"Lord Elibank has just a cabinet of curiosities [in his mind], which are well ranged and of which he has an exact catalogue."
— Boswell, James (1740-1795)
SATURDAY 26 FEBRUARY. Last night Dempster came to me between ten and eleven and sat till one. He is really a most agreeable man: has fine sense, sweet dispositions, and the true manners of a gentleman. His sceptical notions give him a freedom and ease which in a companion is very pleasing, although to a man whose mind is possessed with serious thoughts of futurity, it is rather hurting to find them considered so lightly. He said he intended to write a treatise on the causes of happiness and misery. He considered the mind of man like a room, which is either made agreeable or the reverse by the pictures with which it is adorned. External circumstances are nothing to the purpose. Our great point is to have pleasing pictures in the inside. To illustrate this: we behold a man of quality in all the affluence of life. We are apt to imagined this man happy. We are apt to imagine that his gallery is hung with the most delightful paintings. But could we look into it, we should in all probability behold portraits of care, discontent, envy, languor, and distraction. When we see a beggar, how miserable do we think him! But let us examine his pictures. We will probably find merriment, hope, a keen stomach, a hearty meal, true friendship, the newspaper, and a pot of porter. The great art is to have an agreeable collection and to preserve them well.
This is really an ingenious and lively fancy. We gave some examples. Lord Elibank has just a cabinet of curiosities, which are well ranged and of which he has an exact catalogue. Macpherson has some bold portraits and wild landscapes. Lord Eglinton has had a variety of pieces, but they have been mostly slightly painted and are fading, so that his most frequent picture is Regret. The [End Page 203] mind of a young man (his gallery I mean) is often furnished different ways. According to the scenes he is placed in, so are his pictures. They disappear, and he gets a new set in a moment. But as he grows up, he gets some substantial pieces which he always preserves, although he may alter his smaller paintings in a moment. I said that he whose pictures shifted too often, like the glaiks, was too light-headed, and so in Scotland, he is called glaiked, an expression perfectly of a piece with his system.