John Wesley, in one of the streets of that town, was suddenly arrested by a sheriff's officer on a warrant to commit him to the Tolbooth. Happily he was first taken to an adjoining building—some kind of spunging-house, it is probable—whence he sent word to his friends, and obtained bail. The charge brought against him was ridiculous, and in the end the prosecutor had heavy damages to pay. Nevertheless, monstrous though the accusation was, had Wesley been not only a stranger and poor, but also friendless, it was in that miserable den that he would have been lodged. His deliverance might have been by gaol-fever.
Boswell himself, if we may trust the tradition, little more than four years before he welcomed Johnson, had run a risk of becoming acquainted with the inside of that prison. Scotland was all ablaze with the great Douglas cause. The succession to the large estates of the last Duke of Douglas was in dispute; so eagerly did men share in the shifting course of the long lawsuit, that it was scarcely safe to open the lips about it in mixed company. Boswell, with all the warmth of his eager nature, took the part of the heir whose legitimacy was disallowed by the casting vote of the President in the Court of Session. The case was carried on appeal to the House of Lords, and on Monday, February 27, 1769, the Scotch decision was reversed. A little before eight o'clock on Thursday evening the news reached Edinburgh by express. The city was at once illuminated, and the windows of the hostile judges were broken. Boswell, it is said, headed the mob. That his own father's house was among those which he and his followers attacked, as Sir Walter Scott had heard, is very unlikely: Lord Auchinleck had voted in the minority, and so would have been in high favour with the rioters. A party of foot soldiers was marched into the city, a reward of fifty pounds was offered for the discovery of the offenders, and for some nights the streets were patrolled by two troops of dragoons. "Boswell's good father," writes Ramsay of Ochtertyre, "entreated the President with tears in his eyes to put his son in the Tolbooth. Being brought before Sheriff Cockburn for examination, he was desired to tell all that happened that night in his own way. 'After,' said he, 'I had communicated the glorious news to my father, who received it very coolly, I went to
- Wesley's Journal, vol. iv. p. 17.
- Croker's Boswell, p. 387.
- Scots Magazine for 1769, p. 100; The Speeches in the Douglas Cause (most likely Boswell), p. 391; and Boswell's Johnson, ii. 230.