Johnson Meets MonBoddo
from 'Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Dr Johnson' by James Boswell (1785)

His lordship was dressed in a rustic suit, and wore a little round hat; he told us, we now saw him as Farmer Burnett, and we should have his family dinner, a farmer's dinner. He said,

'I should not have forgiven Mr Boswell, had he not brought you here, Dr Johnson.'

He produced a very long stalk of corn, as a specimen of his crop, and said, 'You see here the lætas segetes': he added, that Virgil seemed to be as enthusiastic a farmer as he, and was certainly a practical one.

Johnson: 'It does not always follow, my lord, that a man who has written a good poem on an art, has practised it. Philip Miller told me, that in Philips's "Cyder", a poem, all the precepts were just, and indeed better than in books written for the purpose of instructing; yet Philips had never made cyder.'

I started the subject of emigration.

Johnson: To a man of mere animal life, you can urge no argument against going to America, but that it will be some time before he will get the earth to produce. But a man of any intellectual enjoyment will not easily go and immerse himself and his posterity for ages in barbarism.'

He and my lord spoke highly of Homer.

Johnson: 'He had all the learning of his age. The shield of Achilles shews a nation in war, a nation in peace; harvest-sport, nay stealing.'
Monboddo: 'Ay, and what we (looking to me) would call a parliament—house scene; a cause pleaded.'
Johnson: 'That is part of the life of a nation in peace. And there are in Homer such characters of heroes, and combinations of qualities of heroes, that the united powers of mankind ever since have not produced any but what are to be found there.'
Monboddo: 'Yet no character is described.'
Johnson:'No; they all develop themselves. Agamemnon is always a gentleman-like character; he has always Ancient Greek for SOMETHING ROYAL That the ancients held so, is plain from this; that Euripides, in his Hecuba, makes him the person to interpose.'
Monboddo: 'The history of manners is the most valuable. I never set a high value on any other history.'
Johnson:'Nor I; and therefore I esteem biography, as giving us what comes near to ourselves, what we can turn to use.'
Boswell:'But in the course of general history, we find manners. In wars, we see the dispositions of people, their degrees of humanity, and other particulars.
Johnson: 'Yes; but then you must take all the facts to get this; and it is but a little you get.'
Monboddo: 'And it is that little which makes history valuable.'

Bravo! thought I; they agree like two brothers.

Monboddo: 'I am sorry, Dr Johnson, you were not longer at Edinburgh, to receive the homage of our men of learning.'
Johnson: 'My lord, I received great respect and great kindness.'
Boswell:'He goes back to Edinburgh after our tour.'

We talked of the decrease of learning in Scotland, and of the 'Muses' Welcome.'

Johnson:'Learning is much decreased in England, in my remembrance.'
Monboddo: 'You, sir, have lived to see its decrease in England, I its extinction in Scotland.'

However, I brought him to confess that the High School of Edinburgh did well.

Johnson: 'Learning has decreased in England, because learning will not do so much for a man as formerly. There are other ways of getting preferment. Few bishops are now made for their learning. To be a bishop, a man must be learned in a learned age, — factious in a factious age; but always of eminence. Warburton is an exception; though his learning alone did not raise him. He was first an antagonist to Pope, and helped Theobald to publish his Shakespeare; but, seeing Pope the rising man, — when Grousaz attacked his "Essay on Man", for some faults which it has, and some which it has not, Warburton defended it in the Review of that time. This brought him acquainted with Pope, and he gained his friendship. Pope introduced him to Allen, Allen married him to his niece: so, by Allen's interest and his own, he was made a bishop. But then his learning was the sine qua non: He knew how to make the most of it; but I do not find by any dishonest means.'
Monboddo: 'He is a great man.'
Johnson: 'Yes; he has great knowledge, — great power of mind. Hardly any man brings greater variety of learning to bear upon his point.'
Monboddo: 'He is one of the greatest lights of your church.'
Johnson: 'Why, we are not so sure of his being very friendly to us. He blazes, if you will, but that is not always the steadiest light. — Lowth is another bishop who has risen by his learning.'

Dr Johnson examined young Arthur, Lord Monboddo's son, in Latin. He answered very well; upon which he said; with complacency, 'Get you gone! When King James comes back, you shall be in the "Muses' Welcome!"' — My Lord and Dr Johnson disputed a little, whether the Savage or the London Shopkeeper had the best existence; his lordship, as usual, preferring the Savage. — My lord was extremely hospitable, and I saw both Dr Johnson and him liking each other better every hour.

Dr Johnson having retired for a short time, his lordship spoke of his conversation as I could have wished. Dr Johnson had said, 'I have done greater feats with my knife than this'; though he had eaten a very hearty dinner. — My lord, who affects or believes he follows an abstemious system, seemed struck with Dr Johnson's manner of living. I had a particular satisfaction in being under the roof of Monboddo, my lord being my father's old friend, and having been always very good to me. We were cordial together. He asked Dr Johnson and me to stay all night. When I said we must be at Aberdeen, he replied,

'Well, I am like the Romans: I shall say to you, "Happy to come; — happy to depart!"'

He thanked Dr 'Johnson for his visit.

Johnson:'I little thought, when I had the honour to meet your lordship in London, that I should see you at Monboddo.'

After dinner, as the ladies were going away, Dr Johnson would stand up. He insisted that politeness was of great consequence in society.

'It is, (said he,) fictitious benevolence. It supplies the place of it amongst those who see each other only in public, or but little. Depend upon it, the want of it never fails to produce something disagreeable to one or other. I have always applied to good breeding, what Addison in his Cato says of honour:
Honour's a sacred tie; the law of Kings;
The noble mind's distinguishing perfection.
That aids and strengthens Virtue where it meets her,
And imitates her actions where she is not.

When he took up his large oak stick, he said, 'My Lord, that's Homerick'; thus pleasantly alluding to his lordship's favourite writer.