Boswell's Correspondence with the Honourable Andrew Erskine, and His Journal of a Tour to Corsica
by James Boswell
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Transcriber's note:

Inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies of spelling, punctuation, hyphenation, capitalization, and use of diacriticals are preserved as they appear in the original text.







(Reprinted from the Original Editions)


With a Preface, Introduction, and Notes



Author of "Dr. Johnson: His Friends and His Critics."

London: Thos. De La Rue & Co. 1879

Printed by Thomas De La Rue and Co., Bunhill Row, London.











Boswell did not bring out his "Life of Johnson" till he was past his fiftieth year. His "Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides" had appeared more than five years earlier. While it is on these two books that his fame rests, yet to the men of his generation he was chiefly known for his work on Corsica and for his friendship with Paoli. His admiration for Johnson he had certainly proclaimed far and wide. He had long been off, in the words of his father, "wi' the land-louping scoundrel of a Corsican, and had pinned himself to a dominie—an auld dominie who keeped a schule and cau'd it an acaadamy." Nevertheless it was to Corsica and its heroic chief that he owed the position that he undoubtedly held among men of letters. He was Corsica Boswell and Paoli Boswell long before he became famous as Johnson Boswell.

It has been shown elsewhere[1] what a spirited thing it was in this young Scotchman to make his way into an island, the interior of which no traveller from this country had ever before visited. The Mediterranean still swarmed with Turkish corsairs, while Corsica itself was in a very unsettled condition. It had been computed that, till Paoli took the rule and held it with a firm hand, the state had lost no less than 800 subjects every year by assassination. Boswell, as he tells us in his Journal, had been warned by an officer of rank in the British Navy, who had visited several of the ports, of the risk he ran to his life in going among these "barbarians." Moreover a state of hostility existed between the Corsicans and the Republic of Genoa—which, the year before Boswell's visit, had obtained the assistance of France. The interior of the island was still held by Paoli, but many of the seaport towns were garrisoned by the French and the Genoese. At the time of Boswell's visit war was not being actively carried on, for the French commander had been instructed merely to secure these points, and not to undertake offensive operations against the natives. From the Journal that Boswell gives, we see that when once he had landed he ran no risks; but it is not every young man who, when out on his travels, leaves the safe and beaten round to go into a country that is almost unknown, and to prove to others that there also safety is to be found. With good reason did Johnson write to him—"Come home and expect such welcome as is due to him whom a wise and noble curiosity has led where perhaps no native of this country ever was before." With scarcely less reason did Paoli say, "A man come from Corsica will be like a man come from the Antipodes."

[Footnote 1: "Dr. Johnson: His Friends and His Critics." By George Birkbeck Hill, D.C.L. Smith, Elder & Co.]

How strongly his journey and his narrative touched the hearts of people at home may still be read in Mrs. Barbauld's fine lines on Corsica:—

"Such were the working thoughts which swelled the breast Of generous Boswell; when with nobler aim And views beyond the narrow beaten track By trivial fancy trod, he turned his course From polished Gallia's soft delicious vales, From the grey reliques of imperial Rome, From her long galleries of laureled stone, Her chiseled heroes and her marble gods, Whose dumb majestic pomp yet awes the world, To animated forms of patriot zeal; Warm in the living majesty of virtue; Elate with fearless spirit; firm; resolved; By fortune nor subdued; nor awed by power."[2]

[Footnote 2: "Mrs. Barbauld's Poems," vol. i., p. 2. It is certainly strange that Boswell, so far as I know, nowhere quotes these lines. He was not wont to let the world remain in ignorance of any compliment that had been paid him. I fear that he was rather ashamed at finding himself praised by a writer who was not only a woman, but also was the wife of "a little presbyterian parson who kept an infant boarding school."]

Gray was moved greatly by the account given of Paoli. "He is a man," he wrote, "born two thousand years after his time." Horace Walpole had written to beg him to read the book. "What relates to Paoli," he said, "will amuse you much." What merely amused Walpole "moved" Gray "strangely." It moved others besides him. Subscriptions were raised for the Corsicans, and money and arms were sent to them from this country. Boswell writes to tell his friend Temple—"I have hopes that our Government will interfere. In the meantime, by a private subscription in Scotland, I am sending this week L700 worth of ordnance." Other subscriptions were forwarded which Paoli, as is told in a letter from him published in the "Gentleman's Magazine,"[3] "applied to the support of the families of those patriots who, abhorring a foreign yoke, have abandoned their houses and estates in that part of the country held by the enemy, and have retired to join our army."

[Footnote 3: "Gentleman's Magazine," vol. xxxix., p. 214.]

Boswell's work met with a rapid sale. The copyright he sold to Dilly for one hundred guineas. The publisher must have made no small gain by the bargain, for a third edition was called for within a year. "My book," writes Boswell, "has amazing celebrity: Lord Lyttelton, Mr. Walpole, Mrs. Macaulay, Mr. Garrick have all written me noble letters about it." With his Lordship's letter he was so much delighted that in the third edition he obtained leave to use it to "enrich" his book. Johnson pronounced his Journal in a very high degree curious and delightful. It is surprising that a work which thus delighted Johnson, moved Gray strangely, and amused Horace Walpole, can now be met with only in old libraries and on the shelves of a dealer in second-hand books. I doubt whether a new edition has been published in the last hundred years. It is still more surprising when we remember that it is the work of an author who has written a book "that is likely to be read as long as the English exists, either as a living or as a dead language." The explanation of this, I take it, is to be found in the distinction that Johnson draws between Boswell's Account of Corsica, which forms more than two-thirds of the whole book, and the Journal of his Tour. His history, he said, was like other histories. It was copied from books. His Journal rose out of his own experience and observation. His history was read, and perhaps read with eagerness, because at the time when it appeared there was a strong interest felt in the Corsicans. In despair of maintaining their independence, they had been willing to place themselves and their island entirely under the protection of Great Britain. The offer had been refused, but they still hoped for our assistance. Not a few Englishmen felt with Lord Lyttelton when he wrote—"I wish with you that our Government had shown more respect for Corsican liberty, and I think it disgraces our nation that we do not live in good friendship with a brave people engaged in the noblest of all contests, a contest against tyranny." But in such a contest as this Corsica was before long to play a different part. Scarcely four years after Boswell from some distant hill "had a fine view of Ajaccio and its environs," that town was rendered famous by the birth of Napoleon Buonaparte.

With whatever skill Boswell's history had been compiled it could not have lived. There were not, indeed, the materials out of which a history that should last could have been formed. The whole island boasted of but one printing press and one bookseller's shop. The feuds and wars of the wild islanders might have lived in the songs of the poet, but were little fit for the purposes of the historian. He who attempts to write the history of such a people is almost forced to accept tradition for fact, and to believe in their Arthurs and their Tells. The Corsicans are, indeed, from time to time found in one or other of the great tracks of European history. As Boswell says, their island had belonged to the Phoenicians, the Etruscans, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Goths, and the Saracens. It had been conquered by France, and had been made a gift from that kingdom to the Pope. It had been given by the Pope to the Pisans, and from them had passed to the Republic of Genoa. It had undergone strange and rapid revolutions, but they were those common revolutions that befall a wild race that lives in the midst of powerful neighbours.

Boswell, unsurpassed though he is as a biographer, admirable as he is as a writer of a Journal, yet had little of the stuff out of which an historian is made. His compilation is a creditable performance for a young man who had but lately returned home from his travels. It certainly adds nothing to the reputation of the author of the "Life of Johnson." But while it lies overwhelmed with deserved neglect, it ought not to drag down with it the Journal of his Tour. That portion of the work is lively, is interesting, and is brief. It can be read with pleasure now, as it was read with pleasure when it first appeared. But, besides this, it is interesting to us as the early work of a writer whose mind has been a puzzle to men of letters. Even should we accept Macaulay's judgment on Boswell, and despise him as he despises him, yet it must surely be worth while to examine closely the early writings of an author, who has, "in an important department of literature, immeasurably surpassed such writers as Tacitus, Clarendon, Alfieri, and his own idol Johnson."[4] This Journal is like the youthful sketch of some great artist. It exhibits the merits which, later on, distinguished, in so high a degree the mature writer.

[Footnote 4: "Macaulay's Essays," vol. i., p. 377.]

Together with the "Journal of a Tour to Corsica," I am reprinting a volume of letters that passed between Boswell and his friend The Honourable Andrew Erskine. Lively and amusing though they often are, yet I should not have proposed to republish them did not they throw almost as much light on Boswell's character as the Journal throws light on his powers as a writer. In his account of Corsica, there is a passage in which, while describing the historian Petrus Cyrnaeus, he at the same time describes himself. "The fourth book of Petrus Cyrnaeus," he says, "is entirely taken up with an account of his own wretched vagabond life, full of strange, whimsical anecdotes. He begins it very gravely: 'Quoniam ad hunc locum perventum est, non alienum videtur de Petri qui haec scripsit vita et moribus proponere.' 'Since we are come thus far it will not be amiss to say something of the life and manners of Petrus, who writeth this history.' He gives a very excellent character of himself, and, I dare say, a very faithful one. But so minute is his narration, that he takes care to inform posterity that he was very irregular in his method of walking, and that he preferred sweet wine to hard. In short, he was a man of considerable parts, with a great simplicity and oddity of character."

To the simplicity and oddity of character that Boswell shared with this learned historian, there was certainly added not a little impudence. It was an impudence that was lively and amusing; but none the less was it downright impudence. We are amazed at the audacity with which two young men ventured to publish to the world the correspondence which had passed between them when they were scarcely of age. In fact, the earlier letters were written when Boswell was but twenty. Their justification only increases their offence. "Curiosity," they say, "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 postmarks,—provided he could have done it honestly—he would have read every one of them." There is this, however, that makes us always look with a certain indulgence on Boswell. He never plays the hypocrite. He likes praise, he likes to be talked about, he likes to know great people, and he no more cares to conceal his likings than Sancho Panza cared to conceal his appetite. Three pullets and a couple of geese were but so much scum, which Don Quixote's squire whipped off to stay his stomach till dinner-time. By the time Boswell was six-and-twenty he could boast that he had made the acquaintance of Adam Smith, Robertson, Hume, Johnson, Goldsmith, Wilkes, Garrick, Horace Walpole, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Paoli. He had twice at least received a letter from the Earl of Chatham. But his appetite for knowing great men could never be satisfied. These might stay his stomach for a while, but more would be presently wanted. At the time when he published this volume of Letters he seems to have had some foresight into his future life. "I am thinking," he says, "of the intimacies which I shall form with the learned and ingenious in every science, and of the many amusing literary anecdotes which I shall pick up." When fame did come upon him by his book on Corsica, no one could have relished it more. "I am really the great man now," he writes to his friend Temple. "I have had David Hume in the forenoon, and Mr. Johnson in the afternoon of the same day visiting me. Sir John Pringle, Dr. Franklin, and some more company dined with me to-day; and Mr. Johnson and General Oglethorpe one day, Mr. Garrick alone another, and David Hume and some more literati another, dine with me next week. I give admirable dinners and good claret; and the moment I go abroad again, which will be in a day or two, I set up my chariot. This is enjoying the fruit of my labours, and appearing like the friend of Paoli.... David Hume came on purpose the other day to tell me that the Duke of Bedford was very fond of my book, and had recommended it to the Duchess."

In the preface to the third edition, he says,—"When I first ventured to send my book into the world, I fairly owned an ardent desire for literary fame. I have obtained my desire: and whatever clouds may overcast my days, I can now walk here among the rocks and woods of my ancestors, with an agreeable consciousness that I have done something worthy." It was about this time that, writing to the great Earl of Chatham, he said—"I can labour hard; I feel myself coming forward, and I hope to be useful to my country. Could your Lordship find time to honour me now and then with a letter? I have been told how favourably your Lordship has spoken of me. To correspond with a Paoli and a Chatham, is enough to keep a young man ever ardent in the pursuit of virtuous fame."[5]

[Footnote 5: "Chatham Correspondence," vol. iii., p. 246.]

A few months before his account of Corsica was published, he had fixed upon the date of its publication as the period when he should steadily begin that pursuit of virtuous fame, which now was to be secured by correspondence with a Paoli and a Chatham. "I am always for fixing some period," he wrote, "for my perfection, as far as possible. Let it be when my account of Corsica is published; I shall then have a character which I must support." Unhappily the time for his perfection was again and again put off. Johnson, in speaking of Derrick, said—"Derrick may do very well, as long as he can outrun his character; but the moment his character gets up with him, it is all over." With Boswell, just the opposite was the case. He soon acquired a character—a character which he was bound to support. But he could never get up with it. The friend of Paoli, the friend of Johnson, was, unhappily, given to drink. The gay spirits and lively health of youth supported him for a while; but, even in these early days, he was too often troubled with that depression of spirit which follows on a debauch. But, as time passed on, and the habit grew stronger upon him, his health began to give way, and his cheerfulness of mind to desert him. He lived but four years after the publication of his great work.

In the preface to the second edition of the "Life of Johnson" he shows his delight in his fame. "There are some men, I believe, who have, or think they have, a very small share of vanity. Such may speak of their literary fame in a decorous state of diffidence. But I confess that I am so formed by nature and by habit, that to restrain the effusion of delight on having obtained such fame, to me would be truly painful. Why, then, should I suppress it? Why, 'out of the abundance of the heart,' should I not speak?" This preface bears the date of July 1, 1793. Only ten days earlier he had written to tell Temple how he had been drinking, and had been robbed. "The robbery is only of a few shillings; but the cut on my head and bruises on my arms were sad things, and confined me to bed in pain, and fever, and helplessness, as a child, many days.... This shall be a crisis in my life: I trust I shall henceforth be a sober, regular man. Indeed, my indulgence in wine has, of late years especially, been excessive.... Your suggestion as to my being carried off in a state of intoxication, is awful. I thank you for it, my dear friend. It impressed me much, I assure you." It was too late in life to form resolutions. A year later he was again "resolved anew to be upon his guard." In the May of 1795, he died, after an illness of great suffering. To him might be applied some of the lines which the great poet who lived so near him wrote as his own epitaph:—

"He keenly felt the friendly glow, And softer flame; But thoughtless follies laid him low, And stain'd his name."

Boswell had, indeed, but little of that "prudent, cautious, self-control," which, as Burns tells us, "is wisdom's root." It is a sad thought that at the very same time the two most famous writers that Ayrshire can boast, men whose homes were but a few miles apart, were at the same time drinking themselves to death. Burns outlived Boswell little more than a year.

Boswell was fifty-four years old when he died. Greatly as he relished wine, he relished fame still more. He had worked hard for fame, and he had fairly earned it; but in its full flush his intemperance swept him away. There can be little question that his first triumph in the field of letters, his book on Corsica brought him far greater pleasure than his "Life of Johnson," by which his name will live. Perhaps the happiest day in his life was when, at the Shakespeare Jubilee, he entered the amphitheatre in the dress of a Corsican chief. "On the front of his cap was embroidered, in gold letters, "Viva la Liberta," and on the side of it was a handsome blue feather and cockade, so that it had an elegant as well as a warlike appearance." "So soon as he came into the room," says the account in the "London Magazine," written, no doubt, by himself, "he drew universal attention." The applause that his "Life of Johnson" brought him was, no doubt, far greater, but then, as I have said, his health was breaking, and his fine spirits were impaired. He who would know Boswell at his happiest—when he was, as Hume described him, very good humoured, very agreeable, and very mad, must read his volume of Letters, and the Journals of his Tours to Corsica and the Hebrides.







LONDON: Printed by SAMUEL CHANDLER; For W. FLEXNEY, near Gray's-Inn-Gate, Holborn. MDCCLXIII.


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 postmarks,—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.


[In a Memoir of James Boswell,[6] by the Rev. Charles Rogers, a short account is given of the Hon. Andrew Erskine, Boswell's correspondent. He was the youngest son of Alexander, fifth Earl of Kellie. He served in the army for some years. After his retirement he settled at Edinburgh. "His habits were regular, but he indulged occasionally at cards, and was partial to the game of whist. Having sustained a serious loss at his favourite pastime, he became frantic, and threw himself into the Forth and perished." Burns, writing to his friend Thomson, October, 1793, says—"Your last letter, my dear Thomson, was indeed laden with heavy news. Alas, poor Erskine! The recollection that he was a coadjutor in your publication has, till now, scared me from writing to you, or turning my thoughts on composing for you." "He was," adds Dr. Rogers, "of a tall, portly form, and to the last wore gaiters and a flapped vest." By this last description Dr. Rogers's readers may be pleasantly reminded of an anecdote that is given for the first time, I believe, in his book. "Dr. Johnson used to laugh at a passage in Carte's 'Life of the Duke of Ormond,' where he gravely observed that 'he was always in full dress when he went to Court; too many being in the practice of going thither with double lapells.'" As poor Erskine "wore to the last his gaiters and a flapped vest," no doubt he had them on when he drowned himself.—ED.]

[Footnote 6: "Boswelliana: The Commonplace Book of James Boswell." With a Memoir and Annotations, by the Rev. Charles Rogers, LL.D. London: Printed for the Grampian Club, 1874.]

* * * * *


Auchinleck, Aug. 25, 1761.

Dear ERSKINE,—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-ache, he feels most acute pain while nobody pities 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 choose to be understood literally.

I am

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[7] 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 long.

[Footnote 7: Pronounced "Affleck."—ED.]

You see, Sir, I have quite the best of the argument; and indeed I was determined not to give it up, till you acknowledged yourself vanquished; 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 sable brow! We hear the thunder of the rolling war, And see red vict'ry shouting from her car!

You kindly took me up, an awkward cub, And introduced me to the Soaping-Club;[8] 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 snap?[9] Tell me how I your favours may return; With thankfulness and gratitude I burn. 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.[10]

[Footnote 8: 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.]

[Footnote 9: Barclay and Bainbridge, two members of this Club.]

[Footnote 10: "And Captain Andrew's whiteness, &c." The writers of these Letters, instead of being rivals in wit, were rivals in complexion.]

In reality, I'm under vast obligations to you. It was you who first made me thoroughly sensible (indeed I very readily believed 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,[11] and the gravity of countenance 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 humorous 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.[12] What though 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, hump-backed, 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 nowhere 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,


[Footnote 11: In March, 1762, Boswell published "The Cub at Newmarket: a Tale." (Dodsley).—ED.]

[Footnote 12: George III. was crowned on September 22nd, of this year.—ED.]

* * * * *


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; Accept 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.[13]

[Footnote 13: The rest of Boswell's verses—more than a hundred in number—the reader will thank me for omitting.—ED.]

* * * * *

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 what 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, Oct. 10, 1761.

Dear ERSKINE,—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 paid 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[14] 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.

[Footnote 14: Churchill's "Rosciad" had been published in March of this year.—ED.]

"In manly tides of verse he rolls along."[15]

[Footnote 15:

"In manly tides of sense they roll'd along."

—"The Rosciad."—ED.]

I desire, Erskine, once again, that you may write without delay, otherwise, I shall no longer be

Your affectionate friend,


* * * * *


Kelly, Nov. 1, 1761.

Dear BOSWELL,—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 sort 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[16] 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 Complete 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.

[Footnote 16: Donaldson, an Edinburgh bookseller, was bringing out a collection of Original Poems, by the Rev. Mr. Blacklock, and other Scotch gentlemen. Erskine was the editor.—ED.]

Lady A—— and I set out for New-Tarbat to-morrow. 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 anybody 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 yours sincerely,


There's a genteel conclusion for you. When you come to Edinburgh, I'll settle an unintermitting correspondence with you.

* * * * *


Edinburgh, Nov. 17, 1761.

Dear ERSKINE,—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 demon 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[17] 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 risibility.

[Footnote 17: Matthew Green (1696-1737). Author of "The Spleen."—ED.]

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. Wherever 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, some old, some new. I will not boast of them. But I'll tell you one thing; the volume will be pretty free from typographical errors: I have the honour to correct the proof-sheets. My Cub is now with Dodsley. I fancy he will soon make his appearance in public. I long to see him in his Pall-Mall[18] habit: Though I'm afraid he will look a little awkward. Write to me often. You shall have the best answers I can give you.

I remain, yours,


[Footnote 18: Dodsley's shop was in Pall Mall.—ED.]

* * * * *


New-Tarbat, Nov. 23, 1761.

Dear BOSWELL,—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[19] 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 rhyme

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.

[Footnote 19: The first two volumes of Tristram Shandy were published towards the end of 1759.—ED.]

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, everybody abroad will require a description of New-Tarbat[20] 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,[21] 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 clothes, 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 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 choke himself. But to return. Everything here is in the grand and sublime style. 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 choose to give me. My own metamorphosis is 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;[22] a species of madness, from which good Lord deliver us!

[Footnote 20: New-Tarbat, a wild seat in the western Highlands of Scotland, surrounded with mountains.]

[Footnote 21:

"Far smoking o'er the interminable plain."

—Thomson's "Seasons."—Spring.—ED.]

[Footnote 22: Boswell in a letter to his friend Temple, dated May 1st 1761, had thus described himself. "A young fellow whose happiness was always centred in London, ... who had got his mind filled with the most gay ideas—getting into the Guards, being about Court, enjoying the happiness of the beau monde, and the company of men of genius, &c."—ED.]

I have often wondered, Boswell, that a man of your taste in music, cannot play upon the Jew's 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 Jew's harp does the organ.



SWEET instrument! which fix'd in yellow teeth, 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 battling, Pewter plates on shelves are rattling; But falling down the noise my lady hears, Whose 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.

Dear ERSKINE,—Notwithstanding of your affecting elegy on 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 alleged 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 hundred lines.

Now, my dear Captain, tell me how is it with you, after reading this? With what feeling are you most strongly possessed? But as this depends a good deal upon the time of the day at which you receive my epistle, I shall make no farther inquiry.

Thus, Sir, have I unbosomed the big exultation which possessed 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 piqued, 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, good 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 smoking dish, I care not whether fowl or fish; 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 every guest With lib'ral hand whate'er is best; While you in vain th' insurance must invoke To give security you shall not choke?

* * * * *


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[23] tolbooth, Lest when condemn'd and hung in clanking chains, His body moulder down white-bleached with winter rains!

[Footnote 23: Tolbooth Prison.]

But let not me intermeddle with your province; to parody the ode to midnight, could only be thought of 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 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 touchstone.

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 wish 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 soft 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 have a love for their own works, and also one of those 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, as he is a Printer, to be pressed 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 I have a wash-ball and a stick of pomatum much 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,[24] nothing like it you will observe since the time of Pindar.

[Footnote 24: This Ode is not worth reprinting.—ED.]

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 enormous genius.

Farewell. Yours, &c.,


* * * * *


Edinburgh, Dec. 8, 1761.

Dear ERSKINE,—It is a very strange thing, that I James Boswell, Esq., "who am happily possessed of a facility of manners,"—(to use the very words of Mr. Professor Smith,[25] which upon honour were addressed 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 earnest.

[Footnote 25: Adam Smith. Boswell had attended his classes on Moral Philosophy, when a student in the University of Glasgow.—ED.]

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 Cloudesley Shovel's periwig,[26] had not I generously reported it to you: so that in reality you are obliged to me for it.

[Footnote 26: "Sir Cloudesley Shovel's monument has very often given me great offence: instead of the brave, rough English Admiral, which was the distinguishing character of that plain, gallant man, he is represented on his tomb by the figure of a beau, dressed in a long periwig, and reposing himself upon velvet cushions under a canopy of state."—The "Spectator," No. 26.—ED.]

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.

Although 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 sennight; 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 awkwardly; but it will have its advantages; I shall have a couple of days more of your classical company, and somewhat less to 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,[27] has endeavoured to persuade the world that it was owing to my having a private amour with a Lady of distinction 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 of gallantry.

[Footnote 27: "Avez-vous lu le Testament politique du Marechal de Belle-Isle? C'est un ex-capucin de Rouen, nomme jadis Maubert, fripon, espion, escroc, menteur et ivrogne, ayant tous les talens de moinerie, qui a compose cet impertinent ouvrage."—Voltaire, Nov. 27, 1761.—ED.]

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. I remain 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 instantly.

* * * * *


[Footnote 28: 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 Newspapers. It afterwards appeared that the Ode was written by Mr. Boswell himself.]

New-Tarbat, Dec. 13, 1761.

Dear BOSWELL,—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,[29] 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, like a wine-merchant; what shoes he wears, like a shoe-maker; 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 style.

[Footnote 29: In the "Tale of a Tub."—ED.]

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,[30] 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 chained to Donaldson's shop?

[Footnote 30: "I have observed that a reader seldom peruses a book with pleasure, till he knows whether the writer of it be a black or a fair man, of a mild or choleric disposition, married or a bachelor, with other particulars of the like nature that conduce very much to the right understanding of an author."—"The Spectator," No. 1.—ED.]

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[31] 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 increased 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 every cook's shop in the three kingdoms, engraved on pillars in all market places, and pasted in all rooms in all taverns.

[Footnote 31: He refers to the continuation of this Ode, which I have omitted in the present Edition.—ED.]

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 Holyrood-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 cauliflower, 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 hanged 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 New-Tarbat 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 Graeme's, if you should not come; view my melancholy posture; hark! I rave like Lady Wishfort,[32] 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,[33] which tell him I'll pay him for; I long to see it.

[Footnote 32: In "The Way of the World," by Congreve.—ED.]

[Footnote 33: The first volume of Macpherson's "Fingal" was published this winter.—ED.]

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 ruined 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 greatest 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.[34] 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, it's 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 yours sincerely,


[Footnote 34: "Would you believe, what I know is fact, that Dr. Hill earned fifteen guineas a week by working for wholesale dealers? He was at once employed on six voluminous works of Botany, Husbandry, &c., published weekly."—Horace Walpole, date of Jan. 3, 1761.—ED.]

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.

Dear ERSKINE,—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 2nd 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 respect.

I am yours sincerely,


* * * * *


Edinburgh, Dec. 17, 1761.

Dear ERSKINE,—Had you but hinted a method of conveyance sooner than by the first post, sooner should the Ode to Tragedy have saluted your longing eyes.

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 group 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 myself, 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 humorist, 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 geometry.

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——. I remain, your affectionate Friend,


* * * * *


New-Tarbat, Dec. 16, 1761.

Dear BOSWELL,—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 rhyme, 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 it is 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 style usually write it. I see by the newspapers, 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;[35] 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.

[Footnote 35: "Course of Lectures on Elocution," by Thomas Sheridan, M.A. London, 1762.—ED.]

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.

Dear BOSWELL,—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 leafless 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 withhold 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 ecstasy; 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

Yours sincerely,


* * * * *


Edinburgh, Jan. 11, 1762.

Dear ERSKINE,—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 style 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 and 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 humorous 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 transferred 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,[36] 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 alive."

I remain

Yours sincerely,


[Footnote 36: Dr. John Brown, the author of "An Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times."—ED.]

* * * * *


New-Tarbat, Jan. 20, 1762.

Dear BOSWELL,—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 looked 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 complete his volume; pray don't let him insert any nonsense to fill it up, but try John Home[37] 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.

[Footnote 37: The author of "Douglas."—ED.]

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 is 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 numbed, 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 formed; I am praiseworthy in this particular. Adieu. Yours sincerely,


* * * * *


Edinburgh, Jan. 22, 1762.

Dear ERSKINE,—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 upon the music-bells of the good town of Edinburgh;[38] 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.

[Footnote 38: "All the people of business at Edinburgh, and even the genteel company may be seen standing in crowds every day, from one to two in the afternoon, in the open street.... The company are entertained with a variety of tunes, played upon a set of bells, fixed in a steeple hard by. As these bells are well toned, and the musician, who has a salary from the city for playing upon them with keys, is no bad performer, the entertainment is really agreeable, and very striking to the ears of a stranger."—"Humphry Clinker," vol. ii., p. 223.—ED.]

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 of stupidity.

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[39] and Griffiths, with whose names the slate-blue covers of these awful oracles of criticism are inscribed.

[Footnote 39: Hamilton was the proprietor of "The Critical Review." Its first editor was Smollett. Griffiths was the proprietor of "The Monthly Review." Goldsmith worked for him for some time. Griffiths was fool enough to venture, with the aid of his wife, to correct Goldsmith's compositions.—See Forster's "Life of Goldsmith."—ED.]

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 or modern.

We had a splendid ball at the Abbey of Holyrood-house, on the Queen's birthday, given by Colonel Graeme. I exhibited my existence in a minuet, and as I was dressed 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 patrols 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 fiddlers, 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 only eighteen.

I enclose you the sorrowful lamentation of a stabler called Hutchison, who, on Wednesday last was whipt through 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 although 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 Andrew?

I remain your sincere friend,


* * * * *


Morpeth, Feb. 7th, 1762.

Dear BOSWELL,—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, though 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 style. 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 as this.

* * * * *


Morpeth, Feb. 8, 1762.

Dear BOSWELL,—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-Ballad cleverly.

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 seized me.

Yours, &c.


* * * * *


Edinburgh, Feb. 16, 1762.

Dear ERSKINE,—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 sight 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 anybody so excessively enamoured of London. The effects of this violent passion are deeply impressed 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 enjoy 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 clothes 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-square.

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 Transactions.

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 fiddlers 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-polished key of your portmanteau; by the tag of your shoe; by the tongue of your buckle; by your tailor'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 find favour in your eyes, and then, my Ode to Goodnature shall be inscribed to you, while your Ode to Ingratitude (which, I suppose, is finished) shall be burnt.

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 Castle-hill, 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: everything 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, though it was much of a piece with that you so humorously 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 avowed 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, so tremble.

Dear Boswell, farewell,

Yours most affectionately,


P.S.—I hope you'll write to me soon.

* * * * *


Edinburgh, March 9, 1762.

Dear ERSKINE,—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-dressed 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 her carcase.

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?[40] 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,


[Footnote 40: By Colley Cibber. "Who upon earth has written such perfect comedies (as Moliere)? for the 'Careless Husband' is but one."—Horace Walpole, Aug. 29, 1785.—ED.]

* * * * *


New-Tarbat, April 15, 1762.

Dear BOSWELL,—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 spirits, 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, soothed me prodigiously.

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 me.

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.[41] We all wish to have you here, and we all agree in thinking that there is nothing to hinder you to come.

[Footnote 41: "I am now, as I could wish every man of wisdom and virtue to be, in the regions of calm content and placid meditation."—"The Idler," No. 71.—ED.]

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 newspapers, that Mr. Robert Dodsley had at last published your Cub: Mr. H—— showed 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.

Dear ERSKINE,—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.

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