Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

ÆTAT. 66.

79

up, and carried both him and them to the round house. In the playhouse at Lichfield, as Mr. Garrick informed me, Johnson having for a moment quitted a chair which was placed for him between the side-scenes, a gentleman took possession of it, and, when John, son on his return civilly demanded his seat, rudely refused to give it up; upon which Johnson laid hold of it, and tossed him and the chair into the pit.!. Foote, who has so successfully revived the old comedy, by exhibiting living characters, had resolved to imitate Johnson on the stage, expecting great profits from his ridicule of so celebrated a man. Johnson being informed of his intention, and being at dinner at Mr. Thomas Davies's, the bookseller, from whom I had the story, he asked Mr. Davies, "what was the common price of an oak stick?" and being answered sixpence, "Why then, Sir," said he "give me leave to send your servant to purchase me a shilling one. I'll have a double quantity; for I am told Foote means to take me off, as he calls it, and I am determined the fellow shall not do it with impunity." Davies took care to acquaint Foote of this, which effectually checked the wantonness of the mimic. Mr. Macpherson's menaces made Johnson provide himself with the same implement of defence; and had he been attacked, I have no doubt that, old as he was, he would have made his corporal prowess be felt as much as his intellectual.

I

66 JOURNEY TO THE WESTERN ISLANDS."

His "Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland "* is a most valuable performance. It abounds in extensive philosophical views of society, and in ingenious sentiment and lively description. A considerable part of it, indeed, consists of speculations, which many years before he saw the wild regions which we visited together probably had employed his attention, though the actual sight of those scenes undoubtedly quickened and augumented them. Mr. Orme, the very able historian, agreed with me in this opinion, which he thus strongly expressed: "There are in that book thoughts, which, by long revolution in the great mind of Johnson, have been formed and polished like pebbles rolled in the ocean!"

2

1 If Mrs. Piozzi had reported any statement so obviously exaggerated as this, Mr. Boswell would have been very indignant.-C.

2 Robert Orme, Esq., the historian of Hindostan, was born at Anjengo, in the Travancore country. in 1728. and died at Ealing, in 1801.

That he was to some degree of excess a true born Englishman, so as to have entertained an undue prejudice against both the country and the people of Scotland, must be allowed. But it was a prejudice of the head, and not of the heart.' He had no ill will to the Scotch; for, if he had been conscious of that, he never would have thrown himself into the bosom of their country, and trusted to the protection of its remote inhabitants with a fearless confidence. His remark upon the nakedness of the country, from its being denuded of trees, was made after having travelled two hundred miles along the eastern coast, where certainly trees are not to be found near the road; and he said it was "a map of the road" which he gave. His disbelief of the authenticity of the poems ascribed to Ossian, a Highland bard, was confirmed in the course of his journey, by a very strict examination of the evidence offered for it; and although their authenticity was made too much a national point by the Scotch, there were many respectable persons in that country, who did not concur in this; so that his judgment upon the question ought not to be decried, even by those who differ from him. As to myself, I can only say, upon a subject now become very uninteresting, that when the fragments of Highland poetry first came out, I was much pleased with their wild peculiarity, and was one of those who subscribed to enable their editor, Mr. Macpherson, then a young man, to make a search in the Highlands and Hebrides for a long poem in the Erse language, which was reported to be preserved somewhere in those regions. But when there came forth an Epic poem in six books, with all the common circumstances of former compositions of that nature; and when, upon an attentive examination of it, there was found a perpetual recurrence of the same images which appear in the fragments; and when no ancient manuscript, to authenticate the work, was deposited in any public library, though that was insisted on as a reasonable proof; who could forbear to doubt?

X

Johnson's grateful acknowledgments of kindness received in the

1 This is a distinction which I am not sure that I understand. Did Mr. Boswell think that he improved the case by representing Johnson's dislike of Scotland as the result not of feeling but of reason? In truth, in the printed Journal of his Tour, there is nothing that a fair and liberal Scotchman can or does complain of; but his conversation is full of the harshest and often most unjust sarcasms against the Scotch, nationally and individually.—-C.

ZTAT. 66

"6 JOURNEY TO THE WESTERN ISLANDS."

81

course of this tour completely refute the brutal reflections which have been thrown out against him, as if he had made an ungrateful return; and his delicacy in sparing in his book those who we find, from his letters to Mrs. Thrale, were just objects of censure,' is much to be admired.' His candour and amiable disposition is conspicuous from his conduct, when informed by Mr. Macleod, of Rasay, that he had committed a mistake, which gave that gentleman some uneasiness. He wrote him a courteous and kind letter, and inserted in the newspapers an advertisement, correcting the mistake.

The observations of my friend Mr. Dempster in a letter written to me, soon after he had read Dr. Johnson's book, are so just and liberal, that they cannot be too often repeated :

"There is nothing in the book, from beginning to end, that a Scotchma need to take amiss. What he says of the country is true; and his observations on the people are what must naturally occur to a sensible, observing, and reflecting inhabitant of a convenient metropolis, where a man on thirty pounds a year may be better accommodated with all the little wants of life, than Col. or Sir Allan. I am charmed with his researches concerning the Erse language, and the antiquity of their manuscripts. I am quite convinced; and I shall rank Ossian and his Fingals and Oscars amongst the nursery tales, not the true history of our country, in all time to come.

"Upon the whole, the book cannot displease, for it has no pretensions. The author neither says he is a geographer, nor an antiquarian, nor very learned in the history of Scotland, nor a naturalist, nor a fossilist. The manners of the people, and the face of the country, are all he attempts to describe, or seems to have thought of. Much were it to be wished, that they who have travelled into more remote, and of course more curious regions, had all possessed his good sense. Of the state of learning, his observations on Glasgow University show he has formed a very sound judgment. He understands our climate too: and he has accurately observed the changes, however slow and imperceptible to us, which Scotland has undergone, in consequence of the blessings of liberty and internal peace."

Mr. Knox, another native of Scotland, who has since made the same tour, and published an account of it, is equally liberal.

1 Sir Archibald Macdonald.-C.

"We have seen his kind acknowledgment of Macleod's hospitality, and the loss of roor Col recorded in his Journal in affectionate and pathetic terms.

"I have read" says he, "his book again and again, travelled with him from Berwick to Glenelg, through countries with which I am well acquainted; sailed with him from Glenelg to Rasay, Sky, Rum, Coll, Mull, and Icolmkill, but have not been able to correct him in any matter of consequer.ee. I have often admired the accuracy, the precision, and the justness of what he advances, respecting both the country and the people.-The Doctor has everywhere delivered his sentiments with freedom, and in many instances with a seeming regard for the benefit of the inhabitants, and the ornament of the country. His remarks on the want of trees and hedges for shade, as well as for shelter to the cattle, are well founded, and merit the thanks, not the illiberal censure of the natives. He also felt for the distresses of the Highlanders, and explodes with great propriety the bad management of the grounds, and the neglect of timber in the Hebrides."

Having quoted Johnson's just compliments on the Rasay family, he says,

"On the other hand, I found th.s family equally lavish in their encomiums upon the Doctor's conversation, and his subsequent civilities to a young gentleman of that country, who, upon waiting upon him at London, was well received, and experienced all the attention and regard that a warm friend could bestow. Mr. Macleod having also been in London, waited upon the Doctor, who provided a magnificent and expensive entertainment in honour of his old Hebridean acquaintance."

And talking of the military road by Fort Augustus, he says,

"By this road, though one of the most rugged in Great Britain, the celebrated Dr. Johnson passed from Inverness to the Hebride Isles. His observations on the country and people are extremely correct, judicious, and instructive."-p. 103.

[ocr errors]

Mr. Tytler, the acute and able vindicator of Mary Queen of Scots, in one of his letters to Mr. James Elphinstone, published in that gentleman's "Forty Years' Correspondence," says,—

"I read Dr. Johnson's 'Tour' with very great pleasure. Some few errors he has fallen into, but of no great importance, and those are lost in the numberless beauties of his work. If I had leisure, I could perhaps point out the most exceptionable places; but at present I am in the country, and have not his book at hand. It is plain he meant to speak well of Scotland; and he has in my apprehension done us great honour in the most capital article, the character of the inhabitants."

1 Boswell was so vehemently attacked by his countrymen, as if he were particeps criminis with Dr. Jonuson, that he thought it expedient to produce these testimonio Scotorum in his own defence.-C.

83

His private letters to Mrs. Thrale, written during the surse of of his journey, which therefore may be supposed to convey his genuine feelings at the time, abound in such benignant sentiment towards the people who showed him civilities, that no man whose temper is not very harsh and sour can retain a doubt of the goodness of his heart.

ETAZ. 66.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

JOURNEY TO THE WESTERN ISLANDS.'

It is painful to recollect with what rancour he was assailed by numbers of shallow irritable North Britons, on account of his supposed injurious treatment of their country and countrymen, in his Journey." Had there been any just ground for such a charge, would the virtuous and candid Dempster have given his opinion of the book, in the terms in which I have quoted? Would the patriotic Knox' have spoken of it as he has done? Would Mr. Tytler, surely

66 a Scot if ever Scot there were,"

have expressed himself thus? And let me add, that, citizen of the world as I hold myself to be, I have that degree of predilection for my natale solum, nay, I have that just sense of the merit of an ancient nation, which has been ever renowned for its valour, which in former times maintained its independence against a powerful neighbour, and in modern times has been equally distinguished for its ingenuity and industry in civilized life, that I should have felt a generous indignation at any injustice done to it. Johnson treated Scotland no worse than he did even his best friends, whose characters he used to give as they appeared to him, both in light and shade. Some people, who had not exercised their minds sufficiently, condemned him for censuring his friends. But Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose philosophical penetration and justness of thinking were not less known to those who lived with him, than his genius in his art admired by the world, explained his conduct thus:

[ocr errors]

"He was fond of discrimination, which he could not show without pointing out the bad as well as the good in every character; and as his friends were

1 I observed with much regret, while the first edition was passing through the press (August, 1790), that this ingenious gentleman is dead.-B. Mr. John Knox was, for many years, a tockseller of some eminence in the Strand. Besides the Tour to the Hebrides, h published a "View of the British Empire," and several works having for their object sbo Loprovement of the Scottish Fisheries. He died at Dalkeith.

« VorigeDoorgaan »