'Dr Hugh Blair has taken a week to compose a sermon.' JOHNSON. 'Then, sir, that is for want of the habit of composing quickly, which I am insisting one should acquire.' WATSON. 'Blair was not composing all the week, but only such hours as he found himself disposed for composition.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, sir, unless you tell me the time he took, you tell me nothing. If I say I took a week to walk a mile, and have had the gout five days, and been ill otherwise another day, I have taken but one day. I myself have composed about forty sermons. I have begun a sermon after dinner, and sent it off by the post that night. I wrote forty-eight of the printed octavo pages of the life of Savage at a sitting; but then I sat up all night. I have also written six sheets in a day of translation from the French.' BOSWELL. 'We have all observed how one man dresses himself slowly, and another fast.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, sir; it is wonderful how much time some people will consume in dressing; taking up a thing and looking at it, and laying it down, and taking it up again. Every one should get the habit of doing it quickly. I would say to a young divine, "Here is your text; let me see how soon you can make a sermon." Then I'd say, "Let me see how much better you can make it." Thus I should see both his powers and his judgement.'
We all went to Dr Watson's to supper. Miss Sharp, great grandchild of Archbishop Sharp, was there; as was Mr Craig, the ingenious architect of the new town of Edinburgh, and nephew of Thomson, to whom Dr Johnson has since done so much justice, in his Lives of the Poets.
We talked of memory, and its various modes. JOHNSON. 'Memory will play strange tricks. One sometimes loses a single word. I once lost fugaces in the Ode Posthume, Posthume. I mentioned to him, that a worthy gentleman of my acquaintance actually forgot his own name. JOHNSON. 'Sir. that was a morbid oblivion.'
Friday, 2Oth August
Dr Shaw, the professor of divinity, breakfasted with us. I took out my Ogden On Prayer, and read some of it to the company. Dr Johnson praised him. 'Abernethy,' said he, 'allows only of a physical effect of prayer upon the mind, which may be produced many ways, as well as by prayer; for instance, by meditation. Ogden goes farther. In truth, we have the consent of all nations for the efficacy of prayer, whether offered up by individuals, or by assemblies; and Revelation has told us, it will be effectual.' I said, 'Leechman seemed to incline to Abernethy's doctrine.' Dr Watson observed, that Leechman meant to shew, that, even admitting no effect to be produced by prayer, respecting the Deity, it was useful to our own minds. He had given only a part of his system: Dr Johnson thought he should have given the whole.
Dr Johnson enforced the strict observance of Sunday. 'It should be different,' he observed, 'from another day. People may walk, but not throw stones at birds. There may be relaxation, but there should be no levity.'
We went and saw Colonel Nairne's garden and grotto. Here was a fine old plane tree. Unluckily the colonel said, there was but this and another large tree in the county. This assertion was an excellent cue for Dr Johnson, who laughed enormously, calling to me to hear it. He had expatiated to me on the nakedness of that part of Scotland which he had seen. His Journey has been violently abused, for what he has said upon this subject. But let it be considered, that, when Dr Johnson talks of trees, he means trees of good size, such as he was accustomed to see in England; and of these there are certainly very few upon the EASTERN COAST of Scotland. Besides, he said, that he meant to give only a map of the road; and let any traveller observe how many trees, which deserve the name, he can see from the road from Berwick to Aberdeen. Had Dr Johnson said, 'there are NO trees' upon this line, he would have said what is colloquially true; because, by no trees, in common speech, we mean few. When he is particular in counting, he may be attacked. I know not how Colonel Nairne came to say there were but TWO large trees in the county of Fife. I did not perceive that he smiled. There are certainly not a great many; but I could have shewn him more than two at Balmuto, from whence my ancestors came, and which now belongs to a branch of my family.
The grotto was ingeniously constructed. In the front of it were petrified stocks of fir, plane, and some other tree. Dr Johnson said, 'Scotland has no right to boast of this grotto: it is owing to personal merit. I never denied personal merit to many of you.' Professor Shaw said to me, as we walked, 'This is a wonderful man: he is master of every subject he handles.' Dr Watson allowed him a very strong understanding, but wondered at his total inattention to established manners, as he came from London.
I have not preserved, in my Journal, any of the conversation which passed between Dr Johnson and Professor Shaw; but I recollect Dr Johnson said to me afterwards, 'I took much to Shaw.'
We left St Andrews about noon, and some miles from it observing, at Leuchars, a church with an old tower, we stopped to look at it.