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was intended for, he replied, “ Have not I seen your bear?”
As the doctor was one day drinking tea at another gentleman's house, the lady asked him if he did not choose another cup; it seems she had forgot her having before asked him the same question, and on her repeating it he replied, “ Woman, have I not already told you that I had done?” On which the lady answered him in his own gruff manner. During his continuance in her house she always talked to him without ceremony, and it was remarked that she had more influence with him than any other person in Scotland.
I was much pleased with the politeness of the gentleman who related me this story of the doctor, as he appeared anxious to excuse him for his want of due decorum, and thus to palliate a most obvious blemish in the character of one of the most eminent of my countrymen. I could wish the compilers of the biographical departmeut of that truly great and useful work the 'Encyclopedia Britannica' would observe the same politeness and impartiality. And I hope that this hint will also induce them in some subsequent edition, when I am gone to
" That bourne from whence no traveller returns," to do justice to my great and astonishing merits, by way of compensation for having fallen short in speaking of other great men; and should I happen to be out of print by the time the editors of the Biographia Britannica 'arrive at letter L, which seems extremely probable, according to the very deliberate progress of that work, I hope they will not slightly pass me over. If they should, let them take the consequence ; as I here give them fair and timely notice, and they have not to plead as an excuse the want of materials.
I will give you one anecdote more of the great doctor, because it relates to a Scotchman very emi. nent in the literary world. I had it from Mr Samuel, who was one of the party.
Dr Johnson being one afternoon at the house of Mr Samuel's uncle (whose name I have forgot), who lived in one of the streets that leads from the Strand to the Thames, a number of gentlemen being present, they agreed to cross the water and make a little excursion on the other side ; in stepping into the boat one of the company said, “Mr Hume, give me your hand.” As soon as they were seated, our doctor asked Mr Samuel, if that was Hume the Deist. Mr Samuel replied, that it was the great Mr Hume, the deep metaphyeician and famous historian. “Had I known that (said the doctor) I would not have put a foot in the boat with him.” In the evening they had all agreed to sup together at a house near St Clement's church in the Strand, and doctor Johnson coming in after the rest of the company had sometime been met, he walked up to Mr Hume, and taking him by the hand, said, Mr Hume, I am very glad to see you, and seemed well pleased to find him there, and it appeared to Mr Samuel that the doctor had thus chose to atone for his hasty expression before related.
As I do not recollect anything being recorded respecting the doctor's pugilistic abilities, (excepting his knocking down Osborn the bookseller be considered as such,) I shall beg leave to relate another anecdote, which I received from the gentleman who favoured me with the preceding one.
Dr Johnson being at the water side when some ladies had just quitted a boat and were endeavouring to settle the fare with the waterman, this son of the Thames, like too many of his brethren, insisted on much more than his due, accompanying his demand, in the usual style of eloquence, with abusive language, the doctor kindly interfering, furnished the ladies with the opportunity of retreating, and transferred the whole abuse to himself, who finding that argument
had made no impression on the waterman, tried what he could effect by the strength of his arm, and gave the refractory fellow a hearty drubbing, which had the desired effect.
One word more concerning our great lexicographer. It must be allowed by every candid and impartial person, that the extreme contempt and prejudice he entertained towards our friends of North Britain reflected a very strong shade on his character, which his warmest admirers cannot justify.
Were I, as a South Briton, called upon to give my fair and unprejudiced opinion respecting the national character of the natives of Scotland and those of England, and I flatter myself I have had ample opportunities of observing the peculiar traits of both countries, I would say, that if we in England excel them in some virtues, they no less shine in others, and if the North Britons possess some peculiar frailties and prejudices, we of the South are not entirely free from ours ; so that were the virtues and vices of a certain number of each country placed in an hydrostatical balance (it must however be a pretty large one,) I believe it very difficult to prognosticate which of the two would preponderate. It is true, I have met with one very great villain in Scotland, in Mr S. which only tends to prove there are probably scoundrels to be found everywhere, and that, without taking the trouble which Diogenes did, in search of an honest man; and I am much afraid, were I to enquire of some North Britons, they could without any great difficulty point out to me some of my own countrymen as bad.
I detest all national prejudices, as I think it betrays great weakness in the parties who are influenced hy them. Every nation of the habitable globe, nay each particular province of those countries, has certainly some peculiar traits belonging to it which distinguish it from its neighbours. But if we are disposed to view one another with the severity of criti. cism; how easy, nay, how frequently do we discover
superior virtues (as we think) as well as abilities in that particular spot which gave birth to ourselves, and equally divested of that strict impartiality which alone can enable us to judge properly, discover proportionable blemishes in the natives of other countries?
“ But travellers who want the will
Call life a jest, and laugh at care.” In saying thus much, I do not mean to infer that we ought not to be inspired with a laudable ambition to excel, not those of other countries only, but even those with whom we are more intimately connected; but that should be done without drawing invidious comparisons of the merits or demerits of others. In short, let it be the earnest endeavour of each country, and every individual of that country in particular, united under our amiable monarch, to strive which shall have a superior claim to the title of being good men, useful members of society, friends to the whole human race, and peaceable subjects of a government, which tho
not absolutely in a state of perfection, (and can that man be really deemed wise who expects to meet with perfection in any human establishment?) is still happily superior to every other in the known world.
But to return to Edinburgh. The old town, so called, has not much to boast of; but the new town is by far the most complete and elegant I ever saw.
In various towns of England and Scotland, I have indeed seen some good streets, and many good houses ; but in this the whole is uniformly fine; not one house, much less a whole street, that can be termed indif. ferent in the whole town.
And here let me do justice to North British hospitality, and their very polite attention to such Englishmen who happen to travel to the “ land of cakes." I can truly say, that the polite and friendly behaviour of the inhabitants towards Mrs Lackington and myself claims our warmest gratitude and sincerest thanks. This the more civilized part of my countrymen will readily believe; and as to those of another description (happily but a comparatively small number, I trust) are welcome to treat my assertion with that contempt usually attendant on prejudice, which is the result of ignorance.
The subject I now mean to enter into being a delicate one, permit me here to close my letter; thus affording you a short respite, and myself a little time for consideration, on the propriety of submitting my ideas (as you seem determined all those I send you shall be) to public notice.
I am, dear friend, yours.