« PreviousContinue »
upon comparing it with the description given by Martin, whose book we had with us.
There has been an ancient league between the families of Macdonald and Rasay. Whenever the head of either family dies, his sword is given to the head of the other. The present Rasay has the late Sir James Macdonald's sword. Old Rasay joined the Highland army in 1745, but prudently guarded against a forfeiture, by previously conveying his estate to the present gentleman, his eldest son. On that occasion, Sir Alexander, father of the late Sir James Macdonald, was very friendly to his neighbour. "Don't be afraid, Rasay," said he; “I'll use all my interest to keep you safe; and if should be taken, I'll buy it for the family."-And he would have done it.
Let me now gather some gold dust,- -some more fragments of Dr. Johnson's conversation, without regard to order of time. He said, "he thought very highly of Bentley; that no man now went so far in the kinds of learning that he cultivated; that the many attacks on him were owing to envy, and to a desire of being known, by being in competition with such a man; that it was safe to attack him, because he never answered his opponents, but let them die away. It was attacking a man who would not beat them, because his beating them would make them live the longer." And he was right not to answer; for, in his hazardous method of writing, he could not but be often enough wrong; so it was better to leave things to their general appearance, than own himself to have erred in particulars.-He said, "Mallet was the prettiest dressed puppet about town, and always kept good company. That, from his way of talking, he saw, and always said, that he had not written any part of the "Life of the Duke of Marlborough," though perhaps he intended to do it at some time, in which case he was not culpable in taking the pension.* That he
* Sarah Duchess of Marlborough left by her will to Mr. Glover, the author of "Leonidas," and Mr. Mallet, jointly, the sum of 1000l. and all the family papers, that they might write a life of the great Duke. Glover declined the task, and the whole devolved upon Mallet. He received also a pension from the second Duke of Marlborough to promote his industry, but after his death it was found he had not written a line on the subject. He may have intended to do it at some time, as Johnson apologetically remarks, but his intention could not be very decided as he lived twenty-one years after receiving the legacy. Davies, in his Life of Garrick, relates an amusing anecdote connected with this unwritten Life of Marlborough. Mallet hinted to Garrick that he had found a niche for him in the Life. The manager of course was overjoyed. "Well, faith, Mallet, you have the art of surprising your friends in the most unexpected and the politest manner! But why won t you, now, who are so well qualified, write something for the stage? You should relax. Interpone tuis-ha? you know! for I am sure the theatre is a mere matter of diversion, a pleasure to you." Why," said the other, "to tell you the truth, I have, whenever I could rob the Duke of an hour or so, employed myself in adapting La Motte's 'Ines de Castro' to the English stage, and here it is."
Imagined the Duchess furnished the materials for her 'Apology,' which Hooke wrote, and Hooke furnished the words and the order, and all that in which the art of writing consists. That the Duchess had not superior parts, but was a bold, frontless woman, who knew how to make the most of her opportunities in life. That Hooke got a large sum of money for writing her 'Apology.' That he wondered Hooke should have been weak enough to insert so profligate a maxim, as that to tell another's secret to one's friend, is no breach of confidence; though perhaps Hooke, who was a virtuous man, as his history shows, and did not wish her well, though he wrote her 'Apology,' might see its ill tendency, and yet insert it at her desire. He was acting only ministerially."- I apprehend, however, that Hooke was bound to give his best advice. I speak as a lawyer. Though I have had clients whose causes I could not, as a private man, approve; yet, if I undertook them, I would not do anything that might be prejudicial to them, even at their desire, without warning them of their danger.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 11.
It was a storm of wind and rain; so we could not set out. I wrote some of this Journal, and talked a while with Dr. Johnson in his room, and passed the day, I cannot well say how, but very pleasantly. I was here amused to find Mr. Cumberland's comedy of the "Fashionable Lover," in which he has very well drawn a Highland character-Colin Macleod-of the same name with the family under whose roof we now were. Dr. Johnson was much pleased with the Laird of Macleod, who is indeed a most promising youth, and with a noble spirit struggles with difficulties and endeavours to preserve his people. He has been left with an encumbrance of forty thousand pounds debt, and annuities to the amount of thirteen hundred pounds a year. Dr. Johnson said: "If he gets the better of all this, he'll be a hero; and I hope he will. I have not met with a young man who had more desire to learn, or who has learnt more. I have seen nobody that I wish more to do a kindness to than Macleod." Such was the honourable eulogium on this young chieftain, pronounced by an accurate observer, whose praise was never lightly bestowed.*
The manager embraced" Elvira"with rapture, and brought it forward with all expedition. With respect to Mallet's dress, alluded to by Johnson, Davies states that the poet's wife selected and purchased his clothes, and that his favourite dress was a suit of black velvet! On the whole Mallet was a very successful but unprincipled literary adventurer. His ballad of "William and Margaret," and his connexion with Pope and Gibbon, will carry his name down to posterity, but none will envy his fame.-ED.
* Pennant is no less eulogistic of the young laird. And at a subsequent period Burns characterised him as
-a chieftain worth gowd,
Though bred amang mountains o' snaw.'
There is neither justice-of-peace nor constable in Rasay. Sky has Mr. Macleod of Ulinish, who is the sheriff-substitute, and no other justice-of-peace. The want of the execution of justice is much felt among the islanders. Macleod very sensibly observed, that taking away the heritable jurisdictions had not been of such service in the islands as was imagined. They had not authority enough in lieu of them. What could formerly have been settled at once, must now either take much time and trouble or be neglected. Dr. Johnson said: "A country is in a bad state which is governed only by laws; because a thousand things occur for which laws cannot provide, and where authority ought to interpose. Now, destroying the authority of the chiefs set the people loose. It did not pretend to bring any positive good, but only to cure some evil; and I am not well enough acquainted with the country to know what degree of evil the heritable jurisdictions occasioned." I maintained hardly any; because the chiefs generally acted right for their own sakes.*
For this compliment, however, Macleod was indebted to a circumstance which, in Johnson's eyes, would have been a sad stain on his escutcheon-at the period of the French Revolution, he became one of the "Friends of the People." It was unfortunate for his tenantry that Macleod imbibed the military spirit of the times, and, by entering the army, divorced himself from Skye and Dunvegan. He raised an independent company in 1776, and served in America. In 1780, he was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of the second battalion of the 42nd regiment, afterwards the 73rd, which he accompanied to India, distinguishing himself in various campaigns. On his return to this country he was elected representative in Parliament for his native county of Inverness. Macleod married early in life a daughter of Mackenzie of Suddy, who died in 1784, while her husband was abroad as Commander-in-chief on the Malabar coast. He himself died at Guernsey, August 16, 1801, being then in his forty-seventh year, and holding the rank of Lieutenant-General in the army. He left a son, John Norman Macleod, who was sometime M.P. for Sudbury, and died in 1835, aged also forty-seven. General Macleod does not seem to have added the humble virtue of economy to his acknowledged talents and bravery. He left the estate burdened to the amount of 20,000l. more than he received it, though he had sold part of the ancient patrimony. His son was compelled still farther to reduce the Macleod possessions, and the present laird, grandson of Johnson's host, entered upon an estate greatly encumbered and with a numerous population. The destitution crisis of 1846 fell heavily on Skye; Macleod fought manfully with his difficulties, and made strenuous exertions to relieve and support his people; but he was ruined in the struggle, and the property was placed under trust. —ED.
*The Rev. Donald Macqueen, a highly competent authority on such a point, in his communication to Pennant (1772), observes, that "while the spirit of clanship preserved any of its warmth, the chieftain seldom intended an injury; and when any was offered it was soon demolished by the weight of a multitude; but when this balance of power was weakened and dissolved, the people lay much at mercy. In a time of long minority, or when the proprietor took it into his head to visit London or Edinburgh, the estate being left under the management of a bailiff, who generally was the steward or factor, the rights of mankind were often trampled under foot." He adds, "In a very seasonable hour the heritable jurisdictions were abolished; and sheriffs depending upon the sovereign alone appointed to dispense justice, which was surely a great relief to the lieges, where their sphere of action was not too extensive for themselves or
Dr. Johnson was now wishing to move. There was not enough of intellectual entertainment for him, after he had satisfied his curiosity, which he did by asking questions till he had exhausted the island; and where there was so numerous a company, mostly young people, there was such a flow of familiar talk, so much noise, and so much singing and dancing, that little opportunity was left for his energetic conversation. He seemed sensible of this; for when I told him how happy they were at having him there, he said: "Yet we have not been able to entertain them much."-I was fretted, from irritability of nerves, by M'Cruslick's too-obstreperous mirth. I complained of it to my friend, observing we should be better if he was gone." No, sir,” said he. "He puts something into our society, and takes nothing out of it."-Dr. Johnson, however, had several opportunities of instructing the company; but I am sorry to say, that I did not pay sufficient attention to what passed, as his discourse now turned chiefly on mechanics, agriculture, and such subjects, rather than on science and wit. Last night Lady Rasay showed him the operation of wawking cloth—that is, thickening it in the same manner as is done by a mill. Here it is performed by women, who kneel upon the ground and rub it with both their hands, singing an Erse song all the time. He was asking questions while they were performing this operation, and, amidst their loud and wild howl, his voice was heard even in the room above.*
They dance here every night. The queen of our ball was the eldest Miss Macleod of Rasay, an elegant well-bred woman, and celebrated for her beauty over all those regions by the name of Miss Flora Rasay. There seemed to be no jealousy-no discontent among them; and the gaiety of the scene was such, that I for a moment doubted whether unhappiness had any place in Rasay.‡ But my
substitutes; even in that case the people mustered up more spirit, and acquired some knowledge of the rights they were born to."-ED.
* The wawking of cloth is still a favourite employment, and always the occasion of a gathering of neighbours and a merry-making.-ED.
She had been some time at Edinburgh, to which she again went, and was married to my worthy neighbour, Colonel Mure Campbell, now Earl of Loudoun; but she died soon afterwards, leaving one daughter.-Boswell.
The little Court of Rasay, with its hospitality, elegance and beauty, is minutely described by Johnson both in his "Journey" and in his letters to Mrs. Thrale. The whole rental of the laird did not exceed 2501. a year, but he had a large farm in his own hands, and every year sold numbers of cattle. The rental of the estate is now 1,0211. 2s. 6d. of which about 4677. is paid by crofters or small tenants, at rents not exceeding ten pounds each. Distress and privation have reduced the poor islanders. "Before 1846," says the present Laird of Rasay, "the chief means of livelihood of such as had land were potatoes, the occasional sale of what overstock they reared of the small breed of Highland cattle, supplemented by the proceeds of fishing, and by the earnings
delusion was soon dispelled by recollecting the following lines of my fellow-traveller :
"Yet hope not life from pain or danger free,
Or think the doom of man reversed for thee!"
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 12.
It was a beautiful day; and, although we did not approve of travelling on Sunday, we resolved to set out, as we were in an island from whence one must take occasion as it serves. Macleod and Talisker sailed in a boat of Rasay's for Sconser, to take the shortest way to Dunvegan. M'Cruslick went with them to Sconser, from whence he was to go to Slate, and so to the main land. We were resolved to pay a visit at Kingsburgh, and see the celebrated Miss Flora Macdonald, who is married to the present Mr. Macdonald of Kingsburgh; so took that road, though not so near. All the family but Lady Rasay walked down to the shore to see us depart. Rasay himself went with us in a large boat, with eight oars, built in his island; as did Mr. Malcolm Macleod, Mr. Donald Macqueen, Dr. Macleod, and some others. We had a most pleasant sail between Rasay and Sky; and passed by a cave where Martin says fowls were caught by lighting fire in the mouth of it. Malcolm remembers this. But it is not now practised, as few fowls come into it.
We spoke of death. Dr. Johnson on this subject observed, that the boastings of some men as to dying easily were idle talk, proceeding from partial views. I mentioned Hawthornden's "Cypress-grove," where it is said that the world is a mere show, and that it is unreasonable for a man to wish to continue in the show-room after he has seen it. Let him go cheerfully out, and give place to other spectators.-JOHNSON : 66 Yes, sir, if he is sure he is to be well after he goes out of it. But if he is to grow blind after he goes out of the show-room, and never to see anything again, or if he does not know whither he is to go next, a man will not go cheerfully out of a show-room. No wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to go into a state of sometimes of the effective members of a family during a periodical emigration, at summer and autumn, to the Lowlands. Since 1845 two of these sources of livelihood (being those connected with the land) have failed, and that simultaneously-potatoes, and the sale of cattle. The effects of the successive blights of the potato-crops have been fully recognised. The small Highland cattle are entirely out of favour with the graziers and butchers, who, it is said, supply the demands more profitably by the improved methods of stall-feeding the younger portions of the larger and heavier breeds of the South." (Report by Sir John M'Neill, 1851.) The Mansion-house of Rasay was greatly enlarged and almost rebuilt by the son of Johnson's liberal entertainer, and was, with the estate, sold by the creditors of his grandson. The island was purchased in 1846 by a Lowland gentleman, George Rainy, Esq.; and Rasay, after a possession of five centuries, was lost to the Macleods.-ED.