Open main menu

Page:Footsteps of Dr. Johnson.djvu/73

This page needs to be proofread.

every merit but a foundation of fact. "Oats," wrote Johnson, "a strain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scot- land supports the people." " Very true," replied his lordship, " and where will you find such men and such horses ? " '

The natural result of this general poverty was seen in the number of beggars who thronged the streets and roads. Scotland was neither blessed with a good poor-law nor cursed with a bad one. The relief of want was left altogether to charity. In Edin- burgh Johnson thought that the proportion of beggars was not less than in London. " In the smaller places it was far greater than in English towns of the same extent." The mendicants were not, however, of the order of sturdy vagabonds. They were neither importunate nor clamorous. " They solicit silently, or very modestly." : Smollett went so far as to maintain in his Humphry Clinker, which was published only two years before Johnson's visit, that " there was not a beggar to be seen within the precincts of Edinburgh." For some years, indeed, the streets had been free of them, for a charity workhouse had been erected, to which they were all committed. But the magistrates had grown careless, and the evil had broken out afresh. " The streets are crowded with begging poor," wrote one writer. " We see the whole stairs, streets, and public walks swarming with beggars every day," wrote

The general neglect of the decencies of life was due chiefly to poverty, but partly, no doubt, to that violent outburst against all that is beautiful and graceful which accompanied the Reformation in Scotland. A nation which, as a protest against popery, " thought dirt and cob-webs essential to the house of God," : ' was not likely in their homes to hold that cleanliness was next to godliness. The same coarseness of living had been found in all classes, though it was beginning to yield before English influence. Dr. Alexander Carlyle, in the year 1 742, notices as a sign of increasing refinement, that at the tavern in Haddington, where the Presbytery dined, knives and forks were provided for the table. A few years earlier each guest had brought his own. There was, however, only one glass, which went round with the bottle." The same custom had prevailed in Edinburgh when Lord Kames was

1 Boswell's Johnson, i. 294, /. 8. ' Seals Magazine, 1772, p. 636, and 1773,

2 Johnson's Works, ix. 9. p. 399- ' H"'pl"y Clinker, iii. 5. ' Humphry Clinker (ed. 1792), iii. 5. u t)i-. Alexander Carlyle's Autobiography, p. 64.

�� �