny Armstrong's Last Good Night:

"And ran him through the fair body.'"

The mood in which he was when he made so odd a quotation was perhaps no less natural than Burns's when he wrote:

"With awe-struck thought and pitying tears,
I view that noble, stately dome,
Where Scotia's kings of other years
Famed heroes, had their royal home."[49]

The Castle, that "rough, rude fortress," was not visited by Johnson till his return in November. He owned that it was "a great place;" yet a few days after "he affected to despise it, when Lord Elibank was talking of it with the natural elation of a Scotchman. "It would," he said, "make a good prison in England." Perhaps there was not so much affectation as Boswell thought, for Johnson believed, he said, that the ruins of some one of the castles which the English built in Wales would supply materials for all those which he saw beyond the Tweed.[50]

  1. Boswell's Johnson, ii. 453.
  2. The charge for a chaise and pair was nine-pence a mile; in some districts more. There was a duty on each horse of one penny per mile. The driver expected a shilling or eighteen pence for each stage of ten or twelve miles, and always found good reasons for asking for more. The tolls paid at the turnpikes amounted to a considerable sum in a long journey. The duty was subsequently increased. See Mostyn Armstrong's Actual Survey, etc., p. 4, and Paterson's British Itinerary, vol. i. preface, p. vii.
  3. See the Table of Weather in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1774, p. 290.
  4. Dr. Alexander Carlyle's Autobiography, p. 137. The tree still remains the solitary memorial of the fight.
  5. It was not till 1799 that by 39 Geo. III. c. 56, they were declared free. Cockburn's Memorials, p. 78, and Boswell's Johnson, iii. 202, n. 1.
  6. Dodsley's London and its Environs, vi. 316. In March, 1747, one Mr. Williams, master of the White Horse Inn, Piccadilly, was kicked out of a feast of the Independent Electors of Westminster, because he was discovered to be taking notes of some Jacobite toasts. Gentleman's Magazine for 1747, p. 151.
  7. Chamber's Traditions of Edinburgh, p. 190.
  8. Gentleman's Magazine for 1771, p. 544.
  9. Gentleman's Magazine for 1771, p. 543.
  10. J. and H.'s Storer's Descriptions of Edinburgh. Dr. Chambers, in hs Traditions of Edinburgh, p. 187, says that "the date is deficient in the decimal figure 16—3."
  11. Croker's Boswell, 8vo. ed. p. 270.
  12. Chambers's Traditions of Edinburgh, p. 191. Perhaps this was Jeremy Bentham's father, who two years earlier had married for the second time: what was his wife's Christian name I have not been able to ascertain. The son did not visit Edinburgh in 1768. Dr. Chambers gives on p. 318 a list of the great people living in the Canongate about the year 1769. According to it there were two dukes, sixteen earls, two countesses, seven barons, seven lords of session, thirteen baronets, and four commanders-in-chief. The Edinburgh Directory for 1773–4 contains, however, the names of only about a dozen peers and peeresses.
  13. Lockhart's Life of Scott, ix. 244.
  14. He died on January 28, 1836.
  15. Humphry Clinker, ii. 224. Lodging-house keepers are entered in the Edinburgh Directory as Room-Setters and Boarders. Some were both, others only Room-Setters.
  16. Johnson repeated these lines with great emotion at the excellent inn at Chapel-Mouse in Oxfordshire. Boswell's Johnson, ii. 452.
  17. Since writing the above I have learnt with great pleasure that this interesting but ruinous old building will not only be preserved, but preserved to good uses. It has been purchased by Dr. A. II. F. Barbour and his sister Mrs. Whyte, and by them presented to the Edinburgh Social Union. It will be put into a state of thorough repair, and let out to poor tenants on the plan followed by Miss Octavia Hill in London. I am informed that the two sides of the Close had been repaired by the Social Union before my visit, and that the pleasant outside staircases and open galleries which caught my eye were its work.
  18. Chamber's Traditions of Edinburgh, p. 68.
  19. Pringle seems to have kept on a house in Edinburgh though he was for the most part living at this time in London. See Hume's Letters to Strahan, p. 117.
  20. The Scotch called each set of rooms on every floor a house, and each block a land. Thus Hume had once lived in Jack's Land, in the Canongate. A land of thirteen stories, such as was shown to Johnson at the foot of the Post-house Stairs would contain twenty-six houses—two on every floor.
  21. Marmion, Introduction to Canto iv.
  22. Mr. Alexander Grieve, I find a bookbinder of the same name living in Bell's Wynd in 1773. Edinburgh Directory for 1773-4, Appenilia, p. 5.
  23. For my authorities for some of the statements in this note see my Letters of David Hume to William Strahan, pp. 116-9.
  24. See ante. p. 52.
  25. Heart of Mid-Lothian¸ ed. 1860, i. 247.
  26. Regauntlet. ed. 1860, i. 253.
  27. Cockburn's Memorials, p. 106, and Heart of Mid-Lothian, ii. 117.
  28. Lockhart's Scott, vii. 124.
  29. Reminiscences, by Thomas Carlyle, ii. 5.
  30. Cockburn's Memorials, p. 69.
  31. Court and City Register for 1769, p. 142.
  32. From 1808 the judges began to sit in two separate chambers. Cockburn's Memorials, pp. 100, 244.
  33. Hume's Letters to Strahan, p. xxvi.
  34. Mr. Gladstone restored it in 1885.
  35. Cockburn's Life of Lord Jeffrey, i. 182.
  36. Tour in Scotland, i. 233.
  37. Humphry Clinker, iii. 5.
  38. The Tale of a Tub, section xi.
  39. Defoe's Tour through Great Britain: Account of Scotland, iii. 43, and Pennant's Tour in Scotland, ii. 249.
  40. Chambers, quoted in Croker's Boswell, p. 276.
  41. Lockhart's Scott, iii. 269. The quotation no doubt was, "Superfluous lags the veteran on stage;" the line with which Scott concluded the the brief Appendix to Castle Dangerous.
  42. Scots Magazine, 1768, p. 113; 1789, pp. 521–5.
  43. J. Mackay's Journey through Scotland, p. 69.
  44. Scotland and Scotsmen in the Eighteenth Century, ii. 307.
  45. See p. 52 of this pamphlet. Panado is defined by Johnson as a food made by boiling bread in water.
  46. Regulations for the Workhouse of Edinburgh, 1750, p. 30.
  47. Wesley's Journal, iv. 181.
  48. Boswell's Johnson, v. 362.
  49. An Address to Edinburgh.
  50. Johnson's Works, ix. 152.