highlands: linen in the seraglio

James Boswell and Dr. Samuel Johnson’s tour to the Scottish Highlands in 1773….

Boswell, too, was more concerned with the study of human character. Samuel Johnson was a more fascinating subject than any cliff or stream or ruined castle- the old man like a “magnificent Triton,” seated high on the stern of the boat that was carrying them toward Raasay, stalking “like a giant among the luxuriant thistles and nettles” that covered the desolate isle of Inchkeith,or, in a genial mood, allowing Boswell to crown him with “a large blue bonnet…His age, his size, and his bushy grey wig…presented the image of a venerable sennachie…”

—Read More:http://www.nudelmanbooks.com/pages/books/947/thomas-rowlandson/rowlandson-picturesque-beauties-of-boswell-rowlandsons-caricature-etchings—

Meanwhile, Johnson’s conversation was perpetually entertaining and instructive. Could there be a single topic on which, if the ground were properly prepared, he was not ready to discourse at length?

Boswell:After the ladies were gone, we talked of the Highlanders not having sheets; and so on we went to the advantage of wearing linen. Mr. Johnson said, “All animal substances are less cleanly than vegetable. Wool, of which flannel is made, is an animal substance; flannel therefore is not so cleanly as linen. I remember I used to think tar dirty. But when I knew it to be only a preparation of the juice of the pine, I thought so no
longer. It is not disagreeable to have the gum that oozes from a plum-tree upon your fingers, because it is vegetable; but if you have any candle-grease, any tallow upon your fingers, you are uneasy till you rub it off.” And then he came out with this saying: “I have often thought that if I kept a seraglio, the ladies should all wear linen gowns, or cotton; I mean stuffs made of vegetable substances. I would have no silk; you cannot tell when it is clean. It will be very nasty before it is perceived to be so. Linen detects its own dirtiness.

To hear Mr. Johnson, while sitting solemn in arm-chair, talk of his keeping a seraglio and saying too, “I have often thought/’ was truly curious.

ADDENDUM:

(see link at end)…Johnson’s nostalgic primitivism

We came thither too late to see what we expected, a people of peculiar appearance, and a system of antiquated life . . . Such is the effect of the late regulations, that a longer journey than to the Highlands must be taken by him whose curiosity pants for savage virtues and barbarous grandeur.

Johnson’s ethnography ↔ Macpherson’s mythography

But this is the age, in which those who could not read, have been supposed to write; in which the giants of antiquated romance have been exhibited as realities. If we know little of the ancient Highlanders, let us not fill the vacuity with Ossian. If we have not searched the Magellanick regions, let us however forbear to people them with Patagons. Read More:https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/rwb/www/teaching/engl209/outlines/outline28.html

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