Johnson and Boswell: doctor their eyes in a tempest

The immortal tour of the Scottish Highlands by James Boswell and Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1773. “Who can like the Highlands?” asked Dr. Johnson after Boswell had dragged him from Edinburgh to Inverness to Skye and back to the Lowlands. Boswell could, and soon set about immortalizing the tour…

—Thomas Rowlandson Picturesque Beauties of Boswell,
three from the set, etchings after S. Collings in original hand colouring, each c.230 x 270mm., on wove paper, slight browning outside images, from the Starhemberg collection with collector’s mark E on versos, 1786—Read More:

…Not until October 3 did they eventually leave Skye, bound for the neighboring islands of Coll and Mull. The voyage began agreeably. Though Johnson suffered from seasickness, Boswell enjoyed the brisk movement of their strudy little sailing boat, ate bread and cheese, “and drank whiskey and rum and brandy.” But then, after they had passed Eigg and Muck, the sky darkened, the waves rose, and a storm began to blow up. Of all their strange adventures this was the most unnerving, and Boswell, who had previously “exulted in being a stout seaman,” confesses that he was “much frightened.” Night had now fallen.  “It was very dark indeed, and there was a very heavy rain…The sparks of the peat-fire in the boat flew terribly about…I saw tonight what I never saw before, a prodigious sea with immense billows coming upon a vessel, so that it seemed hardly possible to escape. There was something grandly horrible in the sight. I am glad I have seen it once…I endeavoured to compose my mind…Piety afforded me a good deal of comfort. I prayed fervently to GOD…”

Having invoked the deity, he begged for some employment, and one of their traveling companions, Mr. Maclean of Coll, “with a lucky readiness put into my hands a rope,” which had been attached to a masthead, “and bid me hold it fast till he bid me pull. This could not be of the least service,” but “diverted my fear to a certain degree, by making me think I was occupied.” Johnson, meanwhile, had remained completely calm. Boswell discovered him “lying in philosophic tranquility, with a greyhound of Coll’s at his back keeping him warm,” and his own narrative gives a prosaic account of their passage. The wind, he wrote, “blew against us…with such violence, that we, being no seasoned sailors, were willing to call it a tempest. I was sea-sick and lay down. Mr. Boswell kept the deck.”

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