The gentlemen of the clan went away early in the morning to the harbour of Lochbradale, to take leave of some of their friends who were going to America. It was a very wet day. We looked at Rorie More’s horn, which is a large cow’s horn, with the mouth of it ornamented with silver curiously carved. It holds rather more than a bottle and a half. Every laird of M’Leod, it is said, must, as a proof of his manhood, drink it off full of claret, without laying it down. From Rorie More many of the branches of the family are descended; in particular, the Talisker branch; so that his name is much talked of. We also saw his bow, which hardly any man now can bend, and his glaymore, which was wielded with both hands, and is of a prodigious size. We saw here some old pieces of iron armour, immensely heavy. The broadsword now used, though called the glaymore (i.e. the great sword), is much smaller than that used in Rorie More’s time. There is hardly a target now to be found in the Highlands. After the disarming act, they made them serve as covers to their butter-milk barrels; a kind of change, like beating spears into pruning-hooks. Sir George Mackenzie’s Works (the folio edition) happened to lie in a window in the dining room. I asked Dr Johnson to look at the Characteres Advocatorum. He allowed him power of mind, and that he understood very well what he tells; but said, that there was too much declamation, and that the Latin was not correct. He found fault with approprinquabant, in the character of Gilmour. I tried him with the opposition between gloria and palma, in the comparison between Gilmour and Nisbet, which Lord Hailes, in his Catalogue of the Lords of Session, thinks difficult to be understood. The words are, penes ittum gloria, penes hunc palma. In a short Account of the Kirk of Scotland, which I published some years ago, I applied these words to the two contending parties, and explained them thus: ‘The popular party has most eloquence; Dr Robertson’s party most influence.’ I was very desirous to hear Dr Johnson’s explication. JOHNSON. ‘I see no difficulty. Gilmour was admired for his parts; Nisbet carried his cause by the skill in law. Palma is victory.’ I observed, that the character of Nicholson, in this book resembled that of Burke: for it is said, in one place,
in omnes lusos & jocos se saepe resolvebat; †
† [Note: He often indulged himself in every species of pleasantry and wit.]
and, in another,
sed accipitris more e conspectu aliquando astantium sublimi se protrahens volatu, in praedam miro impetu descendebat. †
† [Note: But like the hawk, having soared with a lofty flight to a height which the eye could not reach, he was want to swoop upon his quarry with wonderful rapidity.]
JOHNSON. ‘No, sir; I never heard Burke make a good joke in my life.’ BOSWELL. ‘But, sir, you will allow he is a hawk.’ Dr Johnson, thinking that I meant this of his joking, said, ‘No, sir, he is not the hawk there. He is the beetle in the mire.’ I still adhered to my metaphor. ‘But he SOARS as the hawk.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes, sir; but he catches nothing.’ M’Leod asked, what is the particular excellence of Burke’s eloquence? JOHNSON. ‘Copiousness and fertility of allusion; a power of diversifying his matter, by placing it in various relations. Burke has great information, and great command of language; though, in my opinion, it has not in every respect the highest elegance.’ BOSWELL. ‘Do you think, sir, that Burke has read Cicero much?’ JOHNSON. ‘I don’t believe it, sir. Burke has great knowledge, great fluency of words, and great promptness of ideas, so that he can speak with great illustration on any subject that comes before him. He is neither like Cicero, nor like Demosthenes, nor like any one else, but speaks as well as he can.’
In the 65th page of the first volume of Sir George Mackenzie, Dr Johnson pointed out a paragraph beginning with ‘Aristotle’, and told me there was an error in the text, which he bade me try to discover. I was lucky enough to hit it at once. As the passage is printed, it is said that the devil answers EVEN in ENGINES. I corrected it to — EVER in AENIGMAS. ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘you are a good critick. This would have been a great thing to do in the text of an ancient authour.’
Last night much care was taken of Dr Johnson, who was still distressed by his cold. He had hitherto most strangely slept without a night-cap. Miss M’Leod made him a large flannel one, and he was prevailed with to drink a little brandy when he was going to bed. He has great virtue, in not drinking wine or any fermented liquor, because, as he acknowledged to us, he could not do it in moderation. Lady M’Leod would hardly believe him, and said, ‘I am sure, sir, you would not carry it too far.’ JOHNSON. ‘Nay, madam, it carried me. I took the opportunity of a long illness to leave it off. It was then prescribed to me not to drink wine; and having broken off the habit, I have never returned to it.’
In the argument on Tuesday night, about natural goodness, Dr Johnson denied that any child was better than another, but by difference of instruction; though, in consequence of greater attention being paid to instruction by one child than another, and of a variety of imperceptible causes, such as instruction being counteracted by servants, a notion was conceived, that of two children, equally well educated, one was naturally much worse than another. He owned, this morning, that one might have a greater aptitude to learn than another, and that we inherit dispositions from our parents. ‘I inherited,’ said he, ‘a vile melancholy from my father, which has made me mad all my life, at least not sober.’ Lady M’Leod wondered he should tell this. ‘Madam,’ said I, ‘he knows that with that madness he is superior to other men.’
I have often been astonished with what exactness and perspicuity he will explain the process of any art. He this morning explained to us all the operation of coining, and, at night, all the operation of brewing, so very clearly, that Mr M’Queen said, when he heard the first, he thought he had been bred in the Mint; when he heard the second, that he had been bred a brewer.
I was elated by the thought of having been able to entice such a man to this remote part of the world. A ludicrous, yet just image presented itself to my mind, which I expressed to the company. I compared myself to a dog who has got hold of a large piece of meat, and runs away with it to a corner, where he may devour it in peace, without any fear of others taking it from him. ‘In London, Reynolds, Beauclerk, and all of them, are contending who shall enjoy Dr Johnson’s conversation. We are feasting upon it, undisturbed, at Dunvegan.’
It was still a storm of wind and rain. Dr Johnson however walked out with M’Leod, and saw Rorie More’s cascade in full perfection. Colonel M’Leod, instead of being all life and gaiety, as I have seen him, was at present grave, and somewhat depressed by his anxious concern about M’Leod’s affairs, and by finding some gentlemen of the clan by no means disposed to act a generous or affectionate part to their chief in his distress, but bargaining with him as with a stranger. However, he was agreeable and polite, and Dr Johnson said, he was a very pleasing man. My fellow-traveller and I talked of going to Sweden; and, while we were settling our plan, I expressed a pleasure in the prospect of seeing the king. JOHNSON. ‘I doubt, sir, if he would speak to us.’ Colonel M’Leod said, ‘I am sure Mr Boswell would speak to HIM.’ But, seeing me a little disconcerted by his remark, he politely added, ‘and with great propriety’. Here let me offer a short defence of that propensity in my disposition, to which this gentleman alluded. It has procured me much happiness. I hope it does not deserve so hard a name as either forwardness or impudence. If I know myself, it is nothing more than an eagerness to share the society of men distinguished either by their rank or their talents, and a diligence to attain what I desire. If a man is praised for seeking knowledge, though mountains and seas are in his way, may he not be pardoned, whose ardour, in the pursuit of the same object, leads him to encounter difficulties as great, though of a different kind?
After the ladies were gone from table, we talked of the highlanders not having sheets; and this led us to consider the advantage of wearing linen. JOHNSON. ‘All animal substances are less cleanly than vegetables. Wool, of which flannel is made, is an animal substance; flannel therefore is not so cleanly as linen. I remember I used to think tar dirty; but when I knew it to be only a preparation of the juice of the pine, I thought so no longer. It is not disagreeable to have the gum that oozes from a plumb-tree upon your fingers, because it is vegetable, but if you have any candle-grease, any tallow upon your fingers, you are uneasy till you rub it off. I have often thought, that, if I kept a seraglio, the ladies should all wear linen gowns, or cotton — I mean stuffs made of vegetable substances. I would have no silk; you cannot tell when it is clean: it will be very nasty before it is perceived to be so. Linen detects its own dirtiness.’
To hear the grave Dr Samuel Johnson, ‘that majestick teacher of moral and religious wisdom’, while sitting solemn in an arm-chair in the Isle of Sky, talk, ex cathedra, of his keeping a seraglio, and acknowledge that the supposition had OFTEN been in his thoughts, struck me so forcibly with ludicrous contrast, that I could not but laugh immoderately. He was too proud to submit, even for a moment, to be the object of ridicule, and instantly retaliated with such keen sarcastick wit, and such a variety of degrading images, of every one of which I was the object, that, though I can bear such attacks as well as most men, I yet found myself so much the sport of all the company, that I would gladly expunge from my mind every trace of this severe retort.
Talking of our friend Langton’s house in Lincolnshire, he said, ‘the old house of the family was burnt. A temporary building was erected in its room; and to this day they have been always adding as the family increased. It is like a shirt made for a man when he was a child, and enlarged always as he grows older.’
We talked to-night of Luther’s allowing the Landgrave of Hesse two wives, and that it was with the consent of the wife to whom he was first married. JOHNSON. ‘There was no harm in this, so far as she was only concerned, because volenti non fit injuria. But it was an offence against the general order of society, and against the law of the Gospel, by which one man and one woman are to be united. No man can have two wives, but by preventing somebody else from having one.’
After dinner yesterday, we had a conversation upon cunning. M’Leod said that he was not afraid of cunning people; but would let them play their tricks about him like monkeys. ‘But,’ said I, ‘they scratch’; and Mr M’Queen added, ‘they’ll invent new tricks, as soon as you find out what they do.’ JOHNSON. ‘Cunning has effect from the credulity of others, rather than from the abilities of those who are cunning. It requires no extraordinary talents to lie and deceive.’ This led us to consider whether it did not require great abilities to be very wicked. JOHNSON. ‘It requires great abilities to have the POWER of being very wicked; but not to BE very wicked. A man who has the power, which great abilities procure him, may use it well or ill; and it requires more abilities to use it well, than to use it ill. Wickedness is always easier than virtue; for it takes the short cut to every thing. It is much easier to steal a hundred pounds, than to get it by labour, or any other way. Consider only what act of wickedness requires great abilities to commit it, when once the person who is to do it has the power; for THERE is the distinction. It requires great abilities to conquer an army, but none to massacre it after it is conquered.’
The weather this day was rather better than any that we had since we came to Dunvegan. Mr M’Queen had often mentioned a curious piece of antiquity near this which he called a temple of the goddess Anaitis. Having often talked of going to see it, he and I set out after breakfast, attended by his servant, a fellow quite like a savage. I must observe here, that in Sky there seems to be much idleness; for men and boys follow you, as colts follow passengers upon a road. The usual figure of a Sky boy, is a lown with bare legs and feet, a dirty kilt, ragged coat and waistcoat, a bare head, and a stick in his hand, which, I suppose, is partly to help the lazy rogue to walk, partly to serve as a kind of a defensive weapon. We walked what is called two miles, but is probably four, from the castle, till we came to the sacred place. The country around is a black dreary moor on all sides, except to the sea-coast, towards which there is a view through a valley, and the farm of Bay shews some good land. The place itself is green ground, being well drained, by means of a deep glen on each side, in both of which there runs a rivulet with a good quantity of water, forming several cascades, which make a considerable appearance and sound. The first thing we came to was an earthen mound, or dyke, extending from the one precipice to the other. A little farther on, was a strong stone-wall, not high, but very thick, extending in the same manner. On the outside of it were the ruins of two houses, one on each side of the entry or gate to it. The wall is built all along of uncemented stones, but of so large a size as to make a very firm and durable rampart. It has been built all about the consecrated ground, except where the precipice is deep enough to form an enclosure of itself. The sacred spot contains more than two acres. There are within it the ruins of many houses, none of them large, a cairn, and many graves marked by clusters of stones. Mr M’Queen insisted that the ruin of a small building, standing east and west, was actually the temple of the goddess Anaitis, where her statue was kept, and from whence processions were made to wash it in one of the brooks. There is, it must be owned, a hollow road visible for a good way from the entrance; but Mr M’Queen, with the keen eye of an antiquary, traced it much farther than I could perceive it. There is not above a foot and a half in height of the walls now remaining; and the whole extent of the building was never, I imagine, greater than an ordinary Highland house. Mr M’Queen has collected a great deal of learning on the subject of the temple of Anaitis; and I had endeavoured, in my journal, to state such particulars as might give some idea of it, and of the surrounding scenery; but from the great difficulty of describing visible objects, I found my account so unsatisfactory, that my readers would probably have exclaimed
And write about it, Goddess, and about it; and therefore I have omitted it. When we got home, and were again at table with Dr Johnson, we first talked of portraits. He agreed in thinking them valuable in families. I wished to know which he preferred, fine portraits, or those of which the merit was resemblance. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, their chief excellence is being like.’ BOSWELL. ‘Are you of that opinion as to the portraits of ancestors, whom one has never seen?’ JOHNSON. ‘It then becomes of more consequence that they should be like; and I would have them in the dress of the times, which makes a piece of history. One should like to see how Rorie More looked. Truth, sir, is of the greatest value in these things.’ Mr M’Queen observed, that if you think it of no consequence whether portraits are like, if they are but well painted, you may be indifferent whether a piece of history is true or not, if well told.
Dr Johnson said at breakfast to day, ‘that it was but of late that historians bestowed pains and attention in consulting records, to attain to accuracy. Bacon, in writing his History of Henry VII, does not seem to have consulted any, but to have just taken what he found in other histories, and blended it with what he learnt by tradition.’ He agreed with me that there should be a chronicle kept in every considerable family, to preserve the characters and transactions of successive generations.
After dinner I started the subject of the temple of Anaitis. Mr M’Queen had laid stress on the name given to the place by the country people, Ainnit; and added, ‘I knew not what to make of this piece of antiquity, till I met with the Anaitidis delubrum in Lydia, mentioned by Pausanias and the elder Pliny.’ Dr Johnson, with his usual acuteness, examined Mr M’Queen as to the meaning of the word Ainnit, in Erse; and it proved to be a WATER-PLACE, or a place near water, ‘which,’ said Mr M’Queen, ‘agrees with all the descriptions of the temples of that goddess, which were situated near rivers, that there might be water to wash the statue’. JOHNSON. ‘Nay, sir, the argument from the name is gone. The name is exhausted by what we see. We have no occasion to go to a distance for what we can pick up under our feet. Had it been an accidental name, the similarity between it and Anaitis might have had something in it; but it turns out to be a mere physiological name.’ Macleod said, Mr M’Queen’s knowledge of etymology had destroyed his conjecture. JOHNSON. ‘You have one possibility for you, and all possibilities against you. It is possible it may be the temple of Anaitis. But it is also possible that it may be a fortification; or it may be a place of Christian worship, as the first Christians often chose remote and wild places, to make an impression on the mind; or, if it was a heathen temple, it may have been built near a river, for the purpose of lustration; and there is such a multitude of divinities, to whom it may have been dedicated, that the chance of its being a temple of Anaitis is hardly any thing. It is like throwing a grain of sand upon the sea-shore today, and thinking you may find it tomorrow. No, sir, this temple, like many an ill-built edifice, tumbles down before it is roofed in.’ In his triumph over the reverend antiquarian, he indulged himself in a conceit; for, some vestige of the ALTAR of the goddess being much insisted on in support of the hypothesis, he said, ‘Mr M’Queen is fighting pro aris et focis.’
It was wonderful how well time passed in a remote castle, and in dreary weather. After supper, we talked of Pennant. It was objected that he was superficial. Dr Johnson defended him warmly. He said, ‘Pennant has greater variety of inquiry than almost any man, and has told us more than perhaps one in ten thousand could have done, in the time that he took. He has not said what he was to tell; so you cannot find fault with him, for what he has not told. If a man comes to look for fishes, you cannot blame him if he does not attend to fowls.’ ‘But,’ said Colonel M’Leod, ‘he mentions the unreasonable rise of rents in the Highlands, and says, “the gentlemen are for emptying the bag, without filling it”; for that is the phrase he uses. Why does he not tell how to fill it?’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, there is no end of negative criticism. He tells what he observes, and as much as he chooses. If he tells what is not true, you may find fault with him; but, though he tells that the land is not well cultivated, he is not obliged to tell how it may be well cultivated. If I tell that many of the highlanders go bare-footed, I am not obliged to tell how they may get shoes. Pennant tells a fact. He need go no farther, except he pleases. He exhausts nothing; and no subject whatever has yet been exhausted. But Pennant has surely told a great deal. Here is a man six feet high, and you are angry because he is not seven.’ Notwithstanding this eloquent Oratio pro Pennantio, which they who have read this gentleman’s TOURS, and recollect the Savage and the Shopkeeper at Monboddo will probably impute to the spirit of contradiction. I still think that he had better have given more attention to fewer things, than have thrown together such a number of imperfect accounts.
Before breakfast, Dr Johnson came up to my room, to forbid me to mention that this was his birthday; but I told him I had done it already; at which he was displeased; I suppose from wishing to have nothing particular done on his account. Lady M’Leod and I got into a warm dispute. She wanted to build a house upon a farm which she has taken, about five miles from the castle, and to make gardens and other ornaments there; all of which I approved of; but insisted that the seat of the family should always be upon the rock of Dunvegan. JOHNSON. ‘Ay, in time we’ll build all round this rock. You may make a very good house at the farm; but it must not be such as to tempt the Laird of M’Leod to go thither to reside. Most of the great families of England have a secondary residence, which is called a jointure-house: let the new house be of that kind.’ The lady insisted that the rock was very inconvenient; that there was no place near it where a good garden could be made; that it must always be the rude place; that it was a Herculean labour to make a dinner here. I was vexed to find the alloy of modern refinement in a lady who had so much old family spirit. ‘Madam,’ said I, ‘if once you quit this rock, there is no knowing where you may settle. You move five miles first, then to St Andrews, as the late laird did; then to Edinburgh; and so on till you end at Hampstead, or in France. No, no; keep to the rock: it is the very jewel of the estate. It looks as if it had been let down from heaven by the four corners, to be the residence of a chief. Have all the comforts and conveniencies of life upon it, but never leave Rorie More’s cascade.’ ‘But,’ said she, ‘is it not enough if we keep it? Must we never have more convenience than Rorie More had? He had his beef brought to dinner in one basket, and his bread in another. Why not as well be Rorie More all over, as live upon his rock? And should not we tire, in looking perpetually on this rock? It is very well for you, who have a fine place, and every thing easy, to talk thus, and think of chaining honest folks to a rock. You would not live upon it yourself.’ ‘Yes, madam,’ said I, ‘I would live upon it, were I Laird of M’Leod, and should be unhappy if I were not upon it.’ JOHNSON (with a strong voice, and most determined manner). ‘Madam, rather than quit the old rock, Boswell would live in the pit; he would make his bed in the dungeon.’ I felt a degree of elation, at finding my resolute feudal enthusiasm thus confirmed by such a sanction. The lady was puzzled a little. She still returned to her pretty farm — rich ground, fine garden. ‘Madam,’ said Dr Johnson, ‘were they in Asia, I would not leave the rock.’ My opinion on this subject is still the same. An ancient family residence ought to be a primary object; and though the situation of Dunvegan be such that little can be done here in gardening, or pleasure-ground, yet, in addition to the veneration acquired by the lapse of time, it has many circumstances of natural grandeur, suited to the seat of a Highland chief: it has the sea, islands, rocks, hills, a noble cascade; and when the family is again in opulence, something may be done by art.
Mr Donald M’Queen went away today, in order to preach at Bracadale next day. We were so comfortably situated at Dunvegan, that Dr Johnson could hardly be moved from it. I proposed to him that we should leave it on Monday. ‘No, sir,’ said he, ‘I will not go before Wednesday. I will have some more of this good.’ However, as the weather was at this season so bad, and so very uncertain, and we had a great deal to do yet, Mr M’Queen and I prevailed with him to agree to set out on Monday, if the day should be good. Mr M’Queen though it was inconvenient for him to be absent from his harvest, engaged to wait on Monday at Ulinish for us. When he was going away, Dr Johnson said, ‘I shall ever retain a great regard for you’; then asked him if he had the Rambler. Mr M’Queen said, ‘No; but my brother has it’ JOHNSON. ‘Have you the Idler?’ M’QUEEN. ‘No, sir.’ JOHNSON. ‘Then I will order one for you at Edinburgh, which you will keep in remembrance of me.’ Mr M’Queen was much pleased with this. He expressed to me, in the strongest terms, his admiration of Dr Johnson’s wonderful knowledge, and every other quality for which he is distinguished. I asked Mr M’Queen, if he was satisfied with being a minister in Sky. He said he was; but he owned that his forefathers having been so long there, and his having been born there, made a chief ingredient in forming his contentment. I should have mentioned, that on our left hand, between Portree and Dr Macleod’s house, Mr M’Queen told me there had been a college of the Knights Templars; that tradition said so; and that there was a ruin remaining of their church, which had been burnt: but I confess Dr Johnson has weakened my belief in remote tradition. In the dispute about Anaitis, Mr M’Queen said, Asia Minor was peopled by Scythians, and, as they were the ancestors of the Celts, the same religion might be in Asia Minor and Sky. JOHNSON. ‘Alas! sir, what can a nation that has not letters tell of its original? I have always difficulty to be patient when I hear authors gravely quoted, as giving accounts of savage nations, which accounts they had from the savages themselves. What can the M’Craas tell about themselves a thousand years ago? There is no tracing the connection of ancient nations, but by language; and therefore I am always sorry when any language is lost, because languages are the pedigree of nations. If you find the same language in distant countries, you may be sure that the inhabitants of each have been the same people; that is to say, if you find the languages a good deal the same; for a word here and there being the same, will not do. Thus Butler, in his Hudibras, remembering that Penguin, in the Straits of Magellan, signifies a bird with a white head, and that the same word has, in Wales, the signification of a white-headed wench (PEN head, and GUIN white), by way of ridicule, concludes that the people of those Straits are Welch.’
A young gentleman of the name of M’Lean, nephew to the Laird of the Isle of Muck, came this morning; and, just as we sat down to dinner, came the Laird of the Isle of Muck himself, his lady, sister to Talisker, two other ladies their relations, and a daughter of the late M’Leod of Hamer, who wrote a treatise on the second sight, under the designation of Theophilus Insulanus. It was somewhat droll to hear this laird called by his title. Muck would have founded ill; so he was called Isle of Muck, which went off with great readiness. The name, as now written, is unseemly, but is not so bad in the original Erse, which is MOUACH, signifying the Sows’ Island. Buchanan calls it Insula Porcorum. It is so called from its form. Some call it Isle of MONK. The laird insists that this is the proper name. It was formerly church-land belonging to Icolmkill, and a hermit lived in it. It is two miles long, and about three quarters of a mile broad. The laird said, he had seven score of souls upon it. Last year he had eighty persons inoculated, mostly children, but some of them eighteen years of age. He agreed with the surgeon to come and do it, at half a crown a head. It is very fertile in corn, of which they export some; and its coasts abound in fish. A taylor comes there six times in a year. They get a good blacksmith from the Isle of Egg.
It was rather worse weather than any that we had yet. At breakfast Dr Johnson said, ‘Some cunning men choose fools for their wives, thinking to manage them, but they always fail. There is a spaniel fool and a mule fool. The spaniel fool may be made to do by beating. The mule fool will neither do by words or blows; and the spaniel fool often turns mule at last: and suppose a fool to be made do pretty well, you must have the continual trouble of making her do. Depend upon it, no woman is the worse for sense and knowledge.’ Whether afterwards he meant merely to say a polite thing, or to give his opinion, I could not be sure; but he added, ‘Men know that women are an over-match for them, and therefore they choose the weakest or most ignorant. If they did not think so, they never could be afraid of women knowing as much as themselves.’ In justice to the sex, I think it but candid to acknowledge, that, in a subsequent conversation, he told me that he was serious in what he had said.
He came to my room this morning before breakfast, to read my Journal, which he has done all along. He often before said, ‘I take great delight in reading it.’ Today he said, ‘You improve: it grows better and better.’ I observed, there was a danger of my getting a habit of writing in a slovenly manner. ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘it is not written in a slovenly manner. It might be printed, were the subject fit for printing.’ † While Mr Beaton preached to us in the dining-room, Dr Johnson sat in his own room, where I saw lying before him a volume of Lord Bacon’s works, the Decay of Christian Piety, Monboddo’s Origin of Language, and Sterne’s Sermons. He asked me today, how it happened that we were so little together: I told him, my Journal took up much time. Yet, on reflection, it appeared strange to me, that although I will run from one end of London to another, to pass an hour with him, I should omit to seize any spare time to be in his company, when I am settled in the same house with him. But my Journal is really a task of much time and labour, and he forbids me to contract it.
† [Note: As I have faithfully recorded so many minute particulars, I hope I shall be pardoned for inserting so flattering an encomium on what is now offered to the publick.]
I omitted to mention, in its place, that Dr Johnson told Mr M’Queen that he had found the belief of the second sight universal in Sky, except among the clergy, who seemed determined against it. I took the liberty to observe to Mr M’Queen, that the clergy were actuated by a kind of vanity. ‘The world,’ say they,‘takes us to be credulous men in a remote corner. We’ll shew them that we are more enlightened than they think.’ The worthy man said, that his disbelief of it was from his not finding sufficient evidence; but I could perceive that he was prejudiced against it.
After dinner to-day, we talked of the extraordinary fact of Lady Grange’s being sent to St Kilda, and confined there for several years, without any means of relief. † Dr Johnson said, if M’Leod would let it be known that he had such a place for naughty ladies, he might make it a very profitable island.
† [Note: The true story of this lady, which happened In this century, is as frightfully romantick as if it had been the fiction of a gloomy fancy. She was the wife of one of the Lords of Session in Scotland, a man of the very first blood of his country. For some mysterious reasons, which have never been discovered, she was seized and carried off in the dark, she knew not by whom, and by nightly journies was conveyed to the Highland shores, from whence she was transported by sea to the remote rock of St Kilda, where she remained, amongst its few wild inhabitants, a forlorn prisoner, but had a constant supply of provisions, and a woman to wait on her. No inquiry was made after her, till she at last found means to convey a letter to a confidential friend, by the daughter of a Catechist who concealed it in a clue of yarn. Information being thus obtained at Edinburgh, a ship was sent to bring her off; but intelligence of this being received, she was conveyed to M’Leod’s island of Herries, where she died.
In Carstares’s State Papers, we find an authentick narrative of Connor, a Catholick priest, who turned Protestant, being seized by some of Lord Seaforth’s people, and detained prisoner in the island of Herries several years: he was fed with bread and water, and lodged in a house where he was exposed to the rains and cold. Sir James Ogilvy writes (June 18, 1667) that the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Advocate, and himself, were to meet next day, to take effectual methods to have this redressed. Connor was then still detained (p. 310). This shews what private oppression might in the last century be practised in the Hebrides.
In the same collection, the Earl of Argyle gives a picturesque account of an embassy from ‘the great M’Neil of Barra’, as that insular chief used to be denominated. ‘I received a letter yesterday from M’Neil of Barra, who lives very far off, sent by a gentleman in all formality, offering his service, which had made you laugh to see his entry. His style of his letter runs as if he were of another kingdom’ (p. 643).]
We had, in the course of our tour, heard of St Kilda poetry. Dr Johnson observed, ‘it must be very poor, because they have very few images.’ BOSWELL. ‘There may be a poetical genius shewn in combining these, and in making poetry of them.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, a man cannot make fire but in proportion as he has fuel. He cannot coin guineas but in proportion as he has gold.’ At tea he talked of his intending to go to Italy in 1775. M’Leod said, he would like Paris better. JOHNSON. ‘No, sir; there are none of the French literati now alive, to visit whom I would cross a sea. I can find in Buffon’s book all that he can say.’†
† [Note: I doubt the justice of my fellow-traveller’s remark concerning the French literati, many of whom, I am told, have considerable merit in conversation, as well as in their writings. That of Monsieur de Buffon, in particular, I am well assured is highly instructive and entertaining.]
After supper he said, ‘I am sorry that prize-fighting is gone out; every art should be preserved, and the art of defence is surely important. It is absurd that our soldiers should have swords, and not be taught the use of them. Prize-fighting made people accustomed not to be alarmed at seeing their own blood, or feeling a little pain from a wound. I think the heavy glaymore was an ill-contrived weapon. A man could only strike once with it. It employed both his hands, and he must of course be soon fatigued with wielding it; so that if his antagonist could only keep playing a while, he was sure of him. I would fight with a dirk against Rorie More’s sword. I could ward off a blow with a dirk, and then run in upon my enemy. When within that heavy sword, I have him; he is quite helpless, and I could stab him at my leisure, like a calf. It is thought by sensible military men, that the English do not enough avail themselves of their superior strength of body against the French; for that must always have a great advantage in pushing with bayonets. I have heard an officer say, that if women could be made to stand, they would do as well as men in a mere interchange of bullets from a distance: but, if a body of men should come close up to them, then to be sure they must be overcome; now (said he), in the same manner the weaker-bodied French must be overcome by our strong soldiers.’
The subject of duelling was introduced. JOHNSON. ‘There is no case in England where one or other of the combatants MUST die: if you have overcome your adversary by disarming him, that is sufficient, though you should not kill him; your honour, or the honour of your family, is restored, as much as it can be by a duel. It is cowardly to force your antagonist to renew the combat, when you know that you have the advantage of him by superior skill. You might just as well go and cut his throat while he is asleep in his bed. When a duel begins, it is supposed there may be an equality; because it is not always skill that prevails. It depends much on presence of mind; nay on accidents. The wind may be in a man’s face. He may fall. Many such things may decide the superiority. A man is sufficiently punished, by being called out, and subjected to the risk that is in a duel.’ But on my suggesting that the injured person is equally subjected to risk, he fairly owned he could not explain the rationality of duelling.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48