Johnson and Wilkes continue to fraternize over shared jokes about the poverty of Scotland, but Boswell doesn’t mind, because he knows they are just joking. He says in defence of his country that in one respect the Scottish law is superior to the English: no debtor can be put in prison before he is found guilty in a court of law, or unless his creditor can prove that he is preparing to run away, or “in meditatione fugae”. This provides a set-up for Wilkes to say that every Scotchman is actually in this condition. Johnson tells Wilkes that he took Boswell to his home town of Lichfield, to show him the decent English life, because in Scotland he lives among savages and in London among rakes. Wilkes says “Except when he is with grave, sober, decent people like you and me”, to which Johnson answers with a smile “And we ashamed of him”. He also tells the anecdote about how Mrs Macaulay, for all her egalitarian beliefs, wouldn’t sit at one table with her footman and observes with satisfaction that Wilkes acquiesced. On the whole, Boswell is very happy that he managed to bring together the two people who, despite all their differences, shared the love of learning, books, and wit. It reminds me a bit of the friendship between Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late Antonin Scalia.
In a conversation about how misery is the common lot of man, Boswell observes that people do a lot of things in pursuit of happiness: they build houses, and gardens, and places of public amusement. Johnson says that they are just struggles for happiness. When he went to the pleasure garden in Ramelagh for the first time, he felt very happy, but soon he felt melancholy, like Xerxes, who wept to think that out of his vast army nobody would be alive in one hundred years. Johnson thought how every person in this gay crowd would eventually have to return home to their own unhappy thoughts.
In a company, Johnson once talked about a respected author who married a printer’s devil, which is less scary than it sounds, because printer’s devils were apprentices, probably called so because they were dirty because of the constant contact with the ink. This is mentioned by one of his listeners, but Johnson says that probably before they were married, the author had her wash herself and put on some new clothes. He says that she actually turned out to be a very good wife, because she “had a bottom of good sense”. This unexpected expression causes some titters in the company, and Johnson, who hated to be laughed at when he was not telling a joke, looks sternly around and says with a loud voice “she was fundamentally sensible”, and this time nobody dares to laugh.
The next anecdote is about Bet Flint, a prostitute who wrote her memoirs in verse and tried to talk Johnson into writing a preface for them. She was once charged with stealing a counterpane, but got off, because the judge had a soft spot for her, and after she was discharged, she said that now the counterpane was hers, she was going to turn it into a petticoat.
In another conversation, Boswell says he would like to be in Parliament, but Johnson points out to him that he would either have to support every government, or impoverish himself because of the expense (MPs had no salaries in these days.) Boswell agrees and says that maybe it’s just as well, because he would get very vexed about politics. Johnson tells him that it’s cant, just something that people like to pay lip service too, because sure, even he got angry with this or another news report, but he neither lost his appetite nor a minute of sleep over it. He advises Boswell to clear his mind of cant: he may talk like it, because it’s the socially acceptable way of talking (“I’m awfully sorry that you got wet”, while in fact we don’t care, or “we live in terrible times”, while it doesn’t make us sleep any worse), but he shouldn’t think like it.