Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, by James Boswell

Saturday, 25th September

It was resolved that we should set out, in order to return to Slate, to be in readiness to take boat whenever there should be a fair wind. Dr Johnson remained in his chamber writing a letter, and it was long before we could get him into motion. He did not come to breakfast, but had it sent to him. When he had finished his letter, it was twelve o’clock, and we should have set out at ten. When I went up to him, he said to me, ‘Do you remember a song which begins,

“Every island is a prison

Strongly guarded by the sea;

Kings and princes, for that reason,

Prisoners are, as well as we.”’

I suppose he had been thinking of our confined situation. He would fain have gone in a boat from hence, instead of riding back to Slate. A scheme for it was proposed. He said, ‘We’ll not be driven tamely from it’: but it proved impracticable.

We took leave of M’Leod and Talisker, from whom we parted with regret. Talisker, having been bred to physick, had a tincture of scholarship in his conversation, which pleased Dr Johnson, and he had some very good books; and being a colonel in the Dutch service, he and his lady, in consequence of having lived abroad, had introduced the ease and politeness of the continent into this rude region.

Young Col was now our leader. Mr M’Queen was to accompany us half a day more. We stopped at a little hut, where we saw an old woman grinding with the quern, the ancient Highland instrument, which it is said was used by the Romans, but which, being very slow in its operation, is almost entirely gone into disuse.

The walls of the cottages in Sky, instead of being one compacted mass of stones, are often formed by two exterior surfaces of stone, filled up with earth in the middle, which makes them very warm. The roof is generally bad. They are thatched, sometimes with straw, sometimes with heath, sometimes with fern. The thatch is secured by ropes of straw, or of heath; and, to fix the ropes, there is a stone tied to the end of each. These stones hang round the bottom of the roof, and make it look like a lady’s hair in papers; but I should think that, when there is wind, they would come down, and knock people on the head.

We dined at the inn at Sconser, where I had the pleasure to find a letter from my wife. Here we parted from our learned companion, Mr Donald M’Queen. Dr Johnson took leave of him very affectionately, saying, ‘Dear sir, do not forget me!’ We settled, that he should write an account of the Isle of Sky, which Dr Johnson promised to revise. He said, Mr M’Queen should tell all that he could; distinguishing what he himself knew, what was traditional, and what conjectural.

We sent our horses round a point of land, that we might shun some very bad road; and resolved to go forward by sea. It was seven o’clock when we got into our boat. We had many showers, and it soon grew pretty dark. Dr Johnson sat silent and patient. Once he said, as he looked on the black coast of Sky — black, as being composed of rocks seen in the dusk —‘This is very solemn.’ Our boatmen were rude singers, and seemed so like wild Indians, that a very little imagination was necessary to give one an impression of being upon an American river. We landed at Strolimus, from whence we got a guide to walk before us, for two miles, to Corrichatachin. Not being able to procure a horse for our baggage, I took one portmanteau before me, and Joseph another. We had but a single star to light us on our way. It was about eleven when we arrived. We were most hospitably received by the master and mistress, who were just going to bed, but, with unaffected ready kindness, made a good fire, and at twelve o’clock at night had supper on the table.

James Macdonald, of Knockow, Kingsburgh’s brother, whom we had seen at Kingsburgh, was there. He shewed me a bond granted by the late Sir James Macdonald, to old Kingsburgh, the preamble of which does so much honour to the feelings of that much-lamented gentleman, that I thought it worth transcribing. It was as follows:—

I, Sir James Macdonald, of Macdonald, Baronet, now, after arriving at my perfect age, from the friendship I bear to Alexander Macdonald of Kingsburgh, and in return for the long and faithful services done and performed by him to my deceased father, and to myself during my minority, when he was one of my Tutors and Curators; being resolved, now that the said Alexander Macdonald is advanced in years, to contribute my endeavours for making his old age placid and comfortable, therefore he grants him an annuity of fifty pounds sterling.

Dr Johnson went to bed soon. When one bowl of punch was finished, I rose, and was near the door, in my way up stairs to bed; but Corrichatachin said, it was the first time Col had been in his house, and he should have his bowl; and would not I join in drinking it? The heartiness of my honest landlord, and the desire of doing social honour to our very obliging conductor, induced me to sit down again. Col’s bowl was finished; and by that time we were well warmed. A third bowl was soon made, and that too was finished. We were cordial, and merry to a high degree; but of what passed I have no recollection, with any accuracy. I remember calling Corrichatachin by the familiar appellation of Corri, which his friends do. A fourth bowl was made, by which time Col, and young M’Kinnon, Corrichatachin’s son, slipped away to bed. I continued a little with Corri and Knockow; but at last I left them. It was near five in the morning when I got to bed.

Sunday, 26th September

I awaked at noon, with a severe head-ach. I was much vexed that I should have been guilty of such a riot, and afraid of a reproof from Dr Johnson. I thought it very inconsistent with that conduct which I ought to maintain, while the companion of the Rambler. About one he came into my room, and accosted me, ‘What, drunk yet?’ His tone of voice was not that of severe upbraiding; so I was relieved a little. ‘Sir,’ said I, ‘they kept me up.’ He answered, ‘No, you kept them up, you drunken dog.’ This he said with good-humoured English pleasantry. Soon afterwards, Corrichatachin, Col, and other friends assembled round my bed. Corri had a brandy-bottle and glass with him, and insisted I should take a dram. ‘Ay,’ said Dr Johnson, ‘fill him drunk again. Do it in the morning, that we may laugh at him all day. It is a poor thing for a fellow to get drunk at night, and sculk to bed, and let his friends have no sport.’ Finding him thus jocular, I became quite easy; and when I offered to get up, he very good-naturedly said, ‘You need be in no such hurry now.’ †

† [Note: My ingenuously relating this occasional instance of intemperance has I find been made the subject both of serious criticism and ludicrous banter. With the banterers I shall not trouble myself, but I wonder that those who pretend to the appellation of serious criticks should not have had sagacity enough to perceive that here, as in every other part of the present work, my principal object was to delineate Dr Johnson’s manners and character. In justice to him I would not omit an anecdote, which, though in some degree to my own disadvantage, exhibits in so strong a light the indulgence and good humour with which he could treat those excesses in his friends, of which he highly disapproved. In some other instances, the criticks have been equally wrong as to the true motive of my recording particulars, the objections to which I saw as clearly as they. But it would be an endless talk for an authour to point out upon every occasion the precise object he has in view. Contenting himself with the approbation of readers of discernment and taste, he ought not to complain that some are found who cannot or will not understand him.]

I took my host’s advice, and drank some brandy, which I found an effectual cure for my head-ach. When I rose, I went into Dr Johnson’s room, and taking up Mrs M’Kinnon’s prayer-book, I opened it at the twentieth Sunday after Trinity, in the epistle for which I read, ‘And be not drunk with wine, wherein there is excess.’ Some would have taken this as a divine interposition.

Mrs M’Kinnon told us at dinner, that old Kingsburgh, her father, was examined at Mugstot, by General Campbell, as to the particulars of the dress of the person who had come to his house in woman’s clothes, along with Miss Flora M’Donald; as the General had received intelligence of that disguise. The particulars were taken down in writing, that it might be seen how far they agreed with the dress of the ‘Irish girl’ who went with Miss Flora from the Long Island. Kingsburgh, she said, had but one song, which he always sung when he was merry over a glass. She dictated the words to me, which are foolish enough:

Green sleeves and pudding pies,

Tell me where my mistress lies,

And I’ll be with her before the rise,

Fiddle and aw’ together.

May our affairs abroad succeed,

And may our king come home with speed,

And all pretenders shake for dread,

And let HIS health go round.

To all our injured friends in need,

This side and beyond the Tweed!

Let all pretenders shake for dread,

And let HIS health go round.

Green sleeves, &c.

While the examination was going on, the present Talisker, who was there as one of M’Leod’s militia, could not resist the pleasantry of asking Kingsburgh, in allusion to his only song, ‘Had she GREEN SLEEVES?’ Kingsburgh gave him no answer. Lady Margaret M’Donald was very angry at Talisker for joking on such a serious occasion, as Kingsburgh was really in danger of his life. Mrs M’Kinnon added that Lady Margaret was quite adored in Sky. That when she travelled through the island, the people ran in crowds before her, and took the stones off the road, lest her horse should stumble and she be hurt. Her husband, Sir Alexander, is also remembered with great regard. We were told that every week a hogshead of claret was drunk at his table.

This was another day of wind and rain; but good cheer and good society helped to beguile the time. I felt myself comfortable enough in the afternoon. I then thought that my last night’s riot was no more than such a social excess as may happen without much moral blame; and recollected that some physicians maintained, that a fever produced by it was, upon the whole, good for health: so different are our reflections on the same subject, at different periods; and such the excuses with which we palliate what we know to be wrong.

Monday, 27th September

Mr Donald M’Leod, our original guide, who had parted from us at Dunvegan, joined us again to-day. The weather was still so bad that we could not travel. I found a closet here, with a good many books, beside those that were lying about. Dr Johnson told me, he found a library in his room at Talisker; and observed, that it was one of the remarkable things of Sky, that there were so many books in it.

Though we had here great abundance of provisions, it is remarkable that Corrichatachin has literally no garden: not even a turnip, a carrot or a cabbage. After dinner, we talked of the crooked spade used in Sky, already described, and they maintained that it was better than the usual garden-spade, and that there was an art in tossing it, by which those who were accustomed to it could work very easily with it. ‘Nay,’ said Dr Johnson, ‘it may be useful in land where there are many stones to raise; but it certainly is not a good instrument for digging good land. A man may toss it, to be sure; but he will toss a light spade much better: its weight makes it an incumbrance. A man MAY dig any land with it; but he has no occasion for such a weight in digging good land. You may take a field-piece to shoot sparrows; but all the sparrows you can bring home will not be worth the charge.’ He was quite social and easy amongst them; and, though he drank no fermented liquor, toasted Highland beauties with great readiness. His conviviality engaged them so much, that they seemed eager to shew their attention to him, and vied with each other in crying out, with a strong Celtick pronunciation, ‘Toctor Shonson, Toctor Shonson, your health!’

This evening one of our married ladies, a lively pretty little woman, good-humouredly sat down upon Dr Johnson’s knee, and, being encouraged by some of the company, put her hands round his neck, and kissed him. ‘Do it again,’ said he, ‘and let us see who will tire first.’ He kept her on his knee some time, while he and she drank tea. He was now like a BUCK indeed. All the company were much entertained to find him so easy and pleasant. To me it was highly comick, to see the grave philosopher — the Rambler — toying with a Highland beauty! But what could he do? He must have been surly, and weak too, had he not behaved as he did. He would have been laughed at, and not more respected, though less loved.

He read to-night, to himself, as he sat in company, a great deal of my Journal, and said to me, ‘The more I read of this, I think the more highly of you.’ The gentlemen sat a long time at their punch, after he and I had retired to our chambers. The manner in which they were attended struck me as singular: the bell being broken, a smart lad lay on a table in the corner of the room, ready to spring up and bring the kettle, whenever it was wanted. They continued drinking, and singing Erse songs, till near five in the morning, when they all came into my room, where some of them had beds. Unluckily for me, they found a bottle of punch in a corner, which they drank; and Corrichatachin went for another, which they also drank. They made many apologies for disturbing me. I told them, that, having been kept awake by their mirth, I had once thoughts of getting up, and joining them again. Honest Corrichatachin said, ‘To have had you done so, I would have given a cow.’

Tuesday, 28th September

The weather was worse than yesterday. I felt as if imprisoned. Dr Johnson said, it was irksome to be detained thus: yet he seemed to have less uneasiness, or more patience, than I had. What made our situation worse here was, that we had no rooms that we could command; for the good people had no notion that a man could have any occasion but for a mere sleeping-place; so, during the day, the bed-chambers were common to all the house. Servants eat in Dr Johnson’s; and mine was a kind of general rendezvous of all under the roof, children and dogs not excepted. As the gentlemen occupied the parlour, the ladies had no place to sit in, during the day, but Dr Johnson’s room. I had always some quiet time for writing in it, before he was up; and, by degrees, I accustomed the ladies to let me sit in it after breakfast, at my Journal, without minding me.

Dr Johnson was this morning for going to see as many islands as we could; not recollecting the uncertainty of the season, which might detain us in one place for many weeks. He said to me, ‘I have more the spirit of adventure than you.’ For my part, I was anxious to get to Mull, from whence we might almost any day reach the main land.

Dr Johnson mentioned, that the few ancient Irish gentlemen yet remaining have the highest pride of family; that Mr Sandford, a friend of his, whose mother was Irish, told him, that O’Hara (who was true Irish, both by father and mother) and he, and Mr Ponsonby, son to the Earl of Besborough, the greatest man of the three, but of an English family, went to see one of those ancient Irish, and that he distinguished them thus: ‘O’Hara, you are welcome! Mr Sandford, your mother’s son, is welcome! Mr Ponsonby, you may sit down.’

He talked both of threshing and thatching. He said, it was very difficult to determine how to agree with a thresher. ‘If you pay him by the day’s wages, he will thresh no more than he pleases; though, to be sure, the negligence of a thresher is more easily detected than that of most labourers, because he must always make a sound while he works. If you pay him by the piece, by the quantity of grain which he produces, he will thresh only while the grain comes freely, and, though he leaves a good deal in the ear, it is not worth while to thresh the straw over again; nor can you fix him to do it sufficiently, because it is so difficult to prove how much less a man threshes than he ought to do. Here then is a dilemma: but, for my part, I would engage him by the day; I would rather trust his idleness than his fraud.’ He said, a roof thatched with Lincolnshire reeds would last seventy years, as he was informed when in that county; and that he told this in London to a great thatcher, who said, he believed it might be true. Such are the pains that Dr Johnson takes to get the best information on every subject.

He proceeded: ‘It is difficult for a farmer in England to find day-labourers, because the lowest manufacturers can always get more than a day-labourer. It is of no consequence how high the wages of manufacturers are; but it would be of very bad consequence to raise the wages of those who procure the immediate necessaries of life, for that would raise the price of provisions. Here then is a problem for politicians. It is not reasonable that the most useful body of men should be the worst paid; yet it does not appear how it can be ordered otherwise. It were to be wished, that a mode for its being otherwise were found out. In the mean time, it is better to give temporary assistance by charitable contributions to poor labourers, at times when provisions are high, than to raise their wages; because, if wages are once raised, they will never get down again.’

Happily the weather cleared up between one and two o’clock, and we got ready to depart; but our kind host and hostess would not let us go without taking a ‘snatch’, as they called it; which was in truth a very good dinner. While the punch went round, Dr Johnson kept a close whispering conference with Mrs M’Kinnon, which, however, was loud enough to let us hear that the subject of it was the particulars of Prince Charles’s escape. The company were entertained and pleased to observe it. Upon that subject, there was something congenial between the soul of Dr Samuel Johnson, and that of an isle of Sky farmer’s wife. It is curious to see people, how far soever removed from each other in the general system of their lives, come close together on a particular point which is common to each. We were merry with Corrichatachin, on Dr Johnson’s whispering with his wife. She, perceiving this, humorously cried, ‘I am in love with him. What is it to live and not to love?’ Upon her saying something, which I did not hear, or cannot recollect, he seized her hand eagerly, and kissed it.

As we were going, the Scottish phrase of ‘honest man!’ which is an expression of kindness and regard, was again and again applied by the company to Dr Johnson. I was also treated with much civility; and I must take some merit from my assiduous attention to him, and from my contriving that he shall be easy wherever he goes, that he shall not be asked twice to eat or drink any thing (which always disgusts him), that he shall be provided with water at his meals, and many such little things, which, if not attended to would fret him. I also may be allowed to claim some merit in leading the conversation: I do not mean leading, as in an orchestra, by playing the first fiddle; but leading as one does in examining a witness — starting topics, and making him pursue them. He appears to me like a great mill, into which a subject is thrown to be ground. It requires, indeed, fertile minds to furnish materials for this mill. I regret whenever I see it unemployed; but sometimes I feel myself quite barren, and having nothing to throw in. I know not if this mill be a good figure; though Pope makes his mind a mill for turning verses.

We set out about four. Young Corrichatachin went with us. We had a fine evening, and arrived in good time at Ostig, the residence of Mr Martin M’Pherson, minister of Slate. It is a pretty good house, built by his father, upon a farm near the church. We were received here with much kindness by Mr and Mrs M’Pherson, and his sister, Miss M’Pherson, who pleased Dr Johnson much, by singing Erse songs, and playing on the guittar. He afterwards sent her a present of his Rasselas. In his bed-chamber was a press stored with books, Greek, Latin, French, and English, most of which had belonged to the father of our host, the learned Dr M’Pherson; who, though his Dissertations have been mentioned in a former page as unsatisfactory, was a man of distinguished talents. Dr Johnson looked at a Latin paraphrase of the song of Moses, written by him, and published in the Scots Magazine for 1747, and said, ‘It does him honour; he has a great deal of Latin, and good Latin.’ Dr M’Pherson published also in the same magazine, June 1739, an original Latin ode, which he wrote from the Isle of Barra, where he was minister for some years. It is very poetical, and exhibits a striking proof how much all things depend upon comparison: for Barra, it seems, appeared to him so much worse than Sky, his natale solum, that he languished for its ‘blessed mountains’, and thought himself buried alive amongst barbarians where he was. My readers will probably not be displeased to have a specimen of this ode:

Hei mihi! quantos patior dolores,

Dum procul specto juga ter beata;

Dum ferae Barrae steriles arenas

Solus oberro.

Ingemo, indignor, crucior, quod inter

Barbaros Thulen lateam colentes;

Torpeo languens, morior sepultus,

Carcere coeco.

After wishing for wings to fly over to his dear country, which was in his view, from what he calls ‘Thule’, as being the most western isle of Scotland, except St Kilda; after describing the pleasures of society, and the miseries of solitude, he at last, with becoming propriety, has recourse to the only sure relief of thinking men — Sursum corda, the hope of a better world — and disposes his mind to resignation:

Interim fiat, tua, rex, voluntas:

Erigor sursum quoties subit spes

Certa migrandi Solymam supernam,

Numinis aulam.

He concludes in a noble strain of orthodox piety:

Vita tum demum vocitanda vita est.

Tum licet gratos socios habere,

Seraphim et sanctos Triadem verendam

Concelebrantes.

Wednesday, 29th September

After a very good sleep, I rose more refreshed than I had been for some nights. We were now at but a little distance from the shore, and saw the sea from our windows, which made our voyage seem nearer. Mr M’Pherson’s manners and address pleased us much. He appeared to be a man of such intelligence and taste as to be sensible of the extraordinary powers of his illustrious guest. He said to me, ‘Dr Johnson is an honour to mankind; and, if the expression may be used, is an honour to religion.’

Col, who had gone yesterday to pay a visit at Camuscross, joined us this morning at breakfast. Some other gentlemen also came to enjoy the entertainment of Dr Johnson’s conversation. The day was windy and rainy, so that we had just seized a happy interval for our journey last night. We had good entertainment here, better accommodation than at Corrichatachin, and time enough to ourselves. The hours slipped along imperceptibly. We talked of Shenstone. Dr Johnson said, he was a good layer-out of land, but would not allow him to approach excellence as a poet. He said, he believed he had tried to read all his Love Pastorals, but did not get through them. I repeated the stanza,

‘“She gazed as I slowly withdrew;

My path I could hardly discern;

So sweetly she bade me adieu,

I thought that she bade me return.”’

He said, ‘That seems to be pretty.’ I observed that Shenstone, from his short maxims in prose, appeared to have some power of thinking; but Dr Johnson would not allow him that merit. He agreed, however, with Shenstone, that it was wrong in the brother of one of his correspondents to burn his letters; ‘for,’ said he, ‘Shenstone was a man whose correspondence was an honour.’ He was this afternoon full of critical severity, and dealt about his censures on all sides. He said, Hammond’s Love Elegies were poor things. He spoke contemptuously of our lively and elegant, though too licentious, lyrick bard, Hanbury Williams, and said, ‘he had no fame, but from boys who drank with him’.

While he was in this mood, I was unfortunate enough, simply perhaps, but, I could not help thinking, undeservedly, to come within ‘the whiff and wind of his fell sword’. I asked him, if he had ever been accustomed to wear a night-cap. He said ‘No.’ I asked, if it was best not to wear one. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, I had this custom by chance, and perhaps no man shall ever know whether it is best to sleep with or without a night-cap.’ Soon afterwards he was laughing at some deficiency in the Highlands, and said, ‘One might as well go without shoes and stockings.’ Thinking to have a little hit at his own deficiency, I ventured to add, ‘or without a night-cap, sir’. But I had better have been silent; for he retorted directly, ‘I do not see the connection there’ (laughing). ‘Nobody before was ever foolish enough to ask whether it was best to wear a night-cap or not. This comes of being a little wrong-headed.’ He carried the company along with him: and yet the truth is, that if he had always worn a night-cap, as is the common practice, and found the Highlanders did not wear one, he would have wondered at their barbarity; so that my hit was fair enough.

Thursday, 30th September

There was as great a storm of wind and rain as I have almost ever seen, which necessarily confined us to the house; but we were fully compensated by Dr Johnson’s conversation. He said, he did not grudge Burke’s being the first man in the House of Commons, for he was the first man every where; but he grudged that a fellow who makes no figure in company, and has a mind as narrow as the neck of a vinegar cruet, should make a figure in the House of Commons, merely by having the knowledge of a few forms, and being furnished with a little occasional information. †

† [Note: He did not mention the name of any particular person; but those who are conversant with the political world will probably recollect more persons than one to whom this observation may be applied.]

He told us, the first time he saw Dr Young was at the house of Mr Richardson, the author of Clarissa. He was sent for, that the doctor might read to him his Conjectures on Original Composition, which he did, and Dr Johnson made his remarks; and he was surprised to find Young receive as novelties, what he thought very common maxims. He said, he believed Young was not a great scholar, nor had studied regularly the art of writing; that there were very fine things in his Night Thoughts, though you could not find twenty lines together without some extravagance. He repeated two passages from his Love of Fame — the characters of Brunetta and Stella, which he praised highly. He said Young pressed him much to come to Wellwyn. He always intended it, but never went. He was sorry when Young died. The cause of quarrel between Young and his son, he told us, was, that his son insisted Young should turn away a clergyman’s widow, who lived with him, and who, having acquired great influence over the father, was saucy to the son. Dr Johnson said, she could not conceal her resentment at him, for saying to Young, that ‘an old man should not resign himself to the management of any body.’ I asked him, if there was any improper connection between them. ‘No, sir, no more than between two statues. He was past fourscore, and she a very coarse woman. She read to him, and, I suppose, made his coffee, and frothed his chocolate, and did such things as an old man wishes to have done for him.’

Dr Dodridge being mentioned, he observed that ‘he was author of one of the finest epigrams in the English language. It is in Orton’s Life of him. The subject is his family-motto, Dum vivimus, vivamus; which, in its primary signification, is, to be sure, not very suitable to a Christian divine; but he paraphrased it thus:

“Live, while you live, the EPICURE would say,

And seize the pleasures of the present day.

Live, while you live, the sacred PREACHER cries,

And give to God each moment as it flies.

Lord, in my views let both united be;

I live in PLEASURE, when I live to THEE.”’

I asked if it was not strange that government should permit so many infidel writings to pass without censure. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, it is mighty foolish. It is for want of knowing their own power. The present family on the throne came to the crown against the will of nine tenths of the people. Whether those nine tenths were right or wrong, it is not our business now to inquire. But such being the situation of the royal family, they were glad to encourage all who would be their friends. Now you know every bad man is a Whig; every man who has loose notions. The Church was all against this family. They were, as I say, glad to encourage any friends; and therefore, since their accession, there is no instance of any man being kept back on account of his bad principles; and hence this inundation of impiety.’ I observed that Mr Hume, some of whose writings were very unfavourable to religion, was, however, a Tory. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, Hume is a Tory by chance, as being a Scotchman; but not upon a principle of duty; for he has no principle. If he is any thing, he is a Hobbist.’

There was something not quite serene in his humour to night, after supper; for he spoke of hastening away to London, without stopping much at Edinburgh. I reminded him, that he had General Oughton and many others to see. JOHNSON. ‘Nay, I shall neither go in jest, nor stay in jest. I shall do what is fit.’ BOSWELL. ‘Ay, sir, but all I desire is, that you will let me tell you when it is fit.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, I shall not consult you.’ BOSWELL. ‘If you are to run away from us, as soon as you get loose, we will keep you confined in an island.’ He was, however, on the whole, very good company. Mr Donald M’Leod expressed very well the gradual impression made by Dr Johnson on those who are so fortunate as to obtain his acquaintance. ‘When you see him first, you are struck with awful reverence; then you admire him; and then you love him cordially.’

I read this evening some part of Voltaire’s History of the War in 1741, and of Lord Kames against Hereditary Indefeasible Right. This is a very slight circumstance, with which I should not trouble my reader, but for the sake of observing, that every man should keep minutes of whatever he reads. Every circumstance of his studies should be recorded; what books he has consulted; how much of them he has read; at what times; how often the same authors; and what opinions he formed of them, at different periods of his life. Such an account would much illustrate the history of his mind.

Friday, 1st October

I shewed to Dr Johnson verses in a magazine, on his Dictionary, composed of uncommon words taken from it:

Little of Anthropopathy has he, &c.”

He read a few of them, and said, ‘I am not answerable for all the words in my Dictionary.’ I told him, that Garrick kept a book of all who had either praised or abused him. On the subject of his own reputation, he said, ‘Now that I see it has been so current a topick, I wish I had done so too; but it could not well be done now, as so many things are scattered in newspapers.’ He said he was angry at a boy of Oxford, who wrote in his defence against Kenrick; because it was doing him hurt to answer Kenrick. He was told afterwards, the boy was to come to him to ask a favour. He first thought to treat him rudely, on account of his meddling in that business; but then he considered, he had meant to do him all the service in his power, and he took another resolution; he told him he would do what he could for him, and did so, and the boy was satisfied. He said, he did not know how his pamphlet was done, as he had read very little of it. The boy made a good figure at Oxford, but died. He remarked, that attacks on authors did them much service. ‘A man who tells me my play is very bad, is less my enemy than he who lets it die in silence. A man, whose business it is to be talked of, is much helped at being attacked.’ Garrick, I observed, had been often so helped. JOHNSON. ‘Yes, sir; though Garrick had more opportunities than almost any man, to keep the publick in mind of him, by exhibiting himself to such numbers, he would not have had so much reputation, had he not been so much attacked. Every attack produces a defence; and so attention is engaged. There is no sport in mere praise, when people are all of a mind.’ BOSWELL. ‘Then Hume is not the worse for Seattle’s attack?’ JOHNSON. ‘He is, because Beattie has confuted him. I do not say, but that there may be some attacks which will hurt an author. Though Hume suffered from Beattie, he was the better for other attacks.’ (He certainly could not include in that number those of Dr Adams, and Mr Tytler.) BOSWELL. ‘Goldsmith is the better for attacks.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes, sir; but he does not think so yet. When Goldsmith and I published, each of us something, at the same time, we were given to understand that we might review each other. Goldsmith was for accepting the offer. I said, No; set reviewers at defiance. It was said to old Bentley, upon the attacks against him, “Why, they’ll write you down.” “No, sir,” he replied; “depend upon it, no man was ever written down but by himself.”’ He observed to me afterwards, that the advantages authours derived from attacks, were chiefly in subjects of taste, where you cannot confute, as so much may be said on either side. He told me he did not know who was the authour of the Adventures of a Guinea, but that the bookseller had sent the first volume to him in manuscript, to have his opinion if it should be printed; and he thought it should.

The weather being now somewhat better, Mr James M’Donald, factor to Sir Alexander M’Donald in Slate, insisted that all the company at Ostig should go to the house at Armidale, which Sir Alexander had left having gone with his lady to Edinburgh, and be his guests, till we had an opportunity of sailing to Mull. We accordingly got there to dinner; and passed our day very cheerfully, being no less than fourteen in number.

Saturday, 2d October

Dr Johnson said, that ‘a chief and his lady should make their house like a court. They should have a certain number of the gentlemen’s daughters to receive their education in the family, to learn pastry and such things from the housekeeper, and manners from my lady. That was the way in the great families in Wales; at Lady Salisbury’s, Mrs Thrale’s grandmother, and at Lady Philips’s. I distinguish the families by the ladies, as I speak of what was properly their province. There were always six young ladies at Sir John Philips’s: when one was married, her place was filled up. There was a large school-room, where they learnt needlework and other things.’ I observed, that, at some courts in Germany, there were academies for the pages, who are the sons of gentlemen, and receive their education without any expence to their parents. Dr Johnson said, that manners were best learnt at those courts. ‘You are admitted with great facility to the prince’s company, and yet must treat him with much respect. At a great court, you are at such a distance that you get no good.’ I said, ‘Very true: a man sees the court of Versailles, as if he saw it on a theatre.’ He said, ‘The best book that ever was written upon good breeding, Il Corteggiano, by Castiglione, grew up at the little court of Urbino, and you should read it.’ I am glad always to have his opinion of books. At Mr M’Pherson’s, he commended Whitby’s Commentary, and said, he had heard him called rather lax; but he did not perceive it. He had looked at a novel, called The Man of the World, at Rasay, but thought there was nothing in it. He said to-day, while reading my Journal, ‘This will be a great treasure to us some years hence.’

Talking of a very penurious gentleman of our acquaintance, he observed, that he exceeded L’Avare in the play. I concurred with him, and remarked that he would do well, if introduced in one of Foote’s farces; that the best way to get it done, would be to bring Foote to be entertained at his house for a week, and then it would be facit indignatio. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, I wish he had him. I, who have eaten his bread, will not give him to him, but I should be glad he came honestly by him.’

He said, he was angry at Thrale, for sitting at General Oglethorpe’s without speaking. He censured a man for degrading himself to a non-entity. I observed, that Goldsmith was on the other extreme; for he spoke at all ventures. JOHNSON. ‘Yes, sir; Goldsmith, rather than not speak, will talk of what he knows himself to be ignorant, which can only end in exposing him.’ ‘I wonder,’ said I, ‘if he feels that he exposes himself. If he was with two taylors . . . ’ ‘Or with two founders,’ said Dr Johnson, interrupting me, ‘he would fall a talking on the method of making cannon, though both of them would soon see that he did not know what metal a cannon is made of.’ We were very social and merry in his room this forenoon. In the evening the company danced as usual. We performed, with much activity, a dance which, I suppose, the emigration from Sky has occasioned. They call it ‘America’. Each of the couples, after the common involutions and evolutions, successively whirls round in a circle, till all are in motion; and the dance seems intended to shew how emigration catches, till a whole neighbourhood is set afloat. Mrs M’Kinnon told me, that last year when a ship sailed from Portree for America, the people on shore were almost distracted when they saw their relations go off; they lay down on the ground, tumbled, and tore the grass with their teeth. This year there was not a tear shed. The people on shore seemed to think that they would soon follow. This indifference is a mortal sign for the country.

We danced to night to the musick of the bagpipe, which made us beat the ground with prodigious force. I thought it better to endeavour to conciliate the kindness of the people of Sky, by joining heartily in their amusements, than to play the abstract scholar. I looked on this tour to the Hebrides as a copartnership between Dr Johnson and me. Each was to do all he could to promote its success; and I have some reason to flatter myself, that my gayer exertions were of service to us. Dr Johnson’s immense fund of knowledge and wit was a wonderful source of admiration and delight to them; but they had it only at times; and they required to have the intervals agreeably filled up, and even little elucidations of his learned text. I was also fortunate enough frequently to draw him forth to talk, when he would otherwise have been silent. The fountain was at times locked up, till I opened the spring. It was curious to hear the Hebridians, when any dispute happened while he was out of the room, saying, ‘Stay till Dr Johnson comes: say that to HIM!’

Yesterday Dr Johnson said, ‘I cannot but laugh, to think of myself roving among the Hebrides at sixty. I wonder where I shall rove at fourscore!’ This evening he disputed the truth of what is said, as to the people of St Kilda catching cold whenever strangers come. ‘How can there,’ said he, ‘be a physical effect without a physical cause?’ He added, laughing, ‘the arrival of a ship full of strangers would kill them; for, if one stranger gives them one cold, two strangers must give them two colds; and so in proportion.’ I wondered to hear him ridicule this, as he had praised M’Aulay 247 for putting it in his book: saying, that it was manly in him to tell a fact, however strange, if he himself believed it. He said, the evidence was not adequate to the improbability of the thing; that if a physician, rather disposed to be incredulous, should go to St Kilda, and report the fact, then he would begin to look about him. They said, it was annually proved by M’Leod’s steward, on whose arrival all the inhabitants caught cold. He jocularly remarked, ‘the steward always comes to demand something from them; and so they fall a coughing. I suppose the people in Sky all take a cold, when —’ (naming a certain person) ‘comes.’ They said, he came only in summer. JOHNSON. ‘That is out of tenderness to you. Bad weather and he, at the same time, would be too much.’

Sunday, 3d October

Joseph reported that the wind was still against us. Dr Johnson said, ‘A wind, or not a wind? that is the question’; for he can amuse himself at times with a little play of words, or rather sentences. I remember when he turned his cup at Aberbrothick, where we drank tea, he muttered, Claudite jam rivos, pueri. I must again and again apologize to fastidious readers, for recording such minute particulars. They prove the scrupulous fidelity of my Journal. Dr Johnson said it was a very exact picture of a portion of his life.

While we were chatting in the indolent stile of men who were to stay here all this day at least, we were suddenly roused at being told that the wind was fair, that a little fleet of herring-busses was passing by for Mull, and that Mr Simpson’s vessel was about to sail. Hugh M’Donald, the skipper, came to us, and was impatient that we should get ready, which we soon did. Dr Johnson, with composure and solemnity, repeated the observation of Epictetus, that, ‘as man has the voyage of death before him, whatever may be his employment, he should be ready at the master’s call; and an old man should never be far from the shore, lest he should not be able to get himself ready’. He rode, and I and the other gentlemen walked, about an English mile to the shore, where the vessel lay. Dr Johnson said, he should never forget Sky, and returned thanks for all civilities. We were carried to the vessel in a small boat which she had, and we set sail very briskly about one o’clock. I was much pleased with the motion for many hours. Dr Johnson grew sick, and retired under cover, as it rained a good deal. I kept above, that I might have fresh air, and finding myself not affected by the motion of the vessel, I exulted in being a stout seaman, while Dr Johnson was quite in a state of annihilation. But I was soon humbled; for after imagining that I could go with ease to America or the East Indies, I became very sick, but kept above board, though it rained hard.

As we had been detained so long in Sky by bad weather, we gave up the scheme that Col had planned for us of visiting several islands, and contented ourselves with the prospect of seeing Mull, and Icolmkill and Inchkenneth, which lie near to it.

Mr Simpson was sanguine in his hopes for a-while, the wind being fair for us. He said, he would land us at Icolmkill that night. But when the wind failed, it was resolved we should make for the sound of Mull, and land in the harbour of Tobermorie. We kept near the five herring vessels for some time; but afterwards four of them got before us, and one little wherry fell behind us. When we got in full view of the point of Ardnamurchan, the wind changed, and was directly against our getting into the sound. We were then obliged to tack, and get forward in that tedious manner. As we advanced, the storm grew greater, and the sea very rough. Col then began to talk of making for Egg, or Canna, or his own island. Our skipper said, he would get us into the Sound. Having struggled for this a good while in vain, he said, he would push forward till we were near the land of Mull, where we might cast anchor, and lie till the morning; for although, before this, there had been a good moon, and I had pretty distinctly seen not only the land of Mull, but up the Sound, and the country of Morven as at one end of it, the night was now grown very dark. Our crew consisted of one M’Donald, our skipper, and two sailors, one of whom had but one eye; Mr Simpson himself, Col, and Hugh M’Donald his servant, all helped. Simpson said, he would willingly go for Col, if young Col or his servant would undertake to pilot us to a harbour; but, as the island is low land, it was dangerous to run upon it in the dark. Col and his servant appeared a little dubious. The scheme of running for Canna seemed then to be embraced; but Canna was ten leagues off, all out of our way; and they were afraid to attempt the harbour of Egg. All these different plans were sucessively in agitation. The old skipper still tried to make for the land of Mull, but then it was considered that there was no place there where we could anchor in safety. Much time was lost in striving against the storm. At last it became so rough, and threatened to be so much worse, that Col and his servant took more courage, and said they would undertake to hit one of the harbours in Col. ‘Then let us run for it in God’s name,’ said the skipper; and instantly we turned towards it. The little wherry which had fallen behind us, had hard work. The master begged that, if we made for Col, we should put out a light to him. Accordingly one of the sailors waved a glowing peat for some time. The various difficulties that were started, gave me a good deal of apprehension, from which I was relieved, when I found we were to run for a harbour before the wind. But my relief was but of short duration; for I soon heard that our sails were very bad, and were in danger of being torn in pieces, in which case we should be driven upon the rocky shore of Col. It was very dark, and there was a heavy and incessant rain. The sparks of the burning peat flew so much about, that I dreaded the vessel might take fire. Then, as Col was a sportman, and had powder on board, I figured that we might be blown up. Simpson and he appeared a little frightened, which made me more so; and the perpetual talking, or rather shouting, which was carried on in Erse, alarmed me still more. A man is always suspicious of what is saying in an unknown tongue; and, if fear be his passion at the time, he grows more afraid. Our vessel often lay so much on one side, that I trembled lest she should be overset, and indeed they told me afterwards, that they had run her sometimes to within an inch of the water, so anxious were they to make what haste they could before the night should be worse. I now saw what I never saw before, a prodigious sea, with immense billows coming upon a vessel, so as that it seemed hardly possible to escape. There was something grandly horrible in the sight. I am glad I have seen it once. Amidst all these terrifying circumstances, I endeavoured to compose my mind. It was not easy to do it; for all the stories that I had heard of the dangerous sailing among the Hebrides, which is proverbial, came full upon my recollection. When I thought of those who were dearest to me, and would suffer severely, should I be lost, I upbraided myself, as not having a sufficient cause for putting myself in such danger. Piety afforded me comfort; yet I was disturbed by the objections that have been made against a particular providence, and by the arguments of those who maintain that it is in vain to hope that the petitions of an individual, or even of congregations, can have any influence with the Deity; objections which have been often made, and which Dr Hawkesworth has lately revived, in his preface to the Voyages to the South Seas; but Dr Ogden’s excellent doctrine on the efficacy of intercession prevailed.

It was half an hour after eleven before we set ourselves in the course for Col. As I saw them all busy doing something, I asked Col, with much earnestness, what I could do. He, with a happy readiness, put into my hand a rope, which was fixed to the top of one of the masts, and told me to hold it till he bade me pull. If I had considered the matter, I might have seen that this could not be of the least service; but his object was to keep me out of the way of those who were busy working the vessel, and at the same time to divert my fear, by employing me, and making me think that I was of use. Thus did I stand firm to my post, while the wind and rain beat upon me, always expecting a call to pull my rope.

The man with one eye steered; old M’Donald, and Col and his servant, lay upon the fore-castle, looking sharp out for the harbour. It was necessary to carry much ‘cloth’, as they termed it, that is to say, much sail, in order to keep the vessel off the shore of Col. This made violent plunging in a rough sea. At last they spied the harbour of Lochiern, and Col cried, ‘Thank God, we are safe!’ We ran up till we were opposite to it, and soon afterwards we got into it, and cast anchor.

Dr Johnson had all this time been quiet and unconcerned. He had lain down on one of the beds, and having got free from sickness, was satisfied. The truth is, he knew nothing of the danger we were in: but, fearless and unconcerned, might have said, in the words which he has chosen for the motto to his Rambler.

Quo me cunque rapit tempestas, deferor hospes. †

† [Note: For as the tempest drives, I shape my way. FRANCIS.]

Once, during the doubtful consultations, he asked whither we were going; and upon being told that it was not certain whether to Mull or Col, he cried, ‘Col for my money!’ I now went down, with Col and Mr Simpson, to visit him. He was lying in philosophick tranquillity with a greyhound of Col’s at his back, keeping him warm. Col is quite the Juvenis qui gaudet canibus. He had, when we left Talisker, two greyhounds, two terriers, a pointer, and a large Newfoundland water-dog. He lost one of his terriers by the road, but had still five dogs with him. I was very ill, and very desirous to get to shore. When I was told that we could not land that night, as the storm had now increased, I looked so miserably, as Col afterwards informed me, that what Shakspeare has made the Frenchman say of the English soldiers, when scantily dieted, ‘Piteous they will look, like drowned mice!’ might, I believe, have been well applied to me. There was in the harbour, before us, a Campbelltown vessel, the Betty, Kenneth Morison master, taking in kelp, and bound for Ireland. We sent our boat to beg beds for two gentlemen, and that the master would send his boat, which was larger than ours. He accordingly did so, and Col and I were accommodated in his vessel till the morning.

Monday, 4th October

About eight o’clock we went in the boat to Mr Simpson’s vessel, and took in Dr Johnson. He was quite well, though he had tasted nothing but a dish of tea since Saturday night. On our expressing some surprise at this, he said, that, ‘when he lodged in the Temple, and had no regular system of life, he had fasted for two days at a time, during which he had gone about visiting, though not at the hours of dinner or supper; that he had drunk tea, but eaten no bread; that this was no intentional fasting, but happened just in the course of a literary life’.

There was a little miserable publick-house close upon the shore, to which we should have gone, had we landed last night: but this morning Col resolved to take us directly to the house of Captain Lauchlan M’Lean, a descendant of his family, who had acquired a fortune in the East Indies, and taken a farm in Col. We had about an English mile to go to it. Col and Joseph, and some others, ran to some little horses, called here ‘Shelties’, that were running wild on a heath, and catched one of them. We had a saddle with us, which was clapped upon it, and a straw-halter was put on its head. Dr Johnson was then mounted, and Joseph very slowly and gravely led the horse. I said to Dr Johnson, ‘I wish, sir, THE CLUB saw you in this attitude.’ †

† [Note: This curious exhibition may perhaps remind some of my readers of the ludicrous lines, made, during Sir Robert Walpole’s administration, on Mr George (afterwards Lord) Littelton, though the figures of the two personages must be allowed to be very different:

But who is this astride the pony;

So long, so lean, so lank, so bony

Dat be de great orator, Littletony.]

It was a very heavy rain, and I was wet to the skin. Captain M’Lean had but a poor temporary house, or rather hut; however, it was a very good haven to us. There was a blazing peat-fire, and Mrs M’Lean, daughter of the minister of the parish, got us tea. I felt still the motion of the sea. Dr Johnson said, it was not in imagination, but a continuation of motion on the fluids, like that of the sea itself after the storm is over.

There were some books on the board which served as a chimney-piece. Dr Johnson took up Burnet’s History of his own Times. He said, ‘The first part of it is one of the most entertaining books in the English language; it is quite dramatick: while he went about every where, saw every where, and heard every where. By the first part, I mean so far as it appears that Burnet himself was actually engaged in what he has told; and this may be easily distinguished.’ Captain M’Lean censured Burnet, for his high praise of Lauderdale in a dedication, when he shews him in his history to have been so bad a man. JOHNSON. ‘I do not myself think that a man should say in a dedication what he could not say in a history. However, allowance should be made; for there is a great difference. The known style of a dedication is flattery: it professes to flatter. There is the same difference between what a man says in a dedication, and what he says in a history, as between a lawyer’s pleading a cause, and reporting it.’

The day passed away pleasantly enough. The wind became fair for Mull in the evening, and Mr Simpson resolved to sail next morning: but having been thrown into the island of Col, we were unwilling to leave it unexamined, especially as we considered that the Campbell-town vessel would sail for Mull in a day or two, and therefore we determined to stay.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/boswell/james/b74t/chapter8.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31