Picture of James Boswell

James Boswell

places mentioned

November 8th to 22nd, 1773: Back to Edinburgh

Previous Selection

Monday, 8th November

Notwithstanding the altercation that had passed, my father who had the dignified courtesy of an old Baron, was very civil to Dr Johnson, and politely attended him to the post-chaise, which was to convey us to Edinburgh.

Thus they parted. They are now in another, and a higher, state of existence: and as they were both worthy Christian men, I trust they have met in happiness. But I must observe, in justice to my friend's political principles, and my own, that they have met in a place where there is no room for Whiggism.

We came at night to a good inn at Hamilton. I recollect no more.

Tuesday, 9th November

I wished to have shewn Dr Johnson the Duke of Hamilton's house, commonly called the Palace of Hamilton, which is close by the town. It is an object which, having been pointed out to me as a splendid edifice, from my earliest years, in travelling between Auchinleck and Edinburgh, has still great grandeur in my imagination. My friend consented to stop, and view the outside of it, but could not be persuaded to go into it.

We arrived this night at Edinburgh, after an absence of eighty-three days. For five weeks together, of the tempestuous season, there had been no account received of us. I cannot express how happy I was on finding myself again at home.

Wednesday, 10th November

Old Mr Drummond, the bookseller, came to breakfast. Dr Johnson and he had not met for ten years. There was respect on his side, and kindness on Dr Johnson's. Soon afterwards Lord Elibank came in, and was much pleased at seeing Dr Johnson in Scotland. His lordship said, 'hardly any thing seemed to him more improbable'. Dr Johnson had a very high opinion of him. Speaking of him to me, he characterized him thus: 'Lord Elibank has read a great deal. It is true, I can find in books all that he has read; but he has a great deal of what is in books, proved by the test of real life.' Indeed, there have been few men whose conversation discovered more knowledge enlivened by fancy. He published several small pieces of distinguished merit; and has left some in manuscript, in particular an account of the expedition against Carthagena, in which he served as an officer in the army. His writings deserve to be collected. He was the early patron of Dr Robertson, the historian, and Mr Home, the tragick poet; who, when they we were ministers of country parishes, lived near his seat. He told me, 'I saw these lads had talents, and they were much with me.' I hope they will pay a grateful tribute to his memory.

The morning was chiefly taken up by Dr Johnson's giving him an account of our tour. The subject of difference in political principles was introduced. JOHNSON. 'It is much increased by opposition. There was a violent Whig, with whom I used to contend with great eagerness. After his death I felt my Toryism much abated.' I suppose he meant Mr Walmsley of Lichfield, whose character he has drawn so well in his life of Edmund Smith.

Mr Nairne came in, and he and I accompanied Dr Johnson to Edinburgh castle, which he owned was 'a great place'. But I must mention, as a striking instance of that spirit of contradiction to which he had a strong propensity, when Lord Elibank was some days after talking of it with the natural elation of a Scotchman, or of any man who is proud of a stately fortress in his own country, Dr Johnson affected to despise it, observing that, 'it would make a good PRISON in ENGLAND'.

Lest it should be supposed that I have suppressed one of his sallies against my country, it may not be improper here to correct a mistaken account that has been circulated, as to his conversation this day. It has been said, that being desired to attend to the noble prospect from the Castle Hill, he replied, 'Sir, the noblest prospect that a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to London.' This lively sarcasm was thrown out at a tavern in London, in my presence, many years before.

We had with us to day at dinner, at my house, the Lady Dowager Colvill, and Lady Anne Erskine, sisters of the Earl of Kelly; the Honourable Archibald Erskine, who has now succeeded to that title; Lord Elibank; the Reverend Dr Blair; Mr Tytler, the acute vindicator of Mary Queen of Scots, and some other friends.

Fingal being talked of, Dr Johnson, who used to boast that he had, from the first, resisted both Ossian and the giants of Patagonia, averred his positive disbelief of its authenticity. Lord Elibank said, 'I am sure it is not McPherson's. Mr Johnson, I keep company a great deal with you; it is known I do. I may borrow from you better things than I can say myself, and give them as my own; but, if I should, every body will know whose they are.' The Doctor was not softened by this compliment. He denied merit to Fingal, supposing it to be the production of a man who has had the advantages that the present age affords; and said, 'nothing is more easy than to write enough in that style if once you begin'. 1 One gentleman in company expressing his opinion 'that Fingal was certainly genuine, for that he had heard a great part of it repeated in the original', Dr Johnson indignantly asked him, whether he understood the original; to which an answer being given in the negative, 'Why then,' said Dr Johnson, 'we see to what THIS testimony comes: thus it is.'

I mentioned this as a remarkable proof how liable the mind of man is to credulity, when not guarded by such strict examination as that which Dr Johnson habitually practised. The talents and integrity of the gentleman who made the remark, are unquestionable; yet, had not Dr Johnson made him advert to the consideration, that he who does not understand a language, cannot know that something which is recited to him is in that language, he might have believed, and reported to this hour, that he had 'heard a great part of Fingal repeated in the original'.

For the satisfaction of those on the north of the Tweed, who may think Dr Johnson's account of Caledonian credulity and inaccuracy too strong, it is but fair to add, that he admitted the same kind of ready belief might be found in his own country. 'He would undertake,' he said, 'to write an epick poem on the story of Robin Hood, and half England, to whom the names and places he should mention in it are familiar, would believe and declare they had heard it from their earliest years.'

One of his objections to the authenticity of Fingal, during the conversation at Ulinish, is omitted in my Journal, but I perfectly recollect it. 'Why is not the original deposited in some publick library, instead of exhibiting attestations of its existence? Suppose there were a question in a court of justice, whether a man be dead or alive. You aver he is alive, and you bring fifty witnesses to swear it: I answer, "Why do you not produce the man "' This is an argument founded on one of the first principles of the LAW OF EVIDENCE, which Gilbert would have held to be irrefragable.

I do not think it incumbent on me to give any precise decided opinion upon this question, as to which I believe more than some, and less than others. The subject appears to have now become very uninteresting to the publick. That Fingal is not from beginning to end a translation from the Gallick, but that some passages have been supplied by the editor to connect the whole, I have heard admitted by very warm advocates for its authenticity. If this be the case, why are not these distinctly ascertained? Antiquaries, and admirers of the work, may complain, that they are in a situation similar to that of the unhappy gentleman whose wife informed him, on her death-bed, that one of their reputed children was not his; and, when he eagerly begged her to declare which of them it was, she answered, 'THAT you shall never know', and expired, leaving him in irremediable doubt as to them all.

I beg leave to say something upon second sight, of which I have related two instances, as they impressed my mind at the time. I own, I returned from the Hebrides with a considerable degree of faith in the many stories of that kind which I heard with a too easy acquiescence, without any clear examination of the evidence: but, since that time, my belief in those stories has been much weakened, by reflecting on the careless inaccuracy of narrative in common matters, from which we may certainly conclude that these may be the same in what is more extraordinary. It is but just, however, to add, that the belief in second sight is not peculiar to the Highlands and Isles.

Some years after our tour, a cause was tried in the Court of Session where the principal fact to be ascertained was, whether a ship-master, who used to frequent the Western Highlands and Isles, was drowned in one particular year, or in the year after. A great number of witnesses from the parts were examined on each side, and swore directly contrary to each other upon this simple question. One of them, a very respectable chieftain, who told me a story of second sight, which I have not mentioned, but which I too implicitly believed, had in this case, previous to this publick examination, not only said, but attested under his hand, that he had seen the ship-master in the year subsequent to that in which the court was finally satisfied he was drowned. When interrogated with the strictness of judicial inquiry, and under the awe of an oath, he recollected himself better, and retracted what he had formerly asserted, apologizing for his inaccuracy, by telling the judge 'A man will SAY what he will not SWEAR.' By many he was much censured and it was maintained that every gentleman would be as attentive to truth without the sanction of an oath, as with it. Dr Johnson, though he himself was distinguished at all times by a scrupulous adherence to truth, controverted this proposition; and, as a proof that this was not, though it ought to be, the case, urged the very different decisions of elections under Mr Greville's Act, from those formerly made. 'Gentlemen will not pronounce upon oath, what they would have said, and voted in the House without the sanction.'

However difficult it may be for men who believe in preternatural communications, in modern times, to falsify those who are of a different opinion, they may easily refute the doctrine of their opponents, who impute a belief in second sight to superstition. To entertain a visionary notion that one sees a distant or future event, may be called superstition; but the correspondence of the fact or event with such an impression on the fancy, though certainly very wonderful, IF PROVED, has no more connection with superstition, than magnetism or electricity.

After dinner, various topicks were discussed; but I recollect only one particular. Dr Johnson compared the different talents of Garrick and Foote, as companions, and gave Garrick greatly the preference for elegance, though he allowed Foote extraordinary powers of entertainment. He said, 'Garrick is restrained by some principle; but Foote has the advantage of an unlimited range. Garrick has some delicacy of feeling; it is possible to put him out; you may get the better of him; but Foote is the most incompressible fellow that I ever knew: when you have driven him into a corner, and think you are sure of him, he runs through between your legs, or jumps over your head, and makes his escape.'

Dr Erskine and Mr Robert Walker, two very respectable ministers of Edinburgh, supped with us, as did the Reverend Dr Webster. The conversation turned on the Moravian missions, and on the Methodists. Dr Johnson observed in general, that missionaries were too sanguine in their accounts of their success among savages, and that much of what they tell is not to be believed. He owned that the Methodists had done good; had spread religious impressions among the vulgar part of mankind: but, he said, they had great bitterness against other Christians, and that he never could get a Methodist to explain in what he excelled others; that it always ended in the indispensible necessity of hearing one of their preachers.

Thursday, 11th November

Principal Robertson came to us as we sat at breakfast; he advanced to Dr Johnson, repeating a line of Virgil, which I forget. I suppose, either

Post varios casus, per tot discrimina rerum,2


... multum ille et terris jactatus, et alto.3

Every body had accosted us with some studied compliment on our return. Dr Johnson said, 'I am really ashamed of the congratulations which we receive. We are addressed as if we had made a voyage to Nova Zembla, and suffered five persecutions in Japan.' And he afterwards remarked, that, 'to see a man come up with a formal air, and a Latin line, when we had no fatigue and no danger, was provoking.' I told him, he was not sensible of the danger, having lain under cover in the boat during the storm: he was like the chicken, that hides its head under its wing, and then thinks itself safe.

Lord Elibank came to us, as did Sir William Forbes. The rash attempt in 1745 being mentioned, I observed, that it would make a fine piece of history. Dr Johnson said it would. Lord Elibank doubted whether any man of this age could give it impartially. JOHNSON. 'A man, by talking with those of different sides, who were actors in it, and putting down all that he hears, may in time collect the materials of a good narrative. You are to consider, all history was at first oral. I suppose Voltaire was fifty years in collecting his Louis XIV which he did in the way that I am proposing.' ROBERTSON. 'He did so. He lived much with all the great people who were concerned in that reign, and heard them talk of every thing: and then either took Mr Boswell's way, of writing down what he heard, or, which is as good, preserved it in his memory; for he has a wonderful memory.' With the leave, however, of this elegant historian, no man's memory can preserve facts or sayings with such fidelity as may be done by writing them down when they are recent. Dr Robertson said, 'it was now full time to make such a collection as Dr Johnson suggested; for many of the people who were then in arms, were dropping off; and both Whigs and Jacobites were now come to talk with moderation.' Lord Elibank said to him, 'Mr Robertson, the first thing that gave me a high opinion of you, was your saying in the Select Society, 4 while parties ran high, soon after the year 1745, that you did not think worse of a man's moral character for his having been in rebellion. This was venturing to utter a liberal sentiment, while both sides had a detestation of each other.'

Dr Johnson observed, that being in rebellion from a notion of another's right, was not connected with depravity; and that we had this proof of it, that all mankind applauded the pardoning of rebels; which they would not do in the case of robbers and murderers. He said, with a smile, that 'he wondered that the phrase of UNNATURAL rebellion should be so much used, for that all rebellion was natural to man'.

As I kept no journal of any thing that passed after this morning, I shall, from memory, group together this and the other days, till that on which Dr Johnson departed for London. They were in all nine days; on which he dined at Lady Colvill's, Lord Hailes's, Sir Adolphus Oughton's, Sir Alexander Dick's, Principal Robertson's, Mr McLaurin's, and thrice at Lord Elibank's seat in the country, where we also passed two nights. He supped at the Honourable Alexander Gordon's, now one of our judges, by the title of Lord Rockville; at Mr Nairne's, now also one of our judges, by the title of Lord Dunsinan; at Dr Blair's, and Mr Tytler's; and at my house thrice, one evening with a numerous company, chiefly gentlemen of the law; another with Mr Menzies of Culdares, and Lord Monboddo, who disengaged himself on purpose to meet him; and the evening on which we returned from Lord Elibank's, he supped with my wife and me by ourselves.

He breakfasted at Dr Webster's, at old Mr Drummond's, and at Dr Blacklock's; and spent one forenoon at my uncle Dr Boswell's, who shewed him his curious museum; and, as he was an elegant scholar, and a physician bred in the school of Boerhaave, Dr Johnson was pleased with his company.

On the mornings when he breakfasted at my house, he had, from ten o'clock till one or two, a constant levee of various persons, of very different characters and descriptions. I could not attend him, being obliged to be in the Court of Session; but my wife was so good as to devote the greater part of the morning to the endless task of pouring out tea for my friend and his visitors.

Such was the disposition of his time at Edinburgh. He said one evening to me, in a fit of langour, 'Sir, we have been harrassed by invitations.' I acquiesced. 'Ay, sir,' he replied; 'but how much worse would it have been, if we had been neglected?'

From what has been recorded in this Journal, it may well be supposed that a variety of admirable conversation has been lost, by my neglect to preserve it. I shall endeavour to recollect some of it, as well as I can.

At Lady Colvill's, to whom I am proud to introduce any stranger of eminence, that he may see what dignity and grace is to be found in Scotland, an officer observed, that he had heard Lord Mansfield was not a great English lawyer. JOHNSON. 'Why, sir, supposing Lord Mansfield not to have the splendid talents which he possesses, he must be a great English lawyer, from having been so long at the bar, and having passed through so many of the great offices of the law. Sir, you may as well maintain that a carrier, who has driven a packhorse between Edinburgh and Berwick for thirty years, does not know the road, as that Lord Mansfield does not know the law of England.'

At Mr Nairne's, he drew the character of Richardson, the author of Clarissa , with a strong yet delicate pencil. I lament much that I have not preserved it: I only remember that he expressed a high opinion of his talents and virtues; but observed, that 'his perpetual study was to ward off petty inconveniencies, and procure petty pleasures; that his love of continual superiority was such, that he took care to be always surrounded by women, who listened to him implicitly, and did not venture to controvert his opinions; and that his desire of distinction was so great, that he used to give large vails to the Speaker Onslow's servants, that they might treat him with respect'.

On the same evening, he would not allow that the private life of a judge, in England, was required to be so strictly decorous as I supposed. 'Why then, sir,' said I, 'according to your account, an English judge may just live like a gentleman.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, sir--if he CAN.'

At Mr Tytler's, I happened to tell that one evening, a great many years ago, when Dr Hugh Blair and I were sitting together in the pit of Drury-lane play-house, in a wild freak of youthful extravagance, I entertained the audience PRODIGIOUSLY, by imitating the lowing of a cow. A little while after I had told this story, I differed from Dr Johnson, I suppose too confidently, upon some point, which I now forget. He did not spare me. 'Nay, sir,' said he, 'if you cannot talk better as a man, I'd have you bellow like a cow.'5

At Dr Webster's, he said, that he believed hardly any man died without affectation. This remark appears to me to be well founded, and will account for many of the celebrated death-bed sayings which are recorded.

On one of the evenings at my house, when he told that Lord Lovat boasted to an English nobleman, that though he had not his wealth, he had two thousand men whom he could at any time call into the field, the Honourable Alexander Gordon observed, that those two thousand men brought him to the block. 'True, sir,' said Dr Johnson: 'but you may just as well argue, concerning a man who has fallen over a precipice to which he has walked too near, "His two legs brought him to that"--is he not the better for having two legs?'

At Dr Blair's I left him, in order to attend a consultation, during which he and his amiable host were by themselves. I returned to supper, at which were Principal Robertson, Mr Nairne, and some other gentlemen. Dr Robertson and Dr Blair, I remember, talked well upon subordination and government; and, as my friend and I were walking home, he said to me, 'Sir, these two doctors are good men, and wise men.' I begged of Dr Blair to recollect what he could of the long conversation that passed between

Dr Johnson and him alone, this evening, and he obligingly wrote to me as follows:

March 3, 1785.
Dear Sir,

... As so many years have intervened, since I chanced to have that conversation with Dr Johnson in my house, to which you refer, I have forgotten most of what then passed, but remember that I was both instructed and entertained by it. Among other subjects, the discourse happening to turn on modern Latin poets, the Dr expressed a very favourable opinion of Buchanan, and instantly repeated, from beginning to end, an ode of his, intituled Calendae Maiae (the eleventh in his Miscellaneorum Liber), beginning with these words, Salvete sacris deliciis sacrae, with which I had formerly been unacquainted; but upon perusing it, the praise which he bestowed upon it, as one of the happiest of Buchanan's poetical compositions, appeared to me very just. He also repeated to me a Latin ode he had composed in one of the western islands, from which he had lately returned. We had much discourse concerning his excursion to those islands, with which he expressed himself as having been highly pleased; talked in a favourable manner of the hospitality of the inhabitants; and particularly spoke much of his happiness in having you for his companion; and said, that the longer he knew you, he loved and esteemed you the more. This conversation passed in the interval between tea and supper, when we were by ourselves. You, and the rest of the company who were with us at supper, have often taken notice that he was uncommonly bland and gay that evening, and gave much pleasure to all who were present. This is all that I can recollect distinctly of that long conversation.

Yours sincerely,


At Lord Hailes's, we spent a most agreeable day; but again I must lament that I was so indolent as to let almost all that passed evaporate into oblivion. Dr Johnson observed there, that 'it is wonderful how ignorant many officers of the army are, considering how much leisure they have for study, and the acquisition of knowledge.' I hope he was mistaken; for he maintained that many of them were ignorant of things belonging immediately to their own profession; 'for instance, many cannot tell how far a musket will carry a bullet;' in proof of which, I suppose, he mentioned some particular person, for Lord Hailes, from whom I solicited what he could recollect of that day, writes to me as follows:

As to Dr Johnson's observation about the ignorance of officers, in the length that a musket will carry, my brother, Colonel Dalrymple, was present, and he thought that the doctor was either mistaken, by putting the question wrong, or that he had conversed on the subject with some person out of service.

Was it upon that occasion that he expressed no curiosity to see the room at Dumfermline, where Charles I was born? 'I know that he was born,' said he; 'no matter where.' Did he envy us the birth-place of the king?

Near the end of his Journey, Dr Johnson has given liberal praise to Mr Braidwood's academy for the deaf and dumb. When he visited it, a circumstance occurred which was truly characteristical of our great lexicographer. 'Pray,' said he, 'can they pronounce any LONG words?' Mr Braidwood informed him they could. Upon which Dr Johnson wrote one of his sequipedalia verba, which was pronounced by the scholars, and he was satisfied. My readers may perhaps wish to know what the word was; but I cannot gratify their curiosity. Mr Braidwood told me, it remained long in his school, but had been lost before I made my inquiry.6

Dr Johnson one day visited the Court of Session. He thought the mode of pleading there too vehement, and too much addressed to the passions of the judges. 'This,' said he, 'is not the Areopagus.'

At old Mr Drummond's, Sir John Dalrymple quaintly said, the two noblest animals in the world were, a Scotch highlander and an English sailor. 'Why, sir,' said Dr Johnson, 'I shall say nothing as to the Scotch highlander; but as to the English sailor, I cannot agree with you.' Sir John said, he was generous in giving away his money. JOHNSON. 'Sir, he throws away his money, without thought, and without merit. I do not call a tree generous, that sheds its fruit at every breeze.' Sir John having affected to complain of the attacks made upon his Memoirs, Dr Johnson said, 'Nay, sir, do not complain. It is advantageous to an authour, that his book should be attacked as well as praised. Fame is a shuttlecock. If it be struck only at one end of the room, it will soon fall to the ground. To keep it up, it must be struck at both ends.' Often have I reflected on this since; and, instead of being angry at many of those who have written against me, have smiled to think that they were unintentionally subservient to my fame, by using a battledoor to make me virum volitare per ora.

At Sir Alexander Dick's, from that absence of mind to which every man is at times subject, I told, in a blundering manner, Lady Eglingtoune's complimentary adoption of Dr Johnson as her son; for I unfortunately stated that her ladyship adopted him as her son, in consequence of her having been married the year AFTER he was born. Dr Johnson instantly corrected me. 'Sir, don't you perceive that you are defaming the countess? For, supposing me to be her son, and that she was not married till the year after my birth, I must have been her NATURAL son.' A young lady of quality, who was present, very handsomely said, 'Might not the son have justified the faults?' My friend was much flattered by this compliment, which he never forgot. When in more than ordinary spirits, and talking of his journey in Scotland, he has called to me, 'Boswell, what was it that the young lady of quality said of me at Sir Alexander Dick's?' Nobody will doubt that I was happy in repeating it.

My illustrious friend, being now desirous to be again in the great theatre of life and animated exertion, took a place in the coach, which was to set out for London on Monday the 22d of November. Sir John Dalrymple pressed him to come on the Saturday before, to his house at Cranston, which being twelve miles from Edinburgh, upon the middle road to Newcastle (Dr Johnson had come to Edinburgh by Berwick, and along the naked coast), it would make his journey easier, as the coach would take him up at a more reasonable hour than that at which it sets out. Sir John, I perceived, was ambitious of having such a guest; but, as I was well assured, that at this very time he had joined with some of his prejudiced countrymen in railing at Dr Johnson, and had said, he wondered how any gentleman of Scotland could keep company with him, I thought he did not deserve the honour: yet, as it might be a convenience to Dr Johnson, I contrived that he should accept the invitation, and engaged to conduct him. I resolved that, on our way to Sir John's, we should make a little circuit by Roslin Castle, and Hawthornden, and wished to set out soon after breakfast; but young Mr Tytler came to shew Dr Johnson some essays which he had written; and my great friend, who was exceedingly obliging when thus consulted, was detained so long that it was, I believe, one o'clock before we got into our post-chaise. I found that we should be too late for dinner at Sir John Dalrymple's, to which we were engaged: but I would by no means lose the pleasure of seeing my friend at Hawthornden, of seeing SAM JOHNSON at the very spot where BEN JOHNSON visited the learned and poetical Drummond.

We surveyed Roslin Castle, the romantick scene around it, and the beautiful Gothick chapel, and dined and drank tea at the inn; after which we proceeded to Hawthornden, and viewed the caves; and I all the while had Rare Ben in my mind, and was pleased to think that this place was now visited by another celebrated wit of England.

By this time 'the waning night was growing old', and we were yet several miles from Sir John Dalrymple's. Dr Johnson did not seem much troubled at our having treated the baronet with so little attention to politeness; but when I talked of the grievous disappointment it must have been to him that we did not come to the FEAST that he had prepared for us (for he told us he had killed a seven-year-old sheep on purpose), my friend got into a merry mood, and jocularly said, 'I dare say, sir, he has been very sadly distressed. Nay, we do not know but the consequence may have been fatal. Let me try to describe his situation in his own historical style. I have as good a right to make him think and talk, as he has to tell us how people thought and talked a hundred years ago, of which he has no evidence. All history, so far as it is not supported by contemporary evidence, is romance ... Stay now... Let us consider!' He then (heartily laughing all the while) proceeded in his imitation, I am sure to the following effect, though now, at the distance of almost twelve years, I cannot pretend to recollect all the precise words:

'Dinner being ready, he wondered that his guests were not yet come. His wonder was soon succeeded by impatience. He walked about the room in anxious agitation; sometimes he looked at his watch, sometimes he looked out at the window with an eager gaze of expectation, and revolved in his mind the various accidents of human life. His family beheld him with mute concern. "Surely," said he, with a sigh, "they will not fail me." The mind of man can bear a certain pressure; but there is a point when it can bear no more. A rope was in his view, and he died a Roman death.'7

It was very late before we reached the seat of Sir John Dalrymple, who, certainly with some reason was not in very good humour. Our conversation was not brilliant. We supped, and went to bed in ancient rooms, which would have better suited the climate of Italy in summer, than that of Scotland in the month of November.

I recollect no conversation of the next day, worth preserving, except one saying of Dr Johnson, which will be a valuable text for many decent old dowagers, and other good company, in various circles to descant upon. He said, 'I am sorry I have not learnt to play at cards. It is very useful in life: it generates kindness, and consolidates society.' He certainly could not mean deep play.

My friend and I thought we should be more comfortable at the inn at Blackflelds, two miles farther on. We therefore went thither in the evening, and he was very entertaining; but I have preserved nothing but the pleasing remembrance, and his verses on George the Second and Cibber, and his epitaph on Parnell, which he was then so good as to dictate to me. We breakfasted together next morning, and then the coach came, and took him up. He had, as one of his companions in it, as far as Newcastle, the worthy and ingenious Dr Hope, botanical professor at Edinburgh. Both Dr Johnson and he used to speak of their good fortune in thus accidentally meeting; for they had much instructive conversation, which is always a most valuable enjoyment, and, when found where it is not expected, is peculiarly relished.

I have now completed my account of our tour to the Hebrides. I have brought Dr Johnson down to Scotland, and seen him into the coach which in a few hours carried him back into England. He said to me often, that the time he spent in this tour was the pleasantest part of his life, and asked me if I would lose the recollection of it for five hundred pounds. I answered I would not; and he applauded my setting such a value on an accession of new images in my mind.

Had it not been for me, I am persuaded Dr Johnson never would have undertaken such a journey; and I must be allowed to assume some merit from having been the cause that our language has been enriched with such a book as that which he published on his return; a book which I never read but with the utmost admiration, as I had such opportunities of knowing from what very meagre materials it was composed.


1 I desire not to be understood as agreeing ENTIRELY with the opinions of Dr Johnson, which I relate without any remark. The many imitations, however, of Fingal, that have been published, confirm this observation in a considerable degree.

2 Through various hazards and events we move.

3 Long labours both by sea and land he bore. DRYDEN.

4 A society for debate in Edinburgh, consisting of the most eminent men.

5 As I have been scrupulously exact in relating anecdotes concerning other persons, I shall not withhold any part of this story, however ludicrous.--I was so successful in this boyish frolick, that the universal cry of the galleries was, 'Encore the cow! Encore the cow!' In the pride of my heart, I attempted imitations of some other animals, but with very inferior effect. My reverend friend, anxious for my fame, with an air of the utmost gravity and earnestness, addressed me thus: 'My dear sir, I would CONFINE myself to the COW!'

6 One of the best criticks of our age 'does not wish to prevent the admirers of the incorrect and nerveless style which generally prevailed for a century before Dr Johnson's energetick writings were known, from enjoying the laugh that this story may produce, in which he is very ready to join them'. He, however, requests me to observe, that 'my friend very properly chose a LONG word on this occasion, not, it is believed, from any predilection for polysyllables (though he certainly had a due respect for them), but in order to put Mr Braidwood's skill to the strictest test, and to try the efficacy of his instruction by the most difficult exertion of the organs of his pupils'.

7 'Essex was at that time confined to the same chamber of the Tower from which his father Lord Capel had been led to death, and in which his wife's grandfather had inflicted a voluntary death upon himself. When he saw his friend carried to what he reckoned certain fate, their common enemies enjoying the spectacle, and reflected that it was he who had forced Lord Howard upon the confidence of Russel, he retired, and, by a ROMAN DEATH, put an end to his misery.' Dalrymple's Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland . Vol. I p. 36.

James Boswell, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (Oxford, Mississippi, 2004)

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