James Boswell induced Samuel Johnson in 1773, who pretended that he detested Scotsmen and despised their barren country, to venture across the Scottish border and, not only spend some days in Edinburgh, but penetrate the barbaric Highlands and undertake a tour around the Hebrides.We pick up the conclusion of the voyage….
….At this point when they re-enter civilization, the story of their Hebridean tour concludes. But on their way home, the travelers halted at Auchinleck for Boswell to enjoy the spectacle of his father, Lord Auchinleck, the stern, sententious Scottish law lord, confronting his second father, Samuel Johnson. It was not an entirely successful meeting:
SATURDAY 6 NOVEMBER. I cannot be certain whether it was on this day or a former that Dr. Johnson and my father came in collision. If I recollect right, the contest began while my father was showing him his collection of medals; and Oliver Cromwel’s coin unfortunately introduced Charles the First, and Toryism. They became exceedingly warm and violent, and I was very much distressed by being present at such an altercation between two men, both of whom I reverenced; yet I durst not interfere. It would certainly be very unbecoming in me to exhibit my honoured father and my respected friend as intellectual gladiators, for the entertainment of the public; and therefore I suppress what would, I dare say, make an interesting scene in this dramatic sketch this account of the transit of Johnson over the Caledonian Hemisphere.
Finally, on the evening of November 9, 1773, Johnson and his guide returned to Edinburgh, and Mrs. Boswell’s sober company., “after an absence of eighty-three days.” Both were glad to have made their adventurous journey; neither was anxious to repeat it. For Johnson and Boswell were not romantics by nature; and, although Boswell was the more romantic of the two, he had little talent for describing seas and mountains, and admitted to “a wretched deficiency in expressing visible objects.” Words like “grand” and “tremendous” often start from his pen when he rehearses his recollections of some splendid Highland landscape, but he seldom evokes the spirit of a place so that it rises before the reader’s eyes.
Johnson’s mood was even less visionary.True, contemplating “the black coast of Skye” while the boatmen chanted their wild native songs, he had observed briefly, “This is very solemn,” but the romantic solemnity of the surroundings had no deep effect on his imagination. Sightseeing for its own sake he had never found enjoyable, and once, when Mr. Thrale, who was devoted to beautiful “prospects,” wished him to admire a stretch of hills and valley, he had grown decidedly irritable. “Never heard such nonsense,” he exclaimed. “A blade of grass is always a blade of grass whether in one country or another: let us if we do talk, talk about something: men and women are my subjects of enquiry…” ( to be continued)…