Thursday, 14th October 1773: Coll, Mull
When Dr Johnson awaked this morning, he called, 'Lanky!' having, I suppose, been thinking of Langton; but corrected himself instantly, and cried, 'Bozzy!' He has a way of contracting the names of his friends. Goldsmith feels himself so important now, as to be displeased at it. I remember one day, when Tom Davies was telling that Dr Johnson said, 'We are all in labour for a name to Goldy's play,' Goldsmith cried, 'I have often desired him not to call me Goldy.'
Between six and seven we hauled our anchor, and set sail with a fair breeze; and, after a pleasant voyage, we got safely and agreeably into the harbour of Tobermorie, before the wind rose, which it always has done, for some days, about noon. Tobermorie is an excellent harbour. An island lies before it, and it is surrounded by a hilly theatre. The island is too low, otherwise this would be quite a secure port; but, the island not being a sufficient protection, some storms blow very hard here. Not long ago, fifteen vessels were blown from their moorings. There are sometimes sixty or seventy sail here: to-day there were twelve or fourteen vessels. To see such a fleet was the next thing to seeing a town. The vessels were from different places; Clyde, Campbeltown, Newcastle, etc. One was returning to Lancaster from Hamburgh. After having been shut up so long in Col, the sight of such an assemblage of moving habitations, containing such a variety of people, engaged in different pursuits, gave me much gaiety of spirit. When we had landed, Dr Johnson said, 'Boswell is now all alive. He is like Antaeus; he gets new vigour whenever he touches the ground.' I went to the top of a hill fronting the harbour, from whence I had a good view of it. We had here a tolerable inn. Dr Johnson had owned to me this morning, that he was out of humour. Indeed, he shewed it a good deal in the ship; for when I was expressing my joy on the prospect of our landing in Mull, he said, he had no joy, when he recollected that it would be five days before he should get to the main land. I was afraid he would now take a sudden resolution to give up seeing Icolmkill. A dish of tea, and some good bread and butter, did him service, and his bad humour went off. I told him, that I was diverted to hear all the people whom we had visited in our tour, say, 'Honest man! he's pleased with every thing; he's always content!' 'Little do they know,' said I. He laughed, and said, 'You rogue!'
We sent to hire horses to carry us across the island of Mull to the shore opposite to Inchkenneth, the residence of Sir Allan M'Lean, uncle to young Col, and chief of the M'Leans, to whose house we intended to go the next day. Our friend Col went to visit his aunt, the wife of Dr Alexander M'Lean, a physician, who lives about a mile from Tobermorie.
Dr Johnson and I sat by ourselves at the inn, and talked a good deal. I told him, that I had found, in Leandro Alberti's Description of Italy, much of what Addison has given us in his Remarks. He said, "The collection of passages from the Classicks has been made by another Italian: it is, however, impossible to detect a man as a plagiary in such a case, because all who set about making such a collection must find the same passages; but, if you find the same applications in another book, then Addison's learning in his Remarks tumbles down. It is a tedious book; and, if it were not attached to Addison's previous reputation, one would not think much of it. Had he written nothing else, his name would not have lived. Addison does not seem to have gone deep in Italian literature: he shews nothing of it in his subsequent writings. He shews a great deal of French learning. There is, perhaps, more knowledge circulated in the French language than in any other. There is more original knowledge in English.' 'But the French,' said I, 'have the art of accommodating literature.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, sir; we have no such book as Moreri's Dictionary.'" BOSWELL. "Their Ana are good.' JOHNSON. 'A few of them are good; but we have one book of that kind better than any of them; Selden's Table-talk. As to original literature, the French have a couple of tragick poets who go round the world, Racine and Corneille, and one comick poet, Moliere.'--BOSWELL. 'They have Fenelon.' JOHNSON. 'Why, sir, Telemachus is pretty well.' BOSWELL. 'And Voltaire, sir.' JOHNSON. 'He has not stood his trial yet And what makes Voltaire chiefly circulate is collection; such as his Universal History.' BOSWELL. 'What do you say to the Bishop of Meaux?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, nobody reads him.' [Footnote: I take leave to enter my strongest protest against this judgement Bossuet I hold to be one of the first luminaries of religion and literature. If there are who do not read him, it is full time they should begin.] He would not allow Massillon and Bourdaloue to go round the world. In general, however, he gave the French much praise for their industry.
He asked me whether he had mentioned, in any of the papers of the Rambler, the description in Virgil of the entrance into Hell, with an application to the press; 'for,' said he, 'I do not much remember them'. I told him, 'No.'
'Now,' said he, 'almost all these apply exactly to an authour; all these are the concomitants of a printing-house.' I proposed to him to dictate an essay on it, and offered to write it. He said, he would not do it then, but perhaps would write one at some future period.
The Sunday evening that we sat by ourselves at Aberdeen, I asked him several particulars of his early years, which he readily told me; and I wrote them down before him. This day I proceeded in my inquiries, also writing them in his presence. I have them on detached sheets. I shall collect authentick materials for The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL. D.; and, if I survive him, I shall be one who will most faithfully do honour to his memory. I have now a vast treasure of his conversation, at different times, since the year 1762, when I first obtained his acquaintance; and, by assiduous inquiry, I can make up for not knowing him sooner. [Footnote: It is no small satisfaction to me to reflect, that Dr Johnson read this, and, after being apprised of my intention, communicated to me, at subsequent periods, many particulars of his life, which probably could not otherwise have been preserved.]
A Newcastle ship-master, who happened to be in the house, intruded himself upon us. He was much in liquor, and talked nonsense about his being a man for 'Wilkes and Liberty', and against the ministry. Dr Johnson was angry, that 'a fellow should come into OUR company, who was fit for NO company'. He left us soon.
Col returned from his aunt, and told us, she insisted that we should come to her house that night. He introduced to us Mr Campbell, the Duke of Argyle's factor in Tyr-yi. He was a genteel, agreeable man. He was going to Inveraray, and promised to put letters into the post-office for us. I now found that Dr Johnson's desire to get on the main land, arose from his anxiety to have an opportunity of conveying letters to his friends.
After dinner, we proceeded to Dr M'Lean's, which was about a mile from our inn. He was not at home, but we were received by his lady and daughter, who entertained us so well, that Dr Johnson seemed quite happy. When we had supped, he asked me to give him some paper to write letters. I begged he would write short ones, and not EXPATIATE, as we ought to set off early. He was irritated by this, and said, 'What must be done, must be done: the thing is past a joke.' 'Nay, sir,' said I, 'write as much as you please; but do not blame me, if we are kept six days before we get to the main land. You were very impatient in the morning: but no sooner do you find yourself in good quarters, than you forget that you are to move.' I got him paper enough, and we parted in good humour.
Let me now recollect whatever particulars I have omitted. In the morning I said to him, before we landed at Tobermorie, 'We shall see Dr M'Lean, who has written the History of the M'Leans.' JOHNSON. 'I have no great patience to stay to hear the history of the M'Leans. I would rather hear the history of the Thrales.' When on Mull, I said, 'Well, sir, this is the fourth of the Hebrides that we have been upon.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, we cannot boast of the number we have seen. We thought we should see many more. We thought of sailing about easily from island to island; and so we should, had we come at a better season; but we, being wise men, thought it would be summer all the year where we were. However, sir, we have seen enough to give us a pretty good notion of the system in insular life.'
Let me not forget, that he sometimes amused himself with very slight reading; from which, however, his conversation shewed that he contrived to extract some benefit. At Captain M'Lean's he read a good deal in The Charmer, a collection of songs.
Friday, 15th October 1773: Mull
We this morning found that we could not proceed, there being a violent storm of wind and rain, and the rivers being impassable. When I expressed my discontent at our confinement, Dr Johnson said, 'Now that I have had an opportunity of writing to the main land, I am in no such haste.' I was amused with his being so easily satisfied; for the truth was, that the gentleman who was to convey our letters, as I was now informed, was not to set out for Inveraray for some time; so that it was probable we should be there as soon as he: however, I did not undeceive my friend, but suffered him to enjoy his fancy.
Dr Johnson asked, in the evening, to see Dr M'Lean's books. He took down Willis De Anima Brutorum, and pored over it a good deal.
Miss M'Lean produced some Erse poems by John M'Lean, who was a famous bard in Mull, and had died only a few years ago. He could neither read nor write. She read and translated two of them; one, a kind of elegy on Sir John M'Lean's being obliged to fly his country in 1715; another, a dialogue between two Roman Catholick young ladies, sisters, whether it was better to be a nun or to marry. I could not perceive much poetical imagery in the translation. Yet all of our company who understood Erse, seemed charmed with the original. There may, perhaps, be some choice of expression, and some excellence of arrangement, that cannot be shewn in translation.
After we had exhausted the Erse poems, of which Dr Johnson said nothing, Miss M'Lean gave us several tunes on a spinnet, which, though made so long ago, as in 1667, was still very well toned. She sung along with it. Dr Johnson seemed pleased with the musick, though he owns he neither likes it, nor has hardly any perception of it. At Mr M'Pherson's, in Slate, he told us, that 'he knew a drum from a trumpet, and a bagpipe from a guitar, which was about the extent of his knowledge of musick'. To-night he said, that, 'if he had learnt musick, he should have been afraid he would have done nothing else but play. It was a method of employing the mind, without the labour of thinking at all, and with some applause from a man's self.'
We had the musick of the bagpipe every day, at Armidale, Dunvegan, and Col. Dr Johnson appeared fond of it, and used often to stand for some time with his ear close to the great drone.
The penurious gentleman of our acquaintance, formerly alluded to, afforded us a topick of conversation to-night. Dr Johnson said, I ought to write down a collection of the instances of his narrowness, as they almost exceeded belief. Col told us, that O'Kane, the famous Irish harper, was once at that gentleman's house. He could not find in his heart to give him any money, but gave him a key for a harp, which was finely ornamented with gold and silver, and with a precious stone, and was worth eighty or a hundred guineas. He did not know the value of it; and when he came to know it, he would fain have had it back; but O'Kane took care that he should not. JOHNSON. 'They exaggerate the value; every body is so desirous that he should be fleeced. I am very willing it should be worth eighty or a hundred guineas; but I do not believe it.' BOSWELL. 'I do not think O'Kane was obliged to give it back.' JOHNSON. 'No, sir. If a man with his eyes open, and without any means used to deceive him, gives me a thing, I am not to let him have it again when he grows wiser. I like to see how avarice defeats itself; how, when avoiding to part with money, the miser gives something more valuable.' Col said, the gentleman's relations were angry at his giving away the harp-key, for it had been long in the family. JOHNSON. 'Sir, he values a new guinea more than an old friend.'
Col also told us, that the same person having come up with a serjeant and twenty men, working on the high road, he entered into discourse with the serjeant, and then gave him sixpence for the men to drink. The serjeant asked, 'Who is this fellow?' Upon being informed, he said, 'If I had known who he was, I should have thrown it in his face.' JOHNSON. 'There is much want of sense in all this. He had no business to speak with the serjeant. He might have been in haste, and trotted on. He had not learnt to be a miser: I believe we must take him apprentice.' BOSWELL. 'He would grudge giving half a guinea to be taught' JOHNSON. 'Nay, sir, you must teach him gratis. You must give him an opportunity to practice your precepts.'
Let me now go back, and glean Johnsoniana. The Saturday before we sailed from Slate, I sat awhile in the afternoon with Dr Johnson in his room, in a quiet serious frame. I observed, that hardly any man was accurately prepared for dying; but almost every one left something undone, something in confusion; that my father, indeed, told me he knew one man (Carlisle of Limekilns), after whose death all his papers were found in exact order; and nothing was omitted in his will. JOHNSON. 'Sir, I had an uncle who died so; but such attention requires great leisure, and great firmness of mind. If one was to think constantly of death, the business of life would stand still. I am no friend to making religion appear too hard. Many good people have done harm, by giving severe notions of it. In the same way, as to learning: I never frighten young people with difficulties; on the contrary, I tell them that they may very easily get as much as will do very well. I do not indeed tell them that they will be BENTLEYS.'
The night we rode to Col's house, I said, 'Lord Elibank is probably wondering what is become of us.' JOHNSON. 'No, no; he is not thinking of us.' BOSWELL. 'But recollect the warmth with which he wrote. Are we not to believe a man, when he says he has a great desire to see another? Don't you believe that I was very impatient for your coming to Scotland?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, sir; I believe you were; and I was impatient to come to you. A young man feels so, but seldom an old man.' I however convinced him that Lord Elibank, who has much of the spirit of a young man, might feel so. He asked me if our jaunt had answered expectation. I said it had much exceeded it. I expected much difficulty with him, and had not found it 'And,' he added, 'wherever we have come, we have been received like princes in their progress.'
He said, he would not wish not to be disgusted in the Highlands; for that would be to lose the power of distinguishing, and a man might then lie down in the middle of them. He wished only to conceal his disgust.
At Captain M'Lean's, I mentioned Pope's friend, Spence. JOHNSON. 'He was a weak conceited man.' [Footnote: Mr Langton thinks this must have been the hasty expression of a splenetick moment as he has heard Dr Johnson speak of Mr Spence's judgement in criticism with so high a degree of respect, as to shew that this was not his settled opinion of him. Let me add that in the preface to the Preceptor, he recommends Spence's Essay on Pope's Odyssey, and that his admirable lives of the English Poets are much enriched by Spence's Anecdotes of Pope. BOSWELL. 'A good scholar, sir?' JOHNSON. 'Why, no, sir.' BOSWELL. 'He was a pretty scholar.' JOHNSON. 'You have about reached him.']
Last night at the inn, when the factor in Tyr-yi spoke of his having heard that a roof was put on some part of the buildings at Icolmkill, I unluckily said, 'It will be fortunate if we find a cathedral with a roof on it.' I said this from a foolish anxiety to engage Dr Johnson's curiosity more. He took me short at once. 'What, sir? How can you talk so? If we shall FIND a cathedral roofed! As if we were going to a terra incognita; when every thing that is at Icolmkill is so well known. You are like some New England men who came to the mouth of the Thames. "Come," said they, "let us go up and see what sort of inhabitants there are here." They talked, sir, as if they had been to go up the Susquehannah, or any other American river.'
Saturday, 16th October 1773: Mull, Ulva
This day there was a new moon, and the weather changed for the better. Dr Johnson said of Miss M'Lean, 'She is the most accomplished lady that I have found in the Highlands. She knows French, musick, and drawing, sews neatly, makes shell-work, and can milk cows; in short, she can do every thing. She talks sensibly, and is the first person whom I have found, that can translate Erse poetry literally.' We set out, mounted on little Mull horses. Mull corresponded exactly with the idea which I had always had of it; a hilly country, diversified with heath and grass, and many rivulets. Dr Johnson was not in very good humour. He said, it was a dreary country, much worse than Sky. I differed from him, 'O, sir,' said he, 'a most dolorous country!'
We had a very hard journey to-day. I had no bridle for my sheltie, but only a halter; and Joseph rode without a saddle. At one place, a loch having swelled over the road, we were obliged to plunge through pretty deep water. Dr Johnson observed, how helpless a man would be, were he travelling here alone, and should meet with any accident; and said, 'he longed to get to a country of saddles and bridles'. He was more out of humour to-day, than he has been in the course of our tour, being fretted to find that his little horse could scarcely support his weight; and having suffered a loss, which, though small in itself, was of some consequence to him, while travelling the rugged steeps of Mull, where he was at times obliged to walk. The loss that I allude to was that of the large oak-stick, which, as I formerly mentioned, he had brought with him from London. It was of great use to him in our wild peregrination; for, ever since his last illness in 1766, he has had a weakness in his knees, and has not been able to walk easily. It had too the properties of a measure; for one nail was driven into it at the length of a foot; another at that of a yard. In return for the services it had done him, he said, this morning he would make a present of it to some museum; but he little thought he was so soon to lose it. As he preferred riding with a switch, it was intrusted to a fellow to be delivered to our baggage-man, who followed us at some distance; but we never saw it more. I could not persuade him out of a suspicion that it had been stolen. 'No, no, my friend,' said he, 'it is not to be expected that any man in Mull, who has got it, will part with it. Consider, sir, the value of such a PIECE OF TIMBER here!'
As we travelled this forenoon, we met Dr M'Lean, who expressed much regret at his having been so unfortunate as to be absent while we were at his house.
We were in hopes to get to Sir Allan Maclean's at Inchkenneth, to-night; but the eight miles, of which our road was said to consist, were so very long, that we did not reach the opposite coast of Mull till seven at night, though we had set out about eleven in the forenoon; and when we did arrive there, we found the wind strong against us. Col determined that we should pass the night at M'Quarrie's, in the island of Ulva, which lies between Mull and Inchkenneth; and a servant was sent forward to the ferry, to secure the boat for us: but the boat was gone to the Ulva side, and the wind was so high that the people could not hear him call; and the night so dark that they could not see a signal. We should have been in a very bad situation, had there not fortunately been lying in the little sound of Ulva an Irish vessel, the Bonnetta, of Londonderry, Captain M'Lure, master. He himself was at M'Quarrie's; but his men obligingly came with their long-boat, and ferried us over.
M'Quarrie's house was mean; but we were agreeably surprised with the appearance of the master, whom we found to be intelligent, polite, and much a man of the world. Though his clan is not numerous, he is a very ancient chief, and has a burial place at Icolmkill. He told us, his family had possessed Ulva for nine hundred years; but I was distressed to hear that it was soon to be sold for the payment of his debts.
Captain M'Lure, whom we found here, was of Scotch extraction, and properly a M'Leod, being descended of some of the M'Leods who went with Sir Normand of Bernera to the battle of Worcester, and after the defeat of the royalists, fled to Ireland, and, to conceal themselves, took a different name. He told me, there was a great number of them about Londonderry; some of good property. I said, they should now resume their real name. The Laird of M'Leod should go over, and assemble them, and make them all drink the large horn full, and from that time they should be M'Leods. The captain informed us, he had named his ship the Bonnetta, out of gratitude to Providence; for once, when he was sailing to America with a good number of passengers, the ship in which he then sailed was becalmed for five weeks, and during all that time, numbers of the fish bonnetta swam close to her, and were caught for food; he resolved therefore, that the ship he should next get, should be called the Bonnetta.
M'Quarrie told us a strong instance of the second sight. He had gone to Edinburgh, and taken a man-servant along with him. An old woman, who was in the house, said one day, 'M'Quarrie will be at home tomorrow, and will bring two gentlemen with him'; and she said, she saw his servant return in red and green. He did come home next day. He had two gentlemen with him; and his servant had a new red and green livery, which M'Quarrie had bought for him at Edinburgh, upon a sudden thought, not having the least intention when he left home to put his servant in livery, so that the old woman could not have heard any previous mention of it. This, he assured us, was a true story.
M'Quarrie insisted that the mercheta mulierum, mentioned in our old charters, did really mean the privilege which a lord of a manor, or a baron, had, to have the first night of all his vassals' wives. Dr Johnson said, the belief of such a custom having existed was also held in England, where there is a tenure called Borough-English, by which the eldest child does not inherit, from a doubt of his being the son of the tenant. [Footnote: Sir William Blackstone says in his Commentaries, that 'he cannot find that ever this custom prevailed in England'; and therefore he is of opinion that it could not have given rise to Borough-English.] M'Quarrie told us, that still, on the marriage of each of his tenants, a sheep is due to him; for which the composition is fixed at five shillings. I suppose, Ulva is the only place where this custom remains.
Talking of the sale of an estate of an ancient family, which was said to have been purchased much under its value by the confidential lawyer of that family, and it being mentioned that the sale would probably be set aside by a suit in equity, Dr Johnson said, 'I am very willing that this sale should be set aside, but I doubt much whether the suit will be successful; for the argument for avoiding the sale is founded on vague and indeterminate principles, as that the price was too low, and that there was a great degree of confidence placed by the seller in the person who became the purchaser. Now, how low should a price be? or what degree of confidence should there be to make a bargain be set aside? a bargain, which is a wager of skill between man and man. If, indeed, any fraud can be proved, that will do.'
When Dr Johnson and I were by ourselves at night, I observed of our host, 'aspectum generosum habet.' 'Et generosum animum,' he added. For fear of being overheard in the small Highland houses, I often talked to him in such Latin as I could speak, and with as much of the English accent as I could assume, so as not to be understood, in case our conversation should be too loud for the space.
We had each an elegant bed in the same room; and here it was that a circumstance occurred, as to which he has been strangely misunderstood. From his description of his chamber, it has erroneously been supposed, that his bed being too short for him, his feet, during the night, were in the mire; whereas he has only said, that when he undressed, he felt his feet in the mire: that is, the clay-floor of the room, on which he stood before he went into bed, was wet, in consequence of the windows being broken, which let in the rain.
Sunday, 17th October 1773: Ulva, Inchkenneth
Being informed that there was nothing worthy of observation in Ulva, we took boat, and proceeded to Inchkenneth, where we were introduced by our friend Col to Sir Allan M'Lean, the chief of his clan, and to two young ladies, his daughters. Inchkenneth is a pretty little island, a mile long, and about half a mile broad, all good land.
As we walked up from the shore, Dr Johnson's heart was cheered by the sight of a road marked with cart-wheels, as on the main land; a thing which we had not seen for a long time. It gave us a pleasure similar to that which a traveller feels, when, whilst wandering on what he fears is a desert island, he perceives the print of human feet.
Military men acquire excellent habits of having all conveniencies about them. Sir Allan M'Lean, who had been long in the army, and had now a lease of the island, had formed a commodious habitation, though it consisted but of a few small buildings, only one story high. He had, in his little apartments, more things than I could enumerate in a page or two.
Among other agreeable circumstances, it was not the least, to find here a parcel of the Caledonian Mercury, published since we left Edinburgh; which I read with that pleasure which every man feels who has been for some time secluded from the animated scenes of the busy world.
Dr Johnson found books here. He bade me buy Bishop Gastrell's Christian Institutes, which was lying in the room. He said, 'I do not like to read any thing on a Sunday, but what is theological; not that I would scrupulously refuse to look at any thing which a friend should shew me in a newspaper; but in general, I would read only what is theological. I read just now some of Drummond's Travels, before I perceived what books were here. I then took up Derham's Physico-Theology.
Every particular concerning this island having been so well described by Dr Johnson, it would be superfluous in me to present the publick with the observations that I made upon it, in my Journal.
I was quite easy with Sir Allan almost instantaneously. He knew the great intimacy that had been between my father and his predecessor, Sir Hector, and was himself of a very frank disposition. After dinner, Sir Allan said he had got Dr Campbell about a hundred subscribers to his Britannia Elucidata (a work since published under the title of A Political Survey of Great Britain), of whom he believed twenty were dead, the publication having been so long delayed. JOHNSON. 'Sir, I imagine the delay of publication is owing to this; that, after publication, there will be no more subscribers, and few will send the additional guinea to get their books: in which they will be wrong; for there will be a great deal of instruction in the work. I think highly of Campbell. In the first place, he has very good parts. In the second place, he has very extensive reading; not, perhaps, what is properly called learning, but history, politicks, and, in short, that popular knowledge which makes a man very useful. In the third place, he has learned much by what is called the vox viva. He talks with a great many people.'
Speaking of this gentleman, at Rasay, he told us, that he one day called on him, and they talked of Tull's Husbandry. Dr Campbell said something. Dr Johnson began to dispute it. 'Come,' said Dr Campbell, 'we do not want to get the better of one another: we want to encrease each other's ideas.' Dr Johnson took it in good part, and the conversation then went on coolly and instructively. His candour in relating this anecdote does him much credit, and his conduct on that occasion proves how easily he could be persuaded to talk from a better motive than 'for victory'.
Dr Johnson here shewed so much of the spirit of a highlander, that he won Sir Allan's heart: indeed, he has shewn it during the whole of our tour. One night, in Col, he strutted about the room with a broad-sword and target, and made a formidable appearance; and, another night, I took the liberty to put a large blue bonnet on his head. His age, his size, and his bushy grey wig, with this covering on it, presented the image of a venerable senachi: and, however unfavourable to the Lowland Scots, he seemed much pleased to assume the appearance of an ancient Caledonian. We only regretted that he could not be prevailed with to partake of the social glass. One of his arguments against drinking, appears to me not convincing. He urged, that, 'in proportion as drinking makes a man different from what he is before he has drunk, it is bad; because it has so far affected his reason'. But may it not be answered, that a man may be altered by it FOR THE BETTER; that his spirits may be exhilarated, without his reason being affected? On the general subject of drinking, however, I do not mean positively to take the other side. I am dubius, non improbus.
In the evening, Sir Allan informed us that it was the custom of his house to have prayers every Sunday; and Miss M'Lean read the evening service, in which we all joined. I then read Ogden's second and ninth sermons on prayer, which, with their other distinguished excellence, have the merit of being short. Dr Johnson said, that it was the most agreeable Sunday he had ever passed; and it made such an impression on his mind, that he afterwards wrote Latin verses upon Inchkenneth.
Monday, 18th October 1773: Inchkenneth
We agreed to pass this day with Sir Allan, and he engaged to have every thing in order for our voyage to-morrow.
Being now soon to be separated from our amiable friend young Col, his merits were all remembered. At Ulva he had appeared in a new character, having given us a good prescription for a cold. On my mentioning him with warmth, Dr Johnson said, 'Col does every thing for us: we will erect a statue to Col.' 'Yes,' said I, 'and we will have him with his various attributes and characters, like Mercury, or any other of the heathen gods. We will have him as a pilot; we will have him as a fisherman, as a hunter, as a husbandman, as a physician.'
I this morning took a spade, and dug a little grave in the floor of a ruined chapel, near Sir Allan M'Lean's house, in which I buried some human bones I found there. Dr Johnson praised me for what I had done, though he owned, he could not have done it. He shewed in the chapel at Rasay his horrour at dead men's bones. He shewed it again at Col's house. In the charter-room there was a remarkable large shin-bone; which was said to have been a bone of John Garve, one of the lairds. Dr Johnson would not look at it; but started away.
At breakfast, I asked, 'What is the reason that we are angry at a trader's having opulence?' JOHNSON. 'Why, sir, the reason is (though I don't undertake to prove that there is a reason), we see no qualities in trade that should entitle a man to superiority. We are not angry at a soldier's getting riches, because we see that he possesses qualities which we have not. If a man returns from a battle, having lost one hand, and with the other full of gold, we feel that he deserves the gold; but we cannot think that a fellow, by sitting all day at a desk, is entitled to get above us.' BOSWELL. 'But, sir, may we not suppose a merchant to be a man of an enlarged mind, such as Addison in the Spectator describes Sir Andrew Freeport to have been?' JOHNSON. 'Why, sir, we may suppose any fictitious character. We may suppose a philosophical day-labourer, who is happy in reflecting that, by his labour, he contributes to the fertility of the earth, and to the support of his fellow-creatures; but we find no such philosophical day-labourer. A merchant may, perhaps, be a man of an enlarged mind; but there is nothing in trade connected with an enlarged mind.'
I mentioned that I heard Dr Solander say he was a Swedish Laplander. JOHNSON. 'Sir, I don't believe he is a Laplander. The Laplanders are not much above four feet high. He is as tall as you; and he has not the copper colour of a Laplander.' BOSWELL. 'But what motive could he have to make himself a Laplander?' JOHNSON. 'Why, sir, he must either mean the word Laplander in a very extensive sense, or may mean a voluntary degradation of himself. "For all my being the great man that you see me now, I was originally a barbarian"; as if Burke should say, "I came over a wild Irishman," which he might say in his present state of exaltation.'
Having expressed a desire to have an island like Inchkenneth, Dr Johnson set himself to think what would be necessary for a man in such a situation. 'Sir, I should build me a fortification, if I came to live here; for, if you have it not, what should hinder a parcel of ruffians to land in the night, and carry off every thing you have in the house, which, in a remote country, would be more valuable than cows and sheep? Add to all this the danger of having your throat cut.' BOSWELL. 'I would have a large dog.' JOHNSON. 'So you may, sir; but a large dog is of no use but to alarm. He, however, I apprehend, thinks too lightly of the power of that animal. I have heard him say, that he is afraid of no dog. 'He would take him up by the hinder legs, which would render him quite helpless, and then knock his head against a stone, and beat out his brains.' Topham Beauclerk told me, that at his house in the country, two large ferocious dogs were fighting. Dr Johnson looked steadily at them for a little while; and then, as one would separate two little boys, who are foolishly hurting each other, he ran up to them, and cuffed their heads till he drove them asunder. But few men have his intrepidity, Herculean strength, or presence of mind. Most thieves or robbers would be afraid to encounter a mastiff.
I observed, that, when young Col talked of the lands belonging to his family, he always said, 'MY lands'. For this he had a plausible pretence; for he told me, there has been a custom in this family, that the laird resigns the estate to the eldest son when he comes of age, reserving to himself only a certain life-rent. He said, it was a voluntary custom; but I think I found an instance in the charter-room, that there was such an obligation in a contract of marriage. If the custom was voluntary, it was only curious; but if founded on obligation, it might be dangerous; for I have been told, that in Otaheite, whenever a child is born (a son, I think), the father loses his right to the estate and honours, and that this unnatural, or rather absurd custom, occasions the murder of many children.
Young Col told us he could run down a greyhound; 'for,' said he, 'the dog runs himself out of breath, by going too quick, and then I get up with him.' I accounted for his advantage over the dog, by remarking that Col had the faculty of reason, and knew how to moderate his pace, which the dog had not sense enough to do. Dr Johnson said, 'He is a noble animal. He is as complete an islander as the mind can figure. He is a farmer, a sailor, a hunter, a fisher: he will run you down a dog: if any man has a tail it is Col. He is hospitable; and he has an intrepidity of talk, whether he understands the subject or not. I regret that he is not more intellectual.'
Dr Johnson observed, that there was nothing of which he would not undertake to persuade a Frenchman in a foreign country. I'll carry a Frenchman to St Paul's Church-yard, and I'll tell him, "by our law you may walk half round the church; but, if you walk round the whole, you will be punished capitally", and he will believe me at once. Now, no Englishman would readily swallow such a thing: he would go and inquire of somebody else.' The Frenchman's credulity, I observed, must be owing to his being accustomed to implicit submission; whereas every Englishman reasons upon the laws of his country, and instructs his representatives, who compose the legislature.
This day was passed in looking at a small island adjoining Inchkenneth, which afforded nothing worthy of observation; and in such social and gay entertainments as our little society could furnish.
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