« PreviousContinue »
who is really a fellow of genius too in many respects; whenever he wants to support a strange opinion, he quotes you the practice of Japan, or of some other distant country, of which he knows nothing. To support polygamy, he tells you of the island of Formosa, where there are ten women born for one man. He had but to suppose another island, where there are ten men born for one woman, and so make a marriage between them." *
At supper, Lady Macleod mentioned Dr. Cadogan's book on the gout.-JOHNSON. "It is a good book in general, but a foolish one in particulars. It is good in general, as recommending temperance and exercise, and cheerfulness. In that respect it is only Dr. Cheyne's book, told in a new way; and there should come out such a book every thirty years, dressed in the mode of the times. It is foolish in maintaining that the gout is not hereditary, and that one fit of it, when gone, is like a fever when gone."-Lady Macleod objected that the author does not practise what he teaches.†-JOHNSON. “I cannot help that, madam; that does not make his book the worse. People are influenced more by what a man says, if his practice is suitable to it, because they are blockheads. The more intellectual people are, the readier will they attend to what a man tells them : if it is just, they will follow it, be his practice what it will. No man practises so well as he writes. I have, all my life long, been lying till noon; yet I tell all young men, and tell them with great sincerity, that nobody who does not rise early will ever do any good. Only consider! You read a book; you are convinced by it; you do not know the author. Suppose you afterwards know him, and find that he does not practise what he teaches: are you to give up your former conviction? At this rate you would be kept in a state of
* What my friend treated as so wild a supposition has actually happened in the western islands of Scotland, if we may believe Martin, who tells it of the islands of Col and Tyr-yi, and says that it is proved by the parish registers.-BoSWELL. [Martin says the inhabitants of Col always feed on oats, and those of Tir-yi on barley. He then adds, "The Isle of Col produces more boys than girls, and the Isle of Tyr-yi more girls than boys; as if Nature intended both these isles for mutual alliances, without being at the trouble of going to the adjacent isles or continent to be matched. The parish book, in which the number of the baptised is to be seen, confirms the ob. servation." This curious parish-book no longer exists, and we need hardly say the modern registers give no countenance to the supposition. In 1755 the population of these islands was 2,702, it is now 4,815; and in 1843 their annual value was returned at 4,4731. 6s. 2d.-ED.]
†This was a general reflection against Dr. Cadogan, when his very popular book was first published. It was said that whatever precepts he might give to others, he himself indulged freely in the bottle. But I have since had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with him, and, if his own testimony may be believed (and I have never heard it impeached), his course of life has been conformable to his doctrine.BOSWELL.
equilibrium, when reading every book, till you knew how the author practised.” !_“But,” said Lady Macleod, “ you would think better of Dr. Cadogan, if he acted according to his principles." — JOHNSON.
Why, madam, to be sure, a man who acts in the face of light, is worse than a man who does not know so much ; yet I think no man should be worse thought of for publishing good principles. There is something noble in publishing truth, though it condemns one's self.” -I expressed some surprise at Cadogan's recommending good humour, as if it were quite in our own power to attain it.-Johnson. “Why, sir, a man grows better humoured as he grows older: he improves by experience. When young, he thinks himself of great consequence, and everything of importance. As he advances in life, he learns to think himself of no consequence, and little things of little importance; and so he becomes more patient and better pleased. All good humour and complaisance are acquired. Naturally a child seizes directly what it sees, and thinks of pleasing itself only. By degrees, it is taught to please others, and to prefer others; and that this will ultimately produce the greatest happiness. If a man is not convinced of that, he never will practise it. Common language speaks the truth as to this: we say, a person is well bred. As it is said that all material motion is primarily in a right line, and is never per circuitum, never in another form, unless by some particular cause; so it may be said intellectual motion is.”—Lady Macleod asked, no man was naturally good ?--JOHNSON. “No, madam, no more than a wolf."-BOSWELL.
Nor no woman, sir P”—JOHNSON. “No, sir.”—Lady Macleod started at this, saying, in a low voice, “ This is worse than Swift."
Macleod of Ulinish had come in the afternoon. We were a jovial company at supper. The laird, surrounded by so many of his clan, was to me a pleasing sight. They listened with wonder and pleasure, while Dr. Johnson harangued. I am vexed that I cannot take down his full strain of eloquence.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15.
The gentlemen of the clan went away early in the morning to the harbour of Lochbracadale, to take leave of some of their friends who were going to America. It was a very wet day. We looked at Rorie More's horn, which is a large cow's horn, with the mouth of it ornamented with silver curiously carved. It holds rather more than a bottle and a half.* Every Laird of Macleod, it is said, must, as a
* This famous horn, which Burns alludes to in his Bacchanalian poem of " The Whistle," holds nearly as much as three ordinary bottles. It is a common ox's horn, and has no other ornament than the silver rim. The ceremony of quaffing claret from Rorie More's horn at the inauguration of each successive Chief of Macleod is still
proof of his manhood, drink it off full of claret, without laying it down. From Rorie More many of the branches of the family are descended; in particular, the Talisker branch; so that his name is much talked of. We also saw his bow, which hardly any man now can bend, and his glaymore [claymore], which was wielded with both hands, and is of a prodigious size. We saw here some old pieces of iron armour, immensely heavy. The broadsword now used, though called the glaymore (i. e. the great sword), is much smaller than that used in Rorie More's time. There is hardly a target now to be found in the Highlands. After the disarming act, they made them serve as covers to their butter-milk barrels; a kind of change, like beating spears into pruning-hooks.
Sir George Mackenzie's works (the folio edition) happened to lie in a window in the dining-room. I asked Dr. Johnson to look at the continued; but an artificial bottom is inserted on these occasions in order to reduce the libation to a moderate draught. Sir Rorie would have spurned this effeminacy, and no such expedient, we may be sure, was adopted when the old chief entertained the bard of Clanronald, Nial Mor Mac Vurich, who has chanted his praises in Gaelic verse. "The six nights I remained at Dunvegan," he says, "it was not a show of hospitality I met with there, but a plentiful feast in thy fair hall among thy numerous host of heroes, amidst the sound of harps, overflowing cups," &c. The Privy Council attempted to stint Rorie More in his wine. In 1616, among other provisions to reform the islands, it was enacted that the chiefs were not to use in their houses more than the following quantities of wine respectively-viz., Maclean of Duart and Sir Rorie Macleod, four tun each; Clanronald three tun; and Coll, Lochbuy, and Mackinnon, one tun each. Boswell does not mention another curious cup at Dunvegan, formed of black oak richly carved and mounted, and inscribed in Saxon black-letter cha racters. Sir Walter Scott has described this ancient cup, or chalice, in his notes to the "Lord of the Isles," and an engraving of it is given in Mr. Wilson's interesting work on Scottish Archeology (1851). Sir Walter, it appears, had misread the inscription, for instead of dating back so far as the tenth century, the cup was made in the sixteenth. A fairy flag, the palladium of the Macleods, is also preserved at Dunvegan. It is formed of yellow silk, now much tattered and decayed, and is said to have been taken by a Macleod from a Saracen chief during the Crusades. This miraculous banner was only to be displayed on three great occasions-when the clan was in imminent peril in battle, when the heir of the family was at the point of death, and when the Macleods were on the verge of extinction, in which emergency the clan would be saved by unfurling the flag, but an invisible being would appear and carry off standard and standard-bearer, never more to be seen! Pennant says a family in the island had the dangerous office of standard-bearer, and held by it three lands in Bracadale. The relic is most probably a banner of some order of the Knights Templars. The superstition connected with it may, as Pennant suggests, have been derived from the Norwegian ancestry of the Macleods, and might be of use to animate the clan.-ED.
CUP AT DUNVEGAN.
Characteres Advocatorum. He allowed him power of mind, and that he understood very well what he tells; but said that there was too much declamation, and that the Latin was not correct. He found fault with appropinquabant in the character of Gilmour. I tried him with the opposition between gloria and palma, in the comparison between Gilmour and Nisbet, which Lord Hailes, in his catalogue of the Lords of Session, thinks difficult to be understood. The words are, penes illum gloria, penes hunc palma." In a short account of the Kirk of Scotland, which I published some years ago, I applied these words to the two contending parties, and explained them thus: "The popular party has most eloquence; Dr. Robertson's party most influence." I was very desirous to hear Dr. Johnson's explication.— JOHNSON. "I see no difficulty. Gilmour was admired for his parts; Nisbet carried his cause by his skill in law. Palma is victory."—I observed, that the character of Nicholson in this book resembled that of Burke; for it is said, in one place," in omnes lusos et jocos se sæpe resolvebat ;"* and, in another, “sed acceptris more è conspectu aliquando astantium sublimi se protrahens volatu, in prædam miro impetu descendebat." +-JOHNSON. "No, sir; I never heard Burke make a good joke in my life."-Boswell. "But, sir, you will allow he is a hawk.”—Dr. Johnson, thinking that I meant this of his joking, said, "No, sir, he is not the hawk there. He is the beetle in the mire.”—I still adhered to my metaphor: "But he soars as the hawk." -JOHNSON. Yes, sir; but he catches nothing."-Macleod asked, what is the particular excellence of Burke's eloquence?-JOHNSON. "Copiousness and fertility of allusion; a power of diversifying his matter, by placing it in various relations. Burke has great information, and great command of language; though, in my opinion, it has not in every respect the highest elegance."-Boswell. "Do you think, sir, that Burke has read Cicero much ?"-JOHNSON. believe it, sir. Burke has great knowledge, great fluency of words, and great promptness of ideas, so that he can speak with great illustration on any subject that comes before him. He is neither like Cicero, nor like Demosthenes, nor like any one else, but speaks as well as he can."
In the 65th page of the first volume of Sir George Mackenzie, Dr. Johnson pointed out a paragraph beginning with Aristotle, and told me there was an error in the text, which he bade me try to discover. I was lucky enough to hit it at once. As the passage is printed, it is said that the devil answers even in engines. I corrected it to-ever in
* He often indulged himself in every species of pleasantry and wit.-Boswell. But, like the hawk, having soared with a lofty flight to a height which the eye could not reach, he was wont to swoop upon his quarry with wonderful rapidity.-IBID.
ænigmas. “Sir,” said he, "you are a good critic. This would have been a great thing to do in the text of an ancient author.”
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 16. Last night much care was taken of Dr. Johnson, who was still distressed by his cold. He had hitherto most strangely slept without a night-cap. Miss Macleod made him a large flannel one, and he was prevailed with to drink a little brandy when he was going to bed. He has great virtue in not drinking wine or any fermented liquor, because, as he acknowledged to us, he could not do it in moderation. -Lady Macleod would hardly believe him, and said, “I am sure, sir, you would not carry it too far.”—JOHNSON. “Nay, madam, it carried me. I took the opportunity of a long illness to leave it off. It was then prescribed to me not to drink wine; and having broken off the habit, I have never returned to it.”
In the argument on Tuesday night about natural goodness, Dr. Johnson denied that any child was better than another, but by difference of instruction ; though, in consequence of greater attention being paid to instruction by one child than another, and of a variety of imperceptible causes, such as instruction being counteracted by servants, a notion was conceived, that of two children, equally well educated, one was naturally much worse than another. He owned, this morning, that one might have a greater aptitude to learn than another, and that we inherit dispositions from our parents. “I inherited,” said he, “a vile melancholy from my father, which has made me mad all my life, at least not sober.” Lady Macleod wondered he should tell this. “ Madam," said I," he knows that with that madness he is superior to other men.”
I have often been astonished with what exactness and perspicuity he will explain the process of any art. He this morning explained to us all the operation of coining, and at night all the operation of brewing, so very clearly, that Mr. Macqueen said, when he heard the first, he thought he had been bred in the mint; when he heard the second, that he had been bred a brewer.
I was elated by the thought of having been able to entice such a man to this remote part of the world. A ludicrous, yet just image presented itself to my mind, which I expressed to the company.
I compared myself to a dog who has got hold of a large piece of meat, and runs away with it to a corner, where he may devour it in peace, without any fear of others taking it from him. “In London, Reynolds, Beauclerk, and all of them, are contending who shall enjoy Dr. Johnson's conversation. We are feasting upon it undisturbed at Dunvegan.”