« PreviousContinue »
made to him of a curious specimen of Highland antiquity, Dr. Johnson said, “Sir, it was more than he deserved: the dog is a Whig."
We here enjoyed the comfort of a table plentifully furnished, the satisfaction of which was heightened by a numerous and cheerful company; and we, for the first time, had a specimen of the joyous social manners of the inhabitants of the Highlands. They talked in their own ancient language with fluent vivacity, and sung many Erse songs with such spirit that, though Dr. Johnson was treated with the greatest respect and attention, there were moments in which he seemed to be forgotten. For myself, though but a Lowlander, having picked up a few words of the language, I presumed to mingle in their mirth, and joined in the choruses with as much glee as any of the company. Dr. Johnson being fatigued with his journey retired early to his chamber, where he composed the following Ode, addressed to Mrs. Thrale :
Inter erroris salebrosa longi,
Thralia dulcis ?
Seu viri curas pia nupta mulcet,
* Johnson appears to have altered the last stanza of his Ode. In the copy given in the Oxford edition of his works, two lines stand thus
“Sit memor nostri, fideique solvat
Fida mercedem," &c. The “Ode de Skia Insula” was, shortly after the publication of Boswell's Journal, translated as follows, by a lady, Miss Knight:
O'er stony lands, where naked rocks,
In misty clouds appear;
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7. Dr. Johnson was much pleased with his entertainment here. There were many good books in the house: Hector Boethius, in Latin ; Cave's Lives of the Fathers ; Baker's Chronicle ; Jeremy Collier's Church History ; Dr. Johnson's small Dictionary ; Craufurd's Officers of State, and several more :—a mezzotinto of Mrs. Brooks the actress (by some strange chance in Sky*), and also a print of Macdonald of Clanranald, with a Latin inscription about the cruelties after the battle of Culloden, which will never be forgotten.
It was a very wet, stormy day; we were therefore obliged to remain here, it being impossible to cross the sea to Rasay.
I employed a part of the forenoon in writing this Journal. The rest of it was somewhat dreary, from the gloominess of the weather and the uncertain state which we were in, as we could not tell but it might clear up every hour. Nothing is more painful to
Through dismal fields, whose barren soil
My wandering steps I bear.
No elegance can know;
Through scenes like these I go.
In all my watery way;
My gentle Thralia, say?
Watch o'er as mother kind;
And feed thy active mind;
Howe'er on distant ground;
Shall Skia's shores resound.-ED.
• Mr. Croker states that Mrs. Brooks's father was a Scotchman of the name of Watson, who lost his property and fled his country for the Stuart cause in 1745, a circumstance which would readily account for the lady's portrait being in the Highlands. We find that Licut. Thomas Watson, of Ogilvy's Regiment, tobacconist in Perth, was. convicted of high treason and sentenced to death, but reprieved. His n.me is in the list of attainted persons, Exchequer Chamber, Edinburgh, Sept. 24, 1747.-Ed.
the mind than a state of suspense, especially when it depends upon the weather, concerning which there can be so little calculation. As Dr. Johnson said of our weariness on the Monday at Aberdeen, “Sensation is sensation ;” Corrichatachin, which was last night a hospitable house, was, in my mind, changed to-day into a prison. After dinner I read some of Dr. Macpherson's “Dissertations on the Ancient Caledonians.” I was disgusted by the unsatisfactory conjectures as to antiquity before the days of record. I was happy when tea came. Such, I take it, is the state of those who live in the country. Meals are wished for from the cravings of vacuity of mind as well as from the desire of eating. I was hurt to find even such a temporary feebleness, and that I was so far from being that robust wise man who is sufficient for his own happiness. I felt a kind of lethargy of indolence. I did not exert myself to get Dr. Johnson to talk, that I might not have the labour of writing down his conversation. He inquired here if there were any remains of the second sight. Mr. Macpherson, minister of Slate, said he was resolved not to believe it, because it was founded on no principle.--JOHNSON: “There are many things, then, which we are sure are true, that you will not believe. What principle is there why a loadstone attracts iron ; why an egg produces a chicken by heat ; why a tree grows upwards, when the natural tendency of all things is downwards? Sir, it depends upon the degree of evidence that you have.”* Young Mr. Mackinnon mentioned one Mackenzie, who is
* Johnson's reasoning resembles that of Martin, who devotes a chapter of his work to “An Account of the Second Sight, in Irish called Taish.” Martin was a firm believer, and is at some pains to vindicate the seers. “If everything," he says,
" for which the learned are not able to give a satisfying account be condemned as impossible, we may find many other things generally believed that must be rejected as false by this rule. For instance, yawning and its influence, and that the loadstone attracts iron, and yet these are true as well as harmless, though we can give no satisfying account of their causes. And if we know so little of natural causes, how much less can we pretend to things that are supernatural ?" (Martin's “ Western Islands.” London, 1703.) Even in Martin's time the second sight had greatly declined; not one in ten, he said, saw it then that saw it twenty years before. Other supernatural beliefs were giving way. “A spirit, by the country people called browny, was frequently seen in all the most considerable families in the isles and north of Scotland, in the shape of a tall man; but within these twenty or thirty years past he is seen but rarely. There were spirits also that appeared in the shape of women, horses, swine, cats, and some like fiery balls, which would follow men in the fields; but there has been but few instances of these for forty years past." The decline of these superstitions must be attributed to the efforts of the clergy and to the greater intercourse which had taken place on the part of the tacksmen and chiefs with the southern districts. Education made little way in the Highlands until the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge commenced its admirable labours in 1709 with five schools, extended before the close of the century to two hundred. Even in 1825 seventy in the hundred of the population of the Hebrides were unable to read. Johnson's credulity as to the second-sight, when he was so incredulous in other matters, is one of the prominent features in his strangely-mingled character. He was eager to believein super
still alive, who had often fainted in his presence, and when he recovered mentioned visions which had been presented to him. He told Mr. Mackinnon that at such a place he should meet a funeral, and that such and such people would be the bearers, naming four: and three weeks afterwards he saw what Mackenzie had predicted. The naming the very spot in a country where a funeral comes a long way, and the very people as bearers when there are so many out of whom a choice may be made, seems extraordinary. We should have sent for Mackenzie had we not been informed that he could speak no English. Besides, the facts were not related with sufficient accuracy.
Mrs. Mackinnon, who is a daughter of old Kingsburgh, told us that her father was one day riding in Sky, and some women, who were at work in a field on the side of the road, said to him they had heard two taiscks (that is, two voices of persons about to die), and what was remarkable, one of them was an English taisck, which they never heard before. When he returned, he at that very place met two funerals, and one of them was that of a woman who had come from the main land, and could speak only English. This, she remarked, made a great impression upon her father.
How all the people here were lodged I know not. It was partly done by separating man and wife, and putting a number of men in one room, and of women in another.*
natural agency as some relief to that dread of death and morbid melancholy which clouded his masculine understanding and genuine piety. In this respect the English philosopher, with all his town-bred tastes and habits, was on a level with the rude islander of the Hebrid nursed amidst sto and solitude.-ED.
* This introduction of the travellers to the house of a Highland tacksman, or large farmer, afforded a favourable specimen of the class; and another was subsequently given at Kingsburgh. The reader may compare these sketches with the description of Dandie Dinmont's establishment at Liddesdale. There were the same rough abundance and generous hospitality in all of them; but the Highland domicile displayed a share of that feudal politeness which descended from the chief to all the clan; and there was generally more of “ book-learning.” Travelling from one end of a Highland parish to another was then a serious business. It was not merely that the roads were bad, but there were so many old families by the way whom you could not pass by without calling upon, that what with a late sitting at one place, and a dance at another, a journey that is now performed in one day usually took a week or more.
“For long, though cheerful, was the way;
And life, alas ! allows but one ill winter's day.”—Couley. Corrichatachin was always a full house. Its own inmates were numerous. These were, at the time of Johnson's visit, Lachlan Mackinnon and his son Charles, who lived together, and were married to mother and daughter-the ladies who did the honours of the tea-drinking to the travellers. There were also present the ministers of Sleat and Strath, the former married to a daughter of the elder Corry. The elder Mrs. Mackinnon had been previously married to a Mr. Macalister, by whom she had a large family. One of these became governor of Penang; two others rose to be colonels in the East-India Company's service; and a fourth purchased the estate of Strathaird in Skye. Old Corry
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8. When I waked the rain was much heavier than yesterday ; but the wind had abated. By breakfast the day was better, and in a little while it was calm and clear. I felt my spirits much elated ; the propriety of the expression, “ the sunshine of the breast,” now struck me with peculiar force, for the brilliant rays penetrated into my very soul. We were all in better humour than before. Mrs. Mackinnon, with unaffected hospitality and politeness, expressed her happiness in having such company in her house, and appeared to understand and relish Dr. Johnson's conversation, as indeed all the company seemed to do. When I knew she was old Kingsburgh's daughter, I did not wonder at the good appearance which she made.
She talked as if her husband and family would emigrate rather than be oppressed by their landlord; and said, "How agreeable would it be if these gentlemen should come in upon us when we are in America!" Somebody observed that Sir Alexander Macdonald was always frightened at sea.-JOHNSON: “ Heis frightened at sea, and his tenants are frightened when he comes on land.”
We resolved to set out directly after breakfast. We had about two miles to ride to the sea-side, and there we expected to get one of the boats belonging to the fleet of bounty herring-busses then on the coast, or at least a good country fishing-boat. But while we were preparing to set out, there arrived a man with the following card from the Rev. Mr. Donald Macqueen :
“Mr. Macqueen’s compliments to Mr. Boswell, and begs leave to acquaint him that, fearing the want of a proper boat, as much as the rain of yesterday, might have caused a stop, he is now at Skianwden with Macgillichallum’s* carriage, to convey him and Dr. Johnson to Rasay, where they will meet with a most hearty welcome, and where Macleod, being on a visit, now attends their motions. “Wednesday afternoon."
This card was most agreeable ; it was a prologue to that hospilived sixteen years after Johnson's visit, but his son died the year following it, 1774. The farm is still in the possession of the same hospitable family, the present Corry being the great grandson of Johnson's entertainer. The younger Mrs. Mackinnon lived till past ninety, and loved to talk of the visits of Pennant and Johnson. The farms of Corrichatachin and Kingsburgh have undergone as great a revolution in the way of agricultural improvement as any in the Highlands. The arable land in both is cultivated with as great care and skill as can be found in the fertile districts of the south. In Johnson's time there was not even a turnip or cabbage grown at Corrichatachin ; there is now a large garden, producing all the fruits commonly grown in Scotland, with no contemptible show of the most delicate flowers and shrubs, including a fuschia ten feet high, and a hydrangea that covers a space of twelve feet, and is loaded with flowers. This "latterday” flush of fruit and blossom extends over all the island. Talisker and Kingsburgh have fine gardens; and Dunvegan has, in addition a conservatory.-ED.
• The Highland expression for Laird of Rasay.--Boswell.