like the highlands?

Who can like the highlands? At least that was the question asked by Dr. Johnson after Boswell had dragged him from Edinburgh to Inverness to Skye and back from the Lowlands. Boswell could, and soon set about immortalizing the tour…

In the summer of 1773 Samuel Johnson was a man of nearly sixty-four, deaf, corpulent, and shortsighted. For the last eighteen years, since the publication of his Dictionary, he had been a famous London personage, renowned not only as an arbiter of literary taste but as an authoritative moralist and an eloquent conversationalist. James Boswell, on the other hand, was no more than thirty-two, a brisk young advocate practicing at the Edinburgh bar and eldest son of a distinguished Scottish law lord who bore the courtesy title of Lord Auchinleck.

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Boswell, too, had acquired some literary fame. His account of his romantic visit to Corsica, where he had visited the patriot leader General Paoli, had appeared in 1768 and received extremely favorable notices. Then, in 1769, after much philandering¬† and promiscuous “raking,” he had decided he must settle down,and married his plain but devoted cousin, Margaret Montgomerie. Of Mrs. Boswell, Johnson unkindly remarked that she had “the mien and manner of a gentlewoman, and such a person and mind as would not in any place either be admired or condemned.” Though Boswell had a deep regard for his wife, he had proved a recklessly unfaithful husband. A lifelong manic-depressive, he was perpetually oscillating between moods of self-indulgent gaiety and bouts of the profoundest gloom. Once he had secured Samuel Johnson as a traveling companion, his spirits soared to dizzy heights.

—The Contest at Auckinleck from ‘Picturesque Beauties of Boswell, Part the Second’, etched by Thomas Rowlandson, 1786 (etching)
Collings, Samuel (fl.1784-95) (after)
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Johnson finally reached Edinburgh on Saturday, August 14,1773, and dispatched a note announcing his safe arrival, from “Boyd’s Inn, at the head of Canongate,” whither Boswell promptly hurried. Though he had already been somewhat annoyed by the slovenly habits of a Scottish waiter, “he embraced me cordially”; but as they walked arm in arm up the High Street to Boswell’s house in James’s Court, the disciple regretted that he “could not prevent his being assailed by the evening effluvia of Edinburgh” – the stench of its open drains and the torrents of”foul water” that were still frequently discharged from windows.

Once they entered the house however, Mrs.Boswell, a patient and well trained wife, extended him an extremely civil welcome and immediately provided tea. Johnson was pleased: “his address to her was most courteous and engaging, and his conversation soon charmed her into a forgetfulness of his external appearance.” Here Boswell was wrong; Mrs. Boswell, despite her admirable manners, could not learn to like Johnson, whom she rated an exceedingly queer and inconvenient guest.

But at least in one respect, she was much more scrupulous than Boswell. When Johnson bade her farewell, he left behind him a single volume “of a pretty full and curious Diary,” which-with a forbearance that her husband found astonishing- she failed to appropriate and copy out! ( to be continued)…

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