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1772. the gentleman had finished his tedious narrative, and Ætat.
then burst out (playfully however,) “ It is a pity, Sir, 63. that you have not seen a lion ; for a flea has taken you
such a time, that a lion must have served you a twelvemonth.”7
He would not allow Scotland to derive any credit from Lord Mansfield; for he was educated in England. “ Much (said he,) may be made of a Scotchman, if he be caught young
Talking of a modern historian and a modern moralist, he said, “There is more thought in the moralist than in the historian. There is but a shallow stream of thought in history.” BOSWELL. “But surely, Sir, an historian has reflection.” Johnson. Why yes, Sir; and so has a cat when she catches a mouse for her kitten, But she cannot write like ******* ; neither can
He said, “I am very unwilling to read the manuscripts of authours, and give them my opinion. If the authours who apply to me have money, I bid them boldly print without a name ; if they have written in order to get money, I tell them to go to the booksellers and make the best bargain they can.” Boswell. “ But, Sir, if a bookseller should bring you a manuscript to look at.” Johnson. “Why, Sir, I would desire the bookseller to take it away.”
I mentioned a friend of mine who had resided long in Spain, and was unwilling to return to Britain. Johnson. “Sir, he is attached to some woman.” BoswELL. “ I rather believe, Sir, it is the fine climate which keeps him there.” Johnson. “ Nay, Sir, how can you talk so? What is climate to happiness? Place me in the heart of Asia, should I not be exiled? What proportion does climate bear to the complex system of human life? You may advise me to go to live at Bologna to eat sausages. The sausages there, are the best in the world; they lose much by being carried.”
On Saturday, May 9, Mr. Dempster and I had agreed to dine by ourselves at the British Coffee-house. John
Mrs. Piozzi, to whom I told this anecdote, has related it, as if the gentleman had given “ the natural history of the mouse." Anecdotes, p. 191.
son, on whom I happened to call in the morning, said, 1772. he would join us, which he did, and we spent a very Etat. agreeable day, though I recollect but little of what 68. passed.
He said, Walpole was a minister given by the King to the people : Pitt was a minister given by the people to the King, -as an adjunct.”
« The misfortune of Goldsmith in conversation is this : he goes on without knowing how he is to get off. His genius is great, but his knowledge is small. As they say of a generous man, it is a pity he is not rich, we may say of Goldsmith, it is a pity he is not knowing. He would not keep his knowledge to himself.”
Before leaving London this year, I consulted him upon a question purely of Scotch law. It was held of old, and continued for a long period, to be an estabJished principle in that law, that whoever intermeddled with the effects of a person deceased, without the interposition of legal authority to guard against embezzle. ment, should be subjected to pay all the debts of the deceased, as having been guilty of what was technically called vicious intromission. The Court of Session had gradually relaxed the strictness of this principle, where the interference proved had been inconsiderable. In a case which came before that Court the preceding winter, I had laboured to persuade the Judge to return to the ancient law. It was my own sincere opinion, that they ought to adhere to it; but I had exhausted all my powers of reasoning in vain. Johnson thought as I did; and in order to assist me in my application to the Court for a revision and alteration of the judgement, he dictated to me the following argument:
“ This, we are told, is a law which has its force only from the long practice of the Court: and may, therefore, be suspended or modified as the Court shall think proper.
“ Concerning the power of the Court to make or to suspend a law, we have no intention to enquire. It is sufficient for our purpose that every just law is dictated
• Wilson against Smith and Armour.
1772. by reason ; and that the practice of every legal Court is Ætat. regulated by equity. It is the quality of reason to be 63. invariable and constant; and of equity, to give to one
man what, in the same case, is given to another. The advantage which humanity derives from law is this : that the law gives every man a rule of action, and prescribes a mode of conduct which shall entitle him to the support and protection of society. That the law may be a rule of action, it is necessary that it be known; it is necessary that it be permanent and stable. The law is the measure of civil right: but if the measure be changeable, the extent of the thing measured never can be settled.
“ To permit a law to be modified at discretion, is to Jeave the community without law. It is to withdraw the direction of that publick wisdom, by which the deficiencies of private understanding are to be supplied. It is to suffer the rash and ignorant to act at discretion, and then to depend for the legality of that action on the sentence of the Judge. He that is thus governed, lives not by law, but by opinion : not by a certain rule to which he can apply his intention before he acts, but by an uncertain and variable opinion, which he can never know but after he has committed the act on which that opinion shall be passed. He lives by a law, (if a law it be, which he can never know before he has offended it. To this case may be justly applied that important principle, misera est servitus ubi jus est aut incognitum aut vagum. If Intromission be not criminal till it ex. ceeds a certain point, and that point be unsettled, and consequently different in different minds, the right of Intromission, and the right of the Creditor arising from it, are all jura vaga, and, by consequence, are jurn incognita ; and the result can be no other than a misera servitus, an uncertainty concerning the event of action, a servile dependence on private opinion.
“ It may be urged, and with great plausibility, that there may be intromission without fraud; which however true, will by no means justify an occasional and arbitrary relaxation of the law. The end of law is protection as well as vengeance. Indeed, vengeance is
never used but to strengthen protection. That society 1772. only is well governed, where life is freed from danger Ætat. and from suspicion ; where possession is so sheltered 63. by salutary prohibitions, that violation is prevented more frequently than punished. Such a prohibition was this, while it operated with its original force. The creditor of the deceased was not only without loss, but without fear. He was not to seek a remedy for an injury suffered ; for, injury was warded off.
“ As the law has been sometimes administered, it lays us open to wounds, because it is imagined to have the power of healing. To punish fraud when it is detected, is the proper art of vindictive justice ; but to prevent frauds, and make punishment unnecessary, is the great employment of legislative wisdom. To permit Intromission, and to punish fraud, is to make law no better than a pitfall. To tread upon the brink is safe ; but to come a step further is destruction. But, surely, it is better to enclose the gulf, and hinder all access, than by encouraging us to advance a little, to entice us afterwards a little further, and let us perceive our folly only by our destruction.
“ As law supplies the weak with adventitious strength, it likewise enlightens the ignorant with extrinsick understanding. Law teaches us to know when we commit injury, and when we suffer it. It fixes certain marks upon actions, by which we are admonished to do or to forbear them. Qui sibi bene temperat in licitis, says one of the fathers, nunquam cadet in illicita. He who never intromits at all, will never intromit with fraudulent intentions.
“ The relaxation of the law against vicious intromission has been very favourably represented by a great master of jurisprudence,' whose words have been exhibited with unnecessary pomp, and seem to be considered as irresistibly decisive. The great moment of his authority makes it necessary to examine his position. • Some
ages ago, (says he,) before the ferocity of the inhabitants of this part of the island was subdued, the ut
? Lord Kames, in his “ Historical Law Tracts."
1772. most severity of the civil law was necessary, to restrain
individuals from plundering each other. Thus, the man Ætat. 63. who intermeddled irregularly with the moveables of a
person deceased, was subjected to all the debts of the deceased without limitation. This makes a branch of the law of Scotland, known by the name of vicious intromission; and so rigidly was this regulation applied in our Courts of Law, that the most trifling moveable abstracted mala fide, subjected the intermeddler to the foregoing consequences, which proved in many instances a most rigorous punishment. But this severity was necessary, in order to subdue the undisciplined nature of our people. It is extremely remarkable, that in proportion to our improvement in manners, this regulation has been gradually softened, and applied by our sovereign Court with a sparing hand.'
" I find myself under a necessity of observing, that this learned and judicious writer has not accurately distinguished the deficiencies and demands of the different conditions of human life, which, from a degree of savageness and independence, in which all laws are vain, passes or may pass, by innumerable gradations, to a state of reciprocal benignity, in which laws shall be no longer necessary. Men are first wild and unsocial, living each man to himself, taking from the weak, and losing to the strong. In their first coalitions of society, much of this original savageness is retained. Of general happiness, the product of general confidence, there is yet no thought. Men continue to prosecute their own advantages by the nearest way ; and the utmost severity of the civil law is necessary to restrain individuals from plundering each other. The restraints then necessary, are restraints from plunder, from acts of publick violence, and undisguised oppression. The ferocity of our ancestors, as of all other nations, produced not fraud, but rapine. They had not yet learned to cheat, and attempted only to rob. As manners grow more polished, with the knowledge of good, men attain likewise dexterity in evil. Open rapine becomes less frequent, and violence gives way to cunning. Those who before invaded pastures and stormed houses, now begin to en