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Dr. Johnson had for many years given me hopes that we should go together and visit the Hebrides. Martin's Account of those islands had impressed us with a notion that we might there contemplate a system of life almost totally different from what we had been accustomed to see ; and to find simplicity and wildness, and all the circumstances of remote time or place, so near to our native great island, was an object within the reach of reasonable curiosity. Dr. Johnson has said in his “Journey,” that he scarcely remembered how the wish to visit the Hebrides was excited ; but he told me, in summer, 1763, that his father put Martin's Account into his hands when he was very young, and that he was much pleased with it. We reckoned there would be some inconveniences and hardships, and perhaps a little
danger; but these we were persuaded were magnified in the imagination of everybody. When I was at Ferney, in 1764, I mentioned our design to Voltaire. He looked at me, as if I had talked of going to the North Pole, and said, “ You do not insist on my accompanying
No, sir.” “ Then I am very willing you should go." I was not afraid that our curious expedition would be prevented by such apprehensions; but I doubted that it would not be possible to prevail on Dr. Johnson to relinquish, for some time, the felicity of a London life, which, to a man who can enjoy it with full intellectual relish, is apt to make existence in any narrower sphere seem insipid or irk
I doubted that he would not be willing to come down from his elevated state of philosophical dignity; from a superiority of wisdom among the wise, and of learning among the learned ; and from flashing his wit upon minds bright enough to reflect it.
He had disappointed my expectations so long, that I began to despair ; but in spring, 1773, he talked of coming to Scotland that year with so much firmness, that I hoped he was at last in earnest I knew that if he were once launched from the metropolis he would go forward very well; and I got our common friends there to assist in setting him afloat. To Mrs. Thrale in particular, whose enchantment over him seldom failed, I was much obliged. It was, “I'll give thee a wind.” “Thou art kind.”—To attract him, we had invitations from the chiefs Macdonald and Macleod; and, for additional aid, I wrote to Lord Elibank, Dr. William Robertson, and Dr. Beattie.
To Dr. Robertson, so far as my letter concerned the present subject, I wrote as follows:
“Our friend, Mr. Samuel Johnson, is in great health and spirits; and, I do think, has a serious resolution to visit Scotland this year. The more attraction, however, the better, and therefore, though I know he will be happy to meet you there, it will forward the scheme if, in your answer to this, you express yourself concerning it with that power of which you are so happily possessed, and which may be so directed as to operate strongly upon him.”
His answer to that part of my letter was quite as I could have wished. It was written with the address and persuasion of the historian of America.
“When I saw you last, you gave us some hopes that you might prevail with Mr. Johnson to make out that excursion to Scotland with the expectation of which we have long flattered ourselves. If he could order matters so as to pass some time in Edinburgh about the close of the summer session, and then visit some of the Highland scenes, I am confident he would be pleased with the grand features of nature in many parts of this country: he will meet with many persons here
who respect him, and some whom I am persuaded he will think not unworthy of his esteem. I wish he would make the experiment. He sometimes cracks his jokes upon us; but he will find that we can distinguish between the stabs of malevolence, and “the rebukes of the righteous which are like excellent oil,* and break not the head.' Offer my best compliments to him, and assure him that I shall be happy to have the satisfaction of seeing him under my roof.”
To Dr. Beattie I wrote, “ The chief intention of this letter is to inform you that I now seriously believe Mr. Samuel Johnson will visit Scotland this year: but I wish that every power of attraction may be employed to secure our having so valuable an acquisition, and therefore I hope you will without delay write to me what I know you think, that I may read it to the mighty sage, with proper emphasis, before I leave London, which I must do soon. He talks of you with the same warmth that he did last year. We are to see as much of Scotland as we can, in the months of August and September. We shall not be long of being at Marischal College.f He is particularly desirous of seeing some of the Western Islands."
Dr. Beattie did better : ipse venit. He was, however, so polite as to waive his privilege of nil mihi rescribas, and wrote from Edinburgh, as follows: • Your
kind and agreeable favour of the 20th of April overtook me here yesterday, after having gone to Aberdeen, which place I left about a week ago. I am to set out this day for London, and hope to have the honour of paying my respects to Mr. Johnson and you, about a week or ten days hence. I shall then do what I can to enforce the topic you mention; but at present I cannot enter upon it, as I am in a very great hurry; for I intend to begin my journey within an hour or two."
He was as good as his word, and threw some pleasing motives into the northern scale But, indeed, Mr. Johnson loved all that he heard from one whom he tells us, in his Lives of the Poets, Gray tound“ a poet, a philosopher, and a good man.”
My Lord Elibauk did not answer my letter to his lordship for some time. The reason will appear, when we come to the Isle of Sky. I shall then insert my letter, with letters from bis lordship both to myself and Mr. Johnson. I beg it may be understood, that I insert my own letters, as I relate my own sayings, rather as keys to what is valuable belonging to others, than for their own sake.
Our friend Edmund Burke, who by this time had received some pretty severe strokes from Dr. Johnson, on account of the unhappy difference in their politics, upon my repeating this passage to him exclaimed, “ Oil of vitriol!"-Boswell.
+ This, I find, is a Scotticism. I should have said, " It will not be long before we shall be at Marischal College."-Boswell.
Luckily, Mr. Justice (now Sir Robert) Chambers, who was about to sail for the East Indies, was going to take leave of his relations at Newcastle, and he conducted Dr. Johnson to that town. Mr. Scott, of University College, Oxford (now Dr. Scott, of the Commons), accompanied him from thence to Edinburgh.* With such propitious convoys did he proceed to my native city. But, lest metaphor should make it be supposed he actually went by sea, I choose to mention that he travelled in post-chaises, of which the rapid motion was one of his most favourite amusements.
Dr. Samuel Johnson's character, religious, moral, political and literary, nay his figure and manner, are, I believe, more generally known than those of almost any man; yet it may not be superfluous here to attempt a sketch of him. Let my readers, then, remember that he was a sincere and zealous Christian, of high Church of England and monarchical principles, which he would not tamely suffer to be questioned; steady and inflexible in maintaining the obligations of piety and virtue, both from a regard to the order of society and from a veneration for the great source of all order; correct, nay stern in nis taste; hard to please and easily offended, impetuous and irritable in his temper, but of a most humane and benevolent heart; having a mind stored with a vast and various collection of learning and knowledge, which he communicated with peculiar perspicuity and force, in rich and choice espression. He united a most logical head with a most fertile imagination, which gave him an extraordinary advantage in arguing; for he could reason close or wide, as he saw best for the moment. He could, when he chose it, be the greatest sophist that ever wielded a weapon in the schools of declamation; but he indulged this only in conversation ; for he owned lie sometimes talked for victory; he was too conscientious to make error permanent and pernicious, by deliberately writing it. He was conscious of his superiority. He loved praise when it was brought to him; but was too proud to seek for it. He was somewhat susceptible of flattery. His mind was so full of imagery that he might have been perpetually a poet. It has been often remarked, that in his poetical pieces, which it is to be regretted are so few, because so excellent, his style is easier pot
* Scott and Chambers were both natives of Newcastle and members of University College, Oxford, where Johnson made their acquaintance. He retained through life a strong affection for his young friends, whose subsequent career justified his partiality. Sir Robert Chambers continued long in India : in 1791 he succeeded Sir Elijah Impey as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William, Bengal. His friend at home, as Sir William Scott, and afterwards Lord Stowell, presided with eminent ability over the Consistory and Admiralty Courts. He died in 1836, aged ninety. Scott was one of the executors named in Dr. Johnson's will, a trust which he would
bobly have shared with Sir l'obert Chambers had the latter remained in the country, * Lord Pembroke said once to me at Wilton, with a happy pleasantry and soine truth, that “ Dr. Johnson's sayings would not appear so extraordinary were it not for his borc-wow way:" but I admit the truth of this only on some occasions. The “Messiah," played upon the Canterbury organ, is more sublime than when played upon an inferior instrument: but very slight music will seem grand when conveyed to the ear through that majestic medium. While, therefore, Dr. Johnson's sayings are read, let his manner be taken along with them. Let it, however, be observed, that the sayings themselves are generally great; that though he might be an ordinary composer at times, he was for the most part a Handel.—Boswell.
than in his prose There is deception in this: it is not easier, but better suited to the dignity of verse; as one may dance with grace whose motions in ordinary walking, in the common step, are awkward He had a constitutional melancholy, the clouds of which darkeneu the brightness of his fancy, and gave a gloomy cast to his whole course of thinking; yet, though grave and awful in his deportment, when he thought it necessary or proper he frequently indulged himself in pleasantry and sportive sallies. He was prone to superstition, but not to credulity. Though his imagination might incline him to a belief of the marvellous and the mysterious, his vigorous reason examined the evidence with jealousy. He had a loud voice, and a slow deliberate utterance, which no doubt gave some additional weight to the sterling metal of his conversation.* His
person was large, robust, I may say approaching to the gigantic, and grown unwieldy from corpulency. His countenance was naturally of the cast of an ancient statue, but somewhat disfigured by the scars of that evil, which, it was formerly imagined, the royal touch could cure. He was now in his sixty-fourth year, and was become a little dull of hearing. His sight had always been somewhat weak; yet, so much does mind govern, and even supply the deficiency of organs, that his perceptions were uncommonly quick and accurate. His head, and sometimes also his body, shook with a kind of motion like the effect of a palsy; he appeared to be frequently disturbed by cramps, or convulsive contractions,f of the nature of that distemper called “St. Vitus's dance.” He
wore a full suit of plain brown clothes, with twisted-hair-buttons of the - same colour, a large bushy greyish wig, a plain shirt, black worsted
stockings, and silver buckles. Upon this tour, when journeying, he wore boots, and a very wide brown cloth great coat, with pockets which might have almost held the two volumes of his folio dictionary; and he carried in his hand a large English oak stick. Let me not
+ Such they appeared to me; but since the first edition, Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed to me, “that Dr. Johnson's extraordinary gestures were only habits, in which he indulged himself at certain times. When in company, where he was not free, or when engaged earnestly in conversation, he never gave way to such habits, which proves that they were not involuntary." I still, however, think, that these gestures were involuntary, for surely had not that been the case, he would have restrained them in the public streets.-BOSWELL.