Tuesday, 24th August 1773: Aberdeen, Slains Castle
We set out about eight in the morning, and breakfasted at Ellon. The landlady said to me, 'Is not this the great Doctor that is going about through the country?' I said, 'Yes.' 'Ay,' said she, 'we heard of him, I made an errand into the room on purpose to see him. There's something great in his appearance: it is a pleasure to have such a man in one's house; a man who does so much good. If I had thought of it, I would have shewn him a child of mine, who has had a lump on his throat for some time.' 'But,' said I, 'he is not a doctor of physick.' 'Is he an oculist?' said the landlord. 'No,' said I, 'he is only a very learned man.' LANDLORD. 'They say he is the greatest man in England, except Lord Mansfield.' Dr Johnson was highly entertained with this, and I do think he was pleased too. He said, 'I like the exception: to have called me the greatest man in England, would have been an unmeaning compliment: but the exception marked that the praise was in earnest; and, in SCOTLAND, the exception must be LORD MANSFIELD, or--SIR JOHN PRINGLE.'
He told me a good story of Dr Goldsmith. Graham, who wrote Telemachus, a Masque, was sitting one night with him and Dr Johnson, and was half drunk. He rattled away to Dr Johnson: 'You are a clever fellow, to be sure; but you cannot write an essay like Addison, or verses like the Rape of the Lock.' At last he said, 'DOCTOR, I should be happy to see you at Eaton.' 'I shall be glad to wait on you,' answered Goldsmith. 'No,' said Graham, ''tis not you I mean, Dr MINOR; 'tis Dr MAJOR, there.' Goldsmith was excessively hurt by this. He afterwards spoke of it himself. 'Graham,' said he, 'is a fellow to make one commit suicide.'
We had received a polite invitation to Slains castle. We arrived there just at three o'clock, as the bell for dinner was ringing. Though, from its being just on the north-east Ocean, no trees will grow here, Lord Errol has done all that can be done. He has cultivated his fields so as to bear rich crops of every kind, and he has made an excellent kitchen-garden, with a hot-house. I had never seen any of the family: but there had been a card of invitation written by the honourable Charles Boyd, the earl's brother. We were conducted into the house, and at the dining-room door were met by that gentleman, whom both of us at first took to be Lord Errol; but he soon corrected our mistake. My lord was gone to dine in the neighbourhood, at an entertainment given by Mr Irvine of Drum. Lady Errol received us politely, and was very attentive to us during the time of dinner. There was nobody at table but her ladyship, Mr Boyd, and some of the children, their governour and governess. Mr Boyd put Dr Johnson in mind of having dined with him at Cumming the Quaker's, along with Mr Hall and Miss Williams: this was a bond of connection between them. For me, Mr Boyd's acquaintance with my father was enough. After dinner, Lady Errol favoured us with a sight of her young family, whom she made stand up in a row. There were six daughters and two sons. It was a very pleasing sight.
Dr Johnson proposed our setting out. Mr Boyd said, he hoped we would stay all night; his brother would be at home in the evening, and would be very sorry if he missed us. Mr Boyd was called out of the room. I was very desirous to stay in so comfortable a house, and I wished to see Lord Errol. Dr Johnson, however, was right in resolving to go, if we were not asked again, as it is best to err on the safe side in such cases, and to be sure that one is quite welcome. To my great joy, when Mr Boyd returned, he told Dr Johnson that it was Lady Errol who had called him out, and said that she would never let Dr Johnson into the house again, if he went away that night; and that she had ordered the coach, to carry us to view a great curiosity on the coast, after which we should see the house. We cheerfully agreed.
Mr Boyd was engaged, in 1745-6, on the same side with many unfortunate mistaken noblemen and gentlemen. He escaped, and lay concealed for a year in the island of Arran, the ancient territory of the Boyds. He then went to France, and was about twenty years on the continent. He married a French lady, and now lived very comfortably at Aberdeen, and was much at Slains castle. He entertained us with great civility. He had a pompousness or formal plenitude in his conversation which I did not dislike. Dr Johnson said, there was too much elaboration in his talk. It gave me pleasure to see him, a steady branch of the family, setting forth all its advantages with much zeal. He told us that Lady Errol was one of the most pious and sensible women in the island; had a good head, and as good a heart. He said, she did not use force or fear in educating her children. JOHNSON. 'Sir, she is wrong; I would rather have the rod to be the general terror to all, to make them learn, than tell a child, if you do thus or thus, you will be more esteemed than your brothers or sisters. The rod produces an effect which terminates itself. A child is afraid of being whipped, and gets his task, and there's an end on't; whereas, by exciting emulation, and comparisons of superiority, you lay the foundation of lasting mischief; you make brothers and sisters hate each other.'
During Mr Boyd's stay in Arran, he had found a chest of medical books, left by a surgeon there, and had read them till he acquired some skill in physick, in consequence of which he is often consulted by the poor. There were several here waiting for him as patients. We walked round the house till stopped by a cut made by the influx of the sea. The house is built quite upon the shore; the windows look upon the main ocean, and the King of Denmark is Lord Errol's nearest neighbour on the north-east.
We got immediately into the coach, and drove to Dunbui, a rock near the shore, quite covered with sea-fowls; then to a circular bason of large extent, surrounded with tremendous rocks. On the quarter next the sea, there is a high arch in the rock, which the force of the tempest has driven out. This place is called Buchan's Buller, or the Buller of Buchan, and the country people call it the Pot. Mr Boyd said it was so called from the French Bouloir. It may be more simply traced from Boiler in our own language. We walked round this monstrous cauldron. In some places, the rock is very narrow; and on each side there is a sea deep enough for a man of war to ride in; so that it is somewhat horrid to move along. However, there is earth and grass upon the rock, and a kind of road marked out by the print of feet; so that one makes it out pretty safely: yet it alarmed me to see Dr Johnson striding irregularly along. He insisted on taking a boat, and sailing into the Pot. We did so. He was stout, and wonderfully alert. The Buchan-men all shewing their teeth, and speaking with that strange sharp accent which distinguishes them, was to me a matter of curiosity. He was not sensible of the difference of pronunciation in the south and north of Scotland, which I wondered at.
As the entry into the Buller is so narrow that oars cannot be used as you go in, the method taken is to row very hard when you come near it, and give the boat such a rapidity of motion that it glides in. Dr Johnson observed what an effect this scene would have had, were we entering into an unknown place. There are caves of considerable depth; I think, one on each side. The boatmen had never entered either of them far enough to know the size. Mr Boyd told us that it is customary for the company at Peterhead well, to make parties, and come and dine in one of the caves here.
He told us, that, as Slains is at a considerable distance from Aberdeen, Lord Errol, who has a very large family, resolved to have a surgeon of his own. With this view he educated one of his tenant's sons, who is now settled in a very neat house and farm just by, which we saw from the road. By the salary which the earl allows him, and the practice which he has had, he is in very easy circumstances. He had kept an exact account of all that had been laid out on his education, and he came to his lordship one day, and told him that he had arrived at a much higher situation than ever he expected; that he was now able to repay what his lordship had advanced, and begged he would accept of it. The earl was pleased with the generous gratitude and genteel offer of the man; but refused it. Mr Boyd also told us, Cumming the Quaker first began to distinguish himself, by writing against Dr Leechman on prayer, to prove it unnecessary, as God knows best what should be, and will order it without our asking--the old hackneyed objection.
When we returned to the house we found coffee and tea in the drawing-room. Lady Errol was not there, being, as I supposed, engaged with her young family. There is a bow-window fronting the sea. Dr Johnson repeated the ode, Jam satis terris, while Mr Boyd was with his patients. He spoke well in favour of entails, to preserve lines of men whom mankind are accustomed to reverence. His opinion was that so much land should be entailed as that families should never fall into contempt, and as much left free as to give them all the advantages of property in case of any emergency. 'If,' said he, 'the nobility are suffered to sink into indigence, they of course become corrupt; they are ready to do whatever the king chooses; therefore it is fit they should be kept from becoming poor, unless it is fixed that when they fall below a certain standard of wealth they shall lose their peerages. We know the House of Peers have made noble stands, when the House of Commons durst not. The two last years of Parliament they dare not contradict the populace.'
This room is ornamented with a number of fine prints, and with a whole length picture of Lord Errol, by Sir Joshua Reynolds. This led Dr Johnson and me to talk of our amiable and elegant friend, whose panegyrick he concluded by saying, 'Sir Joshua Reynolds, sir, is the most invulnerable man I know; the man with whom if you should quarrel, you would find the most difficulty how to abuse.'
Dr Johnson observed, the situation here was the noblest he had ever seen, better than Mount Edgecumbe, reckoned the first in England; because, at Mount Edgecumbe, the sea is bounded by land on the other side, and, though there is there the grandeur of a fleet, there is also the impression of there being a dock-yard, the circumstances of which are not agreeable. At Slains is an excellent old house. The noble owner has built of brick, along the square in the inside, a gallery, both on the first and second story, the house being no higher; so that he has always a dry walk, and the rooms, to which formerly there was no approach but through each other, have now all separate entries from the gallery, which is hung with Hogarth's works, and other prints. We went and sat a while in the library. There is a valuable numerous collection. It was chiefly made by Mr Falconer, husband to the late Countess of Errol in her own right. This earl has added a good many modern books.
About nine the earl came home. Captain Gordon of Park was with him. His lordship put Dr Johnson in mind of their having dined together in London, along with Mr Beauclerk. I was exceedingly pleased with Lord Errol. His dignified person and agreeable countenance, with the most unaffected affability, gave me high satisfaction. From perhaps a weakness, or, as I rather hope, more fancy and warmth of feeling than is quite reasonable, my mind is ever impressed with admiration for persons of high birth, and I could, with the most perfect honesty, expatiate on Lord Errol's good qualities; but he stands in no need of my praise. His agreeable manners and softness of address prevented that constraint which the idea of his being Lord High Constable of Scotland might otherwise have occasioned. He talked very easily and sensibly with his learned guest. I observed that Dr Johnson, though he shewed that respect to his lordship, which, from principle, he always does to high rank, yet, when they came to argument, maintained that manliness which becomes the force and vigour of his understanding. To shew external deference to our superiors, is proper: to seem to yield to them in opinion, is meanness. The earl said grace, both before and after supper, with much decency. He told us a story of a man who was executed at Perth, some years ago, for murdering a woman who was with child by him, and a former child he had by her. His hand was cut off: he was then pulled up; but the rope broke, and he was forced to lie an hour on the ground, till another rope was brought from Perth, the execution being in a wood at some distance, at the place where the murders were committed. 'There,' said my lord, 'I see the hand of Providence.' I was really happy here. I saw in this nobleman the best dispositions and best principles; and I saw him, in my mind's eye, to be the representative of the ancient Boyds of Kilmarnock. I was afraid he might have urged drinking, as, I believe, he used formerly to do, but he drank port and water out of a large glass himself, and let us do as we pleased. He went with us to our rooms at night; said, he took the visit very kindly; and told me, my father and he were very old acquaintances; that I now knew the way to Slains, and he hoped to see me there again.
I had a most elegant room; but there was a fire in it which blazed; and the sea, to which my windows looked, roared; and the pillows were made of the feathers of some sea-fowl, which had to me a disgreeable smell: so that, by all these causes, I was kept awake a good while. I saw, in imagination, Lord Errol's father, Lord Kilmarnock (who was beheaded on Tower Hill in 1746), and I was somewhat dreary. But the thought did not last long, and I fell asleep.
Wednesday, 25th August 1773: Slains Castle, Banff
We got up between seven and eight, and found Mr Boyd in the dining-room, with tea and coffee before him, to give us breakfast. We were in an admirable humour. Lady Errol had given each of us a copy of an ode by Beattie, on the birth of her son, Lord Hay. Mr Boyd asked Dr Johnson, how he liked it. Dr Johnson, who did not admire it, got off very well, by taking it out, and reading the second and third stanzes of it with much melody. This, without his saying a word, pleased Mr Boyd. He observed, however, to Dr Johnson, that the expression as to the family of Errol, A thousand years have seen it shine compared with what went before, was an anticlimax, and that it would have been better Ages have seen, etc.
Dr Johnson said, 'So great a number as a thousand is better. Dolus latet in universalibus. Ages might be only two ages.' He talked of the advantage of keeping up the connections of relationship, which produce much kindness. 'Every man,' said he, 'who comes into the world, has need of friends. If he has to get them for himself, half his life is spent, before his merit is known. Relations are a man's ready friends who support him. When a man is in real distress, he flies into the arms of his relations. An old lawyer, who had much experience in making wills, told me, that after people had deliberated long, and thought of many for their executors, they settled at last by fixing on their relations. This shews the universality of the principle.'
I regretted the decay of respect for men of family, and that a Nabob now would carry an election from them. JOHNSON. 'Why, sir, the Nabob will carry it by means of his wealth, in a country where money is highly valued, as it must be where nothing can be had without money; but, if it comes to personal preference, the man of family will always carry it. There is generally a scoundrelism about a low man.' Mr Boyd said, that was a good ism.
I said, I believed mankind were happier in the ancient feudal state of subordination, than they are in the modern state of independency. JOHNSON. To be sure, the CHIEF was: but we must think of the number of individuals. That THEY were less happy, seems plain; for that state from which all escape as soon as they can, and to which none return after they have left it, must be less happy; and this is the case with the state of dependance on a chief or great man.'
I mentioned the happiness of the French in their subordination, by the reciprocal benevolence and attachment between the great and those in lower rank. Mr Boyd gave us an instance of their gentlemanly spirit. An old Chevalier de Malthe, of ancient noblesse, but in low circumstances, was in a coffee-house at Paris, where was Julien, the great manufacturer at the Gobelins, of the fine tapestry, so much distinguished both for the figures and the colours. The chevalier's carriage was very old. Says Julien, with a plebeian insolence, 'I think, sir, you had better have your carriage new painted.' The chevalier looked at him with indignant contempt, and answered, 'Well, sir. you may take it home and DYE it!' All the coffee-house rejoiced at Julien's confusion.
We set out about nine. Dr Johnson was curious to see one of those structures which northern antiquarians call a Druid's temple. I had a recollection of one at Strichen; which I had seen fifteen years ago: so we went four miles out of our road, after passing Old Deer, and went thither. Mr Fraser, the proprietor, was at home, and shewed it to us. But I had augmented it in my mind; for all that remains is two stones set up on end, with a long one laid upon them, as was usual and one stone at a little distance from them. That stone was the capital one of the circle which surrounded what now remains. Mr Fraser was very hospitable. [Footnote: He is the worthy son of a worthy father, the late Lord Strichen, one of our judges, to whose kind notice I was much obliged. Lord Strichen was a man not only honest, but highly generous: for after his succession to the family estate, he paid a large sum of debts contracted by his predecessor, which he was not under any obligation to pay. Let me here, for the credit of Ayrshire, my own county, record a noble instance of liberal honesty in William Hutchison, drover, in Lanehead, Kyle, who formerly obtained a full discharge from his creditors upon a composition of his debts: but upon being restored to good circumstances, invited his creditors last winter to a dinner, without telling the reason, and paid them their full sums, principal and interest. They presented him with a piece of plate, with an inscription to commemorate this extraordinary instance of true worth; which should make some people in Scotland blush, while, though mean themselves, they strut about under the protection of great alliance conscious of the wretchedness of numbers who have lost by them, to whom they never think of making reparation, but indulge themselves and their families in most unsuitable expence.] There was a fair at Strichen; and he had several of his neighbours from it at dinner. One of them, Dr Fraser, who had been in the army, remembered to have seen Dr Johnson at a lecture on experimental philosophy, at Lichfield. The doctor recollected being at the lecture; and he was surprised to find here somebody who knew him.
Mr Fraser sent a servant to conduct us by a short passage into the high-road. I observed to Dr Johnson, that I had a most disagreeable notion of the life of country gentlemen; that I left Mr Fraser just now, as one leaves a prisoner in a jail. Dr Johnson said, that I was right in thinking them unhappy; for that they had not enough to keep their minds in motion.
I started a thought this afternoon which amused us a great part of the way. 'If,' said I, 'our club should come and set up in St Andrews, as a college, to teach all that each of us can, in the several departments of learning and taste, we should rebuild the city: we should draw a wonderful concourse of students.' Dr Johnson entered fully into the spirit of this project. We immediately fell to distributing the offices. I was to teach civil and Scotch law; Burke, politicks and eloquence; Garrick, the art of publick speaking; Langton was to be our Grecian, Colman our Latin professor; Nugent to teach physick; Lord Charlemont, modern history; Beauclerk, natural philosophy; Vesey, Irish antiquities, or Celtick learning; Jones, Oriental learning; Goldsmith, poetry and ancient history; Chamier, commercial politicks; Reynolds, painting, and the arts which have beauty for their object; Chambers, the law of England. Dr Johnson at first said. 'I'll trust theology to nobody but myself.' But, upon due consideration, that Percy is a clergyman, it was agreed that Percy should teach practical divinity and British antiquities; Dr Johnson himself, logick, metaphysicks and scholastick divinity. In this manner did we amuse ourselves, each suggesting, and each varying or adding, till the whole was adjusted. Dr Johnson said, we only wanted a mathematician since Dyer died, who was a very good one; but as to every thing else, we should have a very capital university, [Footnote: Our club, originally at the Turk's Head, Gerrard Street, then at Prince's, Sackville Street, now at Baxter's Dover Street, which at Mr Garrick's funeral acquired a name for the first time, and was called The Literary Club, was instituted in 1764, and now consists of thirty-five members. It has, since 1773, been greatly augmented; and though Dr Johnson with justice observed, that, by losing Goldsmith, Garrick, Nugent, Chamier, Beauclerk, we had lost what would make an eminent club, yet when I mention, as an accession, Mr Fox, Dr George Fordyce, Sir Charles Bunbury, Lord Offory, Mr Gibbon, Dr Adam Smith, Mr R. B. Sheridan, the Bishops of Kilaloe and St Asaph, Dean Marlay, Mr Steevens, Mr Dunning, Sir Joseph Banks, Dr Scott of the Commons, Earl Spencer, Mr Windham of Norfolk, Lord Elliot, Mr Malone, Dr Joseph Warton, the Rev. Thomas Warton, Lord Lucan, Mr Burke junior, Lord Palmerston, Dr Burney, Sir William Hamilton, and Dr Warren, it will be acknowledged that we might establish a second university of high reputation.]
We got at night to Banff. I sent Joseph on to Duff house: but Earl Fife was not at home, which I regretted much, as we should have had a very elegant reception from his lordship. We found here but an indifferent inn. Dr Johnson wrote a long letter to Mrs Thrale. I wondered to see him write so much so easily. He verified his own doctrine that 'a man may always write when he will set himself DOGGEDLY to it'.
Thursday, 26th August 1773: Banff, Elgin, Forres
We got a fresh chaise here, a very good one, and very good horses. We breakfasted at Cullen. They set down dried haddocks broiled, along with our tea. I ate one; but Dr Johnson was disgusted by the sight of them, so they were removed. Cullen has a comfortable appearance, though but a very small town, and the houses mostly poor buildings.
I called on Mr Robertson, who has the charge of Lord Findlater's affairs, and was formerly Lord Monboddo's clerk, was three times in France with him, and translated Condamine's Account of the Savage Girl, to which his lordship wrote a preface, containing several remarks of his own. Robertson said, he did not believe so much as his lordship did; that it was plain to him, the girl confounded what she imagined with what she remembered: that, besides, she perceived Condamine and Lord Monboddo forming theories, and she adapted her story to them.
Dr Johnson said, 'It is a pity to see Lord Monboddo publish such notions as he has done; a man of sense, and of so much elegant learning. There would be little in a fool doing it; we should only laugh; but when a wise man does it, we are sorry. Other people have strange notions; but they conceal them. If they have tails, they hide them; but Monboddo is as jealous of his tail as a squirrel.' I shall here put down some more remarks of Dr Johnson's on Lord Monboddo, which were not made exactly at this time, but come in well from connection. He said, he did not approve of a judge's calling himself FARMER Burnett, [Footnote: It is the custom in Scotland for the judges of the Court of Session to have the title of LORDS, from their estates: thus Mr Burnett is Lord MONBODDO, as Mr Home was Lord KAMES. There is something a little aukward in this; for they are denominated in deeds by their NAMES, with the addition of one of the Senators of the College of Justice'; and subscribe their Christian and surname, as JAMES BURNETT, HENRY HOME, even in judicial acts.] and going about with a little round hat. He laughed heartily at his lordship's saying he was an ENTHUSIASTICAL farmer; 'for,' said he, 'what can he do in farming by his ENTHUSIASM?' Here, however, I think Dr Johnson mistaken. He who wishes to be successful, or happy, ought to be enthusiastical, that is to say, very keen in all the occupations or diversions of life. An ordinary gentleman-farmer will be satisfied with looking at his fields once or twice a day: an enthusiastical farmer will be constantly employed on them; will have his mind earnestly engaged; will talk perpetually of them. But Dr Johnson has much of the nil admirari in smaller concerns. That survey of life which gave birth to his Vanity of Human Wishes early sobered his mind. Besides, so great a mind as his cannot be moved by inferior objects: an elephant does not run and skip like lesser animals.
Mr Robertson sent a servant with us, to shew us through Lord Findlater's wood, by which our way was shortened, and we saw some part of his domain, which is indeed admirably laid out. Dr Johnson did not choose to walk through it. He always said, that he was not come to Scotland to see fine places, of which there were enough in England; but wild objects--mountains, waterfalls, peculiar manners; in short, things which he had not seen before. I have a notion that he at no time has had much taste for rural beauties. I have myself very little. Dr Johnson said, there was nothing more contemptible than a country gentleman living beyond his income, and every year growing poorer and poorer. He spoke strongly of the influence which a man has by being rich. 'A man,' said he, 'who keeps his money, has in reality more use from it, than he can have by spending it.' I observed that this looked very like a paradox; but he explained it thus: 'If it were certain that a man would keep his money locked up for ever, to be sure he would have no influence; but, as so many want money, and he has the power of giving it, and they know not but by gaining his favour they may obtain it, the rich man will always have the greatest influence. He again who lavishes his money, is laughed at as foolish, and in a great degree with justice, considering how much is spent from vanity. Even those who partake of a man's hospitality, have but a transient kindness for him. If he has not the command of money, people know he cannot help them, if he would; whereas the rich man always can, if he will, and for the chance of that, will have much weight.' BOSWELL. 'But philosophers and satirists have all treated a miser as contemptible.' JOHNSON. 'He is so philosophically; but not in the practice of life.' BOSWELL. 'Let me see now--I do not know the instances of misers in England, so as to examine into their influence.' JOHNSON. 'We have had few misers in England.' BOSWELL. 'There was Lowther." JOHNSON. 'Why, sir, Lowther, by keeping his money, had the command of the county, which the family has now lost, by spending it. I take it, he lent a great deal; and that is the way to have influence, and yet preserve one's wealth. A man may lend his money upon very good security, and yet have his debtor much under his power.' BOSWELL. 'No doubt, sir. He can always distress him for the money; as no man borrows, who is able to pay on demand quite conveniently.'
We dined at Elgin, and saw the noble ruins of the cathedral. Though it rained much, Dr Johnson examined them with a most patient attention. He could not here feel any abhorrence at the Scottish reformers, for he had been told by Lord Hailes, that it was destroyed before the Reformation, by the Lord of Badenoch, [Footnote: NOTE, by Lord Hailes: 'The cathedral of Elgin was burnt by the Lord of Badenoch, because the Bishop of Moray had pronounced an award not to his liking. The indemnification that the see obtained, was that the Lord of Badenoch stood for three days bare footed at the great gate of the cathedral. The story is in the Chartulary of Elgin.'] who had a quarrel with the bishop. The bishop's house, and those of the other clergy, which are still pretty entire, do not seem to have been proportioned to the magnificence of the cathedral, which has been of great extent, and had very fine carved work. The ground within the walls of the cathedral is employed as a burying-place. The family of Gordon have their vault here; but it has nothing grand.
We passed Gordon Castle. I am not sure whether the duke was at home. But, not having the honour of being much known to his grace, I could not have presumed to enter his castle, though to introduce even so celebrated a stranger. We were at any rate in a hurry to get forward to the wildness which we came to see. Perhaps, if this noble family had still preserved that sequestered magnificence which they maintained when Catholicks, corresponding with the Grand Duke of Tuscany, we might have been induced to have procured proper letters of introduction, and devoted some time to the contemplation of venerable superstitious state. this forenoon, which has a princely appearance. Fochabers, the neighbouring village, is a poor place, many of the houses being ruinous; but it is remarkable, they have in general orchards well stored with apple-trees. Elgin has what in England are called piazzas, that run in many places on each side of the street. It must have been a much better place formerly. Probably it had piazzas all along the town, as I have seen at Bologna. I approved much of such structures in a town, on account of their conveniency in wet weather. Dr Johnson disapproved of them, 'because,' said he, 'it makes the under story of a house very dark, which greatly over-balances the conveniency, when it is considered how small a part of the year it rains; how few are usually in the street at such times; that many who are might as well be at home; and the little that people suffer, supposing them to be as much wet as they commonly are in walking a street'.
We fared but ill at our inn here; and Dr Johnson said, this was the first time he had seen a dinner in Scotland that he could not eat.
In the afternoon, we drove over the very heath where Macbeth met the witches, according to tradition. Dr Johnson again solemnly repeated
'"How far is't called to Fores? What are
So wither'd, and so wild in their attire
That look not like the inhabitants o' the earth.
And yet are on't "'
He repeated a good deal more of Macbeth. His recitation was grand and affecting, and, as Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed to me, had no more tone than it should have: it was the better for it. He then parodied the 'All-hail' of the witches to Macbeth, addressing himself to me. I had purchased some land called Dalblair; and, as in Scotland it is customary to distinguish landed men by the name of their estates, I had thus two titles, Dalblair and Young Auchinleck. So my friend, in imitation of
We got to Fores at night, and found an admirable inn, in which Dr Johnson was pleased to meet with a landlord who styled himself 'Wine-Cooper, from London'.
Friday, 27th August 1773: Fores, Nairn, Cawdor
It was dark when we came to Fores last night; so we did not see what is called King Duncan's monument. I shall now mark some gleanings of Dr Johnson's conversation. I spoke of Leonidas, and said there were some good passages in it. JOHNSON. 'Why, you must SEEK for them.' He said, Paul Whitehead's Manners was a poor performance. Speaking of Derrick, he told me he had a kindness for him, and had often said, that if his letters had been written by one of a more established name, they would have been thought very pretty letters.
This morning I introduced the subject of the origin of evil. JOHNSON. 'Moral evil is occasioned by free will, which implies choice between good and evil. With all the evil that there is, there is no man but would rather be a free agent, than a mere machine without the evil; and what is best for each individual, must be best for the whole. If a man would rather be the machine, I cannot argue with him. He is a different being from me.' BOSWELL. 'A man, as a machine, may have agreeable sensations; for instance, he may have pleasure in musick.' JOHNSON, 'No, sir, he can not have pleasure in musick; at least no power of producing musick; for he who can produce musick may let it alone: he who can play upon a fiddle may break it: such a man is not a machine.' This reasoning satisfied me. It is certain, there cannot be a free agent, unless there is the power of being evil as well as good. We must take the inherent possibilities of things into consideration, in our reasonings or conjectures concerning the works of God.
We came to Nairn to breakfast. Though a county town and royal burgh, it is a miserable place. Over the room where we sat, a girl was spinning wool with a great wheel, and singing, an Erse song: 'I'll warrant you,' said Dr Johnson, 'one of the songs of Ossian.' He then repeated these lines:
'"Verse sweetens toil, however rude the sound. All at her work the village maiden sings; Nor, while she turns the giddy wheel around Revolves the sad vicissitude of things."'
I thought I had heard these lines before. JOHNSON. 'I fancy not, sir; for they are in a detached poem, the name of which I do not remember, written by one Giffard, a parson.'
I expected Mr Kenneth M'Aulay, the minister of Calder, who published the history of St Kilda, a book which Dr Johnson liked, would have met us here, as I had written to him from Aberdeen. But I received a letter from him, telling me that he could not leave home, as he was to administer the sacrament the following Sunday, and earnestly requesting to see us at his manse. 'We'll go,' said Dr Johnson; which we accordingly did. Mrs M'Aulay received us, and told us her husband was in the church distributing tokens. [Footnote: In Scotland, there is a great deal of preparation before administering the sacrament. The minister of the parish examines the people as to their fitness, and to those of whom he approves gives little pieces of tin, stamped with the name of the parish, as TOKENS, which they must produce before receiving it. This is a species of priestly power, and sometimes may be abused. I remember a lawsuit brought by a person against his parish minister, for refusing him admission to that sacred ordinance.] We arrived between twelve and one o'clock, and it was near three before he came to us.
Dr Johnson thanked him for his book, and said 'it was a very pretty piece of topography'. M'Aulay did not seem much to mind the compliment. From his conversation, Dr Johnson was persuaded that he had not written the book which goes under his name. I myself always suspected so; and I have been told it was written by the learned Dr John M'Pherson of Sky, from the materials collected by M'Aulay. Dr Johnson said privately to me, 'There is a combination in it of which M'Aulay is not capable.' However, he was exceedingly hospitable; and, as he obligingly promised us a route for our tour through the Western Isles, we agreed to stay with him all night.
After dinner, we walked to the old castle of Calder (pronounced Cawder), the Thane of Cawdor's seat. I was sorry that my friend, this 'prosperous gentleman', was not there. The old tower must be of great antiquity. There is a draw-bridge,--what has been a moat--and an ancient court. There is a hawthorn-tree, which rises like a wooden pillar through the rooms of the castle; for, by a strange conceit, the walls have been built round it. The thickness of the walls, the small slaunting windows, and a great iron door at the entrance on the second story as you ascend the stairs, all indicate the rude times in which this castle was erected. There were here some large venerable trees.
I was afraid of a quarrel between Dr Johnson and Mr M'Aulay, who talked slightingly of the lower English clergy. The Doctor gave him a frowning look, and said, 'This is a day of novelties: I have seen old trees in Scotland, and I have heard the English clergy treated with disrespect.'
I dreaded that a whole evening at Caldermanse would be heavy; however, Mr Grant, an intelligent and well-bred minister in the neighbourhood, was there, and assisted us by his conversation. Dr Johnson, talking of hereditary occupations in the Highlands, said, 'There is no harm in such a custom as this; but it is wrong to enforce it, and oblige a man to be a taylor or a smith, because his father has been one.' This custom, however, is not peculiar to our Highlands; it is well known that in India a similar practice prevails.
Mr M'Aulay began a rhapsody against creeds and confessions. Dr Johnson shewed, that 'what he called "imposition", was only a voluntary declaration of agreement in certain articles of faith, which a church has a right to require, just as any other society can insist on certain rules being observed by its members. Nobody is compelled to be of the church, as nobody is compelled to enter into a society.' This was a very clear and just view of the subject: but, M'Aulay could not be driven out of his track. Dr Johnson said, 'Sir, you are a BIGOT TO LAXNESS.'
Mr M'Aulay and I laid the map of Scotland before us; and he pointed out a rout for us from Inverness, by Fort Augustus, to Glenelg, Sky, Mull, Icolmkill, Lorn, and Inveraray, which I wrote down. As my father was to begin the northern circuit about the 18th of September, it was necessary for us to make our tour with great expedition, so as to get to Auchinleck before he set out, or to protract it, so as not to be there till his return, which would be about the 10th of October. By M'Aulay's calculation, we were not to land in Lorn till the 20th of September. I thought that the interruptions by bad days, or by occasional excursions, might make it ten days later; and I thought too, that we might perhaps go to Benbecula, and visit Clanranald, which would take a week of itself.
Dr Johnson went up with Mr Grant to the library, which consisted of a tolerable collection; but the Doctor thought it rather a lady's library, with some Latin books in it by chance, than the library of a clergyman. It had only two of the Latin fathers, and one of the Greek fathers in Latin. I doubted whether Dr Johnson would be present at a Presbyterian prayer. I told Mr M'Aulay so, and said that the Doctor might sit in the library while we were at family worship. Mr M'Aulay said, he would omit it, rather than give Dr Johnson offence: but I would by no means agree that an excess of politeness, even to so great a man, should prevent what I esteem as one of the best pious regulations. I know nothing more beneficial, more comfortable, more agreeable, than that the little societies of each family should regularly assemble, and unite in praise and prayer to our heavenly Father, from whom we daily receive so much good, and may hope for more in a higher state of existence. I mentioned to Dr Johnson the over-delicate scrupulosity of our host. He said, he had no objection to hear the prayer. This was a pleasing surprise to me; for he refused to go and hear Principal Robertson preach. 'I will hear him,' said he, 'if he will get up into a tree and preach; but I will not give a sanction, by my presence, to a Presbyterian assembly.'
Mr Grant having prayed, Dr Johnson said, his prayer was a very good one; but objected to his not having introduced the Lord's Prayer. He told us, that an Italian of some note in London said once to him, 'We have in our service a prayer called the Pater Noster, which is a very fine composition. I wonder who is the author of it.' A singular instance of ignorance in a man of some literature and general inquiry!
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