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I mentioned with much regret the extravagance of the representative of a great family in Scotland, by which there was danger of its being ruined ; and as Johnson respected it for its antiquity, he joined with me in thinking it would be happy if this person should die. Mrs. Thrale seemed shocked at this, as feudal barbarity; and said, “I do not understand this preference of the estate to its owner; of the land to the man who walks upon that land.” JOHNSON. “Nay, madam, it is not a preference of the land to its owner; it is the preference of a family to an individual. Here is an establishment in a country which is of importance for ages, not only to the chief but to his people; an establishment which extends upwards and downwards :- that this should be destroyed by one idle fellow is a sad thing."
He said, “ Entails are good, because it is good to preserve in a country serieses of men to whom the people are accustomed to look up as to their leaders. But I am for leaving a quantity of land in commerce, to excite industry, and keep money in the country; for if no land were to be bought in the country, there would be no encouragement to acquire wealth, because a family could not be founded there; or if it were acquired, it must be carried away to another country where land may be bought. And although the land in every country will remain the same, and be as fertile where there is no money, as where there is; yet all that portion of the happiness of civil life which is produced by money circulating in a country, would be lost.” BOSWELL. “Then, sir, would it be for the advantage of a country that all its lands were sold once ?" JOHNSON. “So far, sir, as money produces good, it would be an advantage; for then that country would have as much money circulating in it as it is worth. But to be sure this would be counterbalanced by disadvantages attending a total change of proprietors.”
I expressed my opinion that the power of entailing should be limited thus : “ That there should be one third, or perhaps one half of the land of a country kept free for commerce; that the proportion allowed to be entailed, should be parcelled out so that no family could entail above a certain quantity. Let a family, according to the abilities of its representatives, be richer or poorer in different generations, or always rich, if its representatives be always wise ; but let its absolute permanency be moderate. In this way we should be certain of there being always a number of established roots; and as in the course of nature there is in every age an extinction of some families, there would be continual openings for men ambitious of perpetuity to plant a stock in the entail grounds." JOHNSON. “Why, sir, mankind will be better able to regulate the system of entails, when the evil of too much land being locked up by them is felt, than we can do at present, when it is not felt."
I mentioned Dr. Adam Smith's book on The Wealth of Nations, which was just published ; and that sir John Pringle had observed to me, that Dr. Smith, who had never been in trade, could not be expected to write well on that subject, any more than a lawyer upon physick. JOHNSON. “ He is mistaken, sir: a man who has never been engaged in trade himself may undoubtedly write well upon trade; and there is nothing which requires more to be illustrated by philosophy than trade does. As to mere wealth, that is to say, money, it is clear that one nation or one individual cannot increase its store but by making another poorer: but trade procures what is more valuable, the reciprocation of the peculiar advantages of different countries. A merchant seldom thinks but of his own particular trade. To write a good book upon it, a man must have extensive views. It is not necessary to have practised, to write well upon a subject.” I mentioned law as a subject on which no man could write well without practice. JOHNSON. “Why, sir, in England, where so much money is to be got by the practice of the law, most of our writers upon it have been in practice; though Blackstone had not been much in practice when he published his Commentaries. But upon the continent the great writers on law have not all been in practice : Grotius indeed was; but Puffendorf was not; Burlamaqui was not."
5 The privilege of perpetuating in a family an estate and arms indefeasibly from generation to generation, is enjoyed by none of his majesty's subjects except in Scotland, where the legal fiction of fine and recovery is unknown. It is a privilege so proud, that I should think it would be proper to have the exercise of it dependent on the royal prerogative. It seems absurd to permit the power of perpetuating their representation to men who, having had no eminent merit, have truly no name. The king, as the impartial father of his people, would never refuse to grant the privilege to those who deserved it.-Boswel L.
We cannot sympathise with Boswell in his admiration of entails; and perceive with a degree of satisfaction that this system of great men does not exist, even in Scotland, in the entirety of its feudal rigour. See Erskine's Institutes, 238, 360.-ED.
When we had talked of the great consequence which a man acquired by being employed in his profession, I suggested a doubt of the justice of the general opinion, that it is improper in a lawyer to solicit employment; for why, I urged, should it not be equally allowable to solicit that as the means of consequence, as it is to solicit votes to be elected a member of parliament ? Mr. Strahan had told me that a countryman of his and mine, who had risen to eminence in the law, had, when first making his way, solicited him to get him employment in city causes. JOHNson. “Sir, it is wrong to stir up lawsuits ; but when once it is certain that a lawsuit is to go on, there is nothing wrong in a lawyer's endeavouring that he shall have the benefit, rather than another." BOSWELL. “ You would not solicit employment, sir, if you were a lawyer." JOHNSON. “No, sir; but not because I should think it wrong, but because I should disdain it.”
This was a good distinction, which will be felt by men of just pride. He proceeded : “However, I would not have a lawyer to be wanting to himself in using fair means. I would have him to inject a little hint now and then, to prevent his being overlooked.”
Lord Mountstuart's bill for a Scotch militia, in supporting which his lordship had made an able speech in the house of commons, was now a pretty general topick of conversation. JOHNSON. “As Scotland contributes so little landtax towards the general support of the nation, it ought not to have a militia paid out of the general fund, unless it should be thought for the general interest that Scotland should be protected from an invasion, which no man can think will happen; for what enemy would invade Scotland, where there is nothing to be got? No, sir; now that the Scotch have not the pay of English soldiers spent among them, as so many troops are sent abroad, they are trying to get money another way, by having a militia paid. If they are afraid, and seriously desire to have an armed force to defend them, they should pay for it. Your scheme is to retain a part of your landtax, by making us pay and clothe your militia." BOSWELL. “You should not talk of we and you, sir; there is now an union." JOHNSON. “ There must be a distinction of interest, while the proportions of landtax are so unequal. If Yorkshire 'should say, 'Instead of paying our landtax, we will keep a greater number of militia,' it would be unreasonable.” In this argument my friend was certainly in the wrong. The landtax is as unequally proportioned between different parts of England, as between England and Scotland; nay, it is considerably unequal in Scotland itself. But the landtax is but a small part of the numerous branches of publick revenue, all of wbich Scotland pays precisely as England does. A French invasion made in Scotland would soon penetrate into England.
He thus discoursed upon supposed obligation in settling estates :—“Where a man gets the unlimited property of an estate, there is no obligation upon him in justice to leave it to one person rather than to another. There is a motive of preference from kindness, and this kindness is generally entertained for the nearest relation.
If I owe a particular wan a sum of money, I am obliged to let that man have the next money I get, and cannot in justice let another have it; but if I owe money to no man, I may dispose of what I get as I please. There is not a debitum justitiæ to a man's next heir; there is only a debitum caritatis. It is plain, then, that I have morally a choice, ac
cording to my liking. If I have a brother in want, he has a claim from affection to my assistance; but if I have also a brother in want whom I like better, he has a preferable claim. The right of an heir at law is only this, that he is to have the succession to an estate, in case no other person is appointed to it by the owner. His right is merely preferable to that of the king.”
We got into a boat to cross over to Blackfriars; and as we moved along the Thames, I talked to him of a little volume, which, altogether unknown to him, was advertised to be published in a few days, under the title of Johnsoniana, or Bon Mots of Dr. Johnson. JOHNSON. “Sir, it is a mighty impudent thing.' BOSWELL. “Pray, sir, could you have no redress if you were to prosecute a publisher for briuging out, under your name, what you never said, and ascribing to you dull stupid nonsense, or making you swear profanely, as many ignorant relaters of your bon mots do?" JOHNSON. “ No, sir: there will always be some truth mixed with the falsehood; and how can it be ascertained how much is true and how much is false? Besides, sir, what damages would a jury give me for having been represented as swearing ?” BOSWELL. “I think, sir, you should at least disavow such a publication, because the world and posterity might with much plausible foundation say, 'Here is a volume which was publickly advertised and came out in Dr. Johnson's own time, and by his silence was admitted by him to be genuine." JOHNSON. “I shall give myself no trouble about the matter.”
He was, perhaps, above suffering from such spurious publications ; but I could not help thinking, that many men would be much injured in their reputation by having absurd and vicious sayings imputed to them; and that redress ought in such cases to be given.
He said, “The value of every story depends on its being true. A story is a picture either of an individual or of human nature in general: if it be false, it is a picture of nothing. For instance: suppose a man should tell that