Open main menu

Page:Footsteps of Dr. Johnson.djvu/123

This page needs to be proofread.


BUCHANAN'S HOUSE. 9 i

If learning cannot support a man, if he must sit with his hands across till somebody feeds him, it is as to him a bad thing." It was here, moreover, that he gave that amusing account of the change of manners in his lifetime. " I remember (said he) when all the decent people in Lichfield got drunk every night, and were not the worse thought of." That smoking had gone out seemed to him strange, for it was "a thing which requires so little exertion, and yet preserves the mind from total vacuity."

The exact spot where he was so comfortably lodged is doubtful. In the Hebrides some of the chambers in which he slept are still known. In a University, where the traditions of a scholar should surely linger long, the very house has been forgotten. It is believed, however, that Dr. Watson occupied that part of the ancient building which had once been Buchanan's residence. Some portion of that great scholar's study still remains, having outlived both time and change. Yet that Johnson should not have been informed of a fact which to him would have been so interesting, or that being informed he should not have mentioned it, is indeed surprising. His admiration for Buchanan's genius seems almost unbounded. If the city attracted him because it had once been archiepiscopal, so did the University, because in it Buchanan had once taught philosophy. " His name," he adds, " has as fair a claim to immortality as can be conferred by modern latinity, and perhaps a fairer than the instability of vernacular languages admits." Sir Walter Scott loved him almost as much as Johnson. " He was his favourite Latin poet as well as historian." !

Our travellers rose " much refreshed " from their fatigue, and to the enjoyment of a very fine day. They went forth to view the ruins not only of a cathedral, but almost of a city and a University. That it had once flourished as a city was shown by history : its ancient magnificence as the seat of a great archbishopric was wit- nessed by " the mournful memorials " which had escaped the hands of the devastator. Of its three Colleges only two were standing. It was "the skeleton of a venerable city," said Smollett. 2 Many years earlier a traveller, applying to it Lord Rochester's words, had described it as being " in its full perfection of decay." Pennant, who visited it only the year before Johnson, on entering the West Port, saw a well-built street, straight, and of a vast length and breadth, lying before him ; but it was so grass-grown, and so dreary

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, i. 175. Humphry Clinker, ii. 246.

�� �