27–28 X 1773
24 VII 2013


Heading towards Glasgow, they stay overnight at “Cameron, the seat of Commissary Smollet”, a relative of the novelist Tobias Smollett, who had died two years previously in Italy. The judge has “erected a pillar to the memory of his ingenious kinsman”, and is now thinking of a suitable inscription. But should it be written in English or Latin? Lord Kames – a colleague of Boswell’s father, and on friendly terms with Boswell – had suggested an English text, but Johnson insists on Latin, and Boswell, in another outbreak of snobbery, backs him up, since “all to whom Dr Smollet's merit could be an object of respect and imitation, would understand it as well in Latin; and that surely it was not meant for the Highland drovers, or other such people, who pass and repass that way.

We stopped in Renton to see the Smollett memorial, prominent and irrelevant. I wonder what its reputation locally would be? Next to the primary school, with the war memorial as a neighbour, and an English translation of the Latin tribute (which Coleridge didn’t rate; not all of Johnson’s suggestions were adopted). A tall column, perhaps it needs a wider landscape to flourish in.

Alec asked me if there are any memorials I liked, and I was hard pressed to name any; what comes to mind are Robert Fergusson on Edinburgh’s Canongate, its spark the lack of plinth and walking gait; Hume’s burnished toe further up the hill, but not the rest of him; and the bronze book and quill of Balzac’s grave in Paris.


Smollett, Tobias, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker (1771)
Stanford, Peter, How to Read a Graveyard: Journeys in the Company of the Dead (2013)