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LETTERS.

[In a Memoir of James Boswell,* by the Rev. Charles Rogers, a short account is given of the Hon. Andrew Erskine, Boswell's correspondent. He was the youngest son of Alexander, fifth Earl of Kellie. He served in the army for some years. After his retirement he settled at Edinburgh. "His habits were regular, but he indulged occasionally at cards, and was partial to the game of whist. Having sustained a serious loss at his favourite pastime, he became frantic, and threw himself into the Forth and perished." Burns, writing to his friend Thomson, October, 1793, says " Your last letter, my dear Thomson, was indeed laden with heavy news. Alas, poor Erskine! The recollection that he was a coadjutor in your publication has, till now, scared me from writing to you, or turning my thoughts on composing for you." "He was," adds Dr. Rogers, "of a tall, portly form, and to the last wore gaiters and a flapped vest." By this last description Dr. Rogers's readers may be pleasantly reminded of an anecdote that is given for the first time, I believe, in his book. "Dr. Johnson used to laugh at a passage in Carte's 'Life of the Duke of Ormond,' where he gravely observed that he was always in full dress when he went to Court; too many being in the practice of going thither with double lapells.' "As poor Erskine " wore to the last his gaiters and a flapped vest," no doubt he had them on when he drowned himself.-Ed.]

LETTER I.

Auchinleck, Aug. 25, 1761.

Give

Dear ERSKINE,-No ceremony, I beseech you. me your hand. How is my honest Captain Andrew ?

*

"Boswelliana: The Commonplace Book of James Boswell." With a Memoir and Annotations, by the Rev. Charles Rogers, LL.D. London: Printed for the Grampian Club, 1874.

How goes it with the elegant gentle Lady A—? the lovely sighing Lady J? and how, O how does that glorious luminary Lady B-do? You see I retain my usual volatility. The Boswells, you know, came over from Normandy, with William the Conqueror, and some of us possess the spirit of our ancestors the French. I do for one. A pleasant spirit it is. Vive la Bagatelle, is the maxim. A light heart may bid defiance to fortune. And yet, Erskine, I must tell you, that I have been a little pensive of late, amorously pensive, and disposed to read Shenstone's Pastoral on Absence, the tenderness and simplicity of which I greatly admire. A man who is in love is like a man who has got the tooth-ache, he feels most acute pain while nobody pities him. In that situation am I at present: but well do I know that I will not be long so. So much for inconstancy. As this is my first epistle to you, it cannot in decency be a long one. Pray write to me soon. Your letters, I prophecy, will entertain me not a little; and will besides be extremely serviceable in many important respects. They will supply me with oil to my lamps, grease to my wheels, and blacking to my shoes. They will furnish me with strings to my fiddle, lashes to my whip, lining to my breeches, and buttons to my coat. They will make charming spurs, excellent knee buckles, and inimitable watch-keys. In short, while they last I shall neither want breakfast, dinner, nor supper. I shall keep a couple of horses, and I shall sleep upon a bed of down. I shall be in France this year, and in Spain the next; with many other particulars too tedious to mention. You may take me in a

metaphorical sense; but I would rather choose to be understood literally.

I am

Your most affectionate friend,
JAMES BOSWELL.

LETTER II.

Kelly, Sept. 11, 1761.

HAIL! mighty Boswell! at thy awful name
The fainting muse relumes her sinking flame.
Behold how high the tow'ring blaze aspires,
While fancy's waving pinions fan my fires!
Swells the full song? it swells alone from thee;
Some spark of thy bright genius kindles me!
"But softly, Sir,” I hear you cry,
"This wild bombast is rather dry :

I hate your d―n'd insipid song,
That sullen stalks in lines so long;
Come, give us short ones like to Butler,
Or, like our friend Auchinleck the cutler."
A Poet, Sir, whose fame is to support,

*

Must ne'er write verses tripping pert and short:
Who ever saw a judge himself disgrace,

By trotting to the bench with hasty pace?

I swear, dear Sir, you're really in the wrong;
To make a line that's good, I say, James, make it long.

You see, Sir, I have quite the best of the argument;

* Pronounced "Affleck," -Ed.

and indeed I was determined not to give it up, till you acknowledged yourself vanquished; so to verse I go again, tooth and nail.

How well you talk of glory and the guards,
Of fighting heroes, and their great rewards!
Our eyes behold you glow with martial flame,
Our ears attend the never-ceasing theme.
Fast from your tongue the rousing accents flow,
And horror darkens on your sable brow!
We hear the thunder of the rolling war,
And see red vict'ry shouting from her car!

You kindly took me up, an awkward cub,
And introduced me to the *Soaping-Club;
Where ev'ry Tuesday eve our ears are blest
With genuine humour, and with genuine jest:
The voice of mirth ascends the list'ning sky,
While, "soap his own beard, every man," you cry.

Say, who could e'er indulge a yawn or nap,

When Barclay roars forth snip, and †Bainbridge snap?
Tell me how I your favours may return;
With thankfulness and gratitude' I burn.
I've one advice, oh! take it I implore!
Search out America's untrodden shore;

66

*The Soaping-Club- —a Club in Edinburgh, the motto of which was, Every Man soap his own Beard ;" or, "Every Man indulge his own Humour." Their game was that facetious one, Snip, Snap, Snorum.

+ Barclay and Bainbridge, two members of this Club.

There seek some vast Savannah rude and wild,
Where Europe's sons of slaughter never smil'd,
With fiend-like arts, insidious to betray
The sooty natives as a lawful prey.
At you th' astonish'd savages shall stare,
And hail you as a God, and call you
fair:
Your blooming beauty shall unrivall'd shine,
*And Captain Andrew's whiteness yield to thine.

In reality, I'm under vast obligations to you. It was you who first made me thoroughly sensible (indeed I very readily believed it) of the excellencies of my own Poetry; and about that time, I made two wonderful discoveries, to wit, that you was a sensible man, and that I was a good poet; discoveries which I dare say are yet doubted by some incredulous people. Boswell, I shall not praise your letter, because I know you have an aversion at being thought a genius, or a wit. The reluctance with which you always repeat your Cub,† and the gravity of countenance which you always assume upon that occasion, are convincing proofs of this assertion. You hate flattery, too, but in spite of your teeth I must tell you, that you are the best Poet, and the most humorous letterwriter I know; and that you have a finer complexion, and dance better than any man of my acquaintance. For my part, I actually think you would make an excellent

* "And Captain Andrew's whiteness, &c." The writers of these Letters, instead of being rivals in wit, were rivals in complexion.

† In March, 1762, Boswell published "The Cub at Newmarket : a Tale." (Dodsley).—ED.

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