Page images

dren and dogs not excepted. As the gentlemen occupied the parlour, the ladies had no place to sit in, during the day, but Dr. Johnson's room. I had always some quiet time for writing in it, before he was up; and, by degrees, I accustomed the ladies to let me sit in it after breakfast, at my "Journal," without minding me.

Dr. Johnson was this morning for going to see as many islands as we could; not recollecting the uncertainty of the season, which might detain us in one place for many weeks. He said to me, “I have more the spirit of adventure than you." For my part, I was anxious to get to Mull, from whence we might almost any day reach the main-land.

Dr. Johnson mentioned, that the few ancient Irish gentlemen yet remaining have the highest pride of family; that Mr. Sandford, a friend of his, whose mother was Irish, told him, that O'Hara (who was true Irish, both by father and mother) and he, and Mr. Ponsonby, son to the Earl of Besborough, the greatest man of the three, but of án English family, went to see one of those ancient Irish, and that he distinguished them thus: "O'Hara, you are welcome! Mr. Sandford, your mother's son is welcome! Mr. Ponsonby, you may sit down!"

He talked both of threshing and thatching. He said, it was very difficult to determine how to agree with a thresher. "If you pay him by the day's wages, he will thresh no more than he pleases; though, to be sure, the negligence of a thresher is more easily detected than that of most labourers, because he must always make a sound while he works. If you pay him by the piece, by the quantity of grain which he produces, he will thresh only while the grain comes freely, and, though he leaves a good deal in the ear, it is not worth while to thresh the straw over again; nor can you fix him to do it sufficiently, because it is so difficult to prove how much less a man threshes than he ought to do. Here then is a dilemma: but, for my part, I would engage him by the day; I would rather trust his idleness than his fraud." He said, a roof thatched with Lincolnshire reeds would last seventy years, as he was informed when in that county; and that he told this in London to a great thatcher, who said, he believed it might be true. Such are the pains that Dr. Johnson takes to get the best information on every subject.

He proceeded: "It is difficult for a farmer in England to find day-labourers, because the lowest manufacturers can always get more than a day-labourer. It is of no consequence how high the wages of manufacturers are; but it would be of very bad consequence to raise the wages of those who procure the immediate necessaries of life, for that would raise the price of provisions. Here, then, is a problem f politicians. It is not reasonable that the most useful body of mer

should be the worst paid; yet it does not appear how it can be ordered otherwise. It were to be wished, that a mode for its being otherwise were found out. In the meantime, it is better to give temporary assistance by charitable contributions to poor labourers, at times when provisions are high, than to raise their wages; because, if wages are once raised, they will never get down again."

Happily the weather cleared up between one and two o'clock, and we got ready to depart; but our kind host and hostess would not let us go without taking a snatch, as they called it; which was in truth a very good dinner. While the punch went round, Dr. Johnson kept a close whispering conference with Mrs. Mackinnon, which, however, was loud enough to let us hear that the subject of it was the particulars of Prince Charles's escape. The company were entertained and pleased to observe it. Upon that subject, there was something congenial between the soul of Dr. Samuel Johnson, and that of an Isle of Sky farmer's wife. It is curious to see people, how far soever removed from each other in the general system of their lives, come close together on a particular point which is common to each. We were merry with Corrichatachin, on Dr. Johnson's whispering with his wife. She, perceiving this, humorously cried, "I am in love with him. What is it to live and not to love?" Upon her saying something, which I did not hear, or cannot recollect, he seized her hand eagerly, and kissed it.

As we were going, the Scottish phrase of "honest man!” which is an expression of kindness and regard, was again and again applied by the company to Dr. Johnson. I was also treated with much civility; and I must take some merit from my assiduous attention to him, and from my contriving that he shall be easy wherever he goes, that he shall not be asked twice to eat or drink any thing, (which always disgusts him) that he shall be provided with water at his meals, and many such little things, which if not attended to, would fret him. I also may be allowed to claim some merit in leading the converstion: I do not mean leading, as in an orchestra, by playing the first fiddle; but leading as one does in examining a witness— starting topics and making him pursue them. He appears to me like a great mill, in which a subject is thrown to be ground. It requires, indeed, fertile minds to furnish materials for this mill. I regret whenever I see it unemployed; but sometimes I feel myself quite barren, and having nothing to throw in.-I know not if this mill be a good figure; though Pope makes his mind a mill for turning verses.

* In this very characteristic passage Boswell appears intent only on making a "good figure" as a writer, wholly unconscious of the pitiable figure he makes as a man,

We set out about four. Young Corrichatachin went with us. We had a fine evening, and arrived in good time at Ostig, the residence of Mr. Martin Macpherson, minister of Slate. It is a pretty good house, built by his father, upon a farm near the church. We were received here with much kindness by Mr. and Mrs. Macpherson, and his sister, Miss Macpherson, who pleased Dr. Johnson much, by singing Erse songs and playing on the guitar. He afterwards sent her a present of his "Rasselas." In his bed-chamber was a press stored with books-Greek, Latin, French, and English-most of which had belonged to the father of our host, the learned Dr. Macpherson; who, though his "Dissertations" have been mentioned in a former page as unsatisfactory, was a man of distinguished talents. Dr. Johnson looked at a Latin paraphrase of the song of Moses, written by him and published in the "Scots Magazine" for 1747, and said: "It does him honour; he has a great deal of Latin, and good Latin."-Dr. Macpherson published also in the same magazine, June 1739, an original Latin ode, which he wrote from the Isle of Barra, where he was minister for some years. It is very poetical, and exhibits a striking proof how much all things depend upon comparison; for Barra, it seems, appeared to him so much worse than Sky--his natale solum-that he languished for its "blessed moun tains," and thought himself buried alive amongst barbarians where he was. My readers will probably not be displeased to have a specimen of this ode:

[blocks in formation]

After wishing for wings to fly over to his dear country, which was in his view, from what he calls Thule, as being the most western isle of Scotland, except St. Kilda; after describing the pleasures of society and the miseries of solitude, he at last, with becoming propriety, has recourse to the only sure relief of thinking men-sursum corda-the hope of a better world, and disposes his mind to resignation::

while condescending to such servile offices. This flunkeyism (as Mr. Carlyle would term it), in one so proud of his station and ancient descent, justifies Macaulay's remark, that Boswell used many people ill, but assuredly he used nobody so ill as himself.-ED.

"Interim fiat tua, rex, voluntas:

Erigor sursum quoties subit spes
Certa migrandi Solymam supernam,
Numinis aulam."

He concludes in a noble strain of orthodox piety:

"Vita tum demum vocitanda vita est.
Tum licet gratos socios habere,
Seraphim et sanctos TRIADEM verendam
Concelebrantes." ""*


After a very good sleep, I rose more refreshed than I had been for some nights. We were now at but a little distance from the shore, and saw the sea from the windows, which made our voyage seem nearer. Mr. Macpherson's manners and address pleased us much. He appeared to be a man of such intelligence and taste as to be sensible of the extraordinary powers of his illustrious guest. He said to me: "Dr. Johnson is an honour to mankind; and, if the expression may be used, is an honour to religion."

Col, who had gone yesterday to pay a visit at Camuscross, joined us this morning at breakfast. Some other gentlemen also came to enjoy the entertainment of Dr. Johnson's conversation. The day was windy and rainy, so that we had just seized a happy interval for our journey last night. We had good entertainment here, better accommodation than at Corrichatachin, and time enough to ourselves. The hours slipped along imperceptibly. We talked of Shenstone. Dr. Johnson said he was a good layer-out of land, but would not allow him to approach excellence as a poet. He said, he believed he had tried to read all his Love Pastorals, but did not get through them. I repeated the stanza :

"She gazed as I slowly withdrew;

My path I could hardly discern;

So sweetly she bade me adieu,

I thought that she bade me return."

He said: "That seems to be pretty." I observed that Shenstone, from his short maxims in prose, appeared to have some power of thinking; but Dr. Johnson would not allow him that merit. He

* Dr. Macpherson died at Ostig, April 5, 1765, aged fifty-two. His "Dissertations" were not published till 1768. The main object of the learned author was to prove that the Picts and Scots were the same people, the genuine posterity of the Caledonians, and that the Pictish language was the same as the modern Gaelic. The question (which formerly engaged most of the Scottish antiquaries) will be found popularly and ably treated by Sir Walter Scott, in the "Quarterly Review" for July, 1829. Dr. Macpherson's son, the Minister of Sleat, died in 1812.-ED.

[ocr errors]

agreed, however, with Shenstone, that it was wrong in the brother of one of his correspondents to burn his letters; "for," said he, "Shenstone was a man whose correspondence was an honour." He was this afternoon full of critical severity, and dealt about his censures on all sides. He said Hammond's "Love Elegies" were poor things. He spoke contemptuously of our lively and elegant, though too licentious, lyric bard, Hanbury Williams, and said, "He had no fame, but from boys who drank with him."

While he was in this mood, I was unfortunate enough, simply perhaps, but I could not help thinking, undeservedly, to come within "the whiff and wind of his fell sword." I asked him, if he had ever been accustomed to wear a night-cap. He said, "No." I asked, if it was best not to wear one.-JOHNSON: "Sir, I had this custom by chance, and perhaps no man shall ever know whether it is best to sleep with or without a night-cap."-Soon afterwards, he was laughing at some deficiency in the Highlands, and said, "One might as well go without shoes and stockings."-Thinking to have a little hit at his own deficiency, I ventured to add, "Or without a night-cap, sir." But I had better have been silent; for he retorted directly. "I do not see the connection there (laughing). Nobody before was ever foolish enough to ask whether it was best to wear a night-cap or not. This comes of being a little wrong-headed."”—He carried the company along with him; and yet the truth is, that if he had always worn a night-cap, as is the common practice, and found the Highlanders did not wear one, he would have wondered at their barbarity; so that my hit was fair enough.


There was as great a storm of wind and rain as I have almost ever seen, which necessarily confined us to the house; but we were fully compensated by Dr. Johnson's conversation. He said, he did not grudge Burke's being the first man in the House of Commons, for he was the first man everywhere; but he grudged that a fellow who makes no figure in company, and has a mind as narrow as the neck of a vinegar cruet, should make a figure in the House of Commons, merely by having the knowledge of a few forms, and being furnished with a little occasional information.* He told us, the first time he saw Dr. Young was at the house of Mr. Richardson, the author of "Clarissa." He was sent for, that the doctor might read to him his Conjectures on Original Composition," which he did, and Dr. John


* He did not mention the name of any particular person; but those who are conversant with the political world will probably recollect more persons than one to whom this observation may be applied.-BOSWELL.

« PreviousContinue »