Why should we walk there? Here's a fine tree, let's get to the top of it.' But upon the whole, he was very much pleased. He said, 'This is one of the places I do not regret having come to see. It is a very stately place, indeed; in the house magnificence is not sacrificed to convenience, nor convenience to magnificence. The library is very splendid: the dignity of the rooms is very great; and the quantity of pictures is beyond expectation, beyond hope.'
It happened without any previous concert, that we visited the seat 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 Session, in which I was Counsel. The Society of Procurators, or Attornies, entitled to practise in the inferiour courts at Edinburgh, had 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 publick 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, that 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 inferiour ranks; their brethren the R--Y--L S--LL--RS, alias P--C--RS, before the INFERIOUR Courts of this City, always excepted.
'Should the Worshipful Society be successful, they are farther resolved not 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 judgement of the whole Court very wisely dismissed the action: Solventur risu tabulae, 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 Praetor.
'Whether there was, or was not, an animus injuriandi, is not worth inquiring, 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 phrenzy; 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 punishment 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 not uncertainty and inconstancy in the highest degree disreputable to a Court? Does it not suppose, that the former judgement was temerarious or negligent? Does it not lessen the confidence of the publick? 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 action be obscure? Will not he who knows himself wrong 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.