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SOCIETY OF PROCURATORS.
of Lord Bute upon the king's birthday; we dined and drank his majesty's health at an inn in the village of Luton.
In the evening, I put him in mind of his promise to favour me with a copy of his celebrated Letter to the Earl of Chesterfield, and he was at last pleased to comply with this earnest request, by dictating it to me from his memory; for he believed that he himself had no copy. There was an animated glow in his countenance while he thus recalled his high-minded indignation.
He laughed heartily at a ludicrous action in the court of sessions, in which I was counsel. The society of procurators, or attornies, entitled to practice in the inferior courts of Edinburgh, bad obtained a royal charter, in which they had taken care to have their ancient designation of Procurators changed into that of Solicitors, from a notion, as they supposed, that it was more genteel ; and this new title they displayed by a public advertisement for a general meeting at their hall.
It has been said that the Scottish nation is not distinguished for humour ; and, indeed, what happened on this occasion may, in some degree, justify the remark; for, although this society had contrived to make themselves a very prominent object for the ridicule of such as might stoop to it, the only joke to which it gave rise was the following paragraph, sent to the newspaper called “The Caledonian Mercury.”
“A correspondent informs us, the Worshipful Society of Chaldeans, Cadies, or Running-Stationers of this city are resolved, in imitation, and encouraged by the singular success of their brethren, of an equally respectable Society, to apply for a Charter of their Privileges, particularly of the sole privilege of PROCURING, in the most extensive sense of the word, exclusive of chairmen, porters, penny-post men, and other inferior ranks; their brethren, the R-Y-L S-L---Rs, alias P-CRS, before the INFERIOR Courts of this city, always excepted.
“Should the Worshipful Society be successful, they are further resolved 1100 to be puffed up thereby, but to demean themselves with more equanimity and decency than their r-y-l, learned, and very modest brethren above mentioned have done, upon their late dignification and exaltation.”
A majority of the members of the society prosecuted Mr. Robertson, the publisher of the paper, for damages ; and the first judg.
ment of the whole court very wisely dismissed the action : Solventur risu tabulæ, tu missus abibis. But a new trial or review was granted upon a petition, according to the forms in Scotland. This petition I was engaged to answer, and Dr. Johnson, with great alacrity, furnished me this evening with what follows :
"All injury is either of the person, the fortune, or the fame. Now it is a certain thing, it is proverbially known, that a jest breaks no bones. They never have gained half-a-crown less in the whole profession since this mischievous paragraph has appeared; and, as to their reputation, what is their reputation but an instrument of getting money? If, therefore, they have lost no money, the question upon reputation may be answered by a very old position-De minimis non curat prætor.
“Whether there was, or was not, an animus injuriandi is not worth inqnir. ing, if no injuria can be proved. But the truth is, there was no animus injuriandi. It was only an animus irritandi,' which, happening to be exercised upon a genus irritabile, produced unexpected violence of resentment. Their irritability arose only from an opinion of their own importance, and their delight in their new exaltation. What might have been borne by a procurator, could not be borne by a solicitor. Your lordships well know that honores mutant mores. Titles and dignities play strongly on the fancy. As a madman is apt to think himself grown suddenly great, so he that grows suddenly great is apt to borrow a little from the madman. To co-operate with their resentment would be to promote their frenzy ; nor is it possible to guess to what they might proceed, if to the new title of Solicitor should be added the elation of victory and triumph.
“We consider your lordships as the protectors of our rights, and the guardians of our virtues; but believe it not included in your high office, that you should flatter our vices, or solace our vanity; and, as vanity only dictates this prosecution, it is humbly hoped your lordships will dismiss it.
“If every attempt, however light or ludicrous, to lessen another's reputation, is to be punished by a judicial sentence, what panishment can be sufficiently severe for him who attempts to diminish the reputation of the supreme court of Justice, by reclaiming upon a cause already determined, without any change in the state of the question? Does it not imply hopes that the judges will change their opinion ? Is it not uncertainty and inconstancy in the highest degree disreputable to a court? Does it not suppose, that the former judgment was temerarious or negligent? Does it not lessen the confidence of the public? Will it not be said, that jus est aut incognitum aut vagum ? and will not the consequence be drawn, misera est servitus ? Will not the rules of
: Mr. Robertson altered this word to jocandi, he having found in Blackstone that to irri. tate is actionable.
action be obscure? Will not he who knows himself wronged to-day, hope that the courts of justice will think him right to-morrow ? Surely, my lords, these are attempts of dangerous tendency, which the Solicitors, as men versed in the law, should have foreseen and avoided. It was natural for an ignorant printer to appeal from the lord ordinary; but from lawyers, the descendants of lawyers, who have practised for three hundred years, and have now raised themselves to a higher denomination, it might be expected, that they should know the reverence due to a judicial determination; and, having been once dismissed, should sit down in silence.”
I am ashamed to mention, that the court, by a plurality of voices, without having a single additional circumstance before them, reversed their own judgment, made a serious matter of this dull and foolish joke, and adjudged Mr. Robertson to pay to the society five pounds (sterling money) and costs of suit. The decision will seem strange to English lawyers.
On Tuesday, June 5, Johnson was to return to London. He was very pleasant at breakfast: I mentioned a friend of mine having resolved never to marry a pretty woman.
Johnson. “Sir, it is a very
foolish resolution to resolve not to marry a pretty woman. Beauty is of itself very estimable. No, Sir, I would prefer a pretty woman, unless there are objections to her. A pretty woman may be foolish ; a pretty woman may be wicked ; a pretty woman may not like me. But there is no such danger in marrying a pretty woman as is apprehended ; she will not be persecuted if she does not invite persecution. A pretty woman, if she has a mind to be wicked, can find a readier way than another; and that is all.”
I accompanied him in Mr. Dilly's chaise to Shefford, where, talking of Lord Bute's never going to Scotland, he said, " As an Englishman, I should wish all the Scotch gentlemen should be educated in England ; Scotland would become a province ; they would spend all their rents in England." This is a subject of much consequence, and much delicacy. The advantage of an English education is unquestionably very great to Scotch gentlemen of talents and ambition ; and regular visits to Scotland, and perhaps other means, might be effectually used to prevent them from being totally estranged from their native country, any more than a Cumberland or Northumberland gentleman, who has been educated in the south of England. I own, indeed, that it is no small misfortune for Scotch
gentlemen, who have neither talents nor ambition, to be educated in England, where they may be perhaps distinguished only by a nickname, lavish their fortune in giving expensive entertainments to those who laugh at them, and saunter abont as mere idle, insignificant hangers-on even upon the foolish great ; when, if they had been judiciously brought up at home, they might have been comfortable and creditable members of society.
At Shefford I had another affectionate parting from my reverend friend, who was taken up by the Bedford coach and carried to the metropolis. I went with Messieurs Dilly to see some friends at Bedford; dined with the officers of the militia of the county, and next day proceeded on my journey.
“Bolt Court, June 16, 1781. “Dear Sir,-How welcome your account of yourself and your invitation to your new house was to me, I need not tell you, who consider our friendship not only as formed by choice, but as matured by time. We have been now long enough acquainted to have many images in common, and therefore to have a source of conversation which neither the learning nor the wit of a new companion can supply.
“My ‘Lives' are now published ; and if you will tell me whither I shall send them, that they may come to you, I will take care that you shall not be without them.
“You will perhaps be glad to hear that Mrs. Thrale is disencumbered of her brewhouse; and that it seemed to the purchaser so far from an evil, that he was content to give for it an hundred and thirty-five thousand pounds. Is the nation ruined ?
“Please to make my respectful compliments to Lady Rothes, and keep me in the memory of all the little dear family, particularly Mrs. Jane. I am, Sir,
Johnson's charity to the poor was uniform and extensive, both from inclination and principle. He not only bestowed liberally out of his own purse, but what is more difficult as well as rare, would beg from others, when he had proper objects in view. This he did judiciously as well as humanely. Mr. Philip Metcalfe tells me, that when he has asked him for some money for persons in distress, and Mr. Metcalfe has offered what Johnson thought too much, he insisted on taking less, saying, “No, no, Sir ; we must not pamper
I am indebted to Mr. Malone, one of Sir Joshua Reynolds's exccutors, for the following note, which was found among
after his death, and which, we may presume, his unaffected modesty prevented bim from communicating to me with the other letters from Dr. Johnson with which he was pleased to furnish me. However slight in itself, as it does honour to that illustrious painter and most amiable
am happy to introduce it.
“June 23, 1781. “DEAR SIR,-It was not before yesterday that I received your splendid benefaction. To a hand so liberal in distributing, I hope nobody will envy the power of acquiring. I am, dear Sir, your, &c.
6. Sam. Johnson."
The following letters were written at this time by Johnson to Miss Reynolds, the latter on receiving from her a copy of her “ Essay on Taste," privately printed, but never published.
TO MISS REYNOLDS.
“ Bolt Court, June 28, 1781. “ DEAREST Madam,—There is in these (pages, or remarks,] such depth of penetration, such nicety of observation, as Locke or Pascal might be proud of. This I desire you to believe is my real opinion. However, it cannot be published in its present state. Many of your notions seem not to be very clear in your own mind; many are not sufficiently developed and expanded for the common reader; it wants everywhere to be made smoother and plainer. You may, by revisal and correction, make it a very elegant and very curicus work. I am, my dearest dear, your, &c.
“July 17, 1781. “Sir,-I am ashamed that you have been forced to call so often for your books, but it has been by no fault on either side. They have never been out of my hands, nor have I ever been at home without seeing you; for to see a man so skilful in the antiquities of my country is an opportunity of improve. ment not willingly to be missed.
“Your notes on Alfred” appear to me very judicious and accurate, but they
I Miss Reynolds, for whom Dr. Johnson had a high regard, died in Westminster, at the age of eighty, Nov. 1, 1807.-M.
2 The will of King Alfred, alluded to in this letter, from the original Saxon, in the library of Mr. Astle, had been printed at the expense of the University of Oxford.