Tuesday, 21st September 1773: Dunvegan, Ullinish
The uncertainty of our present situation having prevented me from receiving any letters from home for some time, I could not help being uneasy. Dr Johnson had an advantage over me, in this respect, he having no wife or child to occasion anxious apprehensions in his mind. It was a good morning; so we resolved to set out. But, before quitting this castle, where we have been so well entertained, let me give a short description of it.
Along the edge of the rock, there are the remains of a wall, which is now covered with ivy. A square court is formed by buildings of different ages, particularly some towers, said to be of great antiquity; and at one place there is a row of false cannon of stone. There is a very large unfinished pile, four stories high, which we were told was here when Leod, the first of this family, came from the Isle of Man, married the heiress of the M'Crails, the ancient possessors of Dunvegan, and afterwards acquired by conquest as much land as he had got by marriage. He surpassed the house of Austria; for he was felix both bella genere et nubere. John Breck M'Leod, the grandfather of the late laird, began to repair the castle, or rather to complete it: but he did not live to finish his undertaking. Not doubting, however, that he should do it, he, like those who have had their epitaphs written before they died, ordered aninscription, composed by the minister of the parish, to be cut upon a broad stone above one of the lower windows, where it still remains to celebrate what was not done, and to serve as a memento of the uncertainty of life, and the presumption of man.
M'Leod and Talisker accompanied us. We passed by the parish church of Durinish. The church-yard is not enclosed, but a pretty murmuring brook runs along one side of it. In it is a pyramid erected to the memory of Thomas Lord Lovat, by his son Lord Simon, who suffered on Towerhill. It is of free-stone, and, I suppose, about thirty feet high. There is an inscription on a piece of white marble inserted in it, which I suspect to have been the composition of Lord Lovat himself, being much in his pompous style:
This pyramid was erected by SIMON LORD FRASER of LOVAT, in honour of Lord THOMAS his Father, a Peer of Scotland, and Chief of the great and ancient clan of the FRASERS. Being attacked for his birthright by the family of ATHOLL, then in power and favour with KING WILLIAM, yet, by the valour and fidelity of his clan, and the assistance of the CAMPBELLS, the old friends and allies of his family, he defended his birthright with such greatness and fermety of soul, and such valour and activity, that he was an honour to his name, and a good pattern to all brave Chiefs of clans. He died in the month of May, 1699, in the 63d year of his age, in Dunvegan, the house of the LAIRD of MAC LEOD, whose sister he had married: by whom he had the above SIMON LORD FRASER, and several other children. And, for the great love he bore to the family of MAC LEOD, he desired to be buried near his wife's relations, in the place where two of her uncles lay. And his son LORD SIMON, to shew to posterity his great affection for his mother's kindred, the brave MAC LEODS, chooses rather to leave his father's bones with them, than carry them to his own burial-place, near Lovat.
I have preserved this inscription, though of no great value, thinking it characteristical of a man who has made some noise in the world. Dr Johnson said, it was poor stuff, such as Lord Lovat's butler might have written.
I observed, in this church-yard, a parcel of people assembled at a funeral, before the grave was dug. The coffin, with the corpse in it, was placed on the ground, while the people alternately assisted in making a grave. One man, at a little distance, was busy cutting a long turf for it, with the crooked spade which is used in Sky; a very aukward instrument. The iron part of it is like a plough-coulter. It has a rude tree for a handle, in which a wooden pin is placed for the foot to press upon. A traveller might, without further inquiry, have set this down as the mode of burying in Sky. I was told, however, that the usual way is to have a grave previously dug.
I observed to-day, that the common way of carrying home their grain here is in loads on horse-back. They have also a few sleds, or cars, as we call them in Ayrshire, clumsily made, and rarely used.
We got to Ulinish about six o'clock, and found a very good farm-house, of two stories. Mr M'Leod of Ulinish, the sheriff-substitute of the island, was a plain honest gentleman, a good deal like an English justice of peace; not much given to talk, but sufficiently sagacious, and somewhat droll. His daughter, though she was never out of Sky, was a very well-bred woman. Our reverend friend, Mr Donald M'Queen, kept his appointment, and met us here.
Talking of Phipps's voyage to the North Pole, Dr Johnson observed, that it 'was conjectured that our former navigators have kept too near land, and so have found the sea frozen far north, because the land hinders the free motion of the tide; but, in the wide ocean, where the waves tumble at their full convenience, it is imagined that the frost does not take effect'.
Wednesday, 22nd September 1773: Ullinish
In the morning I walked out, and saw a ship, the Margaret of Clyde, pass by with a number of emigrants on board. It was a melancholy sight. After breakfast, we went to see what was called a subterraneous house, about a mile off. It was upon the side of a rising-ground. It was discovered by a fox's having taken up his abode in it, and in chasing him, they dug into it. It was very narrow and low, and seemed about forty feet in length. Near it, we found the foundations of several small huts, built of stone. Mr M'Queen, who is always for making every thing as ancient as possible, boasted that it was the dwelling of some of the first inhabitants of the island, and observed, what a curiosity it was to find here a specimen of the houses of the Aborigines, which he believed could be found no where else; and it was plain that they lived without fire. Dr Johnson remarked, that they who made this were not in the rudest state; for that it was more difficult to make it than to build a house; therefore certainly those who made it were in possession of houses, and had this only as a hiding-place. It appeared to me, that the vestiges of houses, just by it, confirmed Dr Johnson's opinion.
From an old tower, near this place, is an extensive view of Loch Braccadil, and, at a distance, of the isles of Barra and South Uist; and on the landside, the Cuillin, a prodigious range of mountains, capped with rocky pinnacles in a strange variety of shapes. They resemble the mountains near Corte in Corsica, of which there is a very good print. They make part of a great range for deer, which, though entirely devoid of trees, is in these countries called a forest.
In the afternoon, Ulinish carried us in his boat to an island possessed by him, where we saw an immense cave, much more deserving the title of antrum immane than that of the Sybil described by Virgil, which I likewise have visited. It is one hundred and eighty feet long, about thirty feet broad, and at least thirty feet high. This cave, we were told, had a remarkable echo; but we found none. They said it was owing to the great rains having made it damp. Such are the excuses by which the exaggeration of Highland narratives is palliated. There is a plentiful garden at Ulinish (a great rarity in Sky), and several trees; and near the house is a hill, which has an Erse name, signifying 'the hill of strife', where, Mr M'Queen informed us, justice was of old administered. It is like the mons placiti of Scone, or those hills which are called laws, such as Kelly law, North Berwick law, and several others. It is singular that this spot should happen now to be the sheriff's residence.
We had a very cheerful evening, and Dr Johnson talked a good deal on the subject of literature. Speaking of the noble family of Boyle, he said, that all the Lord Orrerys, till the present, had been writers. The first wrote several plays; the second was Bentley's antagonist; the third wrote the Life of Swift, and several other things; his son Hamilton wrote some papers in the Adventurer and World. He told us, he was well acquainted with Swift's Lord Orrery. He said, he was a feeble-minded man; that, on the publication of Dr Delany's Remarks on his book, he was so much alarmed that he was afraid to read them. Dr Johnson comforted him, by telling him they were both in the right; that Delany had seen most of the good side of Swift, Lord Orrery most of the bad. M'Leod asked, if it was not wrong in Orrery to expose the defects of a man with whom he lived in intimacy. JOHNSON. 'Why no, sir, after the man is dead; for then it is done historically.' He added, 'If Lord Orrery had been rich, he would have been a very liberal patron. His conversation was like his writings, neat and elegant, but without strength. He grasped at more than his abilities could reach; tried to pass for a better talker, a better writer, and a better thinker than he was. There was a quarrel between him and his father, in which his father was to blame; because it arose from the son's not allowing his wife to keep company with his father's mistress. The old lord shewed his resentment in his will--leaving his library from his son, and assigning, as his reason, that he could not make use of it.'
I mentioned the affectation of Orrery, in ending all his letters on the Life of Swift in studied varieties of phrase, and never in the common mode of 'I am', &c. an observation which I remember to have been made several years ago by old Mr Sheridan. This species of affectation in writing, as a foreign lady of distinguished talents once remarked to me, is almost peculiar to the English. I took up a volume of Dryden, containing the Conquest of Granada, and several other plays, of which all the dedications had such studied conclusions. Dr Johnson said, such conclusions were more elegant, and, in addressing persons of high rank (as when Dryden dedicated to the Duke of York), they were likewise more respectful. I agreed that THERE it was much better: it was making his escape from the royal presence with a genteel sudden timidity, in place of having the resolution to stand still, and make a formal bow.
Lord Orrery's unkind treatment of his son in his will, led us to talk of the dispositions a man should have when dying. I said, I did not see why a man should act differently with respect to those of whom he thought ill when in health, merely because he was dying. JOHNSON. 'I should not scruple to speak against a party, when dying; but should not do it against an individual. It is told of Sixtus Quintus, that on his death-bed, in the intervals of his last pangs, he signed death-warrants.' Mr M'Queen said, he should not do so; he would have more tenderness of heart. JOHNSON. 'I believe I should not either; but Mr M'Queen and I are cowards. It would not be from tenderness of heart; for the heart is as tender when a man is in health as when he is sick, though his resolution may be stronger. Sixtus Quintus was a sovereign as well as a priest; and, if the criminals deserved death, he was doing his duty to the last. You would not think a judge died ill, who should be carried off by an apoplectick fit while pronouncing sentence of death. Consider a class of men whose business it is to distribute death: soldiers, who die scattering bullets. Nobody thinks they die ill on that account.'
Talking of biography, he said, he did not think that the life of any literary man in England had been well written. Beside the common incidents of life, it should tell us his studies, his mode of living, the means by which he attained to excellence, and his opinion of his own works. He told us, he had sent Derrick to Dryden's relations, to gather materials for his Life; and he believed Derrick had got all that he himself should have got; but it was nothing. He added, he had a kindness for Derrick, and was sorry he was dead.
His notion as to the poems published by Mr M'Pherson, as the works of Ossian, was not shaken here. Mr M'Queen always evaded the point of authenticity, saying only that Mr M'Pherson's pieces fell far short of those he knew in Erse, which were said to be Ossian's. JOHNSON. 'I hope they do. I am not disputing that you may have poetry of great merit; but that M'Pherson's is not a translation from ancient poetry. You do not believe it. I say before you, you do not believe it, though you are very willing that the world should believe it.' Mr M'Queen made no answer to this. Dr Johnson proceeded, 'I look upon M'Pherson's Fingal to be as gross an imposition as ever the world was troubled with. Had it been really an ancient work, a true specimen how men thought at that time, it would have been a curiosity of the first rate. As a modern production, it is nothing.' He said, he could never get the meaning of an Erse song explained to him. They told him, the chorus was generally unmeaning. 'I take it,' said he, 'Erse songs are like a song which I remember: it was composed in Queen Elizabeth's time, on the Earl of Essex; and the burthen was
"Radaratoo, radarate, radara tadara tandore."'
'But surely,' said Mr M'Queen, 'there were words to it, which had meaning.' JOHNSON. 'Why, yes, sir, I recollect a stanza, and you shall have it:
"O! then bespoke the prentices all,
Living in London, both proper and tall,
For Essex's sake they would fight all. Radaratoo, radarate, radara, tadara, tandore."'
Oh! then bespoke the prentices all,
Living in London, both proper and tall,
In a kind letter sent straight to the Queen, For Essex's sake they would fight all. Raderer too, tandaro te,
Raderer, tenderer, tan do re.]
When Mr M'Queen began again to expatiate on the beauty of Ossian's poetry, Dr Johnson entered into no further controversy, but, with a pleasant smile, only cried, 'Ay, ay; Radaratoo, radarate.'
Thursday, 23rd September 1773: Ullinish, Talisker
I took Fingal down to the parlour in the morning, and tried a test proposed by Mr Roderick M'Leod, son to Ulinish. Mr M'Queen had said he had some of the poem in the original. I desired him to mention any passage in the printed book, of which he could repeat the original. He pointed out one in page 50 of the quarto edition, and read the Erse, while Mr Roderick M'Leod and I looked on the English; and Mr M'Leod said, that it was pretty like what Mr M'Queen had recited. But when Mr M'Queen read a description of Cuchullin's sword in Erse, together with a translation of it in English verse, by Sir James Foulis, Mr M'Leod said, that was much more like than Mr M'Pherson's translation of the former passage. Mr M'Queen then repeated in Erse a description of one of the horses in Cuchillin's car. Mr M'Leod said, Mr M'Pherson's English was nothing like it.
When Dr Johnson came down, I told him that I had now obtained some evidence concerning Fingal; for that Mr M'Queen had repeated a passage in the original Erse, which Mr M'Pherson's translation was pretty like; and reminded him that he himself had once said, he did not require Mr M'Pherson's Ossian to be more like the original than Pope's Homer. JOHNSON. 'Well, sir, this is just what I always maintained. He has found names, and stories, and phrases, nay passages in old songs, and with them has blended his own compositions, and so made what he gives to the world as the translation of an ancient poem.' If this was the case, I observed, it was wrong to publish it as a poem in six books. JOHNSON. 'Yes, sir; and to ascribe it to a time too when the Highlanders knew nothing of BOOKS, and nothing of SIX; or perhaps were got the length of counting six. We have been told, by Condamine, of a nation that could count no more than four. This should be told to Monboddo; it would help him. There is as much charity in helping a man down-hill, as in helping him up-hill.' BOSWELL. 'I don't think there is as much charity.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, sir, if his TENDENCY be downwards. Till he is at the bottom, he flounders; get him once there, and he is quiet. Swift tells, that Stella had a trick, which she learned from Addison, of encouraging a man in absurdity, instead of endeavouring to extricate him.'
Mr M'Queen's answers to the inquiries concerning Ossian were so unsatisfactory, that I could not help observing, that, were he examined in a court of justice, he would find himself under a necessity of being more explicit. JOHNSON. 'Sir, he has told Blair a little too much, which is published; and he sticks to it. He is so much at the head of things here, that he has never been accustomed to be closely examined; and so he goes on quite smoothly.' BOSWELL. 'He has never had any body to work him.' JOHNSON. 'No, sir; and a man is seldom disposed to work himself; though he ought to work himself, to be sure.' Mr M'Queen made no reply. [Footnote: I think it but justice to say, that I believe Dr Johnson meant to ascribe Mr M'Queen's conduct to inaccuracy and enthusiasm, and did not mean any severe imputation against him.]
Having talked of the strictness with which witnesses are examined in courts of justice, Dr Johnson told us, that Garrick, though accustomed to face multitudes, when produced as a witness in Westminster Hall, was so disconcerted by a new mode of publick appearance, that he could not understand what was asked. It was a cause where an actor claimed a free benefit; that is to say, a benefit without paying the expence of the house; but the meaning of the term was disputed. Garrick was asked, 'Sir, have you a free benefit?' 'Yes.' 'Upon what terms have you it?' 'Upon...the terms...of ...a FREE BENEFIT.' He was dismissed as one from whom no information could be obtained. Dr Johnson is often too hard on our friend Mr Garrick. When I asked him, why he did not mention him in the Preface to his Shakspeare, he said, 'Garrick has been liberally paid for any thing he has done for Shakspeare. If I should praise him, I should much more praise the nation who paid him. He has not made Shakspeare better known; [Footnote: It has been triumphantly asked, 'Had not the plays of Shakspeare lain dormant for many years before the appearance of Mr Garrick? Did he not exhibit the most excellent of them frequently for thirty years together, and render them extremely popular by his own inimitable performance?' He undoubtedly did. But Dr Johnson's assertion has been misunderstood. Knowing as well as the objectors what has been just stated, he must necessarily have meant, that 'Mr Garrick did not as A CRITICK make Shakspeare better known; he did not ILLUSTRATE any one PASSAGE in any of his plays by acuteness of disquisition, sagacity of conjecture:' and what had been done with any degree of excellence in THAT way was the proper and immediate subject of his preface. I may add in support of this explanation the following anecdote, related to me by one of the ablest commentators on Shakspeare, who knew much of Dr Johnson: 'Now I have quitted the theatre,' cries Garrick, 'I will sit down and read Shakspeare.' ''Tis time you should,' exclaimed Johnson, 'for I much doubt if you ever examined one of his plays from the first scene to the last.'] he cannot illustrate Shakspeare: So I have reasons enough against mentioning him, were reasons necessary. There should be reasons FOR it.' I spoke of Mrs Montague's very high praises of Garrick. JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is fit she should say so much, and I should say nothing. Reynolds is fond of her book, and I wonder at it; for neither I, nor Beauclerk, nor Mrs Thrale, could get through it.'
Last night Dr Johnson gave us an account of the whole process of tanning, and of the nature of milk, and the various operations upon it, as making whey, &c. His variety of information is surprizing; and it gives one much satisfaction to find such a man bestowing his attention on the useful arts of life. Ulinish was much struck with his knowledge; and said, 'He is a great orator, sir; it is musick to hear this man speak.' A strange thought struck me, to try if he knew any thing of an art, or whatever it should be called, which is no doubt very useful in life, but which lies far out of the way of a philosopher and poet; I mean the trade of a butcher. I enticed him into the subject, by connecting it with the various researches into the manners and customs of uncivilized nations, that have been made by our late navigators into the South Seas. I began with observing, that Mr (now Sir Joseph) Banks tells us, that the art of slaughtering animals was not known in Otaheite, for, instead of bleeding to death their dogs (a common food with them), they strangle them. This he told me himself; and I supposed that their hogs were killed in the same way. Dr Johnson said, 'This must be owing to their not having knives, though they have sharp stones with which they can cut a carcase in pieces tolerably.' By degrees, he shewed that he knew something even of butchery. 'Different animals,' said he, 'are killed differently. An ox is knocked down, and a calf stunned; but a sheep has its throat cut, without any thing being done to stupify it. The butchers have no view to the ease of the animals, but only to make them quiet, for their own safety and convenience. A sheep can give them little trouble. Hales is of opinion, that every animal should be blooded, without having any blow given to it, because it bleeds better.' BOSWELL. 'That would be cruel.' JOHNSON. 'No, sir; there is not much pain, if the jugular vein be properly cut.' Pursuing the subject, he said, the kennels of Southwark ran with blood two or three days in the week; that he was afraid there were slaughter-houses in more streets in London than one supposes (speaking with a kind of horrour of butchering), and yet, he added, 'any of us would kill a cow, rather than not have beef.' I said we COULD not. 'Yes,' said he, 'any one may. The business of a butcher is a trade indeed, that is to say, there is an apprenticeship served to it; but it may be learnt in a month.'
I mentioned a club in London, at the Boar's Head in Eastcheap, the very tavern where Falstaff and his joyous companions met; the members of which all assume Shakspeare's characters. One is Falstaff, another Prince Henry, another Bardolph, and so on. JOHNSON. 'Don't be of it, sir. Now that you have a name, you must be careful to avoid many things, not bad in themselves, but which will lessen your character. [Footnote: I do not see why I might not have been of this club without lessening my character. But Dr Johnson's caution against supposing one's self concealed in London, may be very useful to prevent some people from doing many things, not only foolish, but criminal.] This every man who has a name must observe. A man who is not publickly known may live in London as he pleases, without any notice being taken of him; but it is wonderful how a person of any consequence is watched. There was a Member of Parliament, who wanted to prepare himself to speak on a question that was to come in the House; and he and I were to talk it over together. He did not wish it should be known that he talked with me; so he would not let me come to his house, but came to mine. Some time after he had made his speech in the house, Mrs Cholmondeley, a very airy lady, told me, "Well, you could make nothing of him!" naming the gentleman, which was a proof that he was watched. I had once some business to do for government, and I went to Lord North's. Precaution was taken that it should not be known. It was dark before I went; yet a few days after I was told, "Well, you have been with Lord North." That the door of the Prime Minister should be watched, is not strange; but that a Member of Parliament should be watched, or that my door should be watched, is wonderful.'
We set out this morning on our way to Talisker, in Ulinish's boat, having taken leave of him and his family. Mr Donald M'Queen still favoured us with his company, for which we were much obliged to him. As we sailed along Dr Johnson got into one of his fits of railing at the Scots. He owned that they had been a very learned nation for a hundred years, from about 1550 to about 1650; but that they afforded the only instance of a people among whom the arts of civil life did not advance in proportion with learning; that they had hardly any trade, any money, or any elegance, before the Union; that it was strange that, with all the advantages possessed by other nations, they had not any of those conveniences and embellishments which are the fruit of industry, till they came in contact with a civilized people. 'We have taught you,' said he, 'and we'll do the same in time to all barbarous nations, to the Cherokees, and at last to the OuranOutangs'; laughing with as much glee as if Monboddo had been present. BOSWELL. 'We had wine before the Union.' JOHNSON. 'No, sir; you had some weak stuff, the refuse of France, which would not make you drunk.' BOSWELL. 'I assure you, sir, there was a great deal of drunkenness.' JOHNSON. 'No, sir; there were people who died of dropsies, which they contracted in trying to get drunk.'
I must here gleen some of his conversation at Ulinish, which I have omitted. He repeated his remark, that a man in a ship was worse than a man in a jail. 'The man in a jail,' said he, 'has more room, better food, and commonly better company, and is in safety.' 'Ay; but,' said Mr M'Queen, 'the man in the ship has the pleasing hope of getting to shore.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I am not talking of a man's getting to shore; but a man while he is in a ship: and then, I say, he is worse than a man while he is in a jail. A man in a jail MAY have the "pleasing hope" of getting out. A man confined for only a limited time, actually HAS it.' M'Leod mentioned his schemes for carrying on fisheries with spirit, and that he would wish to understand the construction of boats. I suggested that he might go to a dock-yard and work, as Peter the Great did. JOHNSON. 'Nay, sir, he need not work. Peter the Great had not the sense to see that the mere mechanical work may be done by any body, and that there is the same art in constructing a vessel, whether the boards are well or ill wrought. Sir Christopher Wren might as well have served his time to a bricklayer, and first, indeed, to a brick-maker.'
There is a beautiful little island in the Loch of Dunvegan, called Isa. M'Leod said, he would give it to Dr Johnson, on condition of his residing on it three months in the year; nay one month. Dr Johnson was highly amused with the fancy. I have seen him please himself with little things, even with mere ideas like the present. He talked a great deal of this island--how he would build a house there, how he would fortify it, how he would have cannon, how he would plant, how he would sally out and TAKE the isle of Muck; and then he laughed with uncommon glee, and could hardly leave off. I have seen him do so at a small matter that struck him, and was a sport to no one else. Mr Langton told me, that one night he did so while the company were all grave about him: only Garrick, in his significant smart manner, darting his eyes around, exclaimed, 'VERY jocose, to be sure!' M'Leod encouraged the fancy of Dr Johnson's becoming owner of an island; told him, that it was the practice in this country to name every man by his lands; and begged leave to drink to him in that mode: 'Island Isa, your health!' Ulinish, Talisker, Mr M'Queen, and I, all joined in our different manners, while Dr Johnson bowed to each, with much good humour.
We had good weather, and a fine sail this day. The shore was varied with hills, and rocks, and corn-fields, and bushes, which are here dignified with the name of natural wood. We landed near the house of Ferneley, a farm possessed by another gentleman of the name of M'Leod, who, expecting our arrival, was waiting on the shore, with a horse for Dr Johnson. The rest of us walked. At dinner, I expressed to M'Leod the joy which I had in seeing him on such cordial terms with his clan. 'Government,' said he, 'has deprived us of our ancient power; but it cannot deprive us of our domestick satisfactions. I would rather drink punch in one of their houses' (meaning the houses of his people) 'than be enabled by their hardships, to have claret in my own.' This should be the sentiment of every chieftain. All that he can get by raising his rents, is more luxury in his own house. Is it not better to share the profits of his estate, to a certain degree, with his kinsmen, and thus have both social intercourse and patriarchal influence?
We had a very good ride, for about three miles, to Talisker, where Colonel M'Leod introduced us to his lady. We found here Mr Donald M'Lean, the young Laird of Col (nephew to Talisker), to whom I delivered the letter with which I had been favoured by his uncle, Professor M'Leod, at Aberdeen. He was a little lively young man. We found he had been a good deal in England, studying farming, and was resolved to improve the value of his father's lands, without oppressing his tenants, or losing the ancient Highland fashions.
Talisker is a better place than one commonly finds in Sky. It is situated in a rich bottom. Before it is a wide expanse of sea, on each hand of which are immense rocks; and, at some distance in the sea, there are three columnal rocks rising to sharp points. The billows break with prodigious force and noise on the coast of Talisker. There are here a good many well-grown trees. Talisker is an extensive farm. The possessor of it has, for several generations, been the next heir to M'Leod, as there has been but one son always in that family. The court before the house is most injudiciously paved with the round blueish-grey pebbles which are found upon the sea-shore; so that you walk as if upon cannon-balls driven into the ground.
After supper, I talked of the assiduity of the Scottish clergy, in visiting and privately instructing their parishioners, and observed how much in this they excelled the English clergy. Dr Johnson would not let this pass. He tried to turn it off, by saying, 'There are different ways of instructing. Our clergy pray and preach.' M'Leod and I pressed the subject, upon which he grew warm, and broke forth: 'I do not believe your people are better instructed. If they are, it is the blind leading the blind; for your clergy are not instructed themselves.' Thinking he had gone a little too far, he checked himself, and added, 'When I talk of the ignorance of your clergy, I talk of them as a body: I do not mean that there are not individuals who are learned' (looking at Mr M'Queen). 'I suppose there are such among the clergy in Muscovy. The clergy of England have produced the most valuable books in support of religion, both in theory and practice. What have your clergy done, since you sunk into presbyterianism? Can you name one book of any value, on a religious subject, written by them?' We were silent. 'I'll help you. Forbes wrote very well; but I believe he wrote before episcopacy was quite extinguished.' And then pausing a little, he said, 'Yes, you have Wishart against Repentance.' [Footnote: This was a dexterous mode of description, for the purpose of his argument; for what he alluded to was, a sermon published by the learned Dr William Wishart, formerly principal of the college at Edinburgh, to warn men AGAINST confiding in a death-bed REPENTANCE, of the inefficacy of which he entertained notions very different from those of Dr Johnson.] BOSWELL. 'But, sir, we are not contending for the superior learning of our clergy, but for their superior assiduity.' He bore us down again, with thundering against their ignorance, and said to me, 'I see you have not been well taught; for you have not charity.' He had been in some measure forced into this warmth, by the exulting air which I assumed; for, when he began, he said, 'Since you will drive the nail!' He again thought of good Mr M'Queen, and, taking him by the hand, said, 'Sir, I did not mean any disrespect to you.'
Here I must observe, that he conquered by deserting his ground, and not meeting the argument as I had put it. The assiduity of the Scottish clergy is certainly greater than that of the English. His taking up the topick of their not having so much learning, was, though ingenious, yet a fallacy in logick. It was as if there should be a dispute whether a man's hair is well dressed, and Dr Johnson should say, 'Sir, his hair cannot be well dressed; for he has a dirty shirt. No man who has not clean linen has his hair well dressed.' When some days afterwards he read this passage, he said, 'No, sir; I did not say that a man's hair could not be well dressed because he has not clean linen, but because he is bald.'
He used one argument against the Scottish clergy being learned, which I doubt was not good. 'As we believe a man dead till we know that he is alive; so we believe men ignorant till we know that they are learned.' Now our maxim in law is, to presume a man alive, till we know he is dead. However, indeed, it may be answered, that we must first know he has lived; and that we have never known the learning of the Scottish clergy. Mr M'Queen, though he was of opinion that Dr Johnson had deserted the point really in dispute, was much pleased with what he said, and owned to me, he thought it very just; and Mrs M'Leod was so much captivated by his eloquence, that she told me 'I was a good advocate for a bad cause.'
Friday, 24th September 1773: Talisker
This was a good day. Dr Johnson told us, at breakfast, that he rode harder at a fox chase than any body. 'The English,' said he, 'are the only nation who ride hard a-hunting. A Frenchman goes out upon a managed horse, and capers in the field, and no more thinks of leaping a hedge than of mounting a breach. Lord Powerscourt laid a wager, in France, that he would ride a great many miles in a certain short time. The French academicians set to work, and calculated that, from the resistance of the air, it was impossible. His lordship however performed it.'
Our money being nearly exhausted, we sent a bill for thirty pounds, drawn on Sir William Forbes and Co. to Lochbraccadale, but our messenger found it very difficult to procure cash for it; at length, however, he got us value from the master of a vessel which was to carry away some emigrants. There is a great scarcity of specie in Sky. Mr M'Queen said he had the utmost difficulty to pay his servants' wages, or to pay for any little thing which he has to buy. The rents are paid in bills, which the drovers give. The people consume a vast deal of snuff and tobacco, for which they must pay ready money; and pedlers, who come about selling goods, as there is not a shop in the island, carry away the cash. If there were encouragement given to fisheries and manufacturers, there might be a circulation of money introduced. I got one-and-twenty shillings in silver at Portree, which was thought a wonderful store.
Talisker, Mr M'Queen, and I, walked out, and looked at no less than fifteen different waterfalls near the house, in the space of about a quarter of a mile. We also saw Cuchullin's well, said to have been the favourite spring of that ancient hero. I drank of it. The water is admirable. On the shore are many stones full of crystallizations in the heart.
Though our obliging friend, Mr M'Lean, was but the young laird, he had the title of Col constantly given him. After dinner he and I walked to the top of Prieshwell, a very high rocky hill, from whence there is a view of Barra, the Long Island, Bernera, the Loch of Dunvegan, part of Rum, part of Rasay, and a vast deal of the isle of Sky. Col, though he had come into Sky with an intention to be at Dunvegan, and pass a considerable time in the island, most politely resolved first to conduct us to Mull, and then to return to Sky. This was a very fortunate circumstance; for he planned an expedition for us of more variety than merely going to Mull. He proposed we should flee the islands of Egg, Muck, Col, and Tyr-yi. In all these islands he could shew us every thing worth seeing; and in Mull he said he should be as if at home, his father having lands there, and he a farm.
Dr Johnson did not talk much to-day, but seemed intent in listening to the schemes of future excursion, planned by Col. Dr Birch, however, being mentioned, he said, he had more anecdotes than any man. I said, Percy had a great many; that he flowed with them like one of the brooks here. JOHNSON. 'If Percy is like one of the brooks here. Birch was like the river Thames. Birch excelled Percy in that, as much as Percy excels Goldsmith.' I mentioned Lord Hailes as a man of anecdote. He was not pleased with him, for publishing only such memorials and letters as were unfavourable for the Stuart family. 'If,' said he, 'a man fairly warns you, "I am to give all the ill; do you find the good", he may: but if the object which he professes be to give a view of a reign, let him tell all the truth. I would tell truth of the two Georges, or of that scoundrel, King William. Granger's Biographical History is full of curious anecdote, but might have been better done. The dog is a Whig. I do not like much to see a Whig in any dress; but I hate to see a Whig in a parson's gown.'
Saturday, 25th September 1773: Talisker, Broadford
It was resolved that we should set out, in order to return to Slate, to be in readiness to take boat whenever there should be a fair wind. Dr Johnson remained in his chamber writing a letter, and it was long before we could get him into motion. He did not come to breakfast, but had it sent to him. When he had finished his letter, it was twelve o'clock, and we should have set out at ten. When I went up to him, he said to me, 'Do you remember a song which begins,
"Every island is a prison
Strongly guarded by the sea;
Kings and princes, for that reason, Prisoners are, as well as we."'
I suppose he had been thinking of our confined situation. He would fain have gone in a boat from hence, instead of riding back to Slate. A scheme for it was proposed. He said, 'We'll not be driven tamely from it': but it proved impracticable.
We took leave of M'Leod and Talisker, from whom we parted with regret. Talisker, having been bred to physick, had a tincture of scholarship in his conversation, which pleased Dr Johnson, and he had some very good books; and being a colonel in the Dutch service, he and his lady, in consequence of having lived abroad, had introduced the ease and politeness of the continent into this rude region.
Young Col was now our leader. Mr M'Queen was to accompany us half a day more. We stopped at a little hut, where we saw an old woman grinding with the quern, the ancient Highland instrument, which it is said was used by the Romans, but which, being very slow in its operation, is almost entirely gone into disuse.
The walls of the cottages in Sky, instead of being one compacted mass of stones, are often formed by two exterior surfaces of stone, filled up with earth in the middle, which makes them very warm. The roof is generally bad. They are thatched, sometimes with straw, sometimes with heath, sometimes with fern. The thatch is secured by ropes of straw, or of heath; and, to fix the ropes, there is a stone tied to the end of each. These stones hang round the bottom of the roof, and make it look like a lady's hair in papers; but I should think that, when there is wind, they would come down, and knock people on the head.
We dined at the inn at Sconser, where I had the pleasure to find a letter from my wife. Here we parted from our learned companion, Mr Donald M'Queen. Dr Johnson took leave of him very affectionately, saying, 'Dear sir, do not forget me!' We settled, that he should write an account of the Isle of Sky, which Dr Johnson promised to revise. He said, Mr M'Queen should tell all that he could; distinguishing what he himself knew, what was traditional, and what conjectural.
We sent our horses round a point of land, that we might shun some very bad road; and resolved to go forward by sea. It was seven o'clock when we got into our boat. We had many showers, and it soon grew pretty dark. Dr Johnson sat silent and patient. Once he said, as he looked on the black coast of Sky--black, as being composed of rocks seen in the dusk--'This is very solemn.' Our boatmen were rude singers, and seemed so like wild Indians, that a very little imagination was necessary to give one an impression of being upon an American river. We landed at Strolimus, from whence we got a guide to walk before us, for two miles, to Corrichatachin. Not being able to procure a horse for our baggage, I took one portmanteau before me, and Joseph another. We had but a single star to light us on our way. It was about eleven when we arrived. We were most hospitably received by the master and mistress, who were just going to bed, but, with unaffected ready kindness, made a good fire, and at twelve o'clock at night had supper on the table.
James Macdonald, of Knockow, Kingsburgh's brother, whom we had seen at Kingsburgh, was there. He shewed me a bond granted by the late Sir James Macdonald, to old Kingsburgh, the preamble of which does so much honour to the feelings of that much-lamented gentleman, that I thought it worth transcribing. It was as follows:--
I, Sir James Macdonald, of Macdonald, Baronet, now, after arriving at my perfect age, from the friendship I bear to Alexander Macdonald of Kingsburgh, and in return for the long and faithful services done and performed by him to my deceased father, and to myself during my minority, when he was one of my Tutors and Curators; being resolved, now that the said Alexander Macdonald is advanced in years, to contribute my endeavours for making his old age placid and comfortable, therefore he grants him an annuity of fifty pounds sterling.
Dr Johnson went to bed soon. When one bowl of punch was finished, I rose, and was near the door, in my way up stairs to bed; but Corrichatachin said, it was the first time Col had been in his house, and he should have his bowl; and would not I join in drinking it? The heartiness of my honest landlord, and the desire of doing social honour to our very obliging conductor, induced me to sit down again. Col's bowl was finished; and by that time we were well warmed. A third bowl was soon made, and that too was finished. We were cordial, and merry to a high degree; but of what passed I have no recollection, with any accuracy. I remember calling Corrichatachin by the familiar appellation of Corri, which his friends do. A fourth bowl was made, by which time Col, and young M'Kinnon, Corrichatachin's son, slipped away to bed. I continued a little with Corri and Knockow; but at last I left them. It was near five in the morning when I got to bed.
Sunday, 26th September 1773: Broadford
I awaked at noon, with a severe head-ach. I was much vexed that I should have been guilty of such a riot, and afraid of a reproof from Dr Johnson. I thought it very inconsistent with that conduct which I ought to maintain, while the companion of the Rambler. About one he came into my room, and accosted me, 'What, drunk yet?' His tone of voice was not that of severe upbraiding; so I was relieved a little. 'Sir,' said I, 'they kept me up.' He answered, 'No, you kept them up, you drunken dog.' This he said with good-humoured English pleasantry. Soon afterwards, Corrichatachin, Col, and other friends assembled round my bed. Corri had a brandy-bottle and glass with him, and insisted I should take a dram. 'Ay,' said Dr Johnson, 'fill him drunk again. Do it in the morning, that we may laugh at him all day. It is a poor thing for a fellow to get drunk at night, and sculk to bed, and let his friends have no sport.' Finding him thus jocular, I became quite easy; and when I offered to get up, he very good-naturedly said, 'You need be in no such hurry now.' [Footnote: My ingenuously relating this occasional instance of intemperance has I find been made the subject both of serious criticism and ludicrous banter. With the banterers I shall not trouble myself, but I wonder that those who pretend to the appellation of serious criticks should not have had sagacity enough to perceive that here, as in every other part of the present work, my principal object was to delineate Dr Johnson's manners and character. In justice to him I would not omit an anecdote, which, though in some degree to my own disadvantage, exhibits in so strong a light the indulgence and good humour with which he could treat those excesses in his friends, of which he highly disapproved. In some other instances, the criticks have been equally wrong as to the true motive of my recording particulars, the objections to which I saw as clearly as they. But it would be an endless talk for an authour to point out upon every occasion the precise object he has in view. Contenting himself with the approbation of readers of discernment and taste, he ought not to complain that some are found who cannot or will not understand him.] I took my host's advice, and drank some brandy, which I found an effectual cure for my head-ach. When I rose, I went into Dr Johnson's room, and taking up Mrs M'Kinnon's prayer-book, I opened it at the twentieth Sunday after Trinity, in the epistle for which I read, 'And be not drunk with wine, wherein there is excess.' Some would have taken this as a divine interposition.
Mrs M'Kinnon told us at dinner, that old Kingsburgh, her father, was examined at Mugstot, by General Campbell, as to the particulars of the dress of the person who had come to his house in woman's clothes, along with Miss Flora M'Donald; as the General had received intelligence of that disguise. The particulars were taken down in writing, that it might be seen how far they agreed with the dress of the 'Irish girl' who went with Miss Flora from the Long Island. Kingsburgh, she said, had but one song, which he always sung when he was merry over a glass. She dictated the words to me, which are foolish enough:
Green sleeves and pudding pies,
Tell me where my mistress lies,
And I'll be with her before the rise, Fiddle and aw' together.
May our affairs abroad succeed,
And may our king come home with speed,
And all pretenders shake for dread, And let HIS health go round.
To all our injured friends in need, This
side and beyond the Tweed!
Let all pretenders shake for dread, And let HIS health go round.
Green sleeves, &c.
While the examination was going on, the present Talisker, who was there as one of M'Leod's militia, could not resist the pleasantry of asking Kingsburgh, in allusion to his only song, 'Had she GREEN SLEEVES?' Kingsburgh gave him no answer. Lady Margaret M'Donald was very angry at Talisker for joking on such a serious occasion, as Kingsburgh was really in danger of his life. Mrs M'Kinnon added that Lady Margaret was quite adored in Sky. That when she travelled through the island, the people ran in crowds before her, and took the stones off the road, lest her horse should stumble and she be hurt. Her husband, Sir Alexander, is also remembered with great regard. We were told that every week a hogshead of claret was drunk at his table.
This was another day of wind and rain; but good cheer and good society helped to beguile the time. I felt myself comfortable enough in the afternoon. I then thought that my last night's riot was no more than such a social excess as may happen without much moral blame; and recollected that some physicians maintained, that a fever produced by it was, upon the whole, good for health: so different are our reflections on the same subject, at different periods; and such the excuses with which we palliate what we know to be wrong.
Monday, 27th September 1773: Broadford
Mr Donald M'Leod, our original guide, who had parted from us at Dunvegan, joined us again to-day. The weather was still so bad that we could not travel. I found a closet here, with a good many books, beside those that were lying about. Dr Johnson told me, he found a library in his room at Talisker; and observed, that it was one of the remarkable things of Sky, that there were so many books in it.
Though we had here great abundance of provisions, it is remarkable that Corrichatachin has literally no garden: not even a turnip, a carrot or a cabbage. After dinner, we talked of the crooked spade used in Sky, already described, and they maintained that it was better than the usual garden-spade, and that there was an art in tossing it, by which those who were accustomed to it could work very easily with it. 'Nay,' said Dr Johnson, 'it may be useful in land where there are many stones to raise; but it certainly is not a good instrument for digging good land. A man may toss it, to be sure; but he will toss a light spade much better: its weight makes it an incumbrance. A man MAY dig any land with it; but he has no occasion for such a weight in digging good land. You may take a field-piece to shoot sparrows; but all the sparrows you can bring home will not be worth the charge.' He was quite social and easy amongst them; and, though he drank no fermented liquor, toasted Highland beauties with great readiness. His conviviality engaged them so much, that they seemed eager to shew their attention to him, and vied with each other in crying out, with a strong Celtick pronunciation, 'Toctor Shonson, Toctor Shonson, your health!'
This evening one of our married ladies, a lively pretty little woman, good-humouredly sat down upon Dr Johnson's knee, and, being encouraged by some of the company, put her hands round his neck, and kissed him. 'Do it again,' said he, 'and let us see who will tire first.' He kept her on his knee some time, while he and she drank tea. He was now like a BUCK indeed. All the company were much entertained to find him so easy and pleasant. To me it was highly comick, to see the grave philosopher--the Rambler--toying with a Highland beauty! But what could he do? He must have been surly, and weak too, had he not behaved as he did. He would have been laughed at, and not more respected, though less loved.
He read to-night, to himself, as he sat in company, a great deal of my Journal, and said to me, 'The more I read of this, I think the more highly of you.' The gentlemen sat a long time at their punch, after he and I had retired to our chambers. The manner in which they were attended struck me as singular: the bell being broken, a smart lad lay on a table in the corner of the room, ready to spring up and bring the kettle, whenever it was wanted. They continued drinking, and singing Erse songs, till near five in the morning, when they all came into my room, where some of them had beds. Unluckily for me, they found a bottle of punch in a corner, which they drank; and Corrichatachin went for another, which they also drank. They made many apologies for disturbing me. I told them, that, having been kept awake by their mirth, I had once thoughts of getting up, and joining them again. Honest Corrichatachin said, 'To have had you done so, I would have given a cow.'
Tuesday, 28th September 1773: Broadford, Ostig
The weather was worse than yesterday. I felt as if imprisoned. Dr Johnson said, it was irksome to be detained thus: yet he seemed to have less uneasiness, or more patience, than I had. What made our situation worse here was, that we had no rooms that we could command; for the good people had no notion that a man could have any occasion but for a mere sleeping-place; so, during the day, the bed-chambers were common to all the house. Servants eat in Dr Johnson's; and mine was a kind of general rendezvous of all under the roof, children and dogs not excepted. As the gentlemen occupied the parlour, the ladies had no place to sit in, during the day, but Dr Johnson's room. I had always some quiet time for writing in it, before he was up; and, by degrees, I accustomed the ladies to let me sit in it after breakfast, at my Journal, without minding me.
Dr Johnson was this morning for going to see as many islands as we could; not recollecting the uncertainty of the season, which might detain us in one place for many weeks. He said to me, 'I have more the spirit of adventure than you.' For my part, I was anxious to get to Mull, from whence we might almost any day reach the main land.
Dr Johnson mentioned, that the few ancient Irish gentlemen yet remaining have the highest pride of family; that Mr Sandford, a friend of his, whose mother was Irish, told him, that O'Hara (who was true Irish, both by father and mother) and he, and Mr Ponsonby, son to the Earl of Besborough, the greatest man of the three, but of an English family, went to see one of those ancient Irish, and that he distinguished them thus: 'O'Hara, you are welcome! Mr Sandford, your mother's son, is welcome! Mr Ponsonby, you may sit down.'
He talked both of threshing and thatching. He said, it was very difficult to determine how to agree with a thresher. 'If you pay him by the day's wages, he will thresh no more than he pleases; though, to be sure, the negligence of a thresher is more easily detected than that of most labourers, because he must always make a sound while he works. If you pay him by the piece, by the quantity of grain which he produces, he will thresh only while the grain comes freely, and, though he leaves a good deal in the ear, it is not worth while to thresh the straw over again; nor can you fix him to do it sufficiently, because it is so difficult to prove how much less a man threshes than he ought to do. Here then is a dilemma: but, for my part, I would engage him by the day; I would rather trust his idleness than his fraud.' He said, a roof thatched with Lincolnshire reeds would last seventy years, as he was informed when in that county; and that he told this in London to a great thatcher, who said, he believed it might be true. Such are the pains that Dr Johnson takes to get the best information on every subject.
He proceeded: 'It is difficult for a farmer in England to find daylabourers, because the lowest manufacturers can always get more than a day-labourer. It is of no consequence how high the wages of manufacturers are; but it would be of very bad consequence to raise the wages of those who procure the immediate necessaries of life, for that would raise the price of provisions. Here then is a problem for politicians. It is not reasonable that the most useful body of men should be the worst paid; yet it does not appear how it can be ordered otherwise. It were to be wished, that a mode for its being otherwise were found out. In the mean time, it is better to give temporary assistance by charitable contributions to poor labourers, at times when provisions are high, than to raise their wages; because, if wages are once raised, they will never get down again.'
Happily the weather cleared up between one and two o'clock, and we got ready to depart; but our kind host and hostess would not let us go without taking a 'snatch', as they called it; which was in truth a very good dinner. While the punch went round, Dr Johnson kept a close whispering conference with Mrs M'Kinnon, which, however, was loud enough to let us hear that the subject of it was the particulars of Prince Charles's escape. The company were entertained and pleased to observe it. Upon that subject, there was something congenial between the soul of Dr Samuel Johnson, and that of an isle of Sky farmer's wife. It is curious to see people, how far soever removed from each other in the general system of their lives, come close together on a particular point which is common to each. We were merry with Corrichatachin, on Dr Johnson's whispering with his wife. She, perceiving this, humorously cried, 'I am in love with him. What is it to live and not to love?' Upon her saying something, which I did not hear, or cannot recollect, he seized her hand eagerly, and kissed it.
As we were going, the Scottish phrase of 'honest man!' which is an expression of kindness and regard, was again and again applied by the company to Dr Johnson. I was also treated with much civility; and I must take some merit from my assiduous attention to him, and from my contriving that he shall be easy wherever he goes, that he shall not be asked twice to eat or drink any thing (which always disgusts him), that he shall be provided with water at his meals, and many such little things, which, if not attended to would fret him. I also may be allowed to claim some merit in leading the conversation: I do not mean leading, as in an orchestra, by playing the first fiddle; but leading as one does in examining a witness--starting topics, and making him pursue them. He appears to me like a great mill, into which a subject is thrown to be ground. It requires, indeed, fertile minds to furnish materials for this mill. I regret whenever I see it unemployed; but sometimes I feel myself quite barren, and having nothing to throw in. I know not if this mill be a good figure; though Pope makes his mind a mill for turning verses.
We set out about four. Young Corrichatachin went with us. We had a fine evening, and arrived in good time at Ostig, the residence of Mr Martin M'Pherson, minister of Slate. It is a pretty good house, built by his father, upon a farm near the church. We were received here with much kindness by Mr and Mrs M'Pherson, and his sister, Miss M'Pherson, who pleased Dr Johnson much, by singing Erse songs, and playing on the guittar. He afterwards sent her a present of his Rasselas. In his bed-chamber was a press stored with books, Greek, Latin, French, and English, most of which had belonged to the father of our host, the learned Dr M'Pherson; who, though his Dissertations have been mentioned in a former page as unsatisfactory, was a man of
distinguished talents. Dr Johnson looked at a Latin paraphrase of the song of Moses, written by him, and published in the Scots Magazine for 1747, and said, 'It does him honour; he has a great deal of Latin, and good Latin.' Dr M'Pherson published also in the same magazine, June 1739, an original Latin ode, which he wrote from the Isle of Barra, where he was minister for some years. It is very poetical, and exhibits a striking proof how much all things depend upon comparison: for Barra, it seems, appeared to him so much worse than Sky, his natale solum, that he languished for its 'blessed mountains', and thought himself buried alive amongst barbarians where he was.
Wednesday, 29th September 1773: Ostig
After a very good sleep, I rose more refreshed than I had been for some nights. We were now at but a little distance from the shore, and saw the sea from our windows, which made our voyage seem nearer. Mr M'Pherson's manners and address pleased us much. He appeared to be a man of such intelligence and taste as to be sensible of the extraordinary powers of his illustrious guest. He said to me, 'Dr Johnson is an honour to mankind; and, if the expression may be used, is an honour to religion.'
Col, who had gone yesterday to pay a visit at Camuscross, joined us this morning at breakfast. Some other gentlemen also came to enjoy the entertainment of Dr Johnson's conversation. The day was windy and rainy, so that we had just seized a happy interval for our journey last night. We had good entertainment here, better accommodation than at Corrichatachin, and time enough to ourselves. The hours slipped along imperceptibly. We talked of Shenstone. Dr Johnson said, he was a good layer-out of land, but would not allow him to approach excellence as a poet. He said, he believed he had tried to read all his Love Pastorals, but did not get through them. I repeated the stanza,
'"She gazed as I slowly withdrew;
My path I could hardly discern;
So sweetly she bade me adieu,
I thought that she bade me return."'
He said, 'That seems to be pretty.' I observed that Shenstone, from his short maxims in prose, appeared to have some power of thinking; but Dr Johnson would not allow him that merit. He agreed, however, with Shenstone, that it was wrong in the brother of one of his correspondents to burn his letters; 'for,' said he, 'Shenstone was a man whose correspondence was an honour.' He was this afternoon full of critical severity, and dealt about his censures on all sides. He said, Hammond's Love Elegies were poor things. He spoke contemptuously of our lively and elegant, though too licentious, lyrick bard, Hanbury Williams, and said, 'he had no fame, but from boys who drank with him'.
While he was in this mood, I was unfortunate enough, simply perhaps, but, I could not help thinking, undeservedly, to come within 'the whiff and wind of his fell sword'. I asked him, if he had ever been accustomed to wear a night-cap. He said 'No.' I asked, if it was best not to wear one. JOHNSON. 'Sir, I had this custom by chance, and perhaps no man shall ever know whether it is best to sleep with or without a night-cap.' Soon afterwards he was laughing at some deficiency in the Highlands, and said, 'One might as well go without shoes and stockings.' Thinking to have a little hit at his own deficiency, I ventured to add, 'or without a night-cap, sir'. But I had better have been silent; for he retorted directly, 'I do not see the connection there' (laughing). 'Nobody before was ever foolish enough to ask whether it was best to wear a night-cap or not. This comes of being a little wrong-headed.' He carried the company along with him: and yet the truth is, that if he had always worn a night-cap, as is the common practice, and found the Highlanders did not wear one, he would have wondered at their barbarity; so that my hit was fair enough.
Thursday, 30th September 1773: Ostig
There was as great a storm of wind and rain as I have almost ever seen, which necessarily confined us to the house; but we were fully compensated by Dr Johnson's conversation. He said, he did not grudge Burke's being the first man in the House of Commons, for he was the first man every where; but he grudged that a fellow who makes no figure in company, and has a mind as narrow as the neck of a vinegar cruet, should make a figure in the House of Commons, merely by having the knowledge of a few forms, and being furnished with a little occasional information. [Footnote: He did not mention the name of any particular person; but those who are conversant with the political world will probably recollect more persons than one to whom this observation may be applied.] He told us, the first time he saw Dr Young was at the house of Mr Richardson, the author of Clarissa. He was sent for, that the doctor might read to him his Conjectures on Original Composition, which he did, and Dr Johnson made his remarks; and he was surprised to find Young receive as novelties, what he thought very common maxims. He said, he believed Young was not a great scholar, nor had studied regularly the art of writing; that there were very fine things in his Night Thoughts, though you could not find twenty lines together without some extravagance. He repeated two passages from his Love of Fame--the characters of Brunetta and Stella, which he praised highly. He said Young pressed him much to come to Wellwyn. He always intended it, but never went. He was sorry when Young died. The cause of quarrel between Young and his son, he told us, was, that his son insisted Young should turn away a clergyman's widow, who lived with him, and who, having acquired great influence over the father, was saucy to the son. Dr Johnson said, she could not conceal her resentment at him, for saying to Young, that 'an old man should not resign himself to the management of any body.' I asked him, if there was any improper connection between them. 'No, sir, no more than between two statues. He was past fourscore, and she a very coarse woman. She read to him, and, I suppose, made his coffee, and frothed his chocolate, and did such things as an old man wishes to have done for him.'
Dr Dodridge being mentioned, he observed that 'he was author of one of the finest epigrams in the English language. It is in Orton's Life of him. The subject is his family-motto, Dum vivimus, vivamus; which, in its primary signification, is, to be sure, not very suitable to a Christian divine; but he paraphrased it thus:
"Live, while you live, the EPICURE would
And seize the pleasures of the present day.
Live, while you live, the sacred PREACHER cries,
And give to God each moment as it flies.
Lord, in my views let both united be;
I live in PLEASURE, when I live to THEE."'
I asked if it was not strange that government should permit so many infidel writings to pass without censure. JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is mighty foolish. It is for want of knowing their own power. The present family on the throne came to the crown against the will of nine tenths of the people. Whether those nine tenths were right or wrong, it is not our business now to inquire. But such being the situation of the royal family, they were glad to encourage all who would be their friends. Now you know every bad man is a Whig; every man who has loose notions. The Church was all against this family. They were, as I say, glad to encourage any friends; and therefore, since their accession, there is no instance of any man being kept back on account of his bad principles; and hence this inundation of impiety.' I observed that Mr Hume, some of whose writings were very unfavourable to religion, was, however, a Tory. JOHNSON. 'Sir, Hume is a Tory by chance, as being a Scotchman; but not upon a principle of duty; for he has no principle. If he is any thing, he is a Hobbist.'
There was something not quite serene in his humour to night, after supper; for he spoke of hastening away to London, without stopping much at Edinburgh. I reminded him, that he had General Oughton and many others to see. JOHNSON. 'Nay, I shall neither go in jest, nor stay in jest. I shall do what is fit.' BOSWELL. 'Ay, sir, but all I desire is, that you will let me tell you when it is fit.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I shall not consult you.' BOSWELL. 'If you are to run away from us, as soon as you get loose, we will keep you confined in an island.' He was, however, on the whole, very good company. Mr Donald M'Leod expressed very well the gradual impression made by Dr Johnson on those who are so fortunate as to obtain his acquaintance. 'When you see him first, you are struck with awful reverence; then you admire him; and then you love him cordially.'
I read this evening some part of Voltaire's History of the War in 1741, and of Lord Kames against Hereditary Indefeasible Right. This is a very slight circumstance, with which I should not trouble my reader, but for the sake of observing, that every man should keep minutes of whatever he reads. Every circumstance of his studies should be recorded; what books he has consulted; how much of them he has read; at what times; how often the same authors; and what opinions he formed of them, at different periods of his life. Such an account would much illustrate the history of his mind.
Friday, 1st October 1773: Ostig, Armadale
I shewed to Dr Johnson verses in a magazine, on his Dictionary, composed of uncommon words taken from it: Little of Anthropopathy has he, &c."
He read a few of them, and said, 'I am not answerable for all the words in my Dictionary.' I told him, that Garrick kept a book of all who had either praised or abused him. On the subject of his own reputation, he said, 'Now that I see it has been so current a topick, I wish I had done so too; but it could not well be done now, as so many things are scattered in newspapers.' He said he was angry at a boy of Oxford, who wrote in his defence against Kenrick; because it was doing him hurt to answer Kenrick. He was told afterwards, the boy was to come to him to ask a favour. He first thought to treat him rudely, on account of his meddling in that business; but then he considered, he had meant to do him all the service in his power, and he took another resolution; he told him he would do what he could for him, and did so, and the boy was satisfied. He said, he did not know how his pamphlet was done, as he had read very little of it. The boy made a good figure at Oxford, but died. He remarked, that attacks on authors did them much service. 'A man who tells me my play is very bad, is less my enemy than he who lets it die in silence. A man, whose business it is to be talked of, is much helped at being attacked.' Garrick, I observed, had been often so helped. JOHNSON. 'Yes, sir; though Garrick had more opportunities than almost any man, to keep the publick in mind of him, by exhibiting himself to such numbers, he would not have had so much reputation, had he not been so much attacked. Every attack produces a defence; and so attention is engaged. There is no sport in mere praise, when people are all of a mind.' BOSWELL. 'Then Hume is not the worse for Seattle's attack?' JOHNSON. 'He is, because Beattie has confuted him. I do not say, but that there may be some attacks which will hurt an author. Though Hume suffered from Beattie, he was the better for other attacks.' (He certainly could not include in that number those of Dr Adams, and Mr Tytler.) BOSWELL. 'Goldsmith is the better for attacks.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, sir; but he does not think so yet. When Goldsmith and I published, each of us something, at the same time, we were given to understand that we might review each other. Goldsmith was for accepting the offer. I said, No; set reviewers at defiance. It was said to old Bentley, upon the attacks against him, "Why, they'll write you down." "No, sir," he replied; "depend upon it, no man was ever written down but by himself."' He observed to me afterwards, that the advantages authours derived from attacks, were chiefly in subjects of taste, where you cannot confute, as so much may be said on either side. He told me he did not know who was the authour of the Adventures of a Guinea, but that the bookseller had sent the first volume to him in manuscript, to have his opinion if it should be printed; and he thought it should.
The weather being now somewhat better, Mr James M'Donald, factor to Sir Alexander M'Donald in Slate, insisted that all the company at Ostig should go to the house at Armidale, which Sir Alexander had left having gone with his lady to Edinburgh, and be his guests, till we had an opportunity of sailing to Mull. We accordingly got there to dinner; and passed our day very cheerfully, being no less than fourteen in number.
Saturday, 2nd October 1773: Armadale
Dr Johnson said, that 'a chief and his lady should make their house like a court. They should have a certain number of the gentlemen's daughters to receive their education in the family, to learn pastry and such things from the housekeeper, and manners from my lady. That was the way in the great families in Wales; at Lady Salisbury's, Mrs Thrale's grandmother, and at Lady Philips's. I distinguish the families by the ladies, as I speak of what was properly their province. There were always six young ladies at Sir John Philips's: when one was married, her place was filled up. There was a large school-room, where they learnt needlework and other things.' I observed, that, at some courts in Germany, there were academies for the pages, who are the sons of gentlemen, and receive their education without any expence to their parents. Dr Johnson said, that manners were best learnt at those courts. 'You are admitted with great facility to the prince's company, and yet must treat him with much respect. At a great court, you are at such a distance that you get no good.' I said, 'Very true: a man sees the court of Versailles, as if he saw it on a theatre.' He said, 'The best book that ever was written upon good breeding, Il Corteggiano, by Castiglione, grew up at the little court of Urbino, and you should read it.' I am glad always to have his opinion of books. At Mr M'Pherson's, he commended Whitby's Commentary, and said, he had heard him called rather lax; but he did not perceive it. He had looked at a novel, called The Man of the World, at Rasay, but thought there was nothing in it. He said to-day, while reading my Journal, 'This will be a great treasure to us some years hence.'
Talking of a very penurious gentleman of our acquaintance, he observed, that he exceeded L'Avare in the play. I concurred with him, and remarked that he would do well, if introduced in one of Foote's farces; that the best way to get it done, would be to bring Foote to be entertained at his house for a week, and then it would be facit indignatio. JOHNSON. 'Sir, I wish he had him. I, who have eaten his bread, will not give him to him, but I should be glad he came honestly by him.'
He said, he was angry at Thrale, for sitting at General Oglethorpe's without speaking. He censured a man for degrading himself to a non-entity. I observed, that Goldsmith was on the other extreme; for he spoke at all ventures. JOHNSON. 'Yes, sir; Goldsmith, rather than not speak, will talk of what he knows himself to be ignorant, which can only end in exposing him.' 'I wonder,' said I, 'if he feels that he exposes himself. If he was with two taylors...' 'Or with two founders,' said Dr Johnson, interrupting me, 'he would fall a talking on the method of making cannon, though both of them would soon see that he did not know what metal a cannon is made of.' We were very social and merry in his room this forenoon. In the evening the company danced as usual. We performed, with much activity, a dance which, I suppose, the emigration from Sky has occasioned. They call it 'America'. Each of the couples, after the common involutions and evolutions, successively whirls round in a circle, till all are in motion; and the dance seems intended to shew how emigration catches, till a whole neighbourhood is set afloat. Mrs M'Kinnon told me, that last year when a ship sailed from Portree for America, the people on shore were almost distracted when they saw their relations go off; they lay down on the ground, tumbled, and tore the grass with their teeth. This year there was not a tear shed. The people on shore seemed to think that they would soon follow. This indifference is a mortal sign for the country.
We danced to night to the musick of the bagpipe, which made us beat the ground with prodigious force. I thought it better to endeavour to conciliate the kindness of the people of Sky, by joining heartily in their amusements, than to play the abstract scholar. I looked on this tour to the Hebrides as a copartnership between Dr Johnson and me. Each was to do all he could to promote its success; and I have some reason to flatter myself, that my gayer exertions were of service to us. Dr Johnson's immense fund of knowledge and wit was a wonderful source of admiration and delight to them; but they had it only at times; and they required to have the intervals agreeably filled up, and even little elucidations of his learned text. I was also fortunate enough frequently to draw him forth to talk, when he would otherwise have been silent. The fountain was at times locked up, till I opened the spring. It was curious to hear the Hebridians, when any dispute happened while he was out of the room, saying, 'Stay till Dr Johnson comes: say that to HIM!'
Yesterday Dr Johnson said, 'I cannot but laugh, to think of myself roving among the Hebrides at sixty. I wonder where I shall rove at fourscore!' This evening he disputed the truth of what is said, as to the people of St Kilda catching cold whenever strangers come. 'How can there,' said he, 'be a physical effect without a physical cause?' He added, laughing, 'the arrival of a ship full of strangers would kill them; for, if one stranger gives them one cold, two strangers must give them two colds; and so in proportion.' I wondered to hear him ridicule this, as he had praised M'Aulay 247 for putting it in his book: saying, that it was manly in him to tell a fact, however strange, if he himself believed it. He said, the evidence was not adequate to the improbability of the thing; that if a physician, rather disposed to be incredulous, should go to St Kilda, and report the fact, then he would begin to look about him. They said, it was annually proved by M'Leod's steward, on whose arrival all the inhabitants caught cold. He jocularly remarked, 'the steward always comes to demand something from them; and so they fall a coughing. I suppose the people in Sky all take a cold, when--' (naming a certain person) 'comes.' They said, he came only in summer. JOHNSON. 'That is out of tenderness to you. Bad weather and he, at the same time, would be too much.'
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