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conversation, he immediately began a harangue, and never
stopped till he told you all he knew about it, with the
utmost philosophical ingenuity. He knew nothing of
characters, and yet was ready to draw them on the slight-
est invitation. But when you checked him or doubted, he
retracted with the utmost ease, and contradicted all he had
been saying. His journey abroad with the Duke of Buc-
cleuch cured him in part of those foibles; but still he
appeared very unfit for the intercourse of the world as a
travelling tutor. But the Duke was a character, both in
point of heart and understanding, to surmount all disadvan-
tages, he could learn nothing ill from a philosopher of
the utmost probity and benevolence. If he [Smith] had
been more a man of address and of the world, he might
perhaps have given a ply to the Duke's fine mind, which
was much better when left to its own energy. Charles
Townshend had chosen Smith, not for his fitness for the
purpose, but for his own glory in having sent an eminent
Scottish philosopher to travel with the Duke.

Smith had from the Duke a bond for a life annuity of
300, till an office of equal value was obtained for him in
Britain. When the Duke got him appointed a Commis-
sioner of the Customs in Scotland, he went out to Dalkeith
with the bond in his pocket, and, offering it to the Duke,
told him that he thought himself bound in honor to sur-



MY FRIENDS. 305

render the bond, as his Grace had now got him a place of
500. The Duke answered that Mr. Smith seemed more
careful of his own honor than of his, which he found
wounded by the proposal. Thus acted that good Duke,
who, being entirely void of vanity, did not value himself
on splendid generosities. He had acted in much the same
manner to Dr. Hallam, who had been his tutor at Eton ;
for when Mr. Townshend proposed giving Hallam an an-
nuity of 100 when the Duke was taken from him, " No,"
says he, " it is my desire that Hallam may have as much as
Smith, it being a great mortification to him that he is not to
travel with me."

Though Smith had some little jealousy in his temper, he
had the most unbounded benevolence. His smile of appro-
bation was truly captivating. His affectionate temper was
proved by his dutiful attendance on his mother. One in-
stance I remember which marked his character. John
Home and he, travelling down from London together [in
1776], met David Hume going to Bath for the recovery of
his health. He anxiously wished them both to return with
him ; John agreed, but Smith excused himself on account of
the state of his mother's health, whom he needs must see.
Smith's fine writing is chiefly displayed in his book on
Moral Sentiment, which is the pleasantest and most elo-
quent book on the subject. His Wealth of Nations, from
which he was judged to be an inventive genius of the first
order, is tedious and full of repetition. His separate essays
in the second volume have the air of being occasional pam-
phlets, without much force or determination. On political
subjects his opinions were not very sound.

Dr. Adam Ferguson was a very different kind of man.
He was the son of a Highland clergyman, who was much
respected, and had good connections. He had the pride
and high spirit of his countrymen. He was bred at St.
Andrews University, and had gone early into the world

20



306 ALEXANDER CARLYLE.

for being a favorite of a Duchess Dowager of Athole, and
bred to the Church, she had him appointed chaplain to the
42d regiment, then commanded by Lord John Murray, her
son, when he was not more than twenty-two. The Duchess
had imposed a very difficult task upon him, which was to be
a kind of tutor or guardian to Lord John ; that is to say, to
gain his confidence and keep him in peace with his officers,
which it was difficult to do. This, however, he actually
accomplished, by adding all the decorum belonging to the
clerical character to the manners of a gentleman ; the effect
of which was, that he was highly respected by all the
officers, and adored by his countrymen, the common sol-
diers. He remained chaplain to this regiment, and went
about with them, till 1755, when they went to America, on
which occasion he resigned, as it did not suit his views to
attend them there. He was a year or two with them in
Ireland, and likewise attended them on the expedition to
Brittany under General Sinclair, where his friends David
Hume and Colonel Edmonstone also were. This turned
his mind to the study of war, which appears in his Roman
History, where many of the battles are better described than
by any historian but Polybius, who was an eyewitness to so
many.

He had the manners of a man of the world, and the de-
meanor of -a high-bred gentleman, insomuch that his com-
pany was much sought after ; for though he conversed with
ease, it was with a dignified reserve. If he had any fault
in conversation, it was of a piece with what I have said of
his temper, for the elevation of his mind prompted him to
such sudden transitions and dark allusions that it was not
always easy to follow him, though he was a very good
speaker. He had another talent, unknown to any but his
intimates, which was a boundless vein of humor, which he
indulged when there were none others present, and which
flowed from his pen in every familiar letter he wrote. He



MY FRIENDS. 307

had the faults, however, that belonged to that character, for
he was apt to be jealous of his rivals, and indignant against
assumed superiority. His wife used to say that it was very
fortunate that I was so much in Edinburgh, as I was a great
peacemaker among them. She did not perceive that her
own husband was the most difficult of them all. But as
they were all honorable men in the highest degree, John
Home and I together kept them on very good terms: I
mean by them, Smith and Ferguson and David Hume ; for
Robertson was very good-natured, and soon disarmed the
failing of Ferguson, of whom he was afraid. With respect
to taste, we held David Hume and Adam Smith inferior to
the rest, for they were both prejudiced in favor of the
French tragedies, and did not sufficiently appreciate Shake-
speare and Milton. Their taste was a rational act, rather
than the instantaneous effect of fine feeling. David Hume
said Ferguson had more genius than any of them, as he
had made himself so much master of a difficult science
viz. Natural Philosophy, which he had never studied but
when at college in three months, as to be able to
teach it.

The time came when those who were overawed by Fer-
guson repaid him for his haughtiness ; for when his Roman
History was published, at a period when he had lost his
health, and had not been able to correct it diligently, by a
certain propensity they had, unknown to themselves, ac-
quired, to disparage everything that came from Ferguson,
they did his book more hurt than they could have done by
open criticism. It was provoking to hear those who were
so ready to give loud praises to very shallow and imperfect
English productions to curry favor, as we supposed, with
the booksellers and authors concerned taking every
opportunity to undermine the reputation of Ferguson's
book. " It was not a Roman History," said they (which
it did not say it was). " This delineation of the constitution



308 ALEXANDER CARLYLE.

of the Republic is well sketched ; but for the rest, it is any-
thing but history, and then it is so incorrect that is a perfect
shame." All his other books met with the same treatment^
while, at the same time, there were a few of us who could
not refrain from saying that Ferguson's was the best history
of Rome ; that what he had omitted was fabulous or insig-
nificant, and what he had wrote was more profound in
research into characters, and gave a more just delineation
of them than any book now extant. The same thing we
said of his book on Moral Philosophy, which we held to be
the book that did the most honor of any to the Scotch phi-
losophers, because it gave the most perfect picture of moral
virtues, with all their irresistible attractions. His book on
Civil Society ought only to be considered as a college ex-
ercise, and yet there is in it a turn of thought and a species
of eloquence peculiar to Ferguson. Smith had been weak
enough to accuse him of having borrowed some of his inven-
tions without owning them. This Ferguson denied, but
owned he derived many notions from a French author, and
that Smith had been there before him. David Hume did
not live to see Ferguson's History, otherwise his candid
praise would have prevented all the subtle remarks of the
jealous or resentful.

With respect to Robertson and Blair, their lives and
characters have been fully laid before the public, by
Professor Dugald Stewart in a long life of Robertson,
where, though the picture is rather in disjointed members,
yet there is hardly anything omitted that tends to make a
judicious reader master of the character. Dr. Blair's char-
acter is more obvious in a short but very elegant and true
account of him, drawn up by Dr. Finlayson. John Hill is
writing a more diffuse account of the latter, which may not
be so like. To the character of Robertson I have only to
add here, that, though he was truly a very great master of
conversation, and in general perfectly agreeable, yet he



MY FRIENDS. 309

appeared sometimes so very foiid of talking, even when
showing-off was out of the question, and so much addicted
to the translation of other people's thoughts, that he some-
times appeared tedious to his best friends. Being on one
occasion invited to dine with Patrick Robertson, his brother,
I missed my friend, whom I had met there on all former
occasions ; " I have not invited him to-day," says Peter,
" for I have a very good company, and he '11 let nobody
speak but himself. Once he was staying with me for a
week, and I earned him to dine with our parish club, who
were fully assembled to see and hear Dr. Robertson, but
Dr. Finlay of Drunimore took it in his head to come that
day, where he had not been for a year before, who took the
lead, being then rich and self-sufficient, though a great
babbler, and entirely disappointed the company, and gave
us all the headache. He [Robertson] was very much a
master of conversation, and very desirous to lead it, and to
make dissertations and raise theories that sometimes pro-
voked the laugh against him. One instance of this was
when he had gone a jaunt into England with some of
Henry Duudas's (Lord Melville's) family. He [Dundas]
and Mr. Baron Cockburn and Robert Sinclair were on
horseback, and seeing a gallows on a neighboring hillock,
they rode round to have a nearer view of the felon on the
gallows. When they met in the inn, Robertson immedi-
ately began a dissertation on the character of nations, and
how much the English, like the Romans, were hardened by
their cruel diversions of cock-fighting, bull-baiting, bruising,
&c. : for had they not observed three Englishmen on horse-
back do what no Scotchman or Here Dundas, having

compassion, interrupted him, and said, " What ! did you not
know, Principal, that it was Cockburn and Sinclair and
me ? " This put an end to theories, &c., for that day.
Robertson's translations and paraphrases on other people's
thoughts were so beautiful and so harmless that I never



310 ALEXANDER CARLYLE.

saw anybody lay claim to their own ; but it was not so when
he forgot himself so far as to think he had been present
where he had not been, and done what he had not the least
hand in, one very singular instance of which I remember.
Hugh Bannatine and some clergyman of Haddington Presby
tery came to town in great haste, on their being threatened
with having their goods distrained for payment of the win-
dow tax. One of them called on me as he passed ; but as
I was abroad, he left a note (or told Mrs. C.), to come to
them directly. I rode instantly to town and met them, and
it was agreed on to send immediately to the solicitor, James
Montgomery. A cady was despatched, but he could not be
found, till I at last heard his voice as I passed the door of a
neighboring room. He came to us on being sent for, and
he immediately granted the alarmed brethren a sist. Not a
week after, three or four of the same clergymen, dining at
the Doctor's house, where I was, the business was talked of,
when he said, " Was not I very fortunate in ferreting out
the solicitor at Walker's, when no cady could find him ? "
" No, no," says I, " Principal ; I had that good-luck, and
you were not so much as at the meeting." We had sent to
him, and he could not come. " Well, well," replied he, " I
have heard so much about it that I thought I had been
there." He was the best- tempered man in the world, and
the young gentlemen who had lived for many years in his
house declared they never saw him once ruffled. His table,
which had always been hospitable, even when his income
was small, became full and elegant when his situation was
improved. As he loved a long repast, as he called it, he
was as ready to give it at home as to receive it abroad.
The softness of his temper, and his habits at the head of a
party, led him to seem to promise what he was not able to
perform, which weakness raised up to him some very invet-
erate enemies, while at the same time his true friends saw
that those weaknesses were rather amiable than provoking.



MY FRIENDS. 311

He was not so much beloved by women as by men, which
we laughingly used to say was owing to their rivalship as
talkers, but was much more owing to his having been very
little in company with ladies in his youth. He was early
married, though his wife (a very good one) was not his first
choice, as Stewart in his Life would make us believe.
Though not very complaisant to women, he was not beyond
their regimen any more than Dr. George Wishart, for in-
stances of both their frailties on that side could be quoted.
'T is as well to mention them here. In the year '78, when
Drs. Robertson and Drysdale had with much pains prepared
an assembly to elect young Mr. Robertson into the Procura-
tor's chair, and to get Dr. Drysdale chosen Principal Clerk
to the Assembly, as colleague and successor to Dr. George
Wishart, it was necessary that Dr. Wishart should resign,
in order to his being re-elected with Drysdale; but this,
when first applied to, he positively refused to do, because he
had given his word to Dr. Dick that he would give him a
year's warning before he resigned. In spite of this declara-
tion a siege was laid to the honest man by amazons. After
several hearings, in which female eloquence was displayed
in all its forms, and after many days, he yielded, as he said
himself, to the earnest and violent solicitations of Dr. Drys-
dale's family. He never after had any intercourse with that
family, nor saw them more. Mr. James Lindsay told me
this anecdote.

Dr. Robertson's weakness was as follows : He had en-
gaged heartily with me, when in 1788 I stood candidate for
the clerkship, Dr. Drysdale having shown evident marks of
decline. In the year 1787, I had a long evening's walk
with the Procurator, when, after mentioning every candidate
for that office we could think of, the Procurator at last said
that nobody had such a good chance as myself. After a
long discussion I yielded, and we in due form communicated
this resolution to his father, who consented with all hia



312 ALEXANDER CARLYLE.

heart, and gave us much advice and some aid. When the
vacancy happened, in 1789, Robert Adam assisted his
brother-in-law with all his interest, which was considerable.
In the mean time the same influence was used with Dr.
Robertson as had been with Dr. Wishart, in a still more
formidable shape ; for Mrs. Drysdale was his cousin-german,
and threatened him with the eternal hate of all the family.
He also yielded ; and Robert Adam, when seriously pressed
with a view to drop his canvass if Robertson advised to
" No," Robertson said, " go on " ; as he thought he had the
best chance. Robert Adam told this to Professor Ferguson
when he solicited his vote.

Robertson's conversation was not always so prudent as
his conduct, one instance of which was his always asserting
that any minister of state who did not take care of himself
when he had an opportunity was no very wise man. This
maxim shocked most young people, who thought the Doc-
tor's standard of public virtue was not very high. This
manner of talking likewise seconded a notion that prevailed
that he was a very selfish man. With all those defects, his
domestic society was pleasing beyond measure ; for his wife,
though not a woman of parts, was well suited to him, who
was more fitted to lead than to be led ; and his sons and
daughters led so happy a life that his guests, which we were
often for a week together, met with nothing but welcome, and
peace, and joy. This intercourse was not much diminished
by his having not put any confidence in me when he left the
business of the Church, further than saying that he intended
to do it. Though he knew that I was much resorted to for
advice when he retired, he never talked to me on the sub-
ject, at which I was somewhat indignant. His deviations in
politics lessened the freedom of our conversation, though we
Btill continued in good habits; but ever after he left the
leading in Church affairs, he appeared to me to have lost his
spirits : and still more, when the magistrates resorted to Dr



MY FRIENDS. 313

Blair, insvead of him, for advice about their choice of pro-
fessors and ministers. I had discovered his having sacri-
ficed me to Mrs. Drysdale, in 1789, but was long acquainted
with his weaknesses, and forgave him; nor did I ever
upbraid him with it but in general terms, such as that I
had lost the clerkship by the keenness of my oppo'nents and
the coldness of my friends. I had such a conscious superi-
ority over him in that affair that I did not choose to put an
old friend to the trial of making his fault greater by a lame
excuse.

Dr. Blair was a different kind of man from Robertson,
and his character is very justly delineated by Dr. Finlayson,
so far as he goes. Robertson was most sagacious, Blair was
most naif. Neither of them could be said to have either wit
or humor. Of the latter Robertson had a small tincture,
Blair had hardly a relish for it. Robertson had a bold and
ambitious mind, and a strong desire to make himself con-
siderable ; Blair was timid and unambitious, and withheld
himself from public business of every kind, and seemed to
have no wish but to be admired as a preacher, parficularly
by the ladies. His conversation was so infantine that many
people thought it impossible, at first sight, that he could be
a man of sense or genius. He was as eager about a new
paper to his wife's drawing-room, or his own new wig, as
about a new tragedy or a new epic poem. Not long before
his death I called upon him, when I found him restless and
fidgety. "What is the matter with you to-day," says I,
" my good friend, are you well ? " " O yes," says he,
" but I must dress myself, for the Duchess of Leinster has
ordered her granddaughters not to leave Scotland without
seeing me." " Go and dress yourself, Doctor, and I shall
read this novel ; for I am resolved to see the Duchess of
Leinster's granddaughters, for I knew their father and
grandfather." This being settled, the young ladies, with
their governess, arrived at one, and turned out poor little



314 ALEXANDER CARLYLE.

girls of twelve and thirteen, who could hardly be supposed
to carry a well-turned compliment which the Doctor gave
them in charge to their grandmother.

Robertson had so great a desire to shine himself, that I
hardly ever saw him patiently bear anybody else's sho wing-
off but E>r. Johnson and Garrick. Blair, on the contrary,
though capable of the most profound conversation, when cir-
cumstances led to it, had not the least desire to shine, but
was delighted beyond measure to show other people in their
best guise to his friends. " Did not I show you the lion
well to-day ? " used he to say after the exhibition of a re-
markable stranger. For a vain man, he was the least
envious I ever knew. He had truly a pure mind, in which
there was not the least malignity ; for though he was of a
quick and lively temper, and apt to be warm and impatient
about trifles, his wife, who was a superior woman, only
laughed, and his friends joined her. Though Robertson
was never ruffled, he had more animosity in his nature than
Blair. They were both reckoned selfish by those who
envied their prosperity, but on very unequal grounds ; for
though Blair talked selfishly enough sometimes, yet he
never failed in generous actions. In one respect they were
quite alike. Having been bred at a time when the common
people thought to play with cards or dice was a sin, and
everybody thought it an indecorum in clergymen, they could
neither of them play at golf or bowls, and far less at cards
or backgammon, and on that account were very unhappy
when from home in friends' houses in the country in rainy
weather. As I had set the first example of playing at cards
at home with unlocked doors, and so relieved the clergy
from ridicule on that side, they both learned to play at
whist after they were sixty. Robertson did very well,
Blair never shone. He had his country quarters for two
summers in my parish, where he and his wife were quite
happy. We were much together. Mrs. C., who had wit



MY FRIENDS. 315

and humor in a high degree, and an acuteness and extent of
mind that made her fit to converse with philosophers, and
indeed a great favorite with them all, gained much upon
Blair; and, as Mrs. B. alleged, could make him believe
whatever she pleased. They took delight in raising the
wonder of the sage Doctor. " Who told you that story, my
dear Doctor ? " " No," says he, " don't you doubt it, for it
was Ulrs. C. who told me." On my laughing, " and so,
so," said he, " I must hereafter make allowance for her imag-
ination."

Blair had lain under obligation to Lord Leven's family
for his first church, which he left within the year; but
though that connection was so soon dissolved, and though
Blair took a side in Church politics wholly opposite to
Lord Leven's, the Doctor always behaved to the family
with great respect, and kept up a visiting correspondence
with them all his life. Not so Robertson with the Arniston
family, who had got him the church of Gladsmuir. The
first President failed and died not, hoAvever, till he had
marked his approbation of Robertson in 1751. His
manner had not been pleasing to him, so that he was alien-
ated till Harry grew up ; but him he deserted also, on the
change in 1782, being dazzled with the prospect of his son's
having charge of ecclesiastical affairs, as his cousin John
Adam was to have of political, during Rockingham's new
ministry. This threw a cloud on Robertson which was
never dispelled. Blah* had for a year been tutor to Simon
Fraser, Lord Lovat's eldest son, whose steady friendship he
preserved to the last, though the General was not remark-
able for that amiable weakness ; witness the saying of a
common soldier whom he had often promised to make a
sergeant, but never performed, " O Simon, Simon, as long
as you continue to live, Lord Lovat is not dead."

Five or six days before he [Blair] died, finding him well
and in good spirits, I said to him, " Since you don't choose to



316 ALEXANDER CARLYLE.

dine abroad in this season (December), you may at least let
a friend or two dine with you." " Well, well, come you and
dine with me to-morrow," looking earnestly at Miss Hunter,
his niece. " I am engaged to-morrow, but I can return at
four to-day." He looked more earnestly at his niece.
" What 's to hinder him ? " said she, meaning to answer his
look, which said, " Have you any dinner to-day, Betty ? "
I returned, accordingly, at four, and never passed four
hours more agreeably with him, nor had more enlightened
conversation. Nay more, three days before his death he
sent to John Home a part of his History, with two or three
pages of criticism on that part of it that relates to Provost
Drummond, in which he and I thought John egregiously
wrong.

It was long before Blair's circumstances were full, yet he
lived handsomely, and had literary strangers at his house, as
well as many friends. A task imposed on both Robertson
and Blair was reading manuscript prepared for the press, of
which Blair had the greatest share of the poetry, and Rob-
ertson of the other writings, and they were both kind
encouragers of young men of merit.



BEATRICE'S SONG.

BY PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY.



Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 42 of 66)