James Boswell.

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

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imagined here! The grave-stones of Sir Allan M'Lean's family, and of
that of M'Quarrie, had as good an appearance as the royal grave-stones;
if they were royal, we doubted.

My easiness to give credit to what I heard in the course of our Tour was
too great. Dr. Johnson's peculiar accuracy of investigation detected
much traditional fiction, and many gross mistakes. It is not to be
wondered at, that he was provoked by people carelessly telling him, with
the utmost readiness and confidence, what he found, on questioning them
a little more, was erroneous[901]. Of this there were innumerable

I left him and Sir Allan at breakfast in our barn, and stole back again
to the cathedral, to indulge in solitude and devout meditation[902].
While contemplating the venerable ruins, I refleeted with much
satisfaction, that the solemn scenes of piety never lose their sanctity
and influence, though the cares and follies of life may prevent us from
visiting them, or may even make us fancy that their effects are only 'as
yesterday, when it is past[903],' and never again to be perceived. I
hoped, that, ever after having been in this holy place, I should
maintain an exemplary conduct. One has a strange propensity to fix upon
some point of time from whence a better course of life may begin[904].

Being desirous to visit the opposite shore of the island, where Saint
Columba is said to have landed, I procured a horse from one
M'Ginnis[905], who ran along as my guide. The M'Ginnises are said to be
a branch of the clan of M'Lean. Sir Allan had been told that this man
had refused to send him some rum, at which the knight was in great
indignation. 'You rascal! (said he,) don't you know that I can hang you,
if I please?' Not adverting to the Chieftain's power over his clan, I
imagined that Sir Allan had known of some capital crime that the fellow
had committed, which he could discover, and so get him condemned; and
said, 'How so?' 'Why, (said Sir Allan,) are they not all my people?'
Sensible of my inadvertency, and most willing to contribute what I could
towards the continuation of feudal authority, 'Very true,' said I. Sir
Allan went on: 'Refuse to send rum to me, you rascal! Don't you know
that, if I order you to go and cut a man's throat, you are to do it?'
'Yes, an't please your honour! and my own too, and hang myself too.' The
poor fellow denied that he had refused to send the rum. His making these
professions was not merely a pretence in presence of his Chief; for
after he and I were out of Sir Allan's hearing, he told me, 'Had he sent
his dog for the rum, I would have given it: I would cut my bones for
him.' It was very remarkable to find such an attachment to a Chief,
though he had then no connection with the island, and had not been there
for fourteen years. Sir Allan, by way of upbraiding the fellow, said, 'I
believe you are a _Campbell_.'

The place which I went to see is about two miles from the village. They
call it _Portawherry_, from the wherry in which Columba came; though,
when they shew the length of his vessel, as marked on the beach by two
heaps of stones, they say, 'Here is the length of the _Currach_', using
the Erse word.

Icolmkill is a fertile island. The inhabitants export some cattle and
grain; and I was told, they import nothing but iron and salt. They are
industrious, and make their own woollen and linen cloth; and they brew a
good deal of beer, which we did not find in any of the other

We set sail again about mid-day, and in the evening landed on Mull, near
the house of the Reverend Mr. Neal M'Leod, who having been informed of
our coming, by a message from Sir Allan, came out to meet us. We were
this night very agreeably entertained at his house. Dr. Johnson observed
to me, that he was the cleanest-headed man that he had met with in the
Western islands. He seemed to be well acquainted with Dr. Johnson's
writings, and courteously said, 'I have been often obliged to you,
though I never had the pleasure of seeing you before.'

He told us, he had lived for some time in St. Kilda, under the tuition
of the minister or catechist there, and had there first read Horace and
Virgil. The scenes which they describe must have been a strong contrast
to the dreary waste around him.


This morning the subject of politicks was introduced. JOHNSON. 'Pulteney
was as paltry a fellow as could be[907]. He was a Whig, who pretended to
be honest; and you know it is ridiculous for a Whig to pretend to be
honest. He cannot hold it out[908].' He called Mr. Pitt a meteor; Sir
Robert Walpole a fixed star[909]. He said, 'It is wonderful to think
that all the force of government was required to prevent Wilkes from
being chosen the chief magistrate of London[910], though the liverymen
knew he would rob their shops, - knew he would debauch their

BOSWELL. 'The History of England is so strange, that, if it were not so
well vouched as it is, it would hardly be credible.'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, if it were told as shortly, and with as little
preparation for introducing the different events, as the History of the
Jewish Kings, it would be equally liable to objections of
improbability.' Mr. M'Leod was much pleased with the justice and novelty
of the thought. Dr. Johnson illustrated what he had said, as follows:
'Take, as an instance, Charles the First's concessions to his
parliament, which were greater and greater, in proportion as the
parliament grew more insolent, and less deserving of trust. Had these
concessions been related nakedly, without any detail of the
circumstances which generally led to them, they would not have been

Sir Allan M'Lean bragged, that Scotland had the advantage of England, by
its having more water. JOHNSON. 'Sir, we would not have your water, to
take the vile bogs which produce it. You have too much! A man who is
drowned has more water than either of us;' - and then he laughed. (But
this was surely robust sophistry: for the people of taste in England,
who have seen Scotland, own that its variety of rivers and lakes makes
it naturally more beautiful than England, in that respect.) Pursuing his
victory over Sir Allan, he proceeded: 'Your country consists of two
things, stone and water. There is, indeed, a little earth above the
stone in some places, but a very little; and the stone is always
appearing. It is like a man in rags; the naked skin is still
peeping out.'

He took leave of Mr. M'Leod, saying, 'Sir, I thank you for your
entertainment, and your conversation.'

Mr. Campbell, who had been so polite yesterday, came this morning on
purpose to breakfast with us, and very obligingly furnished us with
horses to proceed on our journey to Mr. M'Lean's of _Lochbuy_, where we
were to pass the night. We dined at the house of Dr. Alexander M'Lean,
another physician in Mull, who was so much struck with the uncommon
conversation of Dr. Johnson, that he observed to me, 'This man is just a
_hogshead_ of sense.'

Dr. Johnson said of the _Turkish Spy_[912], which lay in the room, that
it told nothing but what every body might have known at that time; and
that what was good in it, did not pay you for the trouble of reading
to find it.

After a very tedious ride, through what appeared to me the most gloomy
and desolate country I had ever beheld[913], we arrived, between seven
and eight o'clock, at May, the seat of the Laird of _Lochbuy_. _Buy_, in
Erse, signifies yellow, and I at first imagined that the loch or branch
of the sea here, was thus denominated, in the same manner as the _Red
Sea_; but I afterwards learned that it derived its name from a hill
above it, which being of a yellowish hue has the epithet of _Buy_.

We had heard much of Lochbuy's being a great roaring braggadocio, a kind
of Sir John Falstaff, both in size and manners; but we found that they
had swelled him up to a fictitious size, and clothed him with imaginary
qualities. Col's idea of him was equally extravagant, though very
different: he told us he was quite a Don Quixote; and said, he would
give a great deal to sec him and Dr. Johnson together. The truth is,
that Lochbuy proved to be only a bluff, comely, noisy old gentleman,
proud of his hereditary consequence, and a very hearty and hospitable
landlord. Lady Lochbuy was sister to Sir Allan M'Lean, but much older.
He said to me, 'They are quite _Antediluvians_.' Being told that Dr.
Johnson did not hear well, Lochbuy bawled out to him, 'Are you of the
Johnstons of Glencro, or of Ardnamurchan[914]?' Dr. Johnson gave him a
significant look, but made no answer; and I told Lochbuy that he was not
Johns_ton_, but John_son_, and that he was an Englishman[915]. Lochbuy
some years ago tried to prove himself a weak man, liable to imposition,
or, as we term it in Scotland, a _facile_ man, in order to set aside a
lease which he had granted; but failed in the attempt. On my mentioning
this circumstance to Dr. Johnson, he seemed much surprized that such a
suit was admitted by the Scottish law, and observed, that 'In England no
man is allowed to _stultify_ himself[916].'

Sir Allan, Lochbuy, and I, had the conversation chiefly to ourselves
to-night: Dr. Johnson, being extremely weary, went to bed soon
after supper.


Before Dr. Johnson came to breakfast, Lady Lochbuy said, 'he was a
_dungeon_ of wit;' a very common phrase in Scotland to express a
profoundness of intellect, though he afterwards told me, that he never
had heard it. She proposed that he should have some cold sheep's-head
for breakfast. Sir Allan seemed displeased at his sister's vulgarity,
and wondered how such a thought should come into her head. From a
mischievous love of sport, I took the lady's part; and very gravely
said, 'I think it is but fair to give him an offer of it. If he does not
choose it, he may let it alone.' 'I think so,' said the lady, looking at
her brother with an air of victory. Sir Allan, finding the matter
desperate, strutted about the room, and took snuff. When Dr. Johnson
came in, she called to him, 'Do you choose any cold sheep's-head, Sir?'
'No, MADAM,' said he, with a tone of surprise and anger[917]. 'It is
here, Sir,' said she, supposing he had refused it to save the trouble of
bringing it in. They thus went on at cross purposes, till he confirmed
his refusal in a manner not to be misunderstood; while I sat quietly by,
and enjoyed my success.

After breakfast, we surveyed the old castle, in the pit or dungeon of
which Lochbuy had some years before taken upon him to imprison several
persons[918]; and though he had been fined in a considerable sum by the
Court of Justiciary, he was so little affected by it, that while we were
examining the dungeon, he said to me, with a smile, 'Your father knows
something of this;' (alluding to my father's having sat as one of the
judges on his trial.) Sir Allan whispered me, that the laird could not
be persuaded that he had lost his heritable jurisdiction[919].

We then set out for the ferry, by which we were to cross to the main
land of Argyleshire. Lochbuy and Sir Allan accompanied us. We were told
much of a war-saddle, on which this reputed Don Quixote used to be
mounted; but we did not see it, for the young laird had applied it to a
less noble purpose, having taken it to Falkirk fair _with a drove of
black cattle._ We bade adieu to Lochbuy, and to our very kind
conductor[920], Sir Allan M'Lean, on the shore of Mull, and then got
into the ferry-boat, the bottom of which was strewed with branches of
trees or bushes, upon which we sat. We had a good day and a fine
passage, and in the evening landed at Oban, where we found a tolerable
inn. After having been so long confined at different times in islands,
from which it was always uncertain when we could get away, it was
comfortable to be now on the mainland, and to know that, if in health,
we might get to any place in Scotland or England in a certain number
of days.

Here we discovered from the conjectures which were formed, that the
people on the main land were entirely ignorant of our motions; for in a
Glasgow newspaper we found a paragraph, which, as it contains a just
and well-turned compliment to my illustrious friend, I shall
here insert: -

'We are well assured that Dr. Johnson is confined by tempestuous weather
to the isle of Sky; it being unsafe to venture, in a small boat, upon
such a stormy surge as is very common there at this time of the year.
Such a philosopher, detained on an almost barren island, resembles a
whale left upon the strand. The latter will be welcome to every body, on
account of his oil, his bone, &c., and the other will charm his
companions, and the rude inhabitants, with his superior knowledge and
wisdom, calm resignation, and unbounded benevolence.'


After a good night's rest, we breakfasted at our leisure. We talked of
Goldsmith's _Traveller_, of which Dr. Johnson spoke highly; and, while I
was helping him on with his great coat, he repeated from it the
character of the British nation, which he did with such energy, that the
tear started into his eye: -

'Stern o'er each bosom reason holds her state,
With daring aims irregularly great,
Pride in their port, defiance in their eye,
I see the lords of human kind pass by,
Intent on high designs, a thoughtful band,
By forms unfashion'd, fresh from nature's hand;
Fierce in their native hardiness of soul,
True to imagin'd right, above control,
While ev'n the peasant boasts these rights to scan,
And learns to venerate himself as man.'

We could get but one bridle here, which, according to the maxim _detur
digniori_, was appropriated to Dr. Johnson's sheltie. I and Joseph rode
with halters. We crossed in a ferry-boat a pretty wide lake[921], and on
the farther side of it, close by the shore, found a hut for our inn. We
were much wet. I changed my clothes in part, and was at pains to get
myself well dried. Dr. Johnson resolutely kept on all his clothes, wet
as they were, letting them steam before the smoky turf fire. I thought
him in the wrong; but his firmness was, perhaps, a species of heroism.

I remember but little of our conversation. I mentioned Shenstone's
saying of Pope, that he had the art of condensing sense more than any
body[922]. Dr. Johnson said, 'It is not true, Sir. There is more sense
in a line of Cowley than in a page (or a sentence, or ten lines, - I am
not quite certain of the very phrase) of Pope.' He maintained that
Archibald, Duke of Argyle[923], was a narrow man. I wondered at this;
and observed, that his building so great a house at Inverary was not
like a narrow man. 'Sir, (said he,) when a narrow man has resolved to
build a house, he builds it like another man. But Archibald, Duke of
Argyle, was narrow in his ordinary expences, in his quotidian

The distinction is very just. It is in the ordinary expences of life
that a man's liberality or narrowness is to be discovered. I never heard
the word _quotidian_ in this sense, and I imagined it to be a word of
Dr. Johnson's own fabrication; but I have since found it in _Young's
Night Thoughts_, (Night fifth,)

'Death's a destroyer of quotidian prey,'

and in my friend's _Dictionary_, supported by the authorities of Charles
I. and Dr. Donne.

It rained very hard as we journied on after dinner. The roar of torrents
from the mountains, as we passed along in the dusk, and the other
circumstances attending our ride in the evening, have been mentioned
with so much animation by Dr. Johnson, that I shall not attempt to say
any thing on the subject[924].

We got at night to Inverary, where we found an excellent inn. Even here,
Dr. Johnson would not change his wet clothes.

The prospect of good accommodation cheered us much. We supped well; and
after supper, Dr. Johnson, whom I had not seen taste any fermented
liquor during all our travels, called for a gill of whiskey. 'Come,
(said he,) let me know what it is that makes a Scotchman happy[925]!' He
drank it all but a drop, which I begged leave to pour into my glass,
that I might say we had drunk whisky together. I proposed Mrs. Thrale
should be our toast. He would not have _her_ drunk in whisky, but rather
'some insular lady;' so we drank one of the ladies whom we had lately
left. He owned to-night, that he got as good a room and bed as at an
English inn.

I had here the pleasure of finding a letter from home, which relieved me
from the anxiety I had suffered, in consequence of not having received
any account of my family for many weeks. I also found a letter from Mr.
Garrick, which was a regale[926] as agreeable as a pine-apple would be
in a desert[927]. He had favoured me with his correspondence for many
years; and when Dr. Johnson and I were at Inverness, I had written to
him as follows: -

Sunday, 29 August, 1773.


'Here I am, and Mr. Samuel Johnson actually with me. We were a night at
Fores, in coming to which, in the dusk of the evening, we passed over
the bleak and blasted heath where Macbeth met the witches[928]. Your old
preceptor[929] repeated, with much solemnity, the speech -

"How far is't called to Fores? What are these,
So wither'd and so wild in their attire," &c.

This day we visited the ruins of Macbeth's castle at Inverness. I have
had great romantick satisfaction in seeing Johnson upon the classical
scenes of Shakspeare in Scotland; which I really looked upon as almost
as improbable as that "Birnam wood should come to Dunsinane[930]."
Indeed, as I have always been accustomed to view him as a permanent
London object, it would not be much more wonderful to me to see St.
Paul's Church moving along where we now are. As yet we have travelled
in post-chaises; but to-morrow we are to mount on horseback, and ascend
into the mountains by Fort Augustus, and so on to the ferry, where we
are to cross to Sky. We shall see that island fully, and then visit some
more of the Hebrides; after which we are to land in Argyleshire, proceed
by Glasgow to Auchinleck, repose there a competent time, and then return
to Edinburgh, from whence the Rambler will depart for old England again,
as soon as he finds it convenient. Hitherto we have had a very
prosperous expedition. I flatter myself, _servetur ad imum, qualis ab
incepto processerit_[931]. He is in excellent spirits, and I have a rich
journal of his conversation. Look back, Davy[932], to Litchfield, - run
up through the time that has elapsed since you first knew Mr.
Johnson, - and enjoy with me his present extraordinary Tour. I could not
resist the impulse of writing to you from this place. The situation of
the old castle corresponds exactly to Shakspeare's description. While we
were there to-day[933], it happened oddly, that a raven perched upon one
of the chimney-tops, and croaked. Then I in my turn repeated -

"The raven himself is hoarse,
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan,
Under my battlements."

'I wish you had been with us. Think what enthusiastick happiness I shall
have to see Mr. Samuel Johnson walking among the romantick rocks and
woods of my ancestors at Auchinleck[934]! Write to me at Edinburgh. You
owe me his verses on great George and tuneful Cibber, and the bad verses
which led him to make his fine ones on Philips the musician[935]. Keep
your promise, and let me have them. I offer my very best compliments to
Mrs. Garrick, and ever am,

'Your warm admirer and friend,


'_To David Garrick, Esq., London._'

His answer was as follows: -

'Hampton, September 14, 1773.


'You stole away from London, and left us all in the lurch; for we
expected you one night at the club, and knew nothing of your departure.
Had I payed you what I owed you, for the book you bought for me, I
should only have grieved for the loss of your company, and slept with a
quiet conscience; but, wounded as it is, it must remain so till I see
you again, though I am sure our good friend Mr. Johnson will discharge
the debt for me, if you will let him. Your account of your journey to
_Fores_, the _raven_, _old castle_, &c., &c., made me half mad. Are you
not rather too late in the year for fine weather, which is the life and
soul of seeing places? I hope your pleasure will continue _qualis ab
incepto_, &c.

'Your friend[936] - - - threatens me much. I only wish that he would
put his threats in execution, and, if he prints his play, I will forgive
him. I remember he complained to you, that his bookseller called for the
money for some copies of his - - - , which I subscribed for, and that I
desired him to call again. The truth is, that my wife was not at
home[937], and that for weeks together I have not ten shillings in my
pocket. - However, had it been otherwise, it was not so great a crime to
draw his poetical vengeance upon me. I despise all that he can do, and
am glad that I can so easily get rid of him and his ingratitude. I am
hardened both to abuse and ingratitude.

'You, I am sure, will no more recommend your poetasters to my civility
and good offices.

'Shall I recommend to you a play of Eschylus, (the Prometheus,)
published and translated by poor old Morell, who is a good scholar[938],
and an acquaintance of mine? It will be but half a guinea, and your name
shall be put in the list I am making for him. You will be in very
good company.

'Now for the Epitaphs!

[_These, together with the verses on George the Second, and Colley
Cibber, as his Poet Laureat, of which imperfect copies are gone about,
will appear in my Life of Dr. Johnson[939]._]

'I have no more paper, or I should have said more to you. My love[940]
and respects to Mr. Johnson.

'Yours ever,


'I can't write. I have the gout in my hand.'

'_To James Boswell, Esq., Edinburgh._'


We passed the forenoon calmly and placidly. I prevailed on Dr. Johnson
to read aloud Ogden's sixth sermon on Prayer, which he did with a
distinct expression, and pleasing solemnity. He praised my favourite
preacher, his elegant language, and remarkable acuteness; and said, he
fought infidels with their own weapons.

As a specimen of Ogden's manner, I insert the following passage from the
sermon which Dr. Johnson now read. The preacher, after arguing against
that vain philosophy which maintains, in conformity with the hard
principle of eternal necessity, or unchangeable predetermination, that
the only effect of prayer for others, although we are exhorted to pray
for them, is to produce good dispositions in ourselves towards them;
thus expresses himself: -

'A plain man may be apt to ask, But if this then, though enjoined in the
holy scriptures, is to be my real aim and intention, when I am taught to
pray for other persons, why is it that I do not plainly so express it?
Why is not the form of the petition brought nearer to the meaning? Give
them, say I to our heavenly father, what is good. But this, I am to
understand, will be as it will be, and is not for me to alter. What is
it then that I am doing? I am desiring to become charitable myself; and
why may I not plainly say so? Is there shame in it, or impiety? The wish
is laudable: why should I form designs to hide it?

'Or is it, perhaps, better to be brought about by indirect means, and in
this artful manner? Alas! who is it that I would impose on? From whom
can it be, in this commerce, that I desire to hide any thing? When, as
my Saviour commands me, I have _entered into my closet, and shut my
door_, there are but two parties privy to my devotions, GOD and my own
heart; which of the two am I deceiving?'

He wished to have more books, and, upon inquiring if there were any in
the house, was told that a waiter had some, which were brought to him;
but I recollect none of them, except Hervey's _Meditations_. He thought
slightingly of this admired book. He treated it with ridicule, and would
not allow even the scene of the dying Husband and Father to be
pathetick[941]. I am not an impartial judge; for Hervey's _Meditations_
engaged my affections in my early years. He read a passage concerning
the moon, ludicrously, and shewed how easily he could, in the same
style, make reflections on that planet, the very reverse of
Hervey's[942], representing her as treacherous to mankind. He did this
with much humour; but I have not preserved the particulars. He then
indulged a playful fancy, in making a _Meditation on a Pudding_[943], of
which I hastily wrote down, in his presence, the following note; which,

Online LibraryJames BoswellLife of Johnson, Volume 5 Tour to the Hebrides (1773) and Journey into North Wales (1774) → online text (page 23 of 47)