James Boswell.

Life of Johnson, Volume 5 Tour to the Hebrides (1773) and Journey into North Wales (1774) online

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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 so ever 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, humourously
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 have nothing to throw in. I know not if this mill be a
good figure; though Pope makes his mind a mill for turning verses[716].

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[717] 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 good 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_[718], that he languished for its 'blessed mountains,' and thought
himself buried alive amongst barbarians where he was. My readers will
probably not be displeased to have a specimen of this ode: -

'Hei mihi! quantos patior dolores,
Dum procul specto juga ter beata;
Dum ferae Barrae steriles arenas
Solus oberro.
'Ingemo, indignor, crucior, quod inter
Barbaros Thulen lateam colentes;
Torpeo languens, morior sepultus,
Carcere coeco.'

After wishing for wings to fly over to his dear country, which was in
his view, from what he calls _Thule_, as being the most western isle of
Scotland, except St. Kilda; after describing the pleasures of society,
and the miseries of solitude, he at last, with becoming propriety, has
recourse to the only sure relief of thinking men, - _Sursum
corda_[719] - the hope of a better world, disposes his mind to
resignation: -

'Interim fiat, tua, rex, voluntas:
Erigor sursum quoties subit spes
Certa migrandi Solymam supernam,
Numinis aulam.'

He concludes in a noble strain of orthodox piety: -

'Vita tum demum vocitanda vita est.
Tum licet gratos socios habere,
Seraphim et sanctos TRIADEM verendam


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[721], 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[722].'

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[723]. He agreed, however, with
Shenstone, that it was wrong in the brother of one of his correspondents
to burn his letters[724]: '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[725]. 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

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[727].' 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.


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[728]. 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_[729], which he did, and Dr. Johnson made his remarks; and
he was surprized 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[730]; that there were very
fine things in his _Night Thoughts_[731], though you could not find
twenty lines together without some extravagance. He repeated two
passages from his _Love of Fame_, - the characters of Brunetta[732] and
Stella[733], which he praised highly. He said Young pressed him much to
come to Wellwyn. He always intended it, but never went[734]. 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. Doddridge 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.[735] The subject is his family motto, - _Dum vivimus, vivamus_;
which, in its primary signification, is, to be sure, not very suitable
to a Christian divine; but he paraphrased it thus:

"Live, while you live, the _epicure_ would say,
And seize the pleasures of the present day.
Live, while you live, the sacred _preacher_ cries,
And give to GOD each moment as it flies.
Lord, in my views let both united be;
I live in _pleasure_, when I live to _thee_."'

I asked if it was not strange that government should permit so many
infidel writings to pass without censure. JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is mighty
foolish. It is for want of knowing their own power. The present family
on the throne came to the crown against the will of nine tenths of the
people.[736] Whether those nine tenths were right or wrong, it is not
our business now to enquire. 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[737].' 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[738] 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 McLeod 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

I read this evening some part of Voltaire's _History of the War_ in
1741[739], 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.[740]


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

'Little of _Anthropopathy_[741] 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.[742] 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 by being attacked.'[743] 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 Beattie's
attack?[744]' 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[745],
and Mr. Tytler[746].) 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[747], 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[748]." 'He observed to me afterwards, that the advantages
authors derived from attacks, were chiefly in subjects of taste, where
you cannot confute, as so much may be said on either side.[749] He told
me he did not know who was the authour of the _Adventures of a
Guinea_[750], 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 McDonald, factor to Sir
Alexander McDonald 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.


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,[751] Mrs.
Thrale's grandmother, and at Lady Philips's.[752] 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 needle-work 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 learned 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[753], 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.
McPherson's, he commended Whitby's _Commentary_[754], 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_[755], 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[756], he
observed, that he exceeded _L'Avare_ in the play[757]. 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_[758]. 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.[759] 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[760]. I wonder where I shall rove at
fourscore[761]!' 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[762]?'
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 for putting it in his book: saying, that
it was manly in him to tell a fact, however strange, if he himself
believed it[763]. 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[764]) 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.'


Joseph reported that the wind was still against us. Dr. Johnson said, 'A
wind, or not a wind? that is the question[765];' for he can amuse
himself at times with a little play of words, or rather sentences. I
remember when he turned his cup at Aberbrothick, where we drank tea, he
muttered _Claudite jam rivos, pueri'_[766]. I must again and again
apologize to fastidious readers, for recording such minute particulars.
They prove the scrupulous fidelity of my _Journal_. Dr. Johnson said it
was a very exact picture of a portion of his life.

While we were chatting in the indolent stile of men who were to stay
here all this day at least, we were suddenly roused at being told that
the wind was fair, that a little fleet of herring-busses was passing by
for Mull, and that Mr. Simpson's vessel was about to sail. Hugh
M'Donald, the skipper, came to us, and was impatient that we should get
ready, which we soon did. Dr. Johnson, with composure and solemnity,
repeated the observation of Epictetus, that, 'as man has the voyage of
death before him, - whatever may be his employment, he should be ready at
the master's call; and an old man should never be far from the shore,
lest he should not be able to get himself ready.' He rode, and I and the
other gentlemen walked, about an English mile to the shore, where the
vessel lay. Dr. Johnson said, he should never forget Sky, and returned
thanks for all civilities. We were carried to the vessel in a small boat
which she had, and we set sail very briskly about one o'clock. I was

Online LibraryJames BoswellLife of Johnson, Volume 5 Tour to the Hebrides (1773) and Journey into North Wales (1774) → online text (page 18 of 47)