Letters Between the Honourable Andrew Erskine and James Boswell, Esq
Author(s): Boswell, Mr James; Erskine, Mr Andrew
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Erskine and James Boswell, post 8vo, cloth,
3s 6d, scarce 1763
A most amusing correspondence, not otherwise published
JAMES BOSWELL, Eſq;
Printed by SAMUEL CHANDLER;
For W. FLEXNEY, near Gray's-Inn-Gate, Holborn.
CURIOSITY 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 adorned with poſt-marks, — provided
he could have done it honeſtly —
he would have read every one of them;
or, had they been uſhered into the
world, from Mr. Flexney's ſhop, in that
manner, they would have been bought up
with the greateſt avidity. As they really
once had all the advantages of concealment,
we hope their preſent more conſpicuous
form will not tend to diminiſh
their merit. They have made ourſelves
laugh; we hope they will have the ſame
effect upon other people.
Auchinleck, Aug. 25, 1761.
NO ceremony I beſeech you. Give me your
hand. How is my honeſt Captain Andrew?
How goes it with the elegant gentle
Lady A—? the lovely ſighing Lady J—? and
how, O 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. And yet, Erſkine, I muſt tell
you, that I have been a little penſive of late,
amorouſly penſive, and diſpoſed to read Shenſtone's
Paſtoral on Abſence, the tenderneſs and ſimplicity
of which I greatly admire. A man who is in love
is like a man who has got the tooth-ach, he feels
moſt acute pain while nobody pitys him. In that
ſituation am I at preſent: but well do I know that
I will not be long ſo. So much for inconſtancy.
As this is my firſt epiſtle to you, it cannot in decency
be a long one. Pray write to me ſoon.
Your letters, I prophecy, will entertain me not a
little; and will beſides be extremely ſerviceable in
many important reſpects. They will ſupply me
with oil to my lamps, greaſe to my wheels, and
blacking to my ſhoes. They will furniſh me with
ſtrings to my fiddle, laſhes to my whip, lining to
my breeches, and buttons to my coat. They will
make charming ſpurs, excellent knee buckles, and
inimitable watch-keys. In ſhort, while they laſt
I ſhall neither want breakfaſt, dinner, nor ſupper.
I ſhall keep a couple of horſes, and I ſhall ſleep
upon a bed of down. I ſhall be in France this year,
and in Spain the next; with many other particulars
too tedious to mention. You may take me in a
metaphorical ſenſe; but I would rather chuſe to
be underſtood literally.
Your moſt affectionate friend,
Kelly, Sept. 11, 1761.
HAIL! mighty Boſwell! at thy awful name
The fainting muſe relumes her ſinking flame.
Behold how high the tow'ring blaze aſpires,
While fancy's waving pinions fan my fires!
Swells the full ſong? it ſwells alone from thee;
Some ſpark of thy bright genius kindles me!
'But ſoftly, Sir,' I hear you cry,
'This wild bombaſt is rather dry:
'I hate your d—n'd inſipid ſong,
'That ſullen ſtalks in lines ſo long;
'Come, give us ſhort ones, like to Butler,
'Or, like our friend Auchinleck the cutler.'
A Poet, Sir, whoſe fame is to ſupport,
Muſt ne'er write verſes tripping pert and ſhort:
Who ever ſaw a judge himſelf diſgrace,
By trotting to the bench with haſty pace?
I ſwear, dear Sir, you're really in the wrong;
To make a line that's good, I ſay James, make it
You ſee, Sir, I have quite the beſt of the argument;
and indeed I was determined not to give
it up, 'till you acknowledged yourſelſ vanquiſh'd;
ſo to verſe I go again, tooth and nail.
How well you talk of glory and the guards,
Of fighting heroes, and their great rewards!
Our eyes behold you glow with martial flame,
Our ears attend the never-ceaſing theme.
Faſt from your tongue the rouſing accents flow,
And horror darkens on your fable brow!
We hear the thunder of the rolling war,
And ſee red vict'ry ſhouting from her car!
You kindly took me up an aukward cub,
And introduc'd me to the * Soaping-Club;
Where ev'ry Tueſday eve our ears are bleſt
With genuine humour, and with genuine jeſt:
The voice of mirth aſcends the liſt'ning ſky,
While, ſoap his own beard every man, you cry.
Say, who could e'er indulge a yawn or nap,
When * Barclay roars forth ſnip, and * Bainbridge
Tell me how I your favours may return;
With thankfulneſs and gratitude I burn.
* The Soaping-Club — a Club in Edinburgh, the motto of
which was, Every Man ſoap his own Beard; or, Every Man
'indulge his own Humour.' Their game was that facetious one.
Snip, Snap, Snorum.
* Barclay and Bainbridge, two members of this Club.
I've one advice, oh! take it I implore!
Search out America's untrodden ſhore;
There ſeek ſome vaſt Savannah rude and wild,
Where Europe's ſons of ſlaughter never ſmil'd,
With fiend-like arts inſidious to betray
The ſooty natives as a lawful prey.
At you th'aſtoniſh'd ſavages ſhall ſtare,
And hail you as a God, and call you fair
Your blooming beauty ſhall unrivall'd ſhine,
* And Captain Andrew's whiteneſs yield to thine.
In reality, I'm under vaſt obligations to you.
It was you who ſirſt made me thoroughly ſenſible
(indeed I very readily believ'd it) of the excellencies
of my own Poetry; and about that time, I made
two wonderful diſcoveries, to wit, that you was
a ſenſible man, and that I was a good poet; diſcoveries
which I dare ſay are yet doubted by
ſome incredulous people. Boſwell, I ſhall not
praiſe your Letter, becauſe I know you have an
averſion at being thought a genius, or a wit.
The reluctance with which you always repeat
your Cub, and the gravity of countenance
*'And Captain Andrew's whiteneſs, &c.'] The writers of
theſe Letters inſtead of being rivals in wit, were rivals in complexion.
which you always aſſume upon that occaſion, are
convincing proofs of this aſſertion. You hate flattery
too; but in ſpite of your teeth I muſt tell
you, that you are the beſt Poet, and the moſt
humourous letter-writer I know; and that you
have a finer complexion, and dance better than
any man of my acquaintance. For my part, I
actually think you would make an excellent champion
at the approaching coronation. What tho'
malevolent critics may ſay you are too little, yet
you are a Briareus in compariſon of Tydeus the
hero of Statius's Thebais; and if he was not a
warrior, then am I Andrew Erſkine, lieutenant
in the 71ſt regiment, blind of one eye, humpback'd,
and lame in both legs. We all tired ſo
much of the Highlands, that we had not been
there three weeks before we all came away again.
Lady B— is gone a viſiting, and the reſt of us
are come to Kelly. It was moſt unaccountable in
me to leave New-Tarbat; for no where will you
meet with ſuch fine ingredients for poetical deſcription.
However, we are all going back again.
when Mr. M— comes from London; ſo ſome
time in October you may expect a moſt cordial
invitation. This is all at preſent (according to
the ſimple but eloquent expreſſion of the vulgar)
from your ſincere friend,
Auchinleck, Sept. 14, 1761.
DEAR Captain Andrew! Poet of renown!
Whether the chairmen of Edina's town
You curious draw, and make 'em juſtly ſpeak,
To uſe a vulgar phraſe, as clean's a leek;
Or ſmart Epiſtles, Fables, Songs you write,
All put together handſome trim and tight;
Or when your ſweetly plaintive muſe does ſigh,
And elegiac ſtrains you happy try;
Or when in ode ſublime your genius ſoars,
Which guineas brings to Donaldſon by ſcores;
Accepts the thanks of ME, as quick as ſage,
Accept ſincereſt thanks for ev'ry page,
For ev'ry page? — for ev'ry ſingle line
Of your rich letter aided by the Nine.
Here pauſe, my friend, and while you pauſe admire;
See how to write in clymax I aſpire:
Of which in all good critics you may read
Who have obtain'd eulogiums for their meed.
Say, don't my riſing lines at leaft pretend,
By ſteps of juſt proportion to aſcend?
Have I not now your path of numbers trode,
From homely eclogue up to lofty ode?
You ſay, to write long lines I am not able,
No more than Fairy Queen to work a cable;
But wait with patience and I'll make you own
With your own weapons I have knock'd you down.
Knock down perhaps too clumſy may appear,
And ſound but roughly in a ſoldier's ear;
And why for this of weapons ſhould I vaunt,
Which like the razor keeneſt ſharpneſs want;
When to confound and ſtupify the ſkull,
Sufficient weight will ſerve, tho' ne'er ſo dull?
To this I anſwer, grumble as you may,
To uſe the readieſt word was ſtill my way;
And ſtill ſhall be while I can hold a pen,
And to make lines like theſe, count fingers ten.
Of Auchinleck the cutler much you talk,
And think by that my vanity to baulk;
But, Sir, remember we as ſurely know
Erſkine, the copperſmith, in the weſt how.
Compare the trades, thou mighty ſon of war!
To point my couplet take the well-known Mar;
From whoſe great flock the noble Kelly race,
A— the moſt of all their lineage trace:
Compare the trades of copperſmith and cutler,
Does not the laſt excel as colonel, Sutler?
He who a ſhaving inſtrument can make,
Should ſomewhat of the ſoaper's praiſe partake;
But low is he who faſhions ne'er ſo well,
Kettles and cauldrons with a dinning knell;
Had he a tinker been, why then ding dong
As, clout the cauldron, runs the Scottiſh ſong;
My cutling couſin had to him knock'd under,
And fairly yielded to his rouſing thunder:
But, as it is, indeed, I am afraid,
As Preſbyterian prieſt to D——r ſaid,
When he adventur'd 'gainſt the potent ——
For * Edinburgh's liberty aloud to bawl,
'I am afraid; — e'en let it gall your pride,
'That of this argument you've the wrong ſide.
Exult, O Boſwell! o'er the vanquiſh'd bard,
Who ne'er again ſhall dare his lines to lard
With greaſy, tho' perhaps diverting jokes,
Upon thy ancient pedigree, which mocks
All his endeavours, all his turns of wit,
Which only ſerve to ſhow their author bit:
For ſince you've ſerious taken up the cudgels,
You prove more ſtout than twenty Euſtace Budgels;
And to repel the captain's raſh attacks,
You have return'd his honour double thwacks.
* 'For Edinburgh's liberty, &c.'] During the election 1761,
when an attempt was made by the Duke of Argyle to bring in
Mr. F—— as member.
Your laſt from Kelly greets your faithful friend;
— 'Tis hard, affection from the mind to rend
For the ſweet native ſpot, which Virgil ſays
We are enamour'd of thro' all our days.
Elſe why would you with haſte ſo ſudden quit
The rude romantic Arrochur? where ſit
On moſſy ſtones, or walk the airy hills,
Or ſilent tread the banks of ſtoried rills;
The Highland genii, who in ages old
Inſpir'd ſuch bards as have in rapture told
Fingal's atchievements, and the dire alarms
That ſounded horrid from great Oſſian's arms!
When dull October comes, if you return,
As ſure as Roman aſhes ſought an urn,
If I have no black orders from grim death,
And Heaven preſerves my health as well as breath,
So ſure ſhall I my truſty gelding take,
And with ſwift pace the ſhire of Ayr forſake;
So ſure ſhall far extending Lowmond boaſt
Newmarket's cub on its exulting coaſt;
So ſure ſhall Tarbat's hoſpitable roof
Receive the man whoſe parts require no proof;
Whoſe heart is good, and tho' he's vain 'tis ſaid,
Yet is his perſon tolerably made.
Then with the circle once again well met,
To whom for hours of bliſs I'm drown'd in debt;
I chearfully ſhall live away at eaſe,
And ſoap my beard as freely as I pleaſe.
In vain ſhall you endeavour to eraze
From Boſwell's mind his beſt-beloved phraſe;
To quit his bruſh and baſon to forſake,
No bribes can ſooth him, and no threat'nings ſhake.
In vain ſhall Andrew poliſh'd verſes bring,
Or even attempt ſome tender tune to ſing;
In vain ſhall Lady A— th' enchanting day,
Italian airs, or Kelly's muſic play;
In vain ſhall Lady J— murmur plaints,
For poor knight-errants, love's dejected ſaints;
In vain ſhall SHE, where all attractions meet,
The eldeſt Grace! — tho' ſuppliant at her feet,
I Boſwell proudly boaſt that I adore,
And to her health make every man ſay more,
In vain ſhall ſhe, or pleas'd or angry, hope,
To make me yield my razors and my ſoap.
This being ſo, — as pond'rous lawyers ſay,
To draw the bench's nod the proper way,
That we this warm contention may agree,
If I won't come to you, come you to me.
Now my Lieutenant, with the duſky face;
For tho' you're cloath'd in ſcarlet and in lace,
The gorgeous glare of which to art you owe,
Yet Nature gave you not my ſnowy brow.
Tell me in words, quite oppoſite to rude,
Whether I may not ſafely now conclude.
Tho' one, indeed, of penetration leſs,
Might without much ado your meaning gueſs;
One thing I'm ſure of, you whoſe taſte is ſize,
Who length of line with ſo much ardour prize,
Can never think this ſame epiſtle wrong,
For ſure, my friend, 'tis moderately long.
You are now ſo heartily tired, that it would be
abſolutely barbarous to ſtun your ears any longer;
only give me leave to tell you in one good round
ſentence, that your proſe is admirable, and that I
am juſt now (at three o'clock in the morning)
ſitting over the poor pale remnant of a once glorious
blazing fire, and feaſting upon it, till I am
all in a Lather.
I cannot ſtop yet. 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
then? Let me ſhift about to another ſubject.
The beſt I can think of is a ſound ſleep. So
good night, and believe me
Auchinleck, Octob. 10, 1761.
HAD Philip of Macedon been ſaddle-ſick,
with riding up and down the country after
his unruly ſon Alexander, and been waiting in extreme
pain, till the ſurgeon of the next village
brought him emollient relief, he could not have
been more impatient than I am for a return to my
laſt letter. I thought, indeed, that my firing ſo
great a gun, would have produced a ſpeedy and a
ſuitable echo, and I had no doubt of at leaſt being
payed the intereſt of a Sum ſo very large. I now
give you fair warning, that if ſomething is not
ſpeedily done in this affair, I ſhall be obliged to
take very diſagreeable methods. From this way
of talking, I begin to fancy myſelf a Schoolmaſter;
a character next to that of a giant, moſt
terrible to tender minds. Don't think to eſcape
the rod. Don't think your dignity as a poet will
ſave you from it. I make no queſtion, but what
that acrimonious pedagogue George Buchanan has
often applied it to his pupil, and he you know was
a poet and a king into the bargain. I have been
reading the Roſciad. You ſee my very ſtudies
have tended towards flagellation. Upon my word
Churchill does ſcourge with a vengeance; I
ſhould not like to come under his diſcipline.
He is certainly a very able writer. He has great
power of numbers.
"In manly tides of verſe he rolls along."
I deſire, Erſkine, once again, that you may
write without delay, otherwiſe, I ſhall no longer
Your affectionate friend,
Kelly, Nov. 1, 1761.
IF you could conceive the many twitches of
conſcience I have felt upon your account,
the agitations, the compunctions, the remorſes,
you would certainly forgive me. However, I
was beginning to turn callous againſt all ſuggeſtions
of writing to you, when your laſt letter
arrived, which like the day of judgment, made my
tranſgreſſions ſtare me full in the face. Indolence
and unwearied ſtupidity have been my conſtant
companions this many a day; and that amiable
couple, above all things in the world deteſt letter--
writing. Beſides, I heard you was juſt going to
be married, and as a poet, I durſt not approach
you, without an Epithalamium, and an Epithalamium
was a thing, which at that time I could
not compaſs. It was all in vain, that Cupid and
Hymen, Juno and Luna, offered their aſſiſtance;
I had no fort of employment for them.
When you and I walked twice round the meadow
upon the ſubject of matrimony, I little thought
that my difference in opinion from you, would
have brought on your marriage ſo ſoon; for I
can attribute it to no other cauſe: From this I
learn, that contradiction is of uſe in ſociety; and
I ſhall take care to encourage that humour, or
rather ſpirit, in myſelf. As this is the firſt marriage
I ever made, I expect great congratulations,
eſpecially from you.
I have been buſy furbiſhing up ſome old pieces
for Donaldſon's ſecond volume: I exceed in quantity,
twenty Euſtace Budgels, according to your
epiſtle. Pray what is become of the Cub? Is
Dodſley to ſell you for a ſhilling, or not? I have
written one or two new things, an Ode to Pity,
and an Epiſtle to the great Donaldſon, which is to
be printed: The ſubject was promiſing, but I
made nothing of it. I muſt give over poetry, and
copy epiſtles out of that elegant treatiſe the Compleat
Letter-Writer. D— is gone to London,
his parting advice to his ſiſter was, to keep the key
of the coals herſelf: ſo I ſuppoſe he intends to
keep up his fire, this winter, in parliament, and
not to go over the coals with the miniſtry.
Lady A— and I ſet out for New-Tarbat tomorrow.
Could you come? Let nothing but wedlock
detain you. Oh Boſwell the ſoporific effluvia
of a hearty dinner cloud all my faculties. I'm
as dull as the tolling in of the eighth-hour bell, or a
neighbour in the country, that pays you an annual
viſit. At this preſent moment, I'm aſtoniſhed how
any body can be clever; and your letter in heroic
verſe ſeems more amazing to me than if the King
of Britain was to ſend an expreſs for me, to dance
a hornpipe before him, or the King of Pruſſia was
to declare in a manifeſto, that I was the occaſion
of the preſent war. I deteſt the invention of writing;
and nothing could reconcile me to it, but
that I can aſſure you at this diſtance, that I am
There's a genteel concluſion for you. When
you come to Edinburgh, I'll ſettle an unintermitting
correſpondence with you.
Edinburgh, Nov. 17, 1761.
MUCH much concern does it give me, to
find that you have been in ſuch bad ſpirits
as your laſt moſt grievouſly indicates. I believe
we great geniuſes are all a little ſubject to the ſorcery
of that whimſical dæmon the ſpleen, which
indeed we cannot complain of, conſidering what
power of enchantment we ourſelves poſſeſs, by the
ſweet magic of our flowing numbers. I would recommend
to you to read Mr. Green's excellent
poem upon that ſubject. He will diſpel the clouds
and enliven you immediately. Or if that ſhould
not do, you may have recourſe to Xenophon's
method, which was, boiling potatoes, and pelting
the cats with them, an infallible receipt to promote
So you too have liſtened to the report of my
marriage, and muſt forſooth diſplay a pretty vein
of jocularity upon the mournful occaſion. Did
you really believe it? If you did, you will never
be able to aſtoniſh me with any thing elſe that is
wonderful in your creed, for I ſhall reckon your
judgment at leaſt three ſtanzas worſe than formerly.
In the name of every thing that is upſide down,
what could the people mean by marrying me?
If they had boiled me into portable ſoup, or hammered
me into horſe-ſhoes, I ſhould not have been
greatly ſurpriſed. A man who has ſo deeply pondered
on the wonders daily preſented to our view,
and who has experienced ſo many viciſſitudes of
fortune, as I have done, can eaſily make allowance
for ſtranger things than theſe. But I own
their matrimonial ſyſtem exceeds my comprehenſion.
Happy is it for the world that this affair did not
take place. An event ſo prodigious muſt have
been attended with very alarming conſequences.
For my own part, I tremble when I think of it.
Damocles, Nero, and Richard the Third, would
have appeared amiable princes in compariſon of
me. Where ever I went I ſhould have carried horror
and devaſtation, ſparing neither ſex nor age.
All, all ſhould have been ſacrificed to my relentleſs
cruelty. Donaldſon is buſy printing his ſecond
volume. I have muſtered up a few verſes for him,
New-Tarbat, Nov. 23, 1761.
AS we never hear that Demoſthenes could
broil beef-ſteaks, or Cicero poach eggs, we
may ſafely conclude, that theſe gentlemen underſtood
nothing of cookery. In like manner it may
be concluded, that you, James Boſwell, and I
Andrew Erſkine, cannot write ſerious epiſtles.
This, as Mr. Triſtram ſays, I deny; for this
letter of mine ſhall contain the quinteſſence of
ſolidity; it ſhall be a piece of boiled, beef and
cabbage, a roaſted gooſe, and a boiled leg of pork
and greens: in one word, it ſhall contain advice;
ſage and mature advice. Oh! James Boſwell!
take care and don't break your neck; pray
don't fracture your ſkull, and be very cautious
in your manner of tumbling down precipices:
beware of falling into coal-pits, and don't drown
yourſelf in every pool you meet with. Having
thus warned you of the moſt material dangers
which your youth and inexperience will be ready
to lead you into, I now proceed to others leſs
momentary indeed, but very neceſſary to be ſtrictly
obſerved. Go not near the Soaping-Club
never mention Drury-lane Playhouſe; be attentive
to thoſe Pinchbeck buckles which fortune
has ſo graciouſly given you, of which I am afraid
you're hardly fond enough; never waſh your face,
but above all forſwear Poetry: from experience I
can aſſure you, and this letter may ſerve as a
proof, that a man may be as dull in proſe as in
verſe; and as dullneſs is what we aim at, proſe
is the eaſieſt of the two. Oh! my friend! profit
by theſe my inſtructions; think that you ſee me
ſtudying for your advantage, my reverend locks
over-ſhadowing my paper, my hands trembling,
and my tongue hanging out, a figure of eſteem,
affection and veneration. By Heavens! Boſwell!
I love you more — But this, I think, may be
more conveniently expreſſed in rhime.
More than a herd of ſwine a kennel muddy,
More than a brilliant belle polemic ſtudy,
More than fat Falſtaff lov'd a cup of ſack,
More than a guilty criminal the rack,
More than attorneys love by cheats to thrive,
And more than witches to be burnt alive.
I begin to be afraid that we ſhall not ſee you
here this winter; which will be a great loſs to
you. If ever you travel into foreign parts, as
Machiavel uſed to ſay, every body abroad will
require a deſcription of * New-Tarbat from you.
That you may not appear totally ridiculous and
abſurd, I ſhall ſend you ſome little account of it.
Imagine then to yourſelf what Thomſon would
call an interminable plain, interſperſed in a lovely
manner with beautiful green hills. The Seaſons
here are only ſhifted by Summer and Spring.
Winter with his fur cap and his cat-ſkin gloves,
was never ſeen in this charming retreat. The
Caſtle is of Gothic ſtructure, awful and lofty:
there are fifty bed-chambers in it, with halls, ſaloons,
and galleries without number. Mr. M—'s
father, who was a man of infinite humour,
cauſed a magnificent lake to be made, juſt before
the entry of the houſe. His diverſion was
to peep out of his window, and ſee the people
who came to viſit him, ſkipping through it; —
for there was no other paſſage — then he uſed to
put on ſuch huge fires to dry their cloaths, that
there was no bearing them. He uſed to declare,
that he never thought a man good company 'till
he was half drown'd and half burnt; but if in
* New-Tarbat, a wild ſeat in the weſtern Highlands of Scotland,
ſarrounded with mountains.
any part of his life he had narrowly eſcaped
hanging (a thing not uncommon in the Highlands)
he would perfectly doat upon him, and
whenever the ſtory was told him, he was ready
to choak himſelf. But to return. Every thing
here is in the grand and ſublime ſtile. But, alas!
ſome envious magician, with his d—d enchantments,
has deſtroyed all theſe beauties. By his
potent art, the houſe with ſo many bed-chambers
in it, cannot conveniently lodge above a dozen
people. The room which I am writing in, juſt
now, is in reality a handſome parlour of twenty
feet by ſixteen; though in my eyes, and to all
outward appearance, it ſeems a garret of ſix feet
by four. The magnificent lake is a dirty puddle;
the lovely plain, a rude wild country cover'd with
the moſt aſtoniſhing high black mountains: the
inhabitants, the moſt amiable race under the ſun,
appear now to be the uglieſt, and look as if they
were over-run with the itch. Their delicate
limbs, adorned with the fineſt ſilk ſtockings, are
now bare, and very dirty; but to deſcribe all the
transformations would take up more paper than
Lady B— from whom I had this, would chuſe
to give me. My own metamorphoſis indeed ſo
extraordinary, that I muſt make you acquainted
with it. You know I am really very thick and
ſhort, prodigiouſly talkative, and wonderfully impudent.
Now I am thin and tall, ſtrangely ſilent,
and very baſhful. If theſe things continue, who
is ſafe? Even you, Boſwell, may feel a change.
Your fair and tranſparent complexion may turn
black and oily; your perſon little and ſquat; and
who knows but you may eternally rave about the
King of Great Britain's guards; a ſpecies of
madneſs, from which good Lord deliver us!
I have often wondered, Boſwell, that a man
of your taſte in muſic, cannot play upon the Jews
harp; there are ſome of us here that touch it
very melodiouſly, I can tell you. Corelli's ſolo
of Maggie Lauder, and Pergoleſi's ſonata of The
Carle he came o'er the Craft, are excellently adapted
to that inſtrument; let me adviſe you to learn
it. The firſt coſt is but three halfpence, and
they laſt a long time. I have compoſed the following
ode upon it, which exceeds Pindar as much
as the Jews harp does the organ.
ODE upon a JEW's HARP.
SWEET inſtrument! which fix'd in yellow
So clear ſo ſprightly and ſo gay is found,
Whether you breathe along the ſhore of Leith,
Or Lowmond's lofty cliffs thy ſtrains reſound;
Struck by a taper finger's gentle tip,
Ah ſoftly in our ears thy pleaſing murmurs ſlip!
Where'er thy lively muſic's found,
All are jumping, dancing round:
Ev'n truſty William lifts a leg,
And capers like ſixteen with Peg;
Both old and young confeſs thy pow'rful ſway,
They ſkip like madmen and they friſk away.
Rous'd by the magic of the charming air,
The yawning dogs forego their heavy ſlumbers;
The ladies liſten on the narrow ſtair,
And Captain Andrew ſtraight forgets his numbers.
Cats and mice give o'er their batt'ling,
Pewter plates on ſhelves are rattling;
But falling down the noiſe my lady hears,
Whole ſcolding drowns the trump more tuneful
than the ſpheres!
Having thus, Boſwell, written you a moſt entertaining
letter, with which you are highly
pleaſed; to your great grief I give over in theſe
or the like words, your affectionate friend,
Edinburgh, Dec. 2, 1761
Notwithſtanding of your affecting elegy or
the death of two pigs, I am juſt now returned
from eating a moſt excellent one with the
moſt magnificent Donaldſon. I wiſh you would
explain to me the reaſon of my being ſo very
hard-hearted as to diſcover no manner of reluctance
at that innocent animal's being brought to
table well roaſted. I will confeſs to you, my
friend, that I fed upon it with no ſmall alacrity —
neither do I feel any pangs of remorſe for having
ſo done. The reaſon perhaps lies ſo deep as to
elude our keeneſt penetration; — at the ſame time
give me leave to offer my conjecture, which you
may have by a little tranſmutation of a vulgar
adage, in ſuch manner as to obtain at one and
the ſame time (ſo to ſpeak) not only a ſtrong
reaſon for my alledged inhumanity, but alſo an
apparent pun, and a ſeeming paradox; all which
you have for the ſmall and eaſy charge of ſaying,
The belly has no bowels.
I do aſſure you the imperial ſovereign of Pope's
head, Caledonian Dodſley, Scottiſh Baſkerville, and
captain general of collective bards, entertained us
moſt ſumptuouſly; I queſtion much if captain
Erſkine himſelf ever fared better; although I was
the only author in the company, which I own
ſurpriſed me not a little. Donaldſon is undoubtedly
a gentleman perfectly ſkilled in the
art of inſinuation. His dinners are the moſt
eloquent addreſſes imaginable. For my own part,
I am never a ſharer in one of his copious repaſts,
but I feel my heart warm to the landlord,
and ſpontaneouſly conceive this expreſſive ſoliloquy,
— Upon my word I muſt give him another
Now, my dear Captain, tell me how is it
with you, after reading this? With what feeling
are you moſt ſtrongly poſſeſt? But as this depends
a good deal upon the time of the day at
which you receive my epiſtle, I ſhall make no
Thus, Sir, have I unboſomed the big exultation
which poſſeſt me upon occaſion of what ſome
of the fathers would call ſplendidum prandium;
Engliſhed thus, a ſplendid dinner.
Are not you all this time very much aſtoniſhed,
nay, ſomewhat picqued, that I have as yet made
no mention of your laſt, notwithſtanding of the
wonderful enchantments which you relate, the
ſagacious advices which you give, and the ode to
a Jew's Harp, which you add. Forgive me, go
Captain. Blame Donaldſon. Write to me whenever
you have any thing that you wiſh to ſay,
and believe me,
P. S. Are not you very proud of your Ode to
Midnight? Lord K— calls it the beſt Poem
in the Engliſh language. But it will not be long
ſo. For in imitation of it I have written an Ode
to Gluttony, of which take two ſtanzas.
HAIL Gluttony! O let me eat
Immenſely at thy awful board,
On which to ſerve the ſtomach meet,
What art and nature can afford.
I'll furious cram, devoid of fear,
Let but the roaſt and boil'd appear;
Let me but ſee a ſmoaking diſh,
I care not whether fowl or ſiſh;
Then ruſh ye floods of ale adown my throat,
And in my belly make the victuals float!
And yet why truſt a greaſy cook?
Or give to meat the time of play?
While ev'ry trout gulps down a hook,
And poor dumb beaſts harſh butchers ſlay?
Why ſeek the dull, ſauce-ſmelling gloom,
Of the beef-haunted dining room;
Where D—r gives to ev'ry gueſt
With lib'ral hand whate'er is beſt;
While you in vain th' inſurance muſt invoke
To give ſecurity you ſhall not choak?
New-Tarbat, Dec. 3, 1761.
EV'N now intent upon thy Ode,
I plunge my knife into the beef,
Which, when a cow — as is the mode —
Was lifted by a Highland thief.
Ah! ſpare him, ſpare him, circuit Lords!
Ah hang him not in hempen cords;
Ah ſave him in his morn of youth
From the damp-breathing, dark * tolbooth,
Leſt when condemn'd and hung in clanking chains
His body moulder down white-bleach'd with winter
But let not me inter-meddle with your province
; to parody the ode to midnight, could only
be thought off and executed by the mirth-moving,
humour-hunting, raillery-raiſing James Boſwell.
You muſt ſend me the reſt of your Gluttony by
the return of the poſt, even though it ſhould
prove the night of the Beard-ſoaping Club. Did
you ever ſuſpect me of believing your marriage?
No, I always ſaid from the beginning, there was
nothing in it; I can bring twenty witneſſes to
* Tolbooth Priſon.
prove it, who ſhall be nameleſs; indeed if you
had been married, I don't know but the ſame
gentlemen might have been prevailed upon to
vouch for me that I frequently declared my firm
perſuaſion of it; theſe kind of witneſſes have
multiplied greatly of late years, to the eternal
credit of many a perſon's ſurpriſing ſagacity; but
if you want to ſee this ſubject purſued and treated
with accuracy, peruſe Doctor Woodward's Treatiſe
of Foſſils, particularly his remarks upon the
I am glad to hear you are returned to town,
and once more near that ſeat of learning and genius
Mr. Alexander Donaldſon's ſhop. You tell
me you are promoted to be his corrector of the
preſs; I with you alſo had the office of correcting
his children, which they very much want;
the eldeſt ſon, when I was there, never failed
to play at taw all the time, and my queue uſed
frequently to be pulled about; you know, upon
account of its length it is very liable to theſe ſort
of attacks; I am thinking to cut it off, for I
never yet met with a child that could keep his
hands from it: and here I can't forbear telling
you, that if ever you marry and have children,
our acquaintance ceaſes from that moment, unleſs
you breed them up after the manner of the great
Scriblerus, and unleſs they be ſuckled with ſome
verſe, and weaned with criticiſm.
Write me when the volume will be publiſhed
and what ſort of figure you think it will make,
particularly how James Boſwell and Andrew Erſkine
will appear; I know you will mix your
opinion with a good deal of partial praiſe, as you
are one of thoſe extraordinary authors that has
a love for their own works, and alſo one of the
ſtill more extraordinary ones that can flatter another.
I find fault with one or two things in
your letters; I could wiſh you wrote in a ſmaller
hand, and that when you end a ſentence in the
beginning of a line, you would begin the next
ſentence in the ſame line.
Dear Boſwell, go to Donaldſon and tell him
he is a moſt inhuman miſcreant, and deſerves,
he is a Printer, to be preſs'd to death; then thunder
in his ear that he has not ſent Captain Erſkine
his Critical Review.
Lady B— entreats that you would come here
and ſpend the Chriſtmas holidays; ſhe has ſent
for two Highland bards to entertain you, and will
have a waſh-ball and a ſtick of pomatum musk
at your ſervice we are all, thank God, in general
pretty clear of the Itch juſt now, and moſt
of us not near ſo louſy as we uſed to be, ſo I
think you may venture. I received your letter
ten days after the date, though it only came from
Edinburgh; I had wrote you one ſome little time
before, directed to the Parliament-Cloſe, have you
got it? That you may never want Odes of mine
to parody, I encloſe you one to Fear, nothing like
it you will obſerve ſince the time of Pindar.
And now, my dear dear Boſwell, I conclude,
having, as I hope for mercy, not one word more to
ſay, which I believe is often the caſe of many an
Farewell. Yours, &c.
ODE to FEAR.
LOST in the mournful wood at eve,
While round the awful torrents roll,
Why fiercely does thy boſom heave,
Why weary ſinks thy ſad'ning ſoul;
Or what along the dark'ning waſte,
Impels thy ſteps with eager haſte;
What voice ſeems ruſhing on the wind,
Why ſtop? why dart a glance behind?
Alas! thy looks ſo wild, thy thoughts ſo drear,
Conſeſs th'alarming ſtrength, th'unbounded pow'r
What direful ſcenes of woe, as fancy deems,
Chill the bold heart, and ſtrike th'aſtoniſh'd eye;
The viſionary ſpectre frequent gleams,
And forms terrific float in horror by;
The heavy clouds are ſettled in the air,
Loud ſighs the gale, the lonely mountains o'er
Deep caverns frowning gloom, and monſters glare,
While ſtarting Fear exhauſts her frantic ſtore;
By chains unſeen th'imagination guides,
And with a magic force o'er ev'ry thought preſides.
Away with all thy rueful train,
Nor caſt thy cold pale glance at me,
Leaſt reaſon quit my tortur'd brain,
And each mad thought be full of thee
Nor ever meet my ſtartl'd view,
Array'd in robe of ſanguine hue;
Nor near my ſilent couch be found,
When night is wrapt in darkneſs round:
Away, and haunt the murderer's care-fraught bed,
And probe his guilty ſoul 'till ev'ry bliſs be fled.
In vain on him the genial god of ſleep
Pours his ſweet ſlumbers once ſo ſoft and mild;
In vain they on his fallen eye-lids creep,
Still broke by viſions ſavage all, and wild:
Unnerv'd, and all appall'd, he ſeems to tread
With toilſome ſteps the dread funereal way,
Where howling phantoms throng athwart the ſhade,
While the wan moon ſcarce beams her joyleſs ray;
Or high on hanging cliffs he ſeems to go,
And views the deep black ſtream that ſleeps ſo ſtill
Yet lead him on and let him feel
The ſtings of conſcience and remorſe,
Their penetrating points reveal,
And wound him with their keeneſt force:
No reſpite let the monſter find,
With ev'ry fury rack his mind,
And ſtill each ſad, each ling'ring night,
Before him ſtalk a haggard ſight,
'Till wak'd to miſery he raves and mourns,
While ev'ry flame of Hell within his boſom burns.
See at the regal banquet curſt Macbeth
Secure of empire ſecretly rejoice;
The fiend ſeems ſmiling at the work of death,
And hears, with pleaſure hears, the murderer's
When lo! at once Fear's dreadful pow'r is felt,
As injur'd Banquo points the livid wound,
Cold chilling dews upon his forehead melt,
Fades the gay ſcene of ſplendor all around,
Drops from his nerveleſs hand the roſy bowl,
While ſluggiſh thro' his veins life's purple torrents
And mark where Richard near his tent,
Taſtes the cool fragrance of the air,
Remorſe within his boſom pent,
And deadly hate, and black deſpair;
Yet once again behold, he ſleeps,
Hark! on his ear the low groan creeps;
He ſhudd'ring ſtarts, convulſive ſhakes,
He heaves, he turns, he leaps, he wakes,
Each feature ſeems with wild amazement hung,
The ſudden pray'r to Heav'n drops fault'ring from
Shakeſpeare alone thy ghaſtly charms enjoy'd,
Thy ſavage haunts he travers'd undiſmay'd,
In hearing thy awak'ning tales employ'd,
Where the wood darkens to a deeper ſhade;
And if I read the magic page aright,
Loud thunders roll'd around th'enchanted ſpot,
While fire-ey'd dæmons growl'd the long lone night,
And ev'ry tree with flaſhing flame was ſmote;
And cries uncouth, and ſounds of woe were heard,
And tall gigantic ſhapes their horrid forms uprear'd.
But not alone to guilt confin'd,
Thy furies dart their ſecret ſtings,
They point them at the virtuous mind,
Which each ideal fancy wrings;
The penſive melancholy Dane
Deep mourns his royal father ſlain;
Th'unnatural murderer muſt bleed,
The ghoſt appears, and prompts the deed;
Ev'n valiant Brutus ſinking to repoſe,
Thy awful preſence felt as his ſtern genius roſe.
Ye Angels ſent as guardians of the good,
Swift chace th' enthuſiaſtic pow'r away,
Clear the low cloud, each grief-charg'd thought
Drive hence the fiend that ſhuns the eye of day;
Ah! calm and gentle ſink us down to reſt,
Let chearfulneſs the lonely void adorn,
Let her mild radiance gild the fear-ſtruck breaſt,
While we with air-form'd terrors ceaſe to mourn;
And in ſuch raptur'd dreams the fancy ſteep,
As render more endear'd the deity of ſleep.
Edinburgh, Dec. 8, 1761.
IT is a very ſtrange thing, that I James Boſwell,
Eſq; 'who am happily poſſeſt of a facility
of manners,' — (to uſe the very words of Mr. Profeſſor
Smith, which upon honour were addreſt to
me. I can produce the Letter in which they are
to be found) I ſay it is a very ſtrange thing that
I ſhould ever be at a loſs how to expreſs myſelf;
and yet at this moment of my exiſtence, that is
really the caſe. May Lady B— ſay unto me,
'Boſwell, I deteſt thee,' if I am not in downright
Mankind are ſuch a perverſe race of beings,
that they never fail to lay hold of every circumſtance
tending to their own praiſe, while they let
ſlip every circumſtance tending to their cenſure.
To illuſtrate this by a recent example, you ſee I
accurately remember Mr. Smith's beautiful, I ſhall
even grant you juſt compliment, but have quite
forgot his ſevere criticiſm on a ſentence ſo clumſily
formed, as to require an I ſay to keep it together;
which I myſelf candidly think much reſembles
a pair of ill-mended breeches.
Having a mind, Erſkine, to open a ſluice of
happineſs upon you, I muſt inform you that I
have lately got you an immenſity of applauſe from
men of the greateſt taſte. You know I read rather
better than any man in Britain; ſo that your
works had a very uncommon advantage. I was
pleaſed at the praiſe which you received. I was
vain of having ſuch a correſpondent. I thought
I did not envy you a bit, and yet, I don't know,
I felt ſomehow, as if I could like to threſh you
pretty heartily: however, I have one comfort, in
thinking that all this praiſe would not have availed
you a ſingle curl of Sir Cloudeſly Shovel's periwig,
had not I generouſly reported it to you:
ſo that in reality you are obliged to me for it.
The ſecond volume of the Poems will not be
publiſhed 'till January. Captain Erſkine will make
a very good figure. Boſwell a decent one.
Lady B— intreats me to come and paſs the
Chriſtmas holidays with her: gueſs, O gueſs
what tranſport I felt at reading that. I did not
know how to contain my elevation of ſpirits. I
thought myſelf one of the greateſt geniuſes in
Europe. I thought I could write all ſorts of
books, and work at all handicraft trades. I
imagined that I had fourſcore millions of money
out at intereſt, and that I ſhould actually be choſen
Pope at the next election. I obteſt you, my friend,
in the warmeſt ſpirit of love to return to her Ladyſhip
my moſt ſincere thanks, and tell her that
when the planets permit us to meet, ſhe herſelf
ſhall judge how richly I can expreſs my gratitude.
Altho' I am a good deal of a Don Quixote,
yet I feel myſelf averſe to ſo long a journey. Believe
me, I am as ſweetly indolent as any genius
in all his Majeſty's dominions, ſo that for my own
incitement I muſt propoſe the following ſcheme.
You Captain Andrew ſhall, upon Monday the 28th
day of this preſent month, ſet out from New-Tarbat
in Mr. M—'s chaiſe, and meet me at Glaſgow, that
evening. Next day ſhall we both in friendly guiſe
get into the ſaid chaiſe, and drive with velocity
to your preſent habitation, where I ſhall remain
'till the Monday ſen'night; on which day I ſhall
be in like manner accompanied back to Glaſgow,
from thence to make my way as well as I can, to
the Scottiſh metropolis. I have told the ſtory of
my ſcheme rather aukwardly; but it will have
its advantages: I ſhall have a couple of days more
of your claſſical company, and ſomewhat leſs
pay, which to a Poet is no ſlender conſideration.
I ſhall chaiſe it the whole way. Thanks to
the man who firſt invented that comfortable method
of journeying. Had it not been for that, I
dare ſay both you and I would have circumſcribed
our travels within a very few miles. For my own
part, I think to dreſs myself in a great-coat and
boots, and get aſtride a horſe's back, and be jolted
through the mire, perhaps in wind and rain, is a
puniſhment too ſevere for all the offences which
I can charge myſelf with. Indeed I have a mortal
antipathy at riding, and that was the true reaſon
for my refuſing a regiment of dragoons which
the King of Pruſſia offered me at the beginning
of this war. I know indeed the Mariſchal Duke
de Belleiſle in his Political Teſtament, has endeavoured
to perſuade the world that it was owing
to my having a private amour with a Lady of
diſtincion in the Auſtrian court, but that miniſter
was too deeply immerſed in ſtate-intrigues, to know
much about thoſe of a more tender nature. The
tumultuous hurry of buſineſs and ambition, left
no room in his mind for the delicious delicacy of
ſentiment and paſſion, ſo very eſſential to a man
I think, Erſkine, in this ſcheme of mine, I am
playing a very ſure game, for you muſt either indulge
me in every article which I have mentioned,
or entertain me with a plentiful diſh of well dreſt
apologies. I beg it of you, however, don't put
yourſelf to any inconvenience; indeed I might
have ſaved myſelf the trouble of making this requeſt,
for you are that kind of man that I believe
you would not put yourſelf to an inconvenience
to be made a Lieutenant-General. Pray ſhall we
not ſee you here this winter at all? You ought
to come and eat the fruit of your labours.
Your moſt affectionate friend,
I ſhall rouſe Donaldſon as you deſire. I ſhall
rouſe him like a peal of thunder.
I wonder what you will all think of this propoſal
of mine for delivering myſelf in Folio. Ten
days make a period, as I uſe to ſay. They bear
ſome proportion to the whole of life. Write inſlantly.
SEQUEL of the ODE TO GLUTTONY.
Ev'n now upon his elbow chair
A glutton ſurfeit-ſtruck reclines;
See him look round with frightful ſtare,
And beg for drink with eager ſigns.
His gullet ſtuff the unchew'd bits,
He groans and nods his head by fits;
His high-ſwo'n cheeks that were ſo red,
With egg-ſhell whiteneſs are o'er-ſpread;
Ah! quickly thump his back, leſt for a boaſt
Death from his liver rive his bouncing ghoſt.
Ev'n now on ven'ſon much intent,
The great John Bull pleas'd with his fate,
Gorges untill his ſides are rent,
And glows voluptuous o'er his plate.
He, while he eyes the godlike haunch!
Rubs his rotundity of paunch;
Which, when replete in ev'ry chink,
His worſhip makes ſublimely think:
Or, an inveterate enemy to chat,
Delighted views a ſplendid ſtore of fat!
Bread fills the mouths of hungry clowns,
The blackſmith's clumſy grinders go,
The kitchens ſweat thro' all the towns,
The cock now fry'd no more ſhall crow.
The baker tarts and cheeſe-cakes brings,
The ruſty jack ear-grating ſings;
Each footman with an angry voice
Damns the confounded creaking noiſe :
The ham ſuſpended, when the ſtrings are broke,
Aſſaults Bob's powder'd pate with dreadful ſtroke.
And now perhaps the buxom wife
Of Vintner * Thom conſults her ſpouſe,
How thoſe who play the keeneſt knife,
She beſt may feaſt within her houſe.
She ſees before her mind's clear glaſs,
All ſorts of freſh proviſions paſs;
She makes pots, pans, and ſpits be ſcour'd,
For dreſſing what ſhall be devour'd.
Haſte! let me thither hie with purpoſe good,
To ſwallow monſtrous quantities of food!
*Thom — in whoſe houſe the Soaping-Club was always held.
New-Tarbat, Dec. 13, 1761
AN Ode to Tragedy by a gentleman of Scotland,
and dedicated to you! had there been
only one ſpark of curioſity in my whole compoſition,
this would have raiſed it to a flame equal
to the general conflagration. May G—d d—n
me, as Lord Peter ſays, if the edge of my appetite
to know what it can be about, is not as
keen as the beſt razor ever uſed by a member of
the Soaping–Club. Go to Donaldſon, demand
from him two of my franks, and ſend it me even
before the firſt poſt: write me, O write me! what
ſort of man this author is, where he was born,
how he was brought up, and with what ſort of
diet he has been principally fed; tell me his genealogy,
like Mr. M—; how many miles he
has travelled in poſt-chaiſes, like Colonel R—,
tell me what he eats, like a cook; what he drinks,
* This Letter was occaſioned by ſeeing an Ode to Tragedy,
written by a Gentleman of Scotland, and dedicated to James
Boſwell, Eſq; advertiſed in the Edinburgh News-papers. It afterwards
appeared, that the Ode was written by Mr. Boſwell
like a wine-merchant; what ſhoes he wears, like
a ſhoemaker; in what manner his mother was
delivered of him, like a man-midwife; and how
his room is furniſhed, like an upholſterer; but if
you happen to find it difficult to utter all this in
terms befitting Mr. M—, Colonel R—, a
cook, a wine-merchant, a ſhoemaker, a man--
midwife, and an upholſterer, Oh! tell it me all in
your own manner, and in your own incomparable
Your ſcheme, Boſwell, has met with — but the
thoughts of this Ode-writing gentleman of Scotland
again come acroſs me, — I muſt now aſk,
like the Spectator, is he fat or lean, tall or ſhort,
does he uſe ſpectacles? what is the length of his
walking-ſtick? has he a landed eſtate? has he
a good coal-work? — Lord! Lord! what a melancholy
thing it is to live twenty miles from a
poſt-town! why am I not in Edinburgh? why
am I not chain'd to Donaldſon's ſhop?
I received both your letters yeſterday, for we
ſend to the Poſt-houſe but once a-week: I need
not tell you how I liked them; were I to acquaint
you with that, you would conſecrate the
pen with which they were written, and deify the
inkhorn: I think the outſide of one of them was
adorned with the greateſt quantity of good ſealing-wax
I ever ſaw, and my brother A— and
Lady A—, both of whom have a notable comprehenſion
of theſe ſort of things, agree with me
in this my opinion.
Your Ode to Gluttony is altogether excellent;
the deſcriptions are ſo lively, that miſtaking the
paper on which they were written, for a piece
of bread and butter ſpread with marmalade, I
fairly ſwallowed the whole compoſition, and I
find my ſtomach encreaſed three-fold since that
time; I declare it to be the moſt admirable whet
in the world, ſuperior to a ſolan gooſe, or white
wine and bitters; it ought to be hung up in ev'ry
cook's ſhop in the three kingdoms, engraved on
pillars in all market places, and paſted in all rooms
in all taverns.
You ſeem to doubt in your firſt letter, if ever
Captain Erſkine was better entertained by the great
Donaldſon, than you was lately; baniſh that opinion,
tell it not in Gath; nor publiſh it in Aſkalon;
repeat it not in John's Coffee-houſe, neither
whiſper it in the Abbey of Holy-Rood-Houſe
no, I ſhall never forget the fowls and oyſter ſauce
which bedecked the board: fat were the fowls,
and the oyſters of the true pandour or croat kind;
then the apple-pie with raiſins, and the mutton
with colliflower, can never be eraſed from my remembrance:
I may forget my native country,
my dear brothers and ſiſters, my poetry, my art
of making love, and even you, O Boſwell! but
theſe things I can never forget; the impreſſion is
too deep, too well imprinted ever to be effaced;
I may turn Turk or Hottentot, I may be hang'd
for ſtealing a bag to adorn my hair, I may raviſh
all ſorts of virgins, young and old, I may
court the fatteſt Wapping landlady, but theſe
things I can never forget; I may be ſick and in
priſon, I may be deaf, dumb, and may loſe my
memory, but theſe things I can never forget.
And now, Boſwell, I am to acquaint you, that
your propoſal is received with the utmoſt joy and
feſtivity, and the ſcheme, if I live 'till to-morrow
fortnight, will be put in execution. The NewTarbat
chaiſe will arrive at Glaſgow on Monday
evening the 28th of December, drove by William.
Captain Andrew's ſlim perſonage will ſlip out, he
will enquire for James Boſwell, Eſq; he will be
ſhewn into the room where he is ſitting before a.
large fire, the evening being cold, raptures and
poetry will enſue, and every man will ſoap his
own beard; every other article of the propoſals
will be executed as faithfully as this; but to ſpeak
very ſeriouſly, you muſt be true to your appointment,
and come with the utmoſt regularity upon
the Monday; think of my emotions at Græme's,
if you ſhould not come; view my melancholy
poſture; hark! I rave like Lady Wiſhfort, no
Boſwell yet, Boſwell's a loſt thing. I muſt receive
a letter from you before I ſet out, telling
me whether you keep true to your reſolution,
and pray ſend me the Ode to Tragedy: I beg
you'll bring me out in your pocket my Critical
Review, which you may deſire Donaldſon to give
you; but above all, employ Donaldſon to get me
a copy of Fingal, which tell him I'll pay him for;
I long to ſee it.
There are ſome things lately publiſhed in London,
which I would be glad to have, particularly
a Spouſal Hymn on the Marriage of the King and
Queen, and an Elegy on viewing a ruin'd Pile of
Buildings; ſee what you can do for me; I know
you will not take it ill to be buſied a little for that
greteſt of all Poets Captain Andrew.
The ſluice of happineſs you have let in upon
me, has quite overflowed the ſhallows of my underſtanding;
at this moment I am determined to
write more and print more than any man in the
kingdom, except the great Dr. Hill, who writes
a Folio every month, a Quarto every fortnight,
an Octavo every week, and a Duodecimo every day.
Hogarth has humourouſly repreſented a brawny
porter almoſt ſinking to the ground under a huge
load of his works. I am too lazy juſt now to
copy out an Ode to Indolence, which I have lately
written; beſides, its fitting I reſerve ſomething
for you to peruſe when we meet, for upon theſe
occaſions an exchange of Poems ought to be as
regular as an exchange of priſoners between two
nations at war. Believe me, dear Boſwell, to be
P.S. Pray write me before I ſet out for Glaſgow.
— The Ode to Tragedy, by a Gentleman of
Scotland, good now! wonderful!
Edinburgh, Saturday, Dec. 14, 1761
IF my ſcheme takes, you muſt alter it. Thurſday
the 24th muſt be the day of our meeting,
as I am obliged to return hither on Saturday the
2d of January. This is really a curious way of
employing you; however, you will gain ſomething
by it; you will acquire a particular exactneſs
in knowing the days of the month, a ſcience
too much neglected in theſe degenerate days, but
a ſcience which was cultivated with a glorious
ardour in Greece and Rome, and was no doubt
the cauſe of their flouriſhing ſo much in every
Have not you ſometimes ſeen a man put his
hand in his pocket, pull out a nonpareille, and
ſay to his friend, 'Will you eat an apple, Sir?
Juſt ſo do I now ſay to you, 'Will you have an
Your wife (cries James) I think 'tis queer,
Brings a freſh bantling ev'ry year:
James, let me tell you, I have wonder'd
That yours produces not an hundred.
Edinburgh, Dec. 17, 1761.
HAD you but hinted a method of conveyance
ſooner than by the firſt poſt, ſooner
ſhould the Ode to Tragedy have ſaluted your longing
At length it comes! it comes! Hark! with
what lofty muſic do the ſpheres proclaim its triumphal
entry into the majeſtic edifice at Tarbat!
Behold the family gathered around it in a ſort of
quadrangular figure! Heavens! what a picture of
curioſity! what a groupe of eager expectants!
They ſhow their teeth, they rub their hands, they
kick the floor! But who is this the fire of whoſe
look flames infinitely beyond the reſt? It is Captain
Andrew! It is! it is! ye Gods! he ſeizes!
he opens! he reads! Let us leave him. I can
no more. It would ſtretch the ſtrings too far to
proceed. You muſt know I purpoſely neglected
to ſend the Ode myfelſ, and likewiſe prevented
Donaldſon from ſending it immediately when it
was publiſhed, in order to give full play to your
impatience. I conſidered what amazing effects it
muſt produce upon Captain Erſkine, to find in
one advertiſement, An Ode to Tragedy — A Gentleman
of Scotland — Alexander Donaldſon — and
James Boſwell, Eſq; How far my conjecture was
juſt, your laſt letter does moſt amply teſtify.
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 an 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 obſerved at times to have a
melancholy caſt. He is rather fat than lean, rather
ſhort than tall, rather young than old. His
ſhoes are neatly made, and he never wears ſpectacles.
The length of his walking-ſtick is not as
yet aſcertained; but we hope ſoon to favour the
republic of letters with a ſolution of this difficulty,
as ſeveral able mathematicians are employed in its
inveſtigation, and for that purpoſe have poſted
themſelves at different given points in the Cannongate,
ſo that when the gentleman ſaunters
down to the Abbey of Holyrood-houſe, in order
to think on ancient days, on King James the Fifth,
and on Queen Mary, they may compute its altitude
above the ſtreet, according to the rules of
I hope you have received a line from me fixing
Thurſday the 24th, as the day of our meeting.
I exult in the proſpect of felicity that is
before us. Fingal and your Critical Review ſhall
accompany me. I will not anticipate your pleaſure
in reading the Highland bard; only take my
word for it, he will make you feel that you have
a ſoul. I ſhall remember your other commiſſions
Continue to truſt me 'till you find me negligent.
I beg it of you, for once, be a Frenchman
and in the character of Boſwell, kneel ſupplicate
worſhip Lady B—.
Your affectionate Friend,
New-Tarbat, Dec. 16, 1761.
SWIFT as pen can ſcratch, or ink can flow,
as floods can ruſh, or winds can blow, which
you'll obſerve is a very pretty rhime, I ſit down
on a chair which has really a very bad bottom,
being made of wood, and anſwer your epiſtle
which I received this moment; it is dated on Saturday
the 14th which was really the 12th, according
to the computation of the beſt chronologiſts:
this is a blunder which Sir Iſaac Newton
would never have excuſed; but I a man no leſs
great, forgive it from my ſoul; and I here declare,
that I will never upbraid you with it in any
company or converſation, even though that converſation
ſhould turn upon the quickeſt and moſt
pleaſant method of ſwallowing oyſters, when you
know I might very naturally introduce it.
I confeſs its ſingularly ſilly in me to turn the
page in this manner, and that I ſhould have followed
your example, or rather enſample, as ſome
great judges of ſtile uſually write it. I ſee by the
news-papers, that Fingal is to be publiſhed at
Edinburgh in a few days, pray bring it with you.
I will undoubtedly meet you at Glaſgow on
the 24th day of the month, being exactly that
day which precedes Chriſtmas, as was ingeniouſly
obſerved by Mr. Sheridan in his fourth Lecture;
and I hear he is going to publiſh a whole volume
of diſcoveries all as notable as this, which I imagine
will exceed his lectures greatly.
Pray now be faithful to this appointment, and
ſo I commit this letter to the guidance of Providence,
hoping that it will not miſcarry, or fail
of being duly delivered.
Believe me yours ſincerely,
New-Tarbat, Jan. 10, 1762.
CICERO in his book of Office-houſes, defines
ingratitude to be * * * * * * * * * *
which both Dean Swift and Triſtram Shandy take
as a moſt exact definition.
The ſtorms of night deſcended, the winds rolled
along the clouds with all their ghoſts, around the
rock the dark waves burſt, and ſhewed their flaming
boſoms, loud ruſhed the blaſt through the
leaf-leſs oaks, and the voice of the ſpirit of the
mountains was heard in our halls; it was Saturday,
when lo! at once the poſtman came,
mighty was his ſtriding in the kitchen, and ſtrong
was his voice for ale. In ſhort, I have as yet
received no letter from you, and great is my wonder
and aſtoniſhment, even Donaldſon has not ſent
me my Critical Review; would to God he had
one rap from Fingal's ſword of Luno.
I feel myſelf at this preſent moment capable of
writing a letter which would delight you, but I
am determined not to do it, and this is the ſevere
puniſhment of your neglect, I with-hold the
treaſures of my wit and humour from you, a perfect
Golconda mine of Diamonds.
I have been enjoying ſince you left me, the
moſt exquiſite entertainment, in the peruſal of
the noble works of Oſſian, the greateſt poet, in
my opinion, that ever compoſed, and who exceeds
Homer, Virgil, and Milton. He tranſports
us by the grandeur of his ſublime, or by ſome
ſudden ſtart of tenderneſs he melts us into diſtreſs:
Who can read, without the warmeſt emotions,
the pathetic complaints of the venerable old bard
when he laments his blindneſs, and the death of
his friends? But how are we animated when the
memory of former years comes ruſhing on his
mind, and the light of the ſong riſes in his ſoul.
It is quite impoſſible to expreſs my admiration of
his Poems; at particular paſſages I felt my whole
frame trembling with ecſtacy; but if I was to
deſcribe all my thoughts, you would think me abſolutely
mad. The beautiful wildneſs of his fancy
is inexpreſſibly agreeable to the imagination; for
inſtance, the mournful ſound from the untouched
harp when a hero is going to fall, or the awful
appearances of his ghoſts and ſpirits.
Notwithſtanding all theſe beauties, we ſhall
ſtill continue pedants, and Homer and Virgil will
be read and quoted, when Oſſian ſhall be totally
forgot; this, without the gift of prophecy, I can
foreſee; much could I enlarge upon this ſubject,
but this muſt not be a long letter. Believe me
Edinburgh, Jan. II, 1762.
INSTEAD of endeavouring to excuſe myſelf
for neglecting ſo long to write, I ſhall preſent
you with ſome original conjectures of my own,
upon the way and manner in which you have been
affected upon this preſent occaſion. And here I
muſt premiſe, that in ſo doing I ſhall not follow
the formal and orderly method of Biſhop Latimer,
in his Sermons before King Edward the Sixth;
but, on the contrary, ſhall adopt the eaſy, deſultory
ſtile of one whom at preſent I ſhall not
venture to name, but leave that to ſome future
ingenious commentator on the epiſtolary correſpondence
of the Hon. Andrew Erſkine, a
James Boſwell, Eſq;
Either you have been ſunk into a frigid ſtate
of liſtleſs indifference, and gone whiſtling up and
down the room upon a fife, and murmuring at
intervals, while you took breath; let him do as
he likes, let him pleaſe himſelf; yes, yes, let him
ſoap his own beard. Or you have felt the moſt
delicate pangs of afflicted ſenſibility, and uttered
tender tales of woe in ſoftly-plaintive numbers.
The ſavage bard returns no humourous line,
No Tragic Ode now ſooths my ſoul to reſt;
In vain I fly to Lady B—'s wine,
Nor can a hearty ſupper make me bleſt.
Or you have burned, raged, and fried like the
thrice-amorous ſwain in the renowned Engliſh
tranſlation of Voi Amante, and perhaps thundered
forth all the Anathemas which Triſtram Shandy
has borrowed from the church of Rome, and tranfferred
to poor Obadiah.
By this time, the ſtorm is blown over. This
merry letter has made you grin, and ſhow every
expreſſion of laughter. You are now in very
good humour, and are in all human probability
ſaying to yourſelf, My good friend Boſwell, is a
moſt excellent correſpondent. It is true he is indolent,
and diſſipated, as the celebrated Parſon
Brown of Carliſle ſays, and he frequently is a
little negligent: but when he does write, ye Gods!
how he does write! In ſhort, to ſing him his
own inimitable ſong, 'There is no better fellow
New-Tarbat, Jan. 20, 1762.
IT is a kind of maxim, or rule in life, never
to begin a thing without having an eye towards
the concluſion; certainly this rule was never
better obſerved than in your laſt letter, in
which indeed I am apt to think you kept the concluſion
rather too much in view, or perhaps you
forgot the beginning altogether, which is not unfrequently
the caſe with you; but you do theſe
things with ſo little compunction, that I ſhall
very ſoon ceaſe to forgive you, and anſwer you
in the ſame manner. It is to be feared, that the
diſſolution of our correſpondence will immediately
follow, or dwindle into half a page of your text
hand, which I always look'd upon as a deteſtable
invention: if all this that I dread happens, we ſhall
then ceaſe to be reckoned men of LETTERS.
I find it recorded in the hiſtory of the eaſtern
Roman Empire, that it was the cuſtom, whenever
the inhabitants of Conſtantinople mutinied
for want of bread, to whip all the bakers through
the city, which always appeaſed the populace; in
like manner, Boſwell, I having dreamt a few
nights ago, that I had whipt you ſeverely, find
my wrath and reſentment very much mollified;
not ſo much indeed I confeſs, as if I had really
had the pleaſure of actually correcting you, but
however I am pretty well ſatisfied. You was
quite miſtaken as to the manner I bore your
ſilence; I only thought it was a little droll.
Donaldſon tells me, that he wants thirty or
forty pages to compleat his volume; pray don't
let him inſert any nonſenſe to fill it up, but try
John Home and John R—, who I hear is a
very good poet; you may also hint the thing to
Mr. N—, and to my brother Lord K—,
who has ſome excellent Poems by him.
Since I ſaw you, I received a letter from Mr.
D—; it is filled with encomiums upon you:
he ſays there is a great deal of humility in your
vanity, a great deal of tallneſs in your ſhortneſs,
and a great deal of whiteneſs in your black complexion.
He ſays there's a great deal of poetry
in your proſe, and a great deal of proſe in your
poetry. He ſays, that as to your late publication,
there is a great deal of Ode in your dedication.
and a great deal of dedication in your Ode; it
would amaze you to ſee how D— keeps up
this ſee-ſaw, which you'll remark has prodigious
wit in it. He ſays, there is a great deal of coat
in your waiſtcoat, and a great deal of waiſtcoat
in your coat; that there is a great deal of livelineſs
in your ſtupidity, and a great deal of ſtupidity
in your livelineſs; but to write you all he
ſays, would require rather more fire in my grate,
than there is at preſent; and my fingers would
undoubtedly be numb'd, for there is a great deal
of ſnow in this froſt, and a great deal of froſt in
this ſnow: in ſhort, upon this occaſion he writes
like a Chriſtian and a Poet, and a Phyſician and
an Orator, and a Jew.
Pray, Boſwell, tell me particularly in your firſt
letter, how Fingal has been received; that book
will ſerve me as a criterion, to diſcover the taſte
of the preſent age. Boſwell, imitate me in your
writing; obſerve how cloſely the lines are joined,
how near the words are written to one another,
and how ſmall the letters are form'd; I am praiſeworthy
in this particular. Adieu.
Edinburgh, Jan. 22, 1762.
I Would not for all the books in Donaldſon's
ſhop that our correſpondence ſhould ceaſe.
Rather, much rather would I trot a horſe in the
hotteſt day in ſummer, between Fort George and
Aberdeen; rather, much rather would I hold the
office of him who every returning noon plays up
on the muſic-bells of the good town of Edinburgh;
and rather, much rather would I be condemned
to paſs the next ſeven years of my life
as a ſpiritleſs ſtudent at the college of Glaſgow.
Let our wit, my friend, continue to ſhine in
a ſucceſſion of brilliant ſparkles. Let there be no
more diſtance between each flaſh of vivacity, but
what is neceſſary for giving time to obſerve its
ſplendid radiance. I hope I ſhall never again approach
ſo near the clod of clay. I hope the fire
of my genius ſhall never again be ſo long in
kindling, or ſo much covered up with the droſs
I have deſired Donaldſon to cauſe his correſpondent
at London, to ſend a copy of the firſt
volume of his collection to each of the Reviews,
that is to ſay, to Hamilton and Griffiths, with
whoſe names the ſlate-blue covers of theſe awful
oracles of criticiſm are inſcribed.
Donaldſon has yet about thirty-ſix pages of the
ſecond Volume to print. I have given him two
hundred lines more. He is a loadſtone of prodigious
power, and attracts all my poetic needles.
The Volume will be out next week; the different
pieces of which it is compoſed are, to be
ſure, not all of equal merit. But is not that the
caſe in every miſcellaneous collection, even in
that excellent one publiſhed by Mr. Dodſley?
The truth is, that a Volume printed in a ſmall
type exhauſts an infinite quantity of copy (to talk
technically) ſo that we muſt not be over-nice in
our choice, nor think every man in our ranks
below ſize, who does not come up to the elevated
ſtandard of Captain Andrew.
D—'s encomiums have rendered my humility
ſtill prouder; they are indeed ſuperb, and worthy
of an oppoſer of the German war. I ſuppoſe
they have not loſt a bit of beef by their long
journey, and I ſhould imagine that the Highland
air has agreed well with them, and that they have
agreed well with the Highland air. They occaſioned
much laughter in my heart, and much
heart in my laughter.
They have at laſt given over marrying me; ſo
that I am going about like a horſe wanting a
halter, ready to be bridled and ſaddled by the firſt
perſon who is ſo very fortunate as to lay hold of
me. A ſimile not to be found in any author ancient
We had a ſplendid ball at the Abbey of Holyrood-houſe,
on the Queen's birth-day, given by
Colonel Græme. I exhibited my exiſtence in a
minuet, and as I was dreſt in a full chocolate
ſuit, and wore my moſt ſolemn countenance, I
looked as you uſed to tell me, like the fifth act
of a deep Tragedy. Lord K— danced with
Miſs C—, by the fire of whoſe eyes, his melodious
lordſhip's heart is at preſent in a ſtate of
combuſtion. Such is the declaration which he
makes in loud whiſpers many a time and oft.
Our friend H— S— is in town this winter.
He is a moſt ſurpriſing old fellow. I am
told he is ſome years paſt ſixty; and yet he has all
the vivacity and frolic, and whim of the ſprightlieſt
youth. He continues to rank all mankind under
the general denomination of Gilbert. He patroles
the ſtreets at midnight as much as ever, and beats
with as much vigour the town-guard drum; nor
is his affection for the company of blind ſidlers, in
the leaſt abated.
Fingal has been very warmly received at London.
A ſecond edition of it is juſt now come
out. The public taſte you will allow is good at
preſent: long may it laſt. Long may the voice of
the venerable bard be heard with unaffected pleaſure.
I ſee your regiment is ordered for England. I
hope you will be allowed to recruit, or have leave
of abſence, as it would be very ſevere upon you
to be moved from your preſent situation.
If you will number the lines in our pages, you
will find I have twenty-three, whereas you have
I incloſe you the ſorrowful lamentation of a
ſtabler, called Hutchiſon, who, on Wedneſday
laſt was whipt thro' this town, for forcing away
a young man as a recruit, and beating him unmercifully.
The ſaid lamentation you will find is
in verſe; and altho' ſold for a ſingle penny, is a
work of remarkable merit. The exordium is a
paſſionate addreſs to Captains all; amongſt whom,
who can more properly be reckoned than Captain
I remain your ſincere friend,
Morpeth, Feb. 7, 1762.
AND lo I am at Morpeth, after meeting with
every accident that could poſſibly happen to a
man in a poſt-chaiſe, overturns, breaking of ſprings,
dropping of wheels, and ſticking in roads, tho'
with four horſes. We imagine we are to remain in
this town ſome time. Upon looking over my
poems, in the ſecond volume, I find ſeveral errors;
I'm afraid you have not corrected the preſs ſo violently
as you boaſted.
Perhaps, Boſwell, this will be the worſt and
the ſhorteſt letter I ever wrote to you; I'm writing
in an inn, and half a dozen people in the room;
but when I'm ſettled in lodgings of my own, expect
epiſtles in the uſual ſtile. I think you two or three
times have treated me as I treat you now, ſo
I remain your moſt humble ſervant,
And affectionate friend,
P.S. Never was there ſuch a tame ſubjected performance
Morpeth, Feb. 8, 1762.
I BEG you will get a copy of the ſecond volume
of the Poems, and ſend me it by the man
who brings you this; let it be a neat one, well--
bound: pray tell me what people ſay of the book.
Your currant-jelly is good, has a delicious flavour,
and taſtes much of the fruit, as my aunts ſay. I
did not make out all the names in your Race--
I am ſtill in the way I was, when I wrote you
laſt, in a public-houſe, and peſtered with noiſe:
I have not above ſix ideas at preſent, and none of
them fit for a letter. Dear Boſwell, farewell!
pray for my recovery from this lethargy of ſpirits
and ſenſe which has ſeiz'd me.
Edinburgh, Feb. 16, 1762.
TO ſee your brother — at Morpeth, will, I
dare ſay, ſurpriſe you as much as it did me,
to find him here. In ſhort, nothing will ſerve him
but a fight of the Britiſh capital, although he is
already much better acquainted with it than either
you or I.
What has at preſent inſtigated him I own I am
puzzled to diſcover: but I ſolemnly and merrily
declare, that I never yet ſaw any body ſo exceſſively
enamoured of London. The effects of this
violent paſſion are deeply impreſt upon every feature
in his countenance, his noſe not excepted,
which is abſolutely moſt ſurpriſing. His body is
toſſed and ſhaken, like one afflicted with the hot fit
of an ague, or the ſevereſt paroxyſms of convulſion.
Then as to his mind, it is altogether diſtempered.
He is perpetually declaiming on the magnificence,
the liberty, and the pleaſure, which reigns
in the imperial Britiſh metropolis. He ſwears, that
in that glorious place alone we can enioy life. He
ſays, there is no breathing beyond St. James's; and
he affirms, that the air of that delicious ſpot is celeſtial.
He ſays, there is no wit except at the Bedford;
no military genius but at George's; no wine
but at the Star and Garter; no turbot except at the
Tilt-Yard. He aſſerts, that there are no cloaths
made beyond the liberties of Weſtminſter; and he
firmly holds Cheapſide to be the ſole mart of ſtockings.
It would fill up two-thirds of a quarto volume
to enumerate the various extravagant exclamations
into which he breaks out. He declares,
that for his own part, he will never go to church
except to St. Paul's, nor to a lady's private lodgings,
except in the neighbourhood of Soho--
I beg it of you, my friend, be very attentive to
him; obſerve his appearance and behaviour with
the greateſt accuracy, ſo that between us we may
be able to have a pretty juſt notion of this wonderful
affair, and may faithfully draw up his caſe to be
read before the Royal Society, and tranſmitted to
poſterity in theſe curious annals the Philoſophical
I have ſent you the ſecond volume, which Donaldſon
begs leave to preſent you with, in conſideration
of your being one of thoſe who bear the
brunt of the day. He has alſo done me the ſame
honour. No plain ſhop copy; no, no, elegantly
bound and gilt.
Adieu, yours ſincerely,
Morpeth, March 2, 1762.
OH Boſwell! if you found yourſelf in the
middle of the Firth of Forth, and the ſea
faſt up-ſpringing through every leak, after the
ſkipper had remonſtrated, in the moſt warm manner,
againſt proceeding to croſs the water; or if,
like me, you found yourſelf in the midſt of a ſentence,
without knowing how to end it, you could
not feel more pain than I do at this inſtant: in
ſhort, I have had a very excellent letter of yours
in my left waiſtcoat-pocket this fortnight; is that
letter anſwered? you ſay: Oh! let the reply to
this queſtion be buried in the bottom of the Red
Sea, where I hope no future army will ever diſturb
it; or let it be inſerted in the third volume of Donaldſon's
Collection, where it will never be found,
as the book will never be opened. What would I
not do to gain your pardon? I would even ſwear
that black was white; that's to ſay, I would praiſe
the fairneſs of your complexion.
By that ſmile which irradiates your countenance,
like a gleam of the moon, through the black
clouds of the ſouth by the melting of that pomatum
which gives your hair a gloſs, like the firſt
beaming of a new ſuit of regimentals on an aſſembly
night, when twenty fidlers ſweat; by the grandeur
of your pinchbeck buckles; by the ſolemnity
of your ſmall noſe; by the blue expended in waſhing
your ſhirts; by the rotundity of your Bath
great coat; by the well-poliſh'd key of your portmanteau;
by the tag of your ſhoe; by the tongue
of your buckle; by your taylor's bill; by the laſt
kiſs of Miſs C———; by the firſt guinea you
ever had in your poſſeſſion; and chiefly by all the
nonſenſe you have juſt read, let the kneeling Captain
(who is at preſent ſitting on his backſide) find
favour in your eyes, and then, my Ode to Good--
nature ſhall be inſcribed to you, while your Ode
to Ingratitude (which, I ſuppoſe, is finiſhed) ſhall
I was, as you imagine, very much ſurpriſed to
ſee A— here; I noted him, according to your direction,
with a critical eye; like a gentleman in a line
which you may remember I made on the Caſtlehill,
he ſeemed, to have taken the Tower of
London for his bride; every feature, and every
limb was changed wonderfully; his noſe reſembled
Weſtminſter-Bridge; his cheeks were like
Bloomsbury-Square; his high forehead like Conſtitution-Hill;
his chin like China-Row; his
tongue and his teeth looked like Almack's in Pall--
Mall; his lips like the Shakeſpeare's Head; his
fiſts like Hockley-in-the-Hole; his ears like the
Opera-Houſe; his eyes like a harlequin entertainment;
his ſtomach was like Craven-ſtreet; his
cheſt like the trunk-maker's in the corner of St
Paul's Church-yard; the calf of his leg like Leadenhall-market;
his pulſe like the Green-market
in Covent-Garden; his neck like Tyburn; and
his gait like Newgate; his navel like Fleet-ſtreet,
and his lungs and his bladder were like Blowbladder-ſtreet:
every thing about him ſeemed metamorphoſed;
he had moulded his hat into the form
of the Manſion-Houſe; ſome guineas which he
had, looked like the 'Change; but it would be tedious
to relate every particular; however, I muſt
not let his converſation be forgot, tho' it was
much of a piece with that you ſo humourouſly relate:
he ſwore to me he never ſaw a rag fit for a
gentleman to wear, but in Rag-fair; he ſaid there
was no ſcolding but at Billingſgate; and he avow'd
there were no bad poets but in Grub-ſtreet; I
could not ſtand that, I bid him call to remembrance
an acquaintance of his who lived in the Parliament-Cloſe,
and alſo a relation of his who formerly
reſided in Campbell's Land; he ſmiled, and
confeſſed theſe were really very bad poets, but that
he was not convinced for all that; upon this, to put
the matter out of all diſpute, I offered to lend him
the firſt and ſecond volumes of Donaldſon's Collection.
At that very moment the hoſtler informed
him the chaiſe was ready, and he ſtill remains ignorant
where the worſt poets in the world are.
Tell me how our ſecond volume is received; I
was much pleaſed with N—'s lines; how did he
get them inſerted? I intend writing a criticiſm
upon the volume, and upon your writings in particular,
Dear Boſwell, farewel,
Yours moſt affectionately,
P.S. I hope you'll write to me ſoon.
Edinburgh, March 9, 1762.
CAN a man walk up the Cowgate after a
heavy rain without dirtying his ſhoes? I
might have ſaid the ſoles of his ſhoes: — and, indeed,
to put the matter beyond diſpute, I would
yet have you to underſtand me ſo; for although
nothing is ſo common as to uſe a part for the
whole; yet if you ſhould be out of humour with
a bad dinner, a bad lodging, an ill-dreſt ſhirt, or
an ill-printed book, you might be diſpoſed to cavil,
and object, that in critical preciſion of language,
(ſuppoſing a man to walk ſlow) he could not be
ſaid to have dirtied his ſhoes, no more than a
boarding-ſchool girl, who has cut her finger in
paring an apple, could be ſaid to have mangled
But to proceed; can a man make a pilgrimage
to the Holy Land from the Iſland of Great Britain,
without the aid of navigation? Can a
man walk in the Mall at noon, carrying his
breeches upon an enormous long pole, without
being laughed at? Can a man of acknowledged
ignorance and ſtupidity, write a tragedy ſuperior
to Hamlet? or a genteel comedy, ſuperior to the
Careleſs Husband? I need not wait for an anſwer.
No word but no, will do: it is ſelf-evident.
No more, my friend, can he who is loſt in
diſſipation, write a letter. I am at preſent ſo
circumſtanced; accept this ſhort line in anſwer
to your laſt, and write very ſoon to
Your affectionate Friend,
New-Tarbat, April 15, 1762.
THE ſun which roſe on Wedneſday laſt,
with his firſt beams beheld you ſet out for
Auchinleck, but he did not ſee me arrive in Edinburgh;
however, he was good-natured enough to
lend a little light to the moon, by the help of
which, about twelve at night I landed at Peter
Ramſay's: the thoughts of ſeeing you next day
kept up my ſpririts, during a ſtage of ſeventeen
miles. William he ſnored; I called upon you,
after being refreſhed with ſoft ſlumbers, in which
my guardian genius did not inform me of your
abſence: but oh! when the maid told me you
was gone, what were my emotions! ſhe beholding
me affected in a moſt ſupreme degree, tried
to adminiſter comfort to me, and plainly told me,
that you would be very ſorry you had miſſed me,
this delivered in an elegant manner, ſooth'd me
I began writing this at Graham's in Glaſgow,
but was interrupted by a jowl of Salmon; every
thing there reminded me of you. I was in the
ſame room you and I were in, you ſeemed placed
before me, your face beamed a black ray upon
I am now at New-Tarbat, once more returned
to the ſcenes of calm retirement, and placid meditation,
as Mr. Samuel Johnſon ſays in the Idler.
We all wiſh to have you here, and we all agree
in thinking, that there is nothing to hinder you
I muſt beg your pardon ſeriouſly for not writing
to you, but I was really in ſuch bad ſpirits,
and ſuch ill temper, at that curſed place Morpeth,
that it was impoſſible; but I aſſure you, I will
make up terribly. I am recruiting again; I believe
our regiment won't go abroad this ſummer.
I was glad to ſee by the London news-papers, that
Mr. Robert Dodſley had at laſt publiſhed your
Cub: Mr. H— ſhewed me a very ſevere Epigram
that ſomebody in London had written upon
it. You know it is natural to take a lick at
a Cub. Pray come to us. I cannot all at once
come into the way of letter-writing again, ſo I
muſt conclude, Dear Boſwell,
Your affectionate friend,
Auchinleck, April 22, 1762.
THIS is a ſtrange world that we live in.
Things turn out in a very odd manner.
Every day produces ſomething more wonderful
than another. Earthquakes, murders, conflagrations,
inundations, jubilees, operas, marriages,
and peſtilence, unite to make mortal men gape
and ſtare. But your laſt letter and mine being
wrote on the ſame day, aſtoniſhes me ſtill more
than all theſe things put together.
This is the moſt unaccountable rhodomontade
that I ever uttered. I am really dull at preſent,
and my affectation to be clever, is exceedingly
aukward. My manner reſembles that of a footman
who has got an enſign's commiſſion, or a
kept miſtreſs who is made a wife.
I have not at any time been more inſipid, more
muddy, and more ſtanding-water like than I am
juſt now. The country is my averſion. It renders
me quite torpid. Were you here juſt now,
you would behold your vivacious friend a moſt
ſtupid exhibition. It is very ſurpriſing that the
country ſhould affect me ſo; whether it be that
the ſcenes to be met with there, fall infinitely
ſhort of my ideas of paſtoral ſimplicity; or that I
have acquired ſo ſtrong a reliſh for the variety
and hurry of a town life, as to languiſh in the
ſtillneſs of retirement; or that the atmoſphere
is too moiſt and heavy, I ſhall not determine.
I have now pretty good hopes of getting ſoon
into the guards, that gay ſcene of life of which I
have been ſo long and ſo violently enamoured,
Surely this will cauſe you to rejoice.
I have lately had the pleaſure and the pride
of receiving a moſt brilliant epiſtle from Lady
B—. It excells Captain Andrew's letters by
many degrees. I have picked as many diamonds
out of it, as to make me a compleat ſet of buckles;
I have turned ſo much of it into brocade
waiſtcoats, and ſo much into a very rich ſuit of
embroidered horſe-furniture. I know how unequal
I am to the taſk of anſwering it; nevertheleſs
preſent her Ladyſhip with the incloſed.
It may amuſe her a little. It is better to have
two ſhillings in the pound, than nothing at all.
I was really ſhocked at the lethargy of our correſpondence.
Let it now be renovated with increaſe
of ſpirit, ſo that I may not only ſubſcribe
myſelf your ſincere friend, but your witty
New-Tarbat, May 1, 1762.
WELL then, my friend, you leave the bar,
Reſolv'd on drums, on dreſs, and war,
While fancy paints in livelieſt hues,
Swords, ſaſhes, ſhoulder-knots, reviews,
You quit the ſtudy of the laws,
And ſhew a blade in Britain's cauſe,
Of length to throw into a trance,
The frighten'd kings of Spain and France!
A hat of fierceſt cock is ſought,
And your cockade's already bought,
While on your coat there beams a lace,
That might a captain-general grace!
For me, who never ſhow admir'd,
Or very long ago was tir'd,
I can with face unmov'd behold,
A ſcarlet ſuit with glittering gold;
And tho' a ſon of war and ſtrife,
Deteſt the liſtleſs languid life;
Then coolly, Sir, I ſay repent,
And in deriſion hold a tent;
Leave not the ſweet poetic band,
To ſcold recruits, and pore on Bland,
Our military books won't charm ye,
Not even th' enchanting liſt o'th' army.
Truſt me, 'twill be a fooliſh ſight,
To ſee you facing to the right;
And then, of all your ſenſe bereft,
Returning back unto the left;
Alas! what tranſport can you feel,
In turning round on either heel?
Much ſooner would I chuſe indeed,
To ſee you ſtanding on your head;
Or with your breeches off to rub,
Foul cloaths, and dance within a tub,
Like Scottiſh laſſes on the green,
When every naked limb is ſeen,
And all without a bluſh reveal'd,
By modeſt maids with care conceal'd.
Beſides, my dear Boſwell, we find in all hiſtory
ancient and modern, lawyers are very apt to run
away. Demoſthenes the Greek, writer to the
ſignet, who managed the great ſuit againſt Philip
of Macedon, fairly ſcoured off, I think, at the
battle of Cheronea; and Cicero the Roman advocate
is univerſally accuſed of cowardice. I am
not indeed ignorant that ſome of your anceſtors
behaved well at Flowden; but as they loſt the
day, I think the omen but bad, and as they were
killed, I think that makes the omen ſtill worſe;
however, perhaps you don't think ſo, and I allow
that argument to be very convincing, and rather
more concluſive, than if you had ſaid, "I don't
You complain much of the country, and you
aſſign various reaſons for diſliking it among others,
you imagine the atmoſphere too moiſt and heavy;
I agree with you in that opinion, all the black
clouds in the ſky are continually preſſing upon
you, for as the proverb ſays, Like draws to like.
Believe me, I have ſometimes taken you at a
diſtance, for the pillar of ſmoke which uſed to
accompany the Iſraelites out of Egypt; it would
be impoſſible to tell how many things I have taken
you for at different times; ſometimes I have taken
you for the witches cauldron in Macbeth; this reſemblance
was in ſome degree warranted by your
figure and ſhape; ſometimes for an enormous ink--
bottle; ſometimes for a funeral proceſſion; now
and then for a chimney ſweeper, and not unfrequently
for a black-pudding. For my part, Boſwell,
I muſt confeſs I am fond of the country to
a degree; things there are not ſo artificially diſguiſed
as in towns, real ſentiments are diſcovered,
and the paſſions play naturally and without reſtraint.
As for example, it was only in the
country, I could have found out Lady J—'s
particular attachment, to the tune of Appie Mac--
Nab; in the town, no doubt, ſhe would have pretended
a great liking for Voi Amante; in the town,
I never would have ſeen Lady B— go out
armed for fear of the Turkey-cock, which is her
daily practice here, and leaves room for numberleſs
reflections; ſhe cannot eat Turkeys when
roaſted or boiled; and ſhe dreads them when alive
ſo much, that ſhe diſplays every forenoon a cudgel
to them, fitted by its ſize to ſtrike terror into a
bull, or a butting cow. What can her keeping
of Turkeys be owing to? Aſſuredly to vanity,
which is of ſuch an inſinuating nature, that we
are apt very often to meet it where we leaſt expect
it; I have ſeen it in an old ſhoe, in a dirty
ſhirt, in a long noſe, a crooked leg, a red face,
and you will ſcarcely credit me when I tell you,
that I once met with it in a chamber-pot made
of the coarſeſt delft. So much it ſeemed good for
me to ſay upon the ſubject of vanity, ſupporting
by the moſt irrefragable arguments, the doctrine
We had a viſit from Mr. C— of S—
here this morning; he came in a chaiſe drawn by
four bay horſes; I am certain of the number,
you may draw what inference you pleaſe from
this intelligence, I give you only a ſimple narration
of the fact. I am ſurpriſed you ſay nothing
of my propoſal of your coming here, and ſtill
more, that you ſay nothing of your Cub. Why
don't you ſend me a copy? We were all ſo much
entertained with your letter to Lady B—, that
I was really ſeized with a qualm of envy; we
regard it as one of thoſe efforts of genius, which
are only produced by a fine flow of ſpirits, a
beautiful day, and a good pen.
I pray you, Boſwell, note well this ſheet of
paper, its ſize is magnificent: If Lady B— was
poſſeſſed of ſuch an extent of plain ground, ſhe
would undoubtedly throw it into a lawn, and plant
it with clumps of trees, ſhe would vary it with
fiſh-ponds, and render it rural with flocks;
here, where I am writing, might a cow feed;
here might be an arbour; here, perhaps, might
you recline at full length; by the edge of this
ſtream might the Captain walk, and in this corner,
might Lady B— give orders to her ſhepherds.
I am drawn in the moſt irreſiſtible manner
to conclude, by the external impulſe of the
cloth's being laid, and by the internal impulſe of
being hungry. Believe me, Boſwell, to be in the
moſt unconſcionable manner, your affectionate
P.S. I ſend you franks, which return filled
with the utmoſt wit and humour.
Auchinleck, May 4, 1762.
O Captain! wherefore art thou captain?
Why rather not the clerk of Knapton,
Who on the hill of Ludgate dwells,
And books in every language ſells?
That placid bus'neſs would agree
With ſuch a quiet man as thee,
And ſuit your genius better far,
Than prancing as a ſon of war:
Methinks I ſee you in the ſhop,
Quite a new man from tail to top;
Your ſcarlet cloaths are chang'd to grey,
On which no lace outſhines the day;
No bold lapel now bids defiance
To men of military ſcience;
No ſword hangs dangling on your thigh,
To check the giver of a lie;
Alas! I now no more can view
Your thund'ring longitude of queue,
A vile obdurate bob appears,
And hides great Andrews lofty ears!
Mark how aſtoniſhing the change!
Was ever any thing ſo ſtrange?
Is this, ye gods! the potent blade,
Once dignify'd with a cockade?
Is this the heroe who has been
Admir'd as far as Aberdeen?
Who in the North, the other year,
Beſide the fort at Arderſier,
In Boſwell's penetrating ſight,
Has wheel'd about from left to right,
When blithe Bob M—'s rouſing roar
Startled the Petitonian corps?
Indeed, my friend, I'm of opinion,
You are not Mars's favourite minion;
For cutting throats I'm ſure you hate,
With all the toils on camps that wait.
The King of Pruſſia, if he chuſes,
May court Bellona with the muſes;
But I could bet a cod in Lent,
With the nine girls you are content,
And with your knitted brows declare,
You think Bellona a ſhe-bear,
That will with horrid jaws devour
Poor wretched mortals by the hour.
I think too, honeſt Captain Andrew,
— Sure as Sir Godfrey a good hand drew,
That you are not a perfect ſlave
To the amuſements of the brave;
I mean our modern Britiſh Hectors,
Of dreſs and faſhion the directors;
I never ſaw you live ſo gay,
As to exceed three times your pay;
I never ſaw your cloaths ſo fine,
As to prevent your drinking wine;
No tradeſman rowls his gloomy eye,
And heaves for bills unpaid, a ſigh;
No female labourer in the tub
E'er damns you for a foppiſh ſcrub.
Altho' you are of ſtature tall,
I never ſaw you grace a ball:
For you, Edina's ladies might
Ne'er have a dear aſſembly night;
Or, as in dancing-ſchools they do,
Be doom'd to trip it two and two;
And bite their lips, and pinch their ſtays,
And look at once five different ways.
Thus, taking you in every light,
Pray is not my conjecture right?
Pray, Erſkine, do you ever find
The warlike fury ſtir your mind?
I'm ſure, that your external air,
Has nothing in it militaire.
O what a different man am I!
Who hold my head prodigious high,
Who move about with haughty ſtride,
And Port beſeeming martial pride;
Whoſe viſage looks like dire Macbeth,
Portending horror, wounds, and death!
Weſt Digges, fair Scotland's Roſcius deem'd,
Ev'n by your critic ſelf eſteem'd,
Ne'er ſhow'd a more intrepid face,
Ev'n when he fill'd fierce Pierre's place!
For military operation
I have a wondrous inclination;
Ev'n when a boy, with chearful glee,
The red-coats march I uſed to ſee;
With joy beheld the corporals drill,
The men upon the the Caſtle-hill;
And at the ſound of drum and fife,
Felt an unuſual flow of life.
Beſides, my honeſt friend, you know
I am a little of a beau.
I'm ſure, my friend need not be told,
That Boſwell's hat was edg'd with gold;
And that a ſhining bit of lace,
My browniſh-colour'd ſuit did grace;
And that mankind my hair might ſee,
Powder'd at leaſt two days in three.
My pinchbeck buckles are admir'd
By all who are with taſte inſpir'd.
Trophies of Gallic pride appear,
The crown to every Frenchman dear,
And the enchanting fleur de lys,
The flower of flowers you muſt agree;
While for variety's ſweet ſake,
And witty Charles's tale to wake,
The curious artiſt interweaves
A twiſted bunch of oaken leaves.
Tell me, dear Erſkine, ſhould not I
My favourite path of fortune try?
Our life, my friend, is very ſhort,
A little while is all we've for't;
And he is bleſt who can beguile,
With what he likes, that little while.
My fondneſs for the guards muſt appear very
ſtrange to you, who have a rooted antipathy at the
glare of ſcarlet. But I muſt inform you, that there
is a city called London, for which I have as violent
an affection, as the moſt romantic lover ever
had for his miſtreſs. There a man may indeed ſoap
his own beard, and enjoy whatever is to be had in
this tranſitory ſtate of things. Every agreeable whim
may be freely indulged without cenſure. I hope,
however, you will not impute my living in England,
to the ſame cauſe for which Hamlet was
adviſed to go there; becauſe the people were all as
mad as himſelf.
I long much for another of our long converſations
on a fine forenoon, after breakfaſt, while the
ſun ſheds light and gladneſs around us. Believe me,
Auchinleck, May 8, 1762.
I SHOULD have wondered very much, had I
been told of Lady J—'s particular attachment
to the tune of Appie Mac-nab, two months
ago: but I muſt inform you, that a few days before
I left Edinburgh, having occaſion to look into
the advocates library, I there chanced to turn up an
old Roman ſong-book, and, to my great ſurprize,
met with the individual air of Appie Mac-nab,
which I diſcovered to be part of an original Patrician
cantata on the daughter of the famous Appius,
ſet for the Tibiæ ſiniſtræ. In a manuſcript
marginal note, it is ſaid to have been compoſed by
Tigellius the famous muſician, whoſe death and
character Horace takes occaſion to entertain and
inſtruct us with, in the ſecond ſatire of his firſt
Book. You ſee, therefore, that lady J—'s taſte
for Italian muſic, cannot be called in queſtion; and
indeed, I think her liking Appie Mac-nab, is a very
ſtrong proof of it, as ſhe certainly could not know
its original. The Roman ſong-book, a very great
curioſity, was brought from Rome ſome hundred
years ago, by father Macdonald, an old popiſh
prieſt, who left it as a legacy to the Duke of Gordon.
It is probable, that ſome muſician in the
North of Scotland, has tranſcribed the Appian
cantata from it, and giving its principal air a Scottiſh
turn, and adapting proper words to it, has produced
the vulgar ballad of Appie Mac-nab.
Lady B—'s terror for the Turkey-cock, diverts
me extremely. Did they but come to an engagement,
how noble muſt it be! The idea makes
a ſtrong impreſſion on my fancy. I ſhall certainly
write ſomething aſtoniſhing upon it.
This charming weather has reconciled me to the
country. It enlivens me exceedingly. I am chearful
and happy. I have been wandering by myſelf,
all this forenoon, through the ſweeteſt place in the
world. The ſhun-ſhine is mild, the breeze is
gentle, my mind is peaceful. I am indulging the
moſt agreeable reveries imaginable. I am thinking
of the brilliant ſcenes of happineſs, which I
ſhall enjoy as an officer of the guards. How I
ſhall be acquainted with all the grandeur of a court,
and all the elegance of dreſs and diverſions; become
a favourite of miniſters of ſtate, and the adoration
of ladies of quality, beauty, and fortune!
How many parties of pleaſure ſhall I have in town!
How many fine jaunts to the noble ſeats of dukes,
lords, and members of parliament in the country!
I am thinking of the perfect knowledge which I
ſhall acquire of men and manners, of the intimacies
which I ſhall have the honour to form with the
learned and ingenious in every ſcience, and of the
many amuſing literary anecdotes which I ſhall pick
up. I am thinking of making the tour of Europe,
and feaſting on the delicious proſpects of Italy and
France; of feeling all the tranſports of a bard at
Rome, and writing noble poems on the banks of
the Tiber. I am thinking of the diſtinguiſhed honours
which I ſhall receive at every foreign court,
and of what infinite ſervice I ſhall be to all my
countrymen upon their travels. I am thinking of
returning to England, of getting into the houſe of
commons, of ſpeaking ſtill better than Mr. Pitt,
and of being made principal ſecretary of ſtate. I am
thinking of having a regiment of guards, and of
making a glorious ſtand againſt an invaſion by the
Spaniards. I am thinking how I ſhall marry a lady
of the higheſt diſtinction, with a fortune of a hundred
thouſand pounds. I am thinking of my flouriſhing
family of children; how my ſons ſhall be
men of ſenſe and ſpirit, and my daughters women
of beauty, and every amiable perfection. I am
thinking of the prodigious reſpect which I ſhall receive,
of the ſplendid books which will be dedicated
to me, and the ſtatues which will be erected to my
I am thinking that my mind is too delicate, and
my feelings too fine for the rough buſtle of life; I
am therefore thinking that I ſhall ſteal ſilently and
unperceived through the world; that I ſhall paſs
the winter in London, much in the ſame way that
the Spectator deſcribes himſelf to have done; and
in ſummer, ſhall live ſometimes here at home;
ſometimes in ſuch a pleaſing retirement as Mrs.
Row beautifully paints in her letters moral and entertaining.
I like that book much. I read it when
I was very young, and I am perſuaded, that it contributed
to improve my tender imagination. I am
thinking that I ſhall feel my frame too delicate for
the Britiſh Climate. I am thinking that I ſhall go
and live in one of the moſt pleaſant provincial
towns in the South of France, where I ſhall be bleſt
with conſtant felicity. This is a ſcheme to which
I could give vaſt praiſe, were I near the beginning
of my letter; but as that is very far from being the
caſe, I muſt reſerve it for a future epiſtle.
I am glad to find you are ſo anxious to hear
about the Cub at Newmarket. Love me, love my
Cub. However, I can tell you nothing about him.
Dodſley has not yet ſent me a copy.
Derrick, a London author, whom you have
heard me mention, has ſent me his verſifications of
the battle of Lora, and ſome of the Erſe fragments.
If you want to ſee them, let me have ſome
I ſhall be at Dumfries ſoon, where I hope to ſee my
friend Johnſton. We will talk much of old Scotch
hiſtory, and the memory of former years will warm
our hearts. We will alſo talk of Captain Andrew,
with whom we have paſt many a pleaſant hour.
Johnſton is a very worthy fellow: I may ſafely ſay
ſo; for I have lived in intimacy with him, more
years than the Egyptian famine laſted.
And now, O moſt renowned of Captains! having
fairly written myſelf out of pen, ink, and paper,
I conclude with my uſual epithet, of
Your affectionate friend,
New-Tarbat, May 13, 1762,
YOUR firſt Epiſtle being of a length which
modern letters ſeldom attain to, ſurpriſed
me very much; but at the ſight of your ſecond,
conſiſting of ſuch an exuberant number of ſheets,
I was no leſs amazed than if I had wakened at
three o'clock in the morning, and found myſelf
faſt claſped in the arms of the empreſs Queen;
or if I had found myſelf at the mouth of the
river Nile, half eaten by a crocodile; or if I had
found myſelf aſcending the fatal ladder in the
Graſs-market at Edinburgh, and Mr. Alexander
Donaldſon the hangman. To confeſs a truth, I
imagine your funds for letter-writing are quite
inexhauſtible; and that the fire of your fancy,
like the coal at Newcaſtle, will never be burnt
out; indeed, I look upon you in the light of an
old ſtocking, in which we have no ſooner mended
one hole, than out ſtarts another; or I think
you are like a fertile woman, who is hardly delivered
of one child, before ſlap ſhe is five months
gone with a ſecond. I need not tell you your
letters are entertaining; I might as well acquaint
King George the Third, that he is ſovereign of
Great Britain, or gravely diſcloſe to my ſervant,
that his name is William. It is ſuperfluous to
inform people of what it is impoſſible they ſhould
You think you have a knack of ſtory-telling,
but there you muſt yield to me, if you hearken
attentively to what I am about to diſcloſe, you
will be convinced; it is a tale, my dear Boſwell,
which whether we conſider the turnings and windings
of fortune, or the ſadneſs of the cataſtrophe,
is delightful and improving. — You demand of me,
Sir, a faithful recital of the events which have
diſtinguiſhed my life. Though the remembrance
of every misfortune which can depreſs human
nature, muſt be painful; yet the commands of
ſuch a revered friend as James Boſwell muſt be
obeyed; and Oh, Sir! if you find any of my
actions blameable, impute them to deſtiny, and
if you find any of them commendable, impute
them to my good ſenſe. I am about fifty years of
age, grief makes me look as if I was fourſcore;
thirty years ago I was a great deal younger; and
about twenty years before that, I was juſt born;
as I find nothing remarkable in my life, before
before that event, I ſhall date my hiſtory from
that period; ſome omens happened at my birth:
Mr. Oman at Leith was married at that time;
this was thought very portentous; the very day
my mother was brought to bed of me, the cat was
delivered of three kittens; but the world was ſoon
bereaved of them by death, and I had not the pleaſure
of paſſing my infancy with ſuch amiable
companions; this was my firſt misfortune, and
no ſubſequent one ever touched me more nearly;
delightful innocents! methinks, I ſtill ſee them
playing with their tails, and galloping after
corks; with what a becoming gravity did they
waſh their faces! how melodious was their purring!
from them I derived any little taſte I have
for muſic; I compoſeded an Ode upon their death;
as it was my firſt attempt in poetry, I write it for
your peruſal; you will perceive the marks of genius
in the firſt production of MY TENDER IMAGINATION;
and you will ſhed a tear of applauſe and
ſorrow, on the remains of thoſe animals, ſo
dear to the premature years of your mourning
and lamenting friend.
ON THE DEATH OF THREE KITTENS.
ATTEND, ye watchful cats,
Attend the ever lamentable ſtrain;
For cruel death, moſt kind to rats,
Has kill'd the ſweeteſt of the kitten-train.
How pleas'd did I ſurvey,
Your beauteous whiſkers as they daily grew,
I mark'd your eyes that beam'd ſo grey,
But little thought that nine lives were too few.
It was delight to ſee
My lovely kittens three,
When after corks through all the room they flew,
When oft in gameſome guiſe they did their tails
When thro' the houſe,
You hardly, hardly, heard a mouſe;
And every rat lay ſnug and ſtill,
And quiet as a thief in mill;
But curſed death has with a blow,
Laid all my hopes low, low, low, low:
Had that foul fiend the leaſt compaſſion known;
ſhould not now lament my beauteous kittens gone.
You have often wondered what made me ſuch
a miſerable ſpectacle; grief for the death of my
kittens, has wrought the moſt wonderful effects
upon me; grief has drawn my teeth, pulled
out my hair, hollowed my eyes, bent my back,
crooked my legs, and marked my face with the
ſmall-pox; but I give over this ſubject, ſeeing it
will have too great a hold of your tender imagination:
I find myſelf too much agitated with melancholy,
to proceed any longer in my life to-day;
the weather alſo is extremely bad, and a thouſand
mournful ideas ruſh into my mind; I am totally
overpowered with them; I will now diſburthen
myſelf to you, and ſet down each ſad thought as it
I am thinking how I will never get a clean ſhirt
to my back; how my coat will always be out at
the elbows; and how I never will get my breeches
to ſtay up. I am thinking how I will be married
to a ſhrew of a wife, who will beat me every evening
and morning, and ſometimes in the middle of
the day, and who will throw a chamber-pot at my
head. I am thinking what a damn'd whore ſhe
will be, and how my children will be moſt of them
hanged, and whipt through towns, and burnt in
the hand. I am thinking of what execrable poems
I will write; and how I will be thrown into priſon
for debt; and how I will never get out again; and
how nobody will pity me. I am thinking how
hungry I will be; and how little I will get to eat;
and how I'll long for a piece of roaſt-beef; and
how they'll bring me a rotten turnip. And I am
thinking how I will take a conſumption, and waſte
away inch by inch; and how I'll grow very fat and
unwieldy, and won't be able to ſtir out of my
chair. And I am thinking how I'll be roaſted by
the Portugueſe inquiſition; and how I'll be impaled
by the Turks; and how I'll be eaten by Cannibals;
and how I'll be drowned on a voyage to the
Eaſt-Indies; and how I'll be robbed and murdered
by a highwayman; and how I'll loſe my ſenſes;
and how very mad I'll be; and how my body will
be thrown out to dogs to devour; and how I'll be
hanged, drawn, and quartered; and how my friend
Boſwell will neglect me; and how I'll be deſpiſed
by the whole world; and how I will meet with ten
thouſand misfortunes worſe than the loſs of my
Thus have I, in a brief manner, related a few
of the calamities which, in the preſent diſpoſition
of my mind, appear ſo dreadful; I could have enlarged
the catalogue, but your heart is too ſuſceptible
of pity, and I will not ſhock you altogether.
You will doubtleſs remark the great inequality of
our fortunes. In your laſt letter, you was the happieſt
man I was ever acquainted with; I wiſh it
may laſt, and that your children may have as much
merit as you imagine; I only hope you won't plan
a marriage with any of mine, their diſpoſitions will
be ſo unlike, that it muſt prove unhappy.
Pray ſend me Derrick's verſifications, which
though they are undoubtedly very bad, I ſhall
be glad to ſee, as ſometimes people take a pleaſure
in beholding a man hanged. And now, Boſwell,
I am going to end my letter, which being
very ſhort, I know will pleaſe you, as you will
think you have gained a compleat victory over the
captain, ſeeing that you are ſeveral ſheets a-head of
me; but times may alter, and when I reſume my
adventures, you will find yourſelf ſorely defeated;
New-Tarbat, May 25, 1762.
IT has been ſaid, that few people ſucceed both
in poetry and proſe. Homer's proſe eſſay on the
gun-powder-plot, is reckoned by all critics inferior
to the Iliad; and Warburton's rhyming ſatire on
the methodiſts, is allowed by all to be ſuperior to
his proſaical notes on Pope's works. Let it be
mine to unite the excellencies both of proſe and
verſe in my inimitable epiſtles. From this day,
my proſe ſhall have a ſmack of verſe, and my verſe
have a ſmack of proſe. I'll give you a ſpecimen
of both — My ſervant addreſſes me in theſe words,
very often —
The roll is butter'd, and the kettle boil'd,
Your honour's neweſt coat with greaſe is ſoil'd;
In your beſt breeches glares a mighty hole,
Your waſh-ball and pomatum, Sir, are ſtole.
Your taylor, Sir, muſt payment have, that's plain,
He call'd to day, and ſaid he'd call again.
There's proſaick poetry; now for poetick proſe —
Univerſal genius is a wide and diffuſed ſtream that
waters the country and makes it agreeable; 'tis
true, it cannot receive ſhips of any burthen, therefore
it is of no ſolid advantage, yet is it very amuſing.
Gondolas and painted barges float upon its
ſurface, the country gentleman forms it into ponds,
and it is ſpouted out of the mouths of various ſtatues;
it ſtrays through the fineſt fields, and its
banks nouriſh the moſt blooming flowers. Let
me ſport with this ſtream of ſcience, wind along the
vale, and glide through the trees, foam down the
mountain, and ſparkle in the ſunny ray; but let
me avoid the deep, nor loſe myſelf in the vaſt profound,
and grant that I may never be pent in the
bottom of a dreary cave, or be ſo unfortunate as to
ſtagnate in ſome unwholſome marſh. Limited genius
is a pump-well, very uſeful in all the common
occurrences of life, the water drawn from it is of
ſervice to the maids in waſhing their aprons; it
boils beef, and it ſcours the ſtairs; it is poured
into the tea-kettles of the ladies, and into the
punch-bowls of the gentlemen.
Having thus given you, in the moſt clear and
diſtinct manner, my ſentiments of genius, I proceed
to give you my opinion of the ancient and
modern writers; a ſubject, you muſt confeſs, very
aptly and naturally introduced. I am going to be
very ſerious, you will trace a reſemblance between
me and Sir William Temple, or perhaps David
A modern writer muſt content himſelf with
gleaning a few thoughts here and there, and binding
them together without order or regularity, that
the variety may pleaſe; the ancients have reaped
the full of the harveſt, and killed the nobleſt of the
game: in vain do we beat about the once plenteous
fields, the dews are exhaled, no ſcent remains.
How glorious was the fate of the early
writers! born in the infancy of letters; their taſk
was to reject thoughts more than to ſeek after
them, and to ſelect out of a number, the moſt
ſhining, the moſt ſtriking, and the moſt ſuſceptible
of ornament. The poet ſaw in his walks every
pleaſing object of nature undeſcribed; his heart
danced with the gale, and his ſpirits ſhone with
the invigorating ſun, his works breathed nothing
but rapture and enthuſiaſm. Love then ſpoke with
its genuine voice, the breaſt was melted down with
woe, the whole ſoul was diſſolved into pity with
its tender complaints; free from the conceits and
quibbles which, ſince that time, have rendered the
very name of it ridiculous; real paſſion heaved the
ſigh; real paſſion uttered the moſt prevailing language.
Muſic too reigned in its full force; that
ſoft deluding art, whoſe pathetick ſtrains ſo gently
ſteal into our very ſouls, and involve us in the
ſweeteſt confuſion; or whoſe animating ſtrains fire
us even to madneſs: how has the ſhore of Greece
echoed with the wildeſt ſounds; the delicious warblings
of the Lyre charmed and aſtoniſhed every
ear. The blaze of rhetorick then burſt forth; the
ancients ſought not by falſe thoughts, and glittering
diction, to captivate the ear, but by manly and
energetic modes of expreſſion, to rule the heart and
ſway the paſſions.
There, Boſwell, there are periods for you. Did
not you imagine that you was reading the Rambler
of Mr. Samuel Johnſon; or that Mr. Thomas
Sheridan himſelf was reſounding the praiſes of the
ancients, and his own art? I ſhall now finiſh this
letter without the leaſt blaze of rhetoric, and with
no very manly or energetic mode of expreſſion,
aſſure you, that I am,
Auchinleck, June 1, 1762.
AT length, O Erſkine! Lady B— and the
Turkey-cock are ſung in ſtrains ſublime.
I have finiſhed an ode. Receive it with reverence.
It is one of the greateſt productions of the human
mind. Juſt that ſort of compoſition which we
form an awful and raviſhing conception of, in
thoſe divine moments, when the ſoul (to uſe a
bold metaphor) is in full blow, and ſoaring fancy
reaches its utmoſt heights. Could it but be really
perſonified — it would be like Saul of old, taller
than any of the people, and were it to be guilty
of a capital crime, it could not enjoy one of the
greateſt privileges of a Britiſh ſubject, to be tried
by its Peers.
I am ſure that my ode is great. Mr. James
Bruce the gardener, my faithful counſellor and
very excellent companion, declares it is quite to
his mind. He ſtood by me while I took my portrait
of the cock, from a large one which ſtruts
upon the green. I ſhall be in Edinburgh in a
few days; for which reaſon, I remain your affectionate
ON AN ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE LADY B****,
AND A TURKEY-COCK.
SWELL, ſwell, the mighty ſong,
Let ſtrains exalted rend the trembling air;
The great atchievments of the fair
Deſerve poetic fire!
Such as ſublimely blaz'd around,
When at the elevating ſound
Of lofty Pindar's lyre,
Aſtoniſh'd ſtood th' attentive Grecian throng.
Th' Olympic games of old
Ne'er ſaw ſuch reſolution bold.
The Amazonian train,
Could they recall'd to life, but ſee,
O dame! the valiant deeds of thee,
Would own their proweſs vain;
In vain were they as ſoon as horn,
Doom'd by their mothers fell, to mourn
The female comelineſs of breaſt,
By the knife's cruel edge oppreſt;
When Lady B— can deride,
Their feeble far inferior power,
In horrid conflicts trying hour,
And yet retain her boſom's ſnowy pride.
See the imperious Turkey-Cock,
Of ſize like Ardven's rock!
See him in rage advance,
Like Mariſchal Turénne, the warlike boaſt of
See! how he proudly treads the ground,
Looking with fierce diſdain;
His varied feathers ruffling all around,
While ſcarlet ire his head and neck does ſtain.
His wings extended wide the pavement bruſh,
As on he comes with hideous ruſh;
His cheſt ſends forth a ſounding hum:
As from the hollow womb of unbrac'd drum:
Or, like the twang of ſmoaking cord
Fix'd to the bow of yew,
Which ancient Caledonian Lord,
Or chieftain much renown'd in bloody battle
But lo! with grand majeſtic mein,
Her handſome Ladyſhip is ſeen,
In rich blue ſattin robe array'd,
The colour that can never fade:
Not lovelier could Malvina ſeem,
When in her hunting veſtment cloath'd with grace,
By Lora's ſweetly-murmuring- ſtream,
She wander'd eager for the ſportive chace:
In her ſmooth alabaſter hand
She graſps an oaken wand;
And now approach thou furious vaunting bird!
Thro' all the circling air is loudly heard.
The youthful family in haſte
To all the window's fly;
While Andrew bleſt with genius and with taſte,
Shoots glances wild from either eye.
Juſt ſo, in Rome's Auguſtan age,
(If truth reſides in the hiſtoric page)
At the Circenſian games,
The glittering crowds of knights and peerleſs
The gladiators ſaw
The direful terror-gleaming blade
Againſt Hyrcanian tygers draw,
Nor of the foreſt's ſovereign ought afraid.
Behold the admirable ſight!
See now they cloſe in fight.
A while the boiſt'rous bully tries
With his tremendous ſpurs,
As oft he ſo has ſerv'd the herdſman's curs,
The Lady to annoy:
But ſhe endued with Hector's heart of ſteel,
Warm'd glory's fulleſt power to feel,
With her uplifted rod
To the indignant foaming foe,
Hard as the thunder of mount Ida's god,
Deals a reſiſtleſs blow,
And like a puny ſniveling boy,
The lumpiſh monſter ſnaking ſcreaming flies.
Let ſongs of triumph ring,
And on the weſtern breeze's fluttering wing,
Let the exulting ſhouts be borne
Far as the hills of Lorn!
The ſacred trump of fame,
Whoſe ſound the ſons of men adore,
Shall ever and anon proclaim
To ev'ry diſtant ſhore,
While the great globe does laſt,
My Lady B—'s ſtrength and enterprizes vaſt!
Upon her natal day,
Let amorous Boſwell tune the feſtive lay;
Let him be plac'd beſide her at the board,
Round which the generous ſons of Kelly ſit,
Who with the daughters fair, afford
Senſe, beauty, muſic, wit!
And while he drinks the ſparkling wine,
Brought from the fruitful banks of Rhine,
Apollo bleſs him with ideas bright,
His fancy, O ye muſes! ſweet employ,
That all reſign'd to elegant delight,
His honeſt ſoul may taſte celeſtial joy!
New-Tarbat, June 5, 1762.
THE ſirſt idea of our correſpondence was
not yours; for, many months before you
addreſſed me, I wrote you the following letter
at Fort George, where you may remember our
acquaintance commenced. You'll obſerve that
ſome of the ſtanzas are parodies on Gray's Elegy
in a Church-yard, I uſe the liberty to mark them.
I ſtood too much in awe of you, to ſend it when
it was written, and I am too much at my eaſe
now, to be with-held any longer from preſenting
you with it.
I am, Sir,
With the greateſt reſpect and eſteem,
Your moſt obedient,
and moſt humble ſervant,
To JAMES BOSWELL, Eſq;
Fort-George, May 28, 1761.
AH! what a dreary ſpot of earth is this!
How ſlowly ſad each ling'ring moment flies;
Here fancy never forms a ſcene of bliſs,
But ſunk in ſudden night each proſpect dies!
I've ſeen a pun juſt burſting from the mouth,
Abaſh'd return within the head again;
And oft I've ſeen give place to heavy truth,
The warm lie ſtarting from the fertile brain.
Oft as we ſullen walk the long parade,
We're all immers'd in ſilence moſt profound;
All ſeem involv'd in dulneſs gloomy ſhade,
Save where th' indecent tale goes laughing round.
Are theſe the youths that in Edina's town,
From tavern ſtill to tavern reſtleſs rov'd,
All day employ'd in gulping claret down,
Or toying with the harlot that they lov'd?
'For them no more the tavern-bells ſhall ring,
'Or buſy waiters ply their evening care;
For them no courtezans ſhall ſweetly ſing,
'Or climb their knees the raptur'd kiſs to ſhare!
'Perhaps within this uſeleſs fort reſides
'Some hero blazing wild with martial fire:
'Perhaps each day around theſe ramparts rides,
'He who might make the fear-ſtruck Gaul retire.
'Some glorious Fred'rick that with glowing breaſt
'Would have Germania's mighty force withſtood!
'Some gallant Wolfe may here ſupinely reſt,
'Some Murray guiltleſs ſtill of Indian blood.
'Th' applauſe of ſhouting armies to command,
'The threats of pain and famine to deſpiſe,
'To ſcatter ruin o'er a ſmiling land
'Their lot forbids, in peace our warriors riſe.
'Haply of me ſome martinet may ſay,
'Oft have I ſeen him at the peep of morn,
'Bruſhing from ſoldiers coats the duſt away,
'And ſmiling on the raw recruits in ſcorn.
'Then near the edge of yonder thund'ring beach,
'Whence darts the wild fantaſtic ſpray ſo high,
'His mighty voice at noon-tide would he ſtretch,
'You're worſe than the militia would he cry.
His piercing eye each modern fault explor'd,
Much of the ancient phalanx would he ſpeak,
Of heroes nobly falling by the ſword,
Long tales he told, all borrow'd from the Greek.
'Tis May, the poet's month, yet all around
The ſavage climate wears a face of woe;
No verdure runs along the ſtubborn ground,
The diſtant hills ſtill glitt'ring all with ſnow.
Ah! where is fled the genial balmy breeze
That tepid warms th' enchanting ſummer ſcenes!
For lo! no wanton leaves have green'd the trees;
Still ſwells the winter flood along the glens.
Yet oft the weſt wind wakes the purple morn
With breathing ſoftneſs; — ſoon the ſkies o'ercaſt;
While thro' the air all darken'd and forlorn,
Howls the damn'd fiend that rides the eaſtern blaſt.
Dæmon accurſt, that never knows to blow
The flow'rs which bluſh along the vales of ſpring,
That never knows th' enliv'ning ſolar glow,
Which lures the nations forth, that float on
Away! thy influence damps each riſing thought,
And heavy head-achs on thy ſteps attend;
To ſeek relief from thee theſe lines I've wrote,
Tell me when thy oppreſſive power will end!
How am I chang'd! of late the wanton chuſe,
Was wont to riot in poetic mirth;
While now I yawning ſleep upon the news,
Or give to ſullen elegies a birth.
But hark! methinks the drum for Dinner beats,
To ſtomach keenly-edg'd a welcome ſign;
For none on earth our well-bred table waits,
Brief let me be, or elſe I do not dine.
'Now fades the mighty roaſt upon the ſight,
'Thro' all the room a humdrum ſtillneſs reigns;
'Yet ſome lament the pudding's ſpeedy flight,
'And one that all the ſoup is done complains.
Farewel, my friend, for lo! I ſwiftly run
Where Highland beef invites, and ſauces ſteam.
Ah! much I fear that ev'ry diſh is done!
Yet ſtill methinks I'll get ſome tart and cream.
Auchinleck, June 9, 1762.
AT this delightful ſeaſon of the year, when
every thing is chearful and gay, when the
groves are all rich with leaves, the gardens with
flowers, and the orchards with bloſſoms, one would
think it almoſt impoſſible to be unhappy; yet ſuch
is my hard fate at preſent, that inſtead of reliſhing
the beautiful appearance of nature, inſtead of participating
the univerſal joy, I rather look upon it
with averſion, as it exhibits a ſtrong contraſt to the
cloudy darkneſs of my mind, and ſo gives me a
more diſmal view of my own ſituation. Fancy,
capricious fancy will allow me to ſee nothing but
ſhade. How ſtrange is it to think, that I who
lately abounded in bliſs, ſhould now be the ſlave of
black melancholy! How unaccountable does it appear
to the reaſoning mind, that this change ſhould
be produced without any viſible cauſe. However,
ſince I have been ſeized with the pale caſt of thought,
I know not how, I comfort myſelf, that I ſhall
get free of it as whimſically. You muſt excuſe
this piece of ſerious ſententiouſneſs; for it has relieved
me; and you may look upon it as much the
ſame with coughing before one begins to ſing, or
deliver any thing in public, in order that the voice
may be as clear as poſſible.
The death of your kittens, my dear Erſkine!
affected me very much. I could wiſh that you
would form it into a tragedy, as the ſtory is extremely
pathetic, and could not fail greatly to intereſt
the tender paſſions. If you have any doubts
as to the propriety of their being three in number,
I beg it of you to reflect, that the immortal Shakeſpeare
has introduced three daughters into his tragedy
of King Lear, which has often drawn tears
from the eyes of multitudes. The ſame author
has likewiſe begun his tragedy of Macbeth with
three witches; and Mr. Alexander Donaldſon has
reſolved, that his collection of original poems by
Scotch gentlemen, ſhall conſiſt of three volumes,
and no more.
I don't know, indeed, but your affecting tale
might better ſuit the intention of an opera, eſpecially
when we conſider the muſical genius of the
feline race: were a ſufficient number of theſe animals
put under the tuition of proper maſters, no
body can tell what an aſtoniſhing chorus might be
produced. If this propoſal ſhall be embraced, I
make no doubt of its being the wonder of all Europe,
and I remain,
Yours, as uſual,
New-Tarbat, June 14, 1762.
AND are YOU gloomy! oh James Boſwell!
has your flow of ſpirits evaporated, and left
nothing but the black dregs of melancholy behind?
has the ſmile of chearfulneſs left your countenance?
and is the laugh of gaiety no more? oh
woeful condition! oh wretched friend! but in this
ſituation you are dear to me; for lately my diſpoſition
was exactly ſimilar to yours. No converſation
pleaſed me; no books could fix my attention;
I could write no letters, and I deſpiſed my own
poems. Tell me how you was affected; could
you ſpeak any? could you fix your thoughts upon
any thing but the dreary way you was in? and
would not the ſight of me have made you very miſerable?
I have lately had the epidemical diſtemper;
I don't mean poverty, but that cold which
they call the influenza, and which made its firſt appearance
in London; whether it came to Scotland
in the waggon, or travelled with a companion in
a poſt-chaiſe, is quite uncertain.
Derrick's verſifications are infamouſly bad; what
think you of the Reviewers commending ſuch an
execrable performance? I have a fancy to write
an ironical criticiſm upon it, and praiſe all the
worſt lines, which you ſhall ſend to Derrick, as
the real ſentiments of a gentleman of your acquaintance
on reading his work. For want of ſomething
elſe to entertain you, I begin my criticiſm
immediately. — To verſify poetical proſe has been
found a very difficult taſk. Dr. Young and Mr.
Langhorne, in their paraphraſes upon the Bible,
(which Lord Bolingbroke tells us, is an excellent
book) have ſucceeded but indifferently: I therefore
took up Mr. Samuel Derrick's verſifications
from Fingal, with little expectation of being entertained;
but let no man judge of a book till at
leaſt he reads the title page; for lo! Mr. Samuel
Derrick has adorned his with a very apt and uncommon
quotation, from a good old poet called
Virgil. I am much pleaſed with the candour, ſo
conſpicuous in the ſhort advertiſement to the public,
in which Mr. Derrick ſeems very willing to
run ſnacks in reputation with Mr. MacPherſon,
which will greatly rejoice that gentleman, who
can't juſtly boaſt of ſo extenſive a fame as Mr. Samuel
Derrick. The dedication is very elegant,
though, I am apt to think, the author has neither
praiſed Lord Pomfret nor himſelf enough; two
worthy people, who, in my opinion, deſerve it.
But at laſt, we come to the poems themſelves; and
here I might indulge myſelf in warm and indiſcriminate
applauſe; but let it be my ambition to
trace Mr. Derrick ſtep by ſtep through his wonderful
work; let me pry both into the kitchen and dining-room
of his genius, to uſe the compariſon of
the great Mr. Boyle. The firſt lines, or the exordium
of the battle of Lora, are calmly ſublime,
and refined with ſimplicity. In the eighth line, our
author gives the epithet of poſting to the wind,
which is very beautiful: however, to make it natural,
it ought to be applied, in poetical juſtice, to
that wind which wafts a packet-boat. I had almoſt
forgot, the ſixth line ſays, the voice of ſongs, a
tuneful voice I hear. Now, I ſhould be glad to
know, whether theſe ſame ſongs be a man or a
woman. Lines 23 and 34.
In ſecret round they glanc'd their kindled eyes,
Their indignation ſpoke in burſting ſighs.
It ſeems to me improbable, that a pair of kindled
eyes could glance in ſecret; and I cannot
think that ſighs are the language of indignation.
Lines 57, 58, 59.
So on the ſettled ſea blue miſts ariſe,
In vapory volumes darkening to the ſkies,
They glitter in the ſun.
Theſe miſts that glitter, and are dark at the ſame
time, are very extraordinary, and the contraſt is lovely
and new. Line 67th begins — His poſt is terror.
— This is a poſt, that, I believe, none of our members
of parliament would accept. Lines 175, 176,
An hundred ſteeds he gives that own the rein,
Never a ſwifter race devour'd the plain.
Devoured the plain! if this is not ſublime, then
am I no critic; however, its lucky for the landed
intereſt, that the breed of thoſe horſes is loſt; they
might do very well, I confeſs, in the Highlands of
Scotland; but a dozen of them turned looſe near
Saliſbury, would be inconceiveably hurtful. I'm tired
of this ſtuff; if you think it worth the while you
may end it, and ſend it to Derrick; but let your
part be better than mine, or it won't do. Grief,
for thy loſs, drank all my vitals dry — I laughed
heartily at that line.
In this letter I have beſtowed my dulneſs freely
upon you; you have had my wit, and you muſt take
my ſtupidity into the bargain; as when we go to
the market, we purchaſe bones as well as beef; and
when we marry an heireſs, we are obliged to take
the woman as well as the money; and when we
buy Donaldſon's collection, we pay as dear for the
poems of Mr. Lauchlan MacPherſon, as we do
for thoſe written by the incomparable Captain
You are in Edinburgh, I imagine, by this time,
if the information of Mr. Alexander Donaldſon
may be depended upon. I ſhall be in town one
night ſoon on my way to Kelly, for the H—s
of D— threaten an invaſion upon this peaceful
Edinburgh, June 19, 1762.
YOU have upon many occaſions made rather
too free with my perſon, upon which I have
often told you that I principally value myſelf. I
feel a ſtrong inclination to retaliate. I have great
opportunity, and I will not reſiſt it. Your figure,
Erſkine, is amazingly uncouth. The length of your
body bears no manner of proportion to its breadth,
and far leſs does its breadth bear to its length. If
we conſider you one way, you are the talleſt, and
if we conſider you another way, you are the thickeſt
man alive. The crookedneſs of your back is terrible;
but it is nothing in compariſon of the frightful
diſtortions of your countenance. What monſters
have you been the cauſe of bringing into the
world! not only the wives of ſerjeants and corporals
of the 71ſt regiment, but the unhappy women
in every town where you was quartered, by looking
at you, have conceived in horror. Natural defects
ſhould be ſpared; but I muſt not omit the
large holes in your ears, and the deep marks of the
iron on your hands. I hope you will allow theſe
to be artificial. Nature nails no man's ears to the
pillory. Nature burns no man in the hand. As I
have a very ſincere friendſhip for you, I cannot
help giving you my beſt advice with regard to your
future ſchemes of life. I would beſeech you to lay
aſide all your chimerical projects, which have made
you ſo abſurd. You know very well, when you
went upon the ſtage at Kingſton in Jamaica, how
ſhamefully you expoſed yourſelf, and what diſgrace
and vexation you brought upon all your friends.
You muſt remember what ſort of treatment you
met with, when you went and offered yourſelf to
be one of the fathers of the inquiſition at Macerata,
in the room of Mr. Archibald Bower; a project
which could enter into the head of no man who
was not utterly deſtitute of common ſenſe.
You tell me, that your intention at preſent is,
to take orders in the church of England; and you
hope I will approve of your plan: but I muſt tell
you honeſtly, that this is a moſt ridiculous hairbrained
conceit. Before you can be qualified for
the ſmalleſt living, you muſt ſtudy nine years at
Oxford; you muſt eat at a moderate computation,
threeſcore of fat beeves, and upwards of two hundred
ſheep; you muſt conſume a thouſand ſtone of
bread, and ſwallow ninety hogſheads of porter.
You flatter yourſelf with being highly promoted,
becauſe you are an Earl's brother, and a man of
genius. But, my dear friend, I beg it of you to
conſider, how little theſe advantages have already
availed you. The army was as good a ſcene for
you to riſe in as the church can be; and yet you
are only a lieutenant in a very young regiment.
I ſeriouſly think, that your moſt rational ſcheme
ſhould be, to turn inn-keeper upon ſome of the
great roads: you might have an elegant ſign painted
of Apollo and the Muſes, and entertainment
for men and horſes, by THE HONOURABLE ANDREW
ERSKINE, would be ſomething very unuſual,
and could not fail to bring numbers of people
to your houſe. You would by this means have a
life of moſt pleaſing indolence, and would never
want a variety of company, as you would conſtantly
dine and ſup with your gueſts. Men of faſhion
would be glad to receive you as their equal;
and men of no faſhion would be proud to ſit at table
with one who had any pretenſions to nobility. I
hope the honeſt concern which I ſhew for your
real welfare, will convince you how much I am,
My dear Sir,
Your moſt affectionate friend,
Kelly, July 5, 1762.
VANITY has, in all former ages, been reckoned
the characteriſtic of poets; in our
time, I think they are more particularly diſtinguiſhed
by modeſty: I have carefully peruſed their
works, and I have never once found them throwing
out either thought, ſentiment, or reflection of
their own; convincing proof of their humility:
they ſeem all to allow that the ancients, and ſome
few of the earlier moderns, were much better writers
than themſelves; therefore they beg, borrow,
and ſteal from them, without the ſmalleſt mercy
or heſitation. In ſome things, however, they are
quite original; their margins and prices are larger
than any ever known before; and they advertiſe
their pieces much oftener in the news-papers than
any of their predeceſſors. You compliment me
highly on my elegies, and tell me that I have even
dared to be original now and then; and you aſk me
very ſeriouſly, how I come to be ſo well acquainted
with the tender paſſion of love. — Ah, Sir, how deceitful
are appearances! under a forbidding aſpect
and uncouth form, I conceal the ſoul of an Oroondates,
a ſoul that thrills with the moſt ſenſible emotions
at the ſight of beauty. Love eaſily finds acceſs
where the mind is naturally inclined to melancholy;
we foſter the pleaſing deluſion, it grows up
with our frame, and becomes a part of our being;
long have I laboured under the influence of that
paſſion; long vented my grief in unavailing ſighs.
Beſides, your thin meagre man is always the moſt
violent lover: a thouſand deluſions enter his paperſcull,
which the man of guts never dreams of. In
vain does Cupid ſhoot his arrows at the plump exiſtence,
who is intrenched in a ſolid wall of fat:
they are buried like ſhrimps in melted butter; as
eggs are preſerved by mutton-tallow, from rottenneſs
and putrefaction, ſo he, by his greaſe, is preſerved
from love. Pleaſed with his pipe, he ſits
and ſmoaks in his elbow-chair; totally unknown
to him is the ardent paſſion that actuates the ſentimental
ſoul: alas! unhappy man! he never indulged
in the pleaſing reverie which inſpires the
ſpindle-ſhanked lover, as he ſtrays through nodding
foreſt by gliding ſtream; if he marries, he chuſes
a companion fat as himſelf; they lie together, and
moſt muſical is their ſnore; they melt like two
pounds of butter in one plate in a ſun-ſhiny-day.
Pray, Boſwell, remember me kindly to honeſt
Johnſton. Let me know if his trees are growing
well, at his paternal eſtate of Grange; if he is as
fond of Melvil's memoirs as he uſed to be; and if
he continues to ſtretch himſelf in the ſun upon the
mountains near Edinburgh.
I ever am,
Yours moſt affectionatly,
Kelly, July 6, 1761.
NOTHING happened during my journey;
I arrived in Aberdeen on Thurſday laſt; the
town is really neater, cleaner, and better than you
would imagine; but the country around is diſmal;
long gloomy moors, and the extended ocean, are the
only proſpects that preſent themſelves; the whole
region ſeems as if made in direct oppoſition to deſcriptive
poetry. You meet here with none of the
lengthened meads, ſunny vales, and daſhing ſtreams,
that brighten in the raptured poet's eye; however,
as I believe you have been here, I ſhall trouble
you with no farther deſcriptions.
Never was parting more tender than that of mine
with George Robertſon the poſtilion, and the Kelly
chaiſe at Dundee water-ſide; we formed as dolorous
a trio as then exiſted upon the face of this
valley of tears. Oh George! O Erſkine! were
the cries that echoed acroſs the waves, and along
Tears trickled down the rugged boatman's face,
An unpaid freight he thought no harder caſe;
The ſeals no longer ſported in the ſea,
While ev'ry bell rung mournful in Dundee,
Huge ploughmen wept, and ſtranger ſtill, 'tis ſaid,
So ſtrong is ſympathy, that aſſes bray'd.
Farewel lovely George, I roared out, and oh! if
you ſhould happen to be dry, for ſuch is the nature
of ſorrow; take this ſhilling, and ſpend it in
the ſugared ale, or the wind-expelling dram: with
ſweet reluctance he put forth his milk-white hand,
cold with clammy ſweat, and with a faultering
voice, feebly thanked me. Oh! I ſhall never forget
my emotions when he drove from me, and the
chaiſe leſſened in my view; now it whirled ſublime
along the mountains edge; now, I ſcarcely ſaw the
head of George nodding in the vale. Thus, on
the ſummit of a craggy cliff, which high overlooks
the reſounding waves, Jean, Suſan, or Nell,
ſees in a boat her lovely ſailor, who has been torn
from her arms by a cruel preſs-gang; now it
climbs the higheſt ſeas; now it is buried between
two billows, and vaniſhes from her ſight. Weep
not, ſweet maid, he ſhall return loaded with honours;
a gold watch ſhall grace each fob, a pair
of ſilver buckles ſhall ſhine reſplendent upon his
ſhoes, and a ſilk handkerchief ſhall be tied around
his neck, which ſoon ſhall cover thy ſnowy boſom.
When the chaiſe was totally loſt, and my breaſt
was diſtracted with a thouſand different paſſions;
all of a ſudden I broke out into the following ſoliloquy.
— Surely, ſurely mortal man is a chaiſe; now
trailing through the heavy ſand of indolence, anon
jolted to death upon the rough road of diſcontent;
and ſhortly after ſunk in the deep rut of low ſpirits;
now galloping on the poſt-road of expectation,
and immediately after, trotting on the ſtony
one of diſappointment; but the days of our driving
ſoon ceaſe, our ſhafts break, our leather rots, and
we tumble into a hole.
Kelly, July 7, I762.
I IMAGINED, that by ceaſing to write to you
for ſome time, I ſhould be able to lay up a
ſtock of materials, enough to aſtoniſh you, and
that, like a river damm'd up, when let looſe, I
ſhould flow on with unuſual rapidity; or like a
man, who has not beat his wife for a fortnight, I
ſhould cudgel you with my wit for hours together;
but I find the contrary of all this is the caſe;
I reſemble a perſon long abſent from his native
country, of which he has formed a thouſand endearing
ideas, and to which he at laſt returns; but
alas! he beholds with ſorrowful eyes, every thing
changed for the worſe; the town where he was
born, which uſed to have two ſnows and three
ſloops trading to all parts of the known world, is
not now maſter of two fiſhing-boats; the ſteeple
of the church, where he uſed to ſleep in his youth,
is rent with lightning; and the girl on whom he
had placed his early affections, has had three baſtard
children, and is juſt going to be delivered of
a fourth; or I reſemble a man who has had a fine
waiſtcoat lying long in the very bottom of a cheſt,
which he is determined ſhall be put on at the
hunter's ball; but woes me, the lace is tarniſhed,
and the moths have devoured it in a melancholy
manner; theſe few ſimilies may ſerve to ſhew,
that this letter has little chance of being a good
one; yet they don't make the affair certain. Prince
Ferdinand beat the French at Minden; Sheridan,
in his lectures, ſometimes ſpoke ſenſe; and John
Home wrote one good play. I have read Lord
Kames's Elements, and agree very heartily with
the opinion of the Critical Reviewers; however,
I could often have wiſhed, that his Lordſhip had
been leſs obſcure, or that I had had more penetration;
he praiſes the Mourning Bride exceſſively,
which, nevertheleſs, I can't help thinking
a very indifferent play; the plot wild and improbable,
and the language infinitely too high and
ſwelling. It is curious to ſee the opinions of the
Reviewers concerning you and me; they take you
for a poor diſtreſſed gentleman, writing for bread,
and me for a very impudent Iriſhman; whereas
you are heir to a thouſand a year, and I am one
of the moſt baſhful Scotſmen that ever appeared:
I confeſs, indeed, my baſhfulneſs does not appear
in my works, for them I print in the moſt impudent
manner; being exceeded in that reſpect by
no body but James Boſwell, Eſq;
Kames, October 19, 1762.
IN my own name, and in the name of Lord
Kames, I deſire to ſee you here immediately:
I have been reading the Elements of Criticiſm.
You and the Reviewers have pronounced enough
of ſerious panegyric on that book. In my opinion,
it has the good properties of all the four Elements.
It has the ſolidity of earth, the pureneſs of air, the
glow of fire, and the clearneſs of water. The language
is excellent, and ſometimes riſes to ſo noble
a pitch, that I exclaim in imitation of Zanga in
I like this roaring of the Elements:
If this does not bring you, nothing will; and
ſo Sir, I continue,
Yours as uſual,
Kelly. October 28, 1762.
HOW ſhall I begin? what ſpecies of apology
ſhall I make? the truth is, I really
couId not write, my ſpirits have been depreſſed ſo
unaccountably. I have had whole mountains of
lead preſſing me down: you would have thought
that five Dutchmen had been riding on my back,
ever ſince I ſaw you; or that I had been covered
with ten thouſand folios of controverſial divinity;
you would have imagined that I was cramm'd in
the moſt denſe part of a plumb-pudding, or ſteeped
in a hogſhead of thick Engliſh port. Heavens!
is it poſſible, that a man of ſome fame for joking,
poſſeſſed of no unlaughable talent in punning, and
endued with no contemptible degree of livelineſs
in letter-writing, ſhould all of a ſudden have become
more impenetrably ſtupid than a Hottentot
legiſlator, or a moderator of the general aſſembly
of the kirk of Scotland. By that ſmile which enlivens
your black countenance, like a farthing
candle in a dark cellar, I perceive I am pardoned;
indeed I expected no leſs; for, I believe, if a ſword
was to run you through the body, or a rope was
to hang you, you would forget and forgive: you
are at Kames juſt now, very happy, I ſuppoſe;
your letter ſeems to come from a man in excellent
ſpirits; I am very unequal at preſent to the taſk of
writing an anſwer to it, but I was reſolved to delay
no longer, leſt you ſhould think I neglected
you wilfully; a thought, I'm ſure, you never ſhall
have occaſion to entertain of me, though the miſt
of dulneſs ſhould for ever obſcure and envelope my
fancy and imagination. I cannot think of coming
to Kames, yet I am ſufficiently thankful for the invitation;
my lowneſs would have a very bad effect
in a chearful ſociety; it would be like a dead march
in the midſt of a hornpipe, or a mournful elegy in
a collection of epigrams.
Farewell. Yours, &c.
Parliament-Cloſe, Nov. 10, 1762.
ALL I have now to ſay, is to inform you,
that I ſhall ſet out for London on Monday
next, and to beg that you may not leave Edinburgh
before that time.
My letters have often been carried to you over
riſing mountains and rolling ſeas. This puſues a
a ſimpler tract, and under the tuition of a cadie,
is tranſmitted from the Parliament-Cloſe to the
Cannongate. Thus it is with human affairs; all is
fluctuating, all is changing. Believe me,
London, Nov. 20, 1762.
WHAT ſort of a letter ſhall I now write to
you? Shall I cram it from top to bottom
with tables of compound intereſt? with anecdotes
of Queen Anne's wars? with excerpts from Robertſon's
hiſtory? or with long ſtories translated
from Olaus Wormius?
To paſs four and twenty hours agreeably was ſtill
my favourite plan. I think at preſent, that the
mere contemplation of this amazing buſtle of exiſtence,
is enough to make my four and twenty go
merrily round. I went laſt night to Covent-Garden;
and ſaw Woodward play Captain Bobadil: he
is a very lively performer; but a little extravagant:
I was too late for getting into Drury-Lane, where
Garrick played King Lear. That inimitable actor
is in as full glory as ever; like genuine wine, he
improves by age, and poſſeſſes the ſteady and continued
admiration even of the inconſtant Engliſh.
I don't know what to ſay to you about myſelf:
if I can get into the guards, it will pleaſe me much;
if not, I can't help it. Perhaps you may hear
of my turning Templar, and perhaps ranger of
ſome of his Majeſty's parks. It is not impoſſible
but I may catch a little true poetic inſpiration,
and have my works ſplendidly printed at Strawberry-hill,
under the benign influence of the Honourable
Horace Walpole. You and I Erſkine
are, to be ſure, ſomewhat vain. We have ſome
reaſon too. The Reviewers gave great applauſe to
your Odes to Indolence and impudence; and they
called my poems 'agreeable light pieces,' which
was the very character I wiſhed for. Had they ſaid
leſs, I ſhould not have been ſatisfied; and had
they ſaid more, I ſhould have thought it a burleſque.
What a fine animated proſpect of life now ſpreads
before me! Be aſſured, that my genius will be
highly improved, and pleaſe yourſelf with the hopes
of receiving letters ſtill more entertaining. I ever
Your affectionate friend,
Cite this Document
Letters Between the Honourable Andrew Erskine and James Boswell, Esq. 2023. In The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved March 2023, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=51.
"Letters Between the Honourable Andrew Erskine and James Boswell, Esq." The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2023. Web. March 2023. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=51.
The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing, s.v., "Letters Between the Honourable Andrew Erskine and James Boswell, Esq," accessed March 2023, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=51.
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Letters Between the Honourable Andrew Erskine and James Boswell, Esq
|Title||Letters Between the Honourable Andrew Erskine and James Boswell, Esq|
|Year of publication||1763|
Author information: Boswell, Mr James
|Year of birth||1740|
|Place of birth||Edinburgh, Scotland|
|Occupation||Lawyer, diarist, author|
|Locations where resident||Edinburgh, London|
Author information: Erskine, Mr Andrew
|Year of birth||1740|
|Place of birth||Carnbee, Fife, Scotland|
|Locations where resident||Arrochar, Edinburgh|