Journal Of A Tour To The Hebrides With Samuel Johnson

Saturday, 21st August

Neither the Rev. Mr Nisbet, the established minister, nor the Rev. Mr Spooner, the episcopal minister, were in town. Before breakfast, we went and saw the town-hall, where is a good dancing-room, and other rooms for tea-drinking. The appearance of the town from it is very well; but many of the houses are built with their ends to the street, which looks awkward. When we came down from it, I met Mr Gleg, a merchant here. He went with us to see the English chapel. It is situated on a pretty dry spot, and there is a fine walk to it. It is really an elegant building, both within and without. The organ is adorned with green and gold. Dr Johnson gave a shilling extraordinary to the clerk, saying, ‘He belongs to an honest church.’ I put him in mind, that episcopals were but DISSENTERS here; they were only TOLERATED. ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘we are here, as Christians in Turkey.’ He afterwards went into an apothecary’s shop, and ordered some medicine for himself, and wrote the prescription in technical characters. The boy took him for a physician.

I doubted much which road to take, whether to go by the coast, or by Lawrence Kirk and Monboddo. I knew Lord Monboddo and Dr Johnson did not love each other: yet I was unwilling not to visit his lordship; and was also curious to see them together. [Footnote: There were several points of similarity between them: learning, clearness of head, precision of speech, and a love of research on many subjects which people in general do not investigate. Foote paid Lord Monboddo the compliment of saying, that he was ‘an Elzevir edition of Johnson’.

It has been shrewdly observed that Foote must have meant a diminutive, or POCKET edition.] I mentioned my doubts to Dr Johnson, who said, he would go two miles out of his way to see Lord Monboddo. I therefore sent Joseph forward, with the following note.

Montrose, 21 August. My dear Lord,

Thus far I am come with Mr Samuel Johnson. We must be at Aberdeen to-night. I know you do not admire him so much as I do; but I cannot be in this country without making you a bow at your old place, as I do not know if I may again have an opportunity of seeing Monboddo. Besides, Mr Johnson says, he would go two miles out of his way to see Lord Monboddo. I have sent forward my servant, that we may know if your lordship be at home. I am ever, my dear lord,

Most sincerely yours, James Boswell.

As we travelled onwards from Montrose, we had the Grampion hills in our view, and some good land around us, but void of trees and hedges. Dr Johnson has said ludicrously, in his Journey, that the HEDGES were of STONE; for, instead of the verdant THORN to refresh the eye, we found the bare WALL or DIKE intersecting the prospect. He observed, that it was wonderful to see a country so divested, so denuded of trees.

We stopped at Lawrence Kirk, where our great grammarian, Ruddiman, was once schoolmaster. We respectfully remembered that excellent man and eminent scholar, by whose labours a knowledge of the Latin language will be preserved in Scotland, if it shall be preserved at all. Lord Gardenston, one of our judges, collected money to raise a monument to him at this place, which I hope will be well executed. I know my father gave five guineas towards it. Lord Gardenston is the proprietor of Lawrence Kirk, and has encouraged the building of a manufacturing village, of which he is exceedingly fond, and has written a pamphlet upon it, as if he had founded Thebes, in which, however there are many useful precepts strongly expressed. The village seemed to be irregularly built, some of the houses being of clay, some of brick, and some of brick and stone. Dr Johnson observed, they thatched well here.

I was a little acquainted with Mr Forbes, the minister of the parish. I sent to inform him that a gentleman desired to see him. He returned for answer, ‘that he would not come to a stranger’. I then gave my name, and he came. I remonstrated to him for not coming to a stranger; and, by presenting him to Dr Johnson, proved to him what a stranger might sometimes be. His Bible inculcates ‘be not forgetful to entertain strangers’, and mentions the same motive. He defended himself by saying, he had once come to a stranger who sent for him; and he found him ‘a little worth person!’

Dr Johnson insisted on stopping at the inn, as I told him that Lord Gardenston had furnished it with a collection of books, that travellers might have entertainment for the mind, as well as the body. He praised the design, but wished there had been more books, and those better chosen.

About a mile from Monboddo, where you turn off the road, Joseph was waiting to tell us my lord expected us to dinner. We drove over a wild moor. It rained, and the scene was somewhat dreary. Dr Johnson repeated, with solemn emphasis, Macbeth’s speech on meeting the witches. As we travelled on, he told me, ‘Sir, you got into our club by doing what a man can do. [Footnote: This, I find, is considered as obscure. I suppose Dr Johnson meant, that I assiduously and earnestly recommended myself to some of the members, as in a canvass for an election into Parliament.] Several of the members wished to keep you out. Burke told me, he doubted if you were fit for it: but, now you are in, none of them are sorry. Burke says, that you have so much good humour naturally, it is scarce a virtue.’ BOSWELL. ‘They were afraid of you, sir, as it was you who proposed me.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, they knew, that if they refused you, they’d probably never have got in another. I’d have kept them all out. Beauclerk was very earnest for you.’ BOSWELL. ‘Beauclerk has a keenness of mind which is very uncommon.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes, sir; and every thing comes from him so easily. It appears to me that I labour, when I say a good thing.’ BOSWELL. ‘You are loud, sir; but it is not an effort of mind.’

Monboddo is a wretched place, wild and naked, with a poor old house; though, if I recollect right, there are two turrets which mark an old baron’s residence. Lord Monboddo received us at his gate most courteously; pointed to the Douglas arms upon his house, and told us that his great-grandmother was of that family, ‘In such houses,’ said he, ‘our ancestors lived, who were better men than we.’ ‘No, no, my lord,’ said Dr Johnson. ‘We are as strong as they, and a great deal wiser.’ This was an assault upon one of Lord Monboddo’s capital dogmas, and I was afraid there would have been a violent altercation in the very close, before we got into the house. But his lordship is distinguished not only for ‘ancient metaphysicks’, but for ancient politesse, la vieille cour, and he made no reply.

His lordship was drest in a rustick suit, and wore a little round hat; he told us, we now saw him as Farmer Burnett, and we should have his family dinner, a farmer’s dinner. He said, ‘I should not have forgiven Mr Boswell, had he not brought you here, Dr Johnson.’ He produced a very long stalk of corn, as a specimen of his crop, and said, ‘You see here the loetas segetes.’ He added, that Virgil seemed to be as enthusiastick a farmer as he, and was certainly a practical one. JOHNSON. ‘It does not always follow, my lord, that a man who has written a good poem on an art, has practised it. Philip Miller told me, that in Philips’s “Cyder”, a poem, all the precepts were just, and indeed better than in books written for the purpose of instructing; yet Philips had never made cyder.’

I started the subject of emigration. JOHNSON. ‘To a man of mere animal life, you can urge no argument against going to America, but that it will be some time before he will get the earth to produce. But a man of any intellectual enjoyment will not easily go and immerse himself and his posterity for ages in barbarism.’

He and my lord spoke highly of Homer. JOHNSON. ‘He had all the learning of his age. The shield of Achilles shews a nation in war, a nation in peace; harvest sport, nay stealing.’ [Footnote: My note of this is much too short. Brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio. Yet as I have resolved that THE VERY Journal WHICH DR JOHNSON READ, shall be presented to the publick, I will not expand the text in any considerable degree, though I may occasionally supply a word to complete the sense, as I fill up the blanks of abbreviation in the writing; neither of which can be said to change the genuine Journal. One of the best criticks of our age conjectures that the imperfect passage above has probably been as follows: ‘In his book we have an accurate display of a nation in war, and a nation in peace; the peasant is delineated as truly as the general; nay, even harvest-sport, and the modes of ancient theft are described.’] MONBODDO. ‘Ay, and what we’ (looking to me)?’would call a parliament-house scene; a cause pleaded.’ JOHNSON. ‘That is part of the life of a nation in peace. And there are in Homer such characters of heroes, and combinations of qualities of heroes, that the united powers of mankind ever since have not produced any but what are to be found there.’ MONBODDO. ‘Yet no character is described.’ JOHNSON. ‘No; they all develope themselves. Agamemnon is always a gentleman-like character; he has always . That the ancients held so, is plain from this; that Euripides, in his Hecuba, makes him the person to interpose.’ [Footnote: Dr Johnson modestly said, he had not read Homer so much as he wished he had done. But this conversation shews how well he was acquainted with the Moeonian bard; and he has shewn it still more in his criticism upon Pope’s Homer, in his Life of that poet. My excellent friend, Mr Langton, told me, he was once present at a dispute between Dr Johnson and Mr Burke, on the comparative merits of Homer and Virgil, which was carried on with extraordinary abilities on both sides. Dr Johnson maintained the superiority of Homer.] MONBODDO. ‘The history of manners is the most valuable. I never set a high value on any other history.’ JOHNSON. ‘Nor I; and therefore I esteem biography, as giving us what comes near to ourselves, what we can turn to use.’ BOSWELL. ‘But in the course of general history, we find manners. In wars, we see the dispositions of people, their degrees of humanity, and other particulars.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes; but then you must take all the facts to get this; and it is but a little you get.’ MONBODDO. ‘And it is that little which makes history valuable.’ Bravo! thought I; they agree like two brothers. MONBODDO. ‘I am sorry, Dr Johnson, you were not longer at Edinburgh, to receive the homage of our men of learning.’ JOHNSON. ‘My lord, I received great respect and great kindness.’ BOSWELL. ‘He goes back to Edinburgh after our tour.’ We talked of the decrease of learning in Scotland, and the Muses’ Welcome. JOHNSON. ‘Learning is much decreased in England, in my remembrance.’ MONBODDO. ‘You, sir, have lived to see its decrease in England, I its extinction in Scotland.’ However, I brought him to confess that the High School of Edinburgh did well. JOHNSON. ‘Learning has decreased in England, because learning will not do so much for a man as formerly. There are other ways of getting preferment. Few bishops are now made for their learning. To be a bishop, a man must be learned in a learned age, factious in a factious age; but always of eminence. Warburton is an exception; though his learning alone did not raise him. He was first an antagonist to Pope, and helped Theobald to publish his Shakspeare; but, seeing Pope the rising man, when Crousaz attacked his Essay on Man, for some faults which it has, and some which it has not, Warburton defended it in the Review of that time. This brought him acquainted with Pope, and he gained his friendship. Pope introduced him to Allen, Allen married him to his niece: so, by Allen’s interest and his own, he was made a bishop. But then his learning was the sine qua non: he knew how to make the most of it; but I do not find by any dishonest means.’ MONBODDO. ‘He is a great man.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes; he has great knowledge, great power of mind. Hardly any man brings greater variety of learning to bear upon his point.’ MONBODDO. ‘He is one of the greatest lights of your church.’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, we are not so sure of his being very friendly to us. He blazes, if you will, but that is not always the steadiest light. Lowth is another bishop who has risen by his learning.’

Dr Johnson examined young Arthur, Lord Monboddo’s son, in Latin. He answered very well; upon which he said, with complacency, ‘Get you gone! When King James comes back, [Footnote: I find, some doubt has been entertained concerning Dr Johnson’s meaning here. It is to be supposed that he meant, ‘when a king shall again be entertained in Scotland’.] you shall be in the “Muses’ Welcome”!’ My lord and Dr Johnson disputed a little, whether the savage or the London shopkeeper had the best existence; his lordship, as usual, preferring the savage. My lord was extremely hospitable, and I saw both Dr Johnson and him liking each other better every hour.

Dr Johnson having retired for a short time, his lordship spoke of his conversation as I could have wished. Dr Johnson had said, ‘I have done greater feats with my knife than this;’ though he had eaten a very hearty dinner. My lord, who affects or believes he follows an abstemious system, seemed struck with Dr Johnson’s manner of living. I had a particular satisfaction in being under the roof of Monboddo, my lord being my father’s old friend, and having been always very good to me. We were cordial together. He asked Dr Johnson and me to stay all night. When I said we must be at Aberdeen, he replied, ‘Well, I am like the Romans: I shall say to you, “Happy to come–happy to depart!”‘ He thanked Dr Johnson for his visit. JOHNSON. ‘I little thought, when I had the honour to meet your lordship in London, that I should see you at Monboddo.’ After dinner, as the ladies were going away, Dr Johnson would stand up. He insisted that politeness was of great consequence in society. ‘It is,’ said he, ‘fictitious benevolence. It supplies the place of it amongst those who see each other only in publick, or but little. Depend upon it, the want of it never fails to produce something disagreeable to one or other. I have always applied to good breeding, what Addison in his Cato says of honour:

Honour’s a sacred tie; the law of Kings; The noble mind’s distinguishing perfection, That aids and strengthens Virtue where it meets her. And imitates her actions where she is not.

When he took up his large oak stick, he said, ‘My lord, that’s Homerick;’ thus pleasantly alluding to his lordship’s favourite writer.

Gory, my lord’s black servant, was sent as our guide, to conduct us to the high road. The circumstance of each of them having a black servant was another point of similarity between Johnson and Monboddo. I observed how curious it was to see an African in the north of Scotland, with little or no difference of manners from those of the natives. Dr Johnson laughed to see Gory and Joseph riding together most cordially. ‘Those two fellows,’ said he, ‘one from Africa, the other from Bohemia, seem quite at home.’ He was much pleased with Lord Monboddo to-day. He said, he would have pardoned him for a few paradoxes, when he found he had so much that was good: but that, from his appearance in London, he thought him all paradox; which would not do. He observed, that his lordship had talked no paradoxes to-day. ‘And as to the savage and the London shopkeeper,” said he, ‘I don’t know but I might have taken the side of the savage equally, had any body else taken the side of the shopkeeper.’ He had said to my lord, in opposition to the value of the savage’s courage, that it was owing to his limited power of thinking, and repeated Pope’s verses, in which ‘Macedonia’s madman’ is introduced, and the conclusion is,

Yet ne’er looks forward farther than his nose.

I objected to the last phrase, as being low. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, it is intended to be low: it is satire. The expression is debased, to debase the character.’

When Gory was about to part from us, Dr Johnson called to him, ‘Mr Gory, give me leave to ask you a question! Are you baptized?’ Gory told him he was, and confirmed by the Bishop of Durham. He then gave him a shilling.

We had tedious driving this afternoon, and were somewhat drowsy. Last night I was afraid Dr Johnson was beginning to faint in his resolution; for he said, ‘If we must ride much, we shall not go; and there’s an end on’t.’ To-day, when he talked of Sky with spirit, I said, ‘Why, sir, you seemed to me to despond yesterday. You are a delicate Londoner; you are a maccaroni; you can’t ride.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, I shall ride better than you. I was only afraid I should not find a horse able to carry me.’ I hoped then there would be no fear of getting through our wild tour.

We came to Aberdeen at half an hour past eleven. The New Inn, we were told, was full. This was comfortless. The waiter, however, asked if one of our names was Boswell, and brought me a letter left at the inn: it was from Mr Thrale, enclosing one to Dr Johnson. Finding who I was, we were told they would contrive to lodge us by putting us for a night into a room with two beds. The waiter said to me in the broad strong Aberdeenshire dialect, ‘I thought I knew you, by your likeness to your father.’ My father puts up at the New Inn, when on his circuit. Little was said to-night. I was to sleep in a little press-bed in Dr Johnson’s room. I had it wheeled out into the dining-room, and there I lay very well.