I inquired at a bookseller's, but could not get it. Dr. Johnson's veneration for the Hierarchy is well known. There is no wonder then, that he was affected with a strong indignation, while he beheld the ruins of religious magnificence. I happened to ask where John Knox was buried. Dr. Johnson burst out, 'I hope in the high-way. I have been looking at his reformations.' It was a very fine day. Dr. Johnson seemed quite wrapt up in the contemplation of the scenes which were now presented to him. He kept his hat off while he was upon any part of the ground where the cathedral had stood. He said well, that 'Knox had set on a mob, without knowing where it would end; and that differing from a man in doctrine was no reason why you should pull his house about his ears.' As we walked in the cloisters, there was a solemn echo, while he talked loudly of a proper retirement from the world. Mr. Nairne said, he had an inclination to retire. I called Dr. Johnson's attention to this, that I might hear his opinion if it was right. JOHNSON. 'Yes, when he has done his duty to society. In general, as every man is obliged not only to "love GOD, but his neighbour as himself," he must bear his part in active life; yet there are exceptions. Those who are exceedingly scrupulous, (which I do not approve, for I am no friend to scruples,) and find their scrupulosity invincible, so that they are quite in the dark, and know not what they shall do,--or those who cannot resist temptations, and find they make themselves worse by being in the world, without making it better, may retire. I never read of a hermit, but in imagination I kiss his feet; never of a monastery, but I could fall on my knees, and kiss the pavement. But I think putting young people there, who know nothing of life, nothing of retirement, is dangerous and wicked. It is a saying as old as Hesiod,
Erga neon, boulaite meson, enchaite geronton.
That is a very noble line: not that young men should not pray, or old men not give counsel, but that every season of life has its proper duties. I have thought of retiring, and have talked of it to a friend; but I find my vocation is rather to active life.' I said, some young monks might be allowed, to shew that it is not age alone that can retire to pious solitude; but he thought this would only shew that they could not resist temptation.
He wanted to mount the steeples, but it could not be done. There are no good inscriptions here. Bad Roman characters he naturally mistook for half Gothick, half Roman. One of the steeples, which he was told was in danger, he wished not to be taken down; 'for, said he, it may fall on some of the posterity of John Knox; and no great matter!'--Dinner was mentioned. JOHNSON. 'Ay, ay; amidst all these sorrowful scenes, I have no objection to dinner.'
We went and looked at the castle, where Cardinal Beaton was murdered, and then visited Principal Murison at his college, where is a good library-room; but the Principal was abundantly vain of it, for he seriously said to Dr. Johnson, 'you have not such a one in England.'
The professors entertained us with a very good dinner. Present: Murison, Shaw, Cook, Hill, Haddo, Watson, Flint, Brown. I observed, that I wondered to see him eat so well, after viewing so many sorrowful scenes of ruined religious magnificence. 'Why, said he, I am not sorry, after seeing these gentlemen; for they are not sorry.' Murison said, all sorrow was bad, as it was murmuring against the dispensations of Providence. JOHNSON. 'Sir, sorrow is inherent in humanity. As you cannot judge two and two to be either five, or three, but certainly four, so, when comparing a worse present state with a better which is past, you cannot but feel sorrow. It is not cured by reason, but by the incursion of present objects, which wear out the past. You need not murmur, though you are sorry.' MURISON. 'But St. Paul says, "I have learnt, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content."' JOHNSON. 'Sir, that relates to riches and poverty; for we see St. Paul, when he had a thorn in the flesh, prayed earnestly to have it removed; and then he could not be content.' Murison, thus refuted, tried to be smart, and drank to Dr. Johnson, 'Long may you lecture!' Dr. Johnson afterwards, speaking of his not drinking wine, said, 'The Doctor spoke of lecturing (looking to him). I give all these lectures on water.'
He defended requiring subscription in those admitted to universities, thus: 'As all who come into the country must obey the king, so all who come into an university must be of the church.'
And here I must do Dr. Johnson the justice to contradict a very absurd and ill-natured story, as to what passed at St. Andrews. It has been circulated, that, after grace was said in English, in the usual manner, he with the greatest marks of contempt, as if he had held it to be no grace in an university, would not sit down till he had said grace aloud in Latin. This would have been an insult indeed to the gentlemen who were entertaining us.