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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Dr. Samuel Johnson's visit to Glasgow in 1773


THE following is Boswell’s account of Dr. Johnson’s visit with him to Glasgow, on their return from Tour to the Hebrides:

"On our arrival at the Saracen’s Head Inn, at Glasgow, I was made happy by good accounts from home; and Dr. Johnson, who had not received a single letter since we left Aberdeen, found here a great many, the perusal of which entertained him much. He enjoyed in imagination the comforts which we could now command, and seemed to be in high glee. I remember, he put a leg up on each side of the grate, and said, with a mock scdeinnity, by way of solemnity, but loud enough for me to hear it:

"‘Here am I, an Englishman, sitting by a coal fire.’

"On Friday, October 29, the professors of the University being informed of our arrival, Dr. Stevenson, Dr. Reid, and Mr. Anderson breakfasted with us. Mr. Anderson accompanied us while Dr. Johnson viewed this beautiful city.

He told me, that one day in London, when Dr. Adam Smith was boasting of it, he turned to him and said:

"Pray, sir, have you ever seen Brentford?‘ This was surely a strong instance of his impatience and spirit of contradiction. I put him in mind of it to-day, while he expressed his admiration of the elegant buildings, and whispered to him, ‘Don’t you feel some remorse?’

"We were received in the college by a number of the professors, who showed all due respect to Dr Johnson; and then we paid a visit to the principal, Dr. Leechman, at his own house, where Dr. Johnson had the satisfaction of being told that his name had been gratefully celebrated in one of the parochial congregations in the Highlands, as the person to whose influence it was chiefly owing that the New Testament was allowed to be translated into the Erse language.

It seems some political members of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, had opposed this pious undertaking, as tending to preserve the distinction between the Highlanders and the Lowlanders. Dr. Johnson wrote a long letter upon the subject to a friend (Mr. W. Dnnnmond). which being shown to them, made them ashamed and afraid of being publicly exposed; so they were forced to a compliance". [The letter, which appears in Boswell's Life of Johnson, "is perhaps", said Boswell, "one of the best productions of his masterly pen."]

Professors Reid and Anderson, and the two Messieurs Foulis, "the Elzevirs of Glasgow," dined and drank tea with us at our inn, after which the professors went away; and I, having a letter to write, left my feflow-traveller with Mesers Foulis. Though good and ingenious men, they had that unsettled speculative mode of conversation which is offensive to a man regularly taught at an English school and university. I found that instead of listening to the dictates of the sage, they had teased him with questions and doubtful disputations. He came in a flutter to me and desired I might como back again, for he could not bear these men.

"O sir, said I, ‘ you are flying to me for refuge?"

He never, in any situation, was at a loss for a ready repartee, he answered with a quick vivacity:

"‘It is of two evils choosing the least.’ I was delighted at this flash bursting from the cloud which hung upon his mind, closed my letter directly, and joined the company.

"We supped at Professor Anderson’s. The general impression on my mind is, that we had not much conversation at Glasgow, where the professors, like their brethren at Aberdeen, did not venture to expose themselves much to the battery of cannon, which they knew might play on them. Dr. Johnson, who was fully conscious of his own superior powers, atterwards praised Principal Robertson (the historian) for his caution in this respect. He said to me:

"Robertson, sir, was in the right. Robertson is a man of eminence, and the head of a college at Edinburgh. He had a character to maintain, and did well not to risk its being lessened.’"

On Saturday, October 30th, Dr. Johnson and Boswell set out towards Ayrshire.


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