Page images

us; some were as black and wild in their appearance as any American savages whatever. One woman was as comely almost as the figure of Sappho, as we see it painted. We asked the old woman, the mistress of the house where we had the milk (which, by the by, Dr. Johnson told me, for I did not observe it myself, was built not of turf, but of stone), what we should pay. She said what we pleased. One of our guides asked her, in Erse, if a shilling was enough. She said, "Yes." But some of the men bade her ask more. This vexed me; because it showed a desire to impose upon strangers, as they knew that even a shilling was high payment. The woman, however, honestly persisted in her first price; so I gave her half a crown. Thus we had one good scene of life uncommon to us. The people were very much pleased, gave us many blessings, and said they had not had such a day since the old Laird of Macleod's time.

Dr. Johnson was much refreshed by this repast. He was pleased when I told him he would make a good chief. He said, "Were I a chief, I would dress my servants better than myself, and knock a fellow down if he looked saucy to a Macdonald in rags; but I would not treat men as brutes. I would let them know why all of my clan were to have attention paid to them. I would tell my upper servants why, and make them tell the others."

We rode on well, till we came to the high mountain called the Rattakin, by which time both Dr. Johnson and the horses were a good" deal fatigued. It is a terrible steep to climb, notwithstanding the road is formed slanting along it; however, we made it out. On the top of it we met Captain Macleod, of Balmenoch (a Dutch officer who had come from Sky), riding with his sword slung across him. He asked, "Is this Mr. Boswell? " which was a proof that we were expected. Going down the hill on the other side was n0 easy task. As Dr. Johnson was a great weight, the two guides agreed that he should ride the horses alternately. Hay's were the two best, and the Doctor would not ride but upon one or other of them, a black or a brown. But, as Hay complained much, after ascending the Rattakin, the Doctor was prevailed with to mount one of Vass's grays. As he rode upon it down hill, it did not go well, and he grumbled. I walked on a little before, but was excessively entertained with the method taken to keep him in good humour. Hay led the horse's head, talking to Dr. Johnson as much as he could; and (having heard him, in the forenoon, express a pastoral pleasure on seeing the goats browsing) just when the Doctor was uttering his displeasure, the fellow cried, with a very Highland accent, "See, such pretty goats!" Then he whistled whu! and made them jump. Little did he conceive what Dr. Johnson was. Here now was a common ignorant Highland clown imagining that he could divert, as one does a child, Dr. Samuel Johnson! The ludicrousness, absurdity, and extraordinary contrast between what the fellow fancied, and the reality, was truly comic.

It grew dusky; and we had a very tedious ride for what was called five miles, but I am sure would measure ten. We had no conversation. I was riding forward to the inn at Glenelg, on the shore opposite to Sky, that I might take proper measures, before Dr. Johnson, who was now advancing in dreary silence, Hay leading his horse, should arrive. Vass also walked by the side of his horse, and Joseph followed behind. As, therefore, he was thus attended, and seemed to be in deep meditation, I thought there could be no harm in leaving him for a little while. He called me back with a tremendous shout, and was really in a passion with me for leaving him. I told him my intentions, but he was not satisfied, and said, "Do you know, I should as soon have thought of picking a pocket, as doing so." Boswell. "I am diverted with yon, Sir." Johnson. "Sir, I could never be diverted with incivility. Doing such a thing makes one lose confidence in him who has done it, as one cannot tell what he may do next." His extraordinary warmth confounded me so much, that I justified myself but lamely to him; yet my intentions were not improper. I wished to get on, to see how we were to be lodged, and how we were to get a boat; all which I thought I could best settle myself, without his having any trouble. To apply his great mind to minute particulars is wrong: it is like taking an immense balance (such as is kept on quays for weighing cargoes of ships) to weigh a guinea. I knew I had neat little scales, which would do better; and that his attention to everything which falls in his way, and his uncommon desire to be always in the right, would make him weigh, if he knew of the particulars: it was right, therefore, for me to weigh them, and let him have them only in effect. I, however, continued to ride by him, finding he wished I should do so.

As we passed the barracks at Bernera, I looked at them wishfully, as soldiers have always every thing in the best order; but there was only a sergeant and a few men there. We came on to the inn at Glenelg. There was no provender for our horses; so they were sent to grass, with a man to watch them. A maid showed us up stairs into a room damp and dirty, with bare walls, a variety of bad smells, a coarse black greasy fir table, and forms of the same kind; and out of a wretched bed started a fellow from his sleep, like Edgar in King Lear, "Poor Tom's a cold." l

This inn was furnished with not a single article that we could either eat or drink; but Mr. Murchison, factor to the Laird of Macleod, in Glenelg, sent us a bottle of rum and some sugar, with a polite message, to acquaint us, that he was very sorry that he did not hear of us till we had passed his house, otherwise he should have insisted on our sleeping there that night; and that, if he were not obliged to set out for Inverness early next morning, he would have waited upon us. Such extraordinary attention from this gentleman, to entire strangers, deserves the most honourable commemoration.

Our bad accommodation here made me uneasy and almost fretful. Dr. Johnson was calm. I said he was so from vanity. Johnson. "No, Sir; it is from philosophy." It pleased me to see that the Rambler could practise so well his own lessons.

I resumed the subject of my leaving him on the road, and endeavoured to defend it better. He was still violent upon that head, and said, " Sir, had you gone on, I was thinking that I should have returned with you to Edinburgh, and then have parted from you, and never spoken to you more."

1 It is amusing to observe the different images which this being presented to Dr. Johnson and me. The Doctor, in his " Journey," compares him to a Cyclops.

I sent for fresh hay, with which we made beds for ourselves, each in a room equally miserable. Like Wolfe, wo had " a choice of difficulties."' Dr. Johnson made things easier by comparison. At M'Queen's, last night, he observed, that few were so well lodged in a ship. To-night, he said, we were better than if we had been upon the hill. He lay down buttoned up in his great coat. I had my sheets spread on the hay, and my clothes and great coat laid over me, by way of blankets.'

Thursday, Sept. 2.—I had slept ill. Dr. Johnson's anger had affected me much. I considered that, without any bad intention, I might suddenly forfeit his friendship; and was impatient to see him this morning. I told him how uneasy he had made me by what he had said, and reminded him of his own remark at Aberdeen, upon old friendships being hastily broken off. He owned, he had spoken to me in passion; that he would not have done what he threatened; and that, if he had, he should have been ten times worse than I; that forming intimacies would indeed be "limning the water," were they liable to such sudden dissolution; and he added, "Let's think no more on't." Boswell. "Well then. Sir, I shall be easy. Remember, I am to have fair warning in case of any quarrel. You are never to spring a mine upon me. It was absurd in me to believe you." Johnson. "You deserved about as much, as to believe me from night to morning."

1 This phrase, now so common, excited some surprise and criticism when used by General Wolfe, in his despatch from before Quebec. See London Gazette Extraordinary, 16th October, 1759.—Croker.

'Johnson thus describes this scene to Mrs. Thrale: "/ ordered hay to be laid thick upon the bed, and slept upon it in my great coat: Boswell laid sheets upon his bed, and reposed in linen, like a gentleman.

Sept. 2nd. I rose rustling from the hay, and went to tea,

which I forget whether we found or brought. We saw the island of Sky before us, darkening the horizon with its rocky coast. A boat was procured, and we launched into one of the straits of the Atlantic ocean. We had a passage of about 12 miles to the point where [Sir Alexander Macdonald] resided, having come from his seat in the middle of the island, to a small house on the shore, as we believe, that he might with less reproach entertain us meanly. If he aspired to meanness, his retrograde ambition was completely gratified, but he did not succeed in escaping reproach. He had no cook nor, I suppose, much provision, nor had the lady the common decencies of her tea-table: we picked up our sugar with our fingers. Boswell was very angry, and reproached him with his improper parsimony. I did not much reflect upon the conduct of a man with whom I was not likely to converse as long at any other time."—Letters, vol. i., pp. 138, 139.—Editor,

After breakfast, we got into a boat for Sky. It rained much when we set off, but cleared up as we advanced. One of the boatmen, who spoke English, said that a mile at land was two miles at sea. I then observed, that from Glenelg to Armidale in Sky, which was our present course, and is called twelve, was only six miles: but this he could not understand. "Well," said Dr. Johnson, "never talk to me of the native good sense of the Highlanders. Here is a fellow who calls one mile two, and yet cannot comprehend that twelve such imaginary miles make in truth but six."

We reached the shore of Armidale before one o'clock. Sir Alexander Macdonald came down to receive us. He and his lady (formerly Miss Bosville, of Yorkshire), were then in a house built by a tenant at this place, which is in the district of Slate, the family mansion here having been burned in Sir Donald Macdonald's time.1

The most ancient seat of the chief of the Macdonalds in the Isle of Sky was at Duntulm, where there are the remains of a stately castle. The principal residence of the family is now at Mugstot, at which there is a considerable building. Sir Alexander and Lady Macdonald had come to Armidale in their way to Edinburgh, where it was necessary for them to be soon after this time.

Armidale is situated on a pretty bay of the narrow sea, which flows between the main land of Scotland and the Isle of Sky. In front there is a grand prospect of the rude mountains of Moidart and Knoidart. Behind are lulls

1 The two next paragraphs take the place, in the second and third editions, of a paragraph in the first edition, running as follows :—" Instead of finding the head of the Macdonalds surrounded by his chin, and a festive entertainment, we had a small company, and cannot boast of our cheer. The particulars are minuted in my Journal, but I shall not trouble the public with them. I shall mention but one characteristic!; circumstance. My shrewd and hearty friend, Sir Thomas (Wentwortb) Blacket, Lady Macdonalds uncle, who had preceded us in a visit to this chief, upon being asked by him if the punch-bowl then upon the table was not a very handsome one, replied,' Yes, if it were full.'" (First Edition, p. 165.)—Editor.

« PreviousContinue »