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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. I


The Lawnmarket] DR. JOHNSON. 95 years, his house was rented by Dr. Blair ; but amid the gaieties of Pans his mind would seem to have reverted to his Scottish home. ?I am sensible that I am misplaced, and I wish twice or thrice aday for my easychair, and my retreat in James?s Court:? he wrote to his friend Dr. Ferguson; then he added, as Burton tells us, Never think, dear Ferguson, that as long as you are master of your own fireside and your own time, you can be unhappy, or that any other circumstance can add to your enjoyment.? ?Never put a fire in the south room with the red paper,? he wrote to Dr. Blair ; ? it is so warm of itself, that all last winter, which was a very severe one, I lay with a single blanket, and frequently, upon coming in at midnight starving with cold, I have sat down and read for an hour as if I had a stove in the room.? One of his most intimate friends and correspondents while in France was Mrs. Cockburn of Ormiston, authoress of one of the beautiful songs called U The Flowers of the Forest,? who died at Edinburgh, 1794. Some of her letters to Hume are dated in 1764, from Baud?s Close, on .the Castle Hill. About the year 1766, when still in Paris, he began to think of settling there, and gave orders to sell his house in James?s Court, and he was only prevented from doing so by a mere chance. Leaving the letter of instruction to be posted by his Parisian landlord, he set out to pass his Christmas with the Countess de Boufflers ai L?Isle Adam ; but a snow storm had blocked up the roads. He returned to Paris, and finding that his letter had not yet been posted, he changed his mind, and thought that he had better retain his flat in James?s Court, to which he returned in 1766. He soon after left it as Under-Secretary of State to General Conway, but in 1769, on the resignation of that Minister, he returned again to James?s Court, with what was then deemed opulence-AI,ooo per annuni- and became the head of that brilliant circle of literary men who then adorned Edinburgh. ?I am glad to come within sight of you: he wrote to Adam Smith, then busy with ?The Wealth of Nations? in the quietude of his mother?s house, $? and to have a view of Kirkcaldy from mywindows ; but I wish also to be on speaking terms with you.? In another letter he speaks of ??my old house in James?s Court, which is very cheerful and very elegant, but too small to display my great talent for cookery, the science to which I intend to addict the remaining years of my life.? Elsewhere we shall find David Hunie in a more fashionable abode in the new town of Edinburgh, and on his finally quitting James?s Court, his house there was leased by Tames Boswell, whose character is thus summed up by Lord Macaulay :-? Servile and impertinent, shallow and pedantic, a bigot and a sot, bloated with family pride, and eternally blustering about the dignity of a born gentleman, yet stooping to be a talebearer, an eavesdropper, a common butt in the taverns of London ; so curious to know everybody who was talked about that, Tory and High Churchman though he was, he rnanceuvred for an introduction to Tom Paine ; so vain of the most childish distinctions, that when he had been to Court he drove to the office where his book was printing, without changing his clothes, and summoned all the printer?s devils to admire his new rufRes and sword. Such was this man, and such he was content to be.? He was the eldest son of Alexander Boswell, one of the Judges of the Court of Session, a sound scholar, a respectable and useful country gentleman, an able and upright judge, who, on his elevation to the Bench, in compliance with the Scottish custom, assumed the distinctive title of Lord Auchinleck, from his estate in Ayrshire. His mother, Eupham Erskine, a descendant of the line of Alloa, from the House of Mar, was a woman of exemplary piety. To James?s Court, Boswell, in -4ugust, 1773, cohducted Dr. Johnson, from the White Horse Hostel, in ,St. Mary?s Wynd, then one of the principal inns of Edinburgh, where he found him storming at the waiter for having sweetened his lemonade without using the sugar-tongs, , ~Johnson and I,? says Boswell, walked arm-inarm up the High Street to my house in James?s Court, and as we went, he acknowledged that the breadth of the street and the loftiness of the buildings on each side made a noble appearance.? ?My wife had tea ready for him,? he adds, ?? ail we sat chatting till nearly two in the morning.? It would appear that before the time of the visit-which lasted over several days-Boswell had removed into a better and larger mansion, immediately below and on the level of the court, a somewhat extraordinary house in its time, as it consisted of two floors with an internal stair. Mrs. Boswell, who was Margaret Montgomery, a relation of the Earl of Eglmton, a gentlewoman of good breeding and brilliant understanding, was disgusted with the bearing and manners of Johnson, and expressed her opinion of him that he was ?a great brute !? And well might she think so, if Macaulay?s description of him be correct. ?He could fast, but when he did not fast he tore his dinner like a famished wolf, With the veins swelling in his forehead, and the perspiration running down his cheeks; he scarcely ever took wine; but when he drank it, he drank it greedily and in large . .
Volume 1 Page 99
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