Among the Ruins

We were now treading that illustrious Island, which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge, and the blessings of religion. To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish, if it were possible. Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses; whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me and from my friends, be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue. That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona!

The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by James Boswell; Tuesday, 19th October 1773: Inchkenneth, Icolmkill (Iona).

Strangled by a Silken Cord

Monday, 25th October [1773].—My acquaintance, the Rev. Mr. John M’Aulay, one of the ministers of Inverary, and brother to our good friend at Calder, came to us this morning, and accompanied us to the castle, where I presented Dr. Johnson to the Duke of Argyle. We were shown through the house; and I never shall forget the impression made upon my fancy by some of the ladies’ maids tripping about in neat morning dresses. After seeing for a long time little but rusticity, their lively manner, and gay inviting appearance, pleased me so much, that I thought, for the moment, I could have been a knight-errant for them.

We then got into a low one-horse chair, ordered for us by the duke, in which we drove about the place. Dr. Johnson was much struck by the grandeur and elegance of this princely seat. He thought, however, the castle too low, and wished it had been a story higher. He said, “What I admire here, is the total defiance of expense.” I had a particular pride in showing him a great number of fine old trees, to compensate for the nakedness which had made such an impression on him on the eastern coast of Scotland.

When we came in, before dinner, we found the duke and some gentlemen in the hall. Dr. Johnson took much notice of the large collection of arms, which are excellently disposed there. I told what he had said to Sir Alexander M’Donald, of his ancestors not suffering their arms to rust. “Well,” said the doctor, “but let us be glad we live in times when arms may rust. We can sit to-day at his grace’s table, without any risk of being attacked, and perhaps sitting down again wounded or maimed.” The duke placed Dr. Johnson next himself at table. I was in fine spirits; and though sensible that I had the misfortune of not being in favour with the duchess, I was not in the least disconcerted, and offered her grace some of the dish that was before me. It must be owned that I was in the right to be quite unconcerned, if I could. I was the Duke of Argyle’s guest; and I had no reason to suppose that he adopted the prejudices and resentments of the Duchess of Hamilton.

I knew it was the rule of modern high life not to drink to any body; but, that I might have the satisfaction for once to look the duchess in the face, with a glass in my hand, I with a respectful air addressed her, “My Lady Duchess, I have the honour to drink your grace’s good health.” I repeated the words audibly, and with a steady countenance. This was, perhaps, rather too much; but some allowance must be made for human feelings.

The duchess was very attentive to Dr. Johnson.

I know not how a middle state came to be mentioned. Her grace wished to hear him on that point. “Madam,” said he, “your own relation, Mr. Archibald Campbell, can tell you better about it than I can. He was a bishop of the nonjuring communion, and wrote a book upon the subject’.” He engaged to get it for her grace. He afterwards gave a full history of Mr. Archibald Campbell, which I am sorry I do not recollect particularly. He said, Mr. Campbell had been bred a violent whig, but afterwards “kept better company, and became a tory.” He said this with a smile, in pleasant allusion, as I thought, to the opposition between his own political principles and those of the duke’s clan. He added that Mr. Campbell, after the revolution, was thrown into gaol on account of his tenets; but, on application by letter to the old Lord Townshend, was released: that he always spoke of his lordship with great gratitude, saying, “though a whig, he had humanity.”

Dr. Johnson and I passed some time together, in June, 1784, at Pembroke college, Oxford, with the Rev. Dr. Adams, the master; and I having expressed a regret that my note relative to Mr. Archibald Campbell was imperfect, he was then so good as to write with his own hand, on the blank page of my journal, opposite to that which contains what I have now mentioned, the following paragraph; which, however, is not quite so full as the narrative he gave at Inverary:

“The Honourable Archibald Campbell was, I believe, the nephew of the Marquis of Argyle. He began life by engaging in Monmouth’s rebellion, and, to escape the law, lived some time in Surinam. When he returned, he became zealous for episcopacy and monarchy; and at the revolution adhered not only to the nonjurors, but to those who refused to communicate with the church of England, or to be present at any worship where the usurper was mentioned as king. He was, I believe, more than once apprehended in the reign of King William, and once at the accession of George. He was the familiar friend of Hicks and Nelson; a man of letters, but injudicious; and very curious and inquisitive, but credulous. He lived in 1743, or 44, about seventy-five years old.”

The subject of luxury having been introduced, Dr. Johnson defended it. “We have now,” said he, “a splendid dinner before us; which of all these dishes is unwholesome?” The duke asserted, that he had observed the grandees of Spain diminished in their size by luxury. Dr. Johnson politely refrained from opposing directly an observation which the duke himself had made; but said, “Man must be very different from other animals, if he is diminished by good living; for the size of all other animals is increased by it.” I made some remark that seemed to imply a belief in second-sight. The duchess said, “I fancy you will be a methodist.” This was the only sentence her grace deigned to utter to me; and I take it for granted, she thought it a good hit on my credulity in the Douglas cause.

A gentleman in company, after dinner, was desired by the duke to go to another room, for a specimen of curious marble, which his grace wished to show us. He brought a wrong piece, upon which the duke sent him back again. He could not refuse; but, to avoid any appearance of servility, he whistled as he walked out of the room, to show his independency. On my mentioning this afterwards to Dr. Johnson, he said, it was a nice trait of character.

Dr. Johnson talked a great deal, and was so entertaining, that Lady Betty Hamilton, after dinner, went and placed her chair close to his, leaned upon the back of it, and listened eagerly. It would have made a fine picture to have drawn the sage and her at this time in their several attitudes. He did not know, all the while, how much he was honoured. I told him afterwards, I never saw him so gentle and complaisant as this day.

We went to tea. The duke and I walked up and down the drawing-room, conversing. The duchess still continued to show the same marked coldness for me; for which, though I suffered from it, I made every allowance, considering the very warm part that I had taken for Douglas, in the cause in which she thought her son deeply interested. Had not her grace discovered some displeasure towards me, I should have suspected her of insensibility or dissimulation.

Her grace made Dr. Johnson come and sit by her, and asked him why he made his journey so late in the year. “Why, madam,” said he, “you know Mr. Boswell must attend the court of session, and it does not rise till the twelfth of August.” She said, with some sharpness, “I know nothing of Mr. Boswell.” Poor Lady Lucy Douglas to whom I mentioned this, observed, “She knew too much of Mr. Boswell.” I shall make no remark on her grace’s speech. I indeed felt it as rather too severe; but when I recollected that my punishment was inflicted by so dignified a beauty, I had that kind of consolation which a man would feel who is strangled by a silken cord. Dr. Johnson was all attention to her grace. He used afterwards a droll expression, upon her enjoying the three titles of Hamilton, Brandon, and Argyle. Borrowing an image from the Turkish empire, he called her a duchess with three tails.

He was much pleased with our visit at the castle of Inverary. The Duke of Argyle was exceedingly polite to him, and, upon his complaining of the shelties which he had hitherto ridden being too small for him, his grace told him he should be provided with a good horse to carry him next day.

— James Boswell, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson.

Argyle Is My Name

Bronze medal of John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll and Greenwich, by Jacques Antoine Dassier, 1743; 2 1/8" diameter; NPG 6232.
Bronze medal of John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll and Greenwich, by Jacques Antoine Dassier, 1743; 2 1/8″ diameter; NPG 6232.

ARGYLE IS MY NAME. 

SAID TO BE BY JOHN DUKE OF ARGYLE AND
GREENWICH [BORN 1678 DIED 1743.]

Tune—Bannocks o’ Barley Meal.

Argyle is my name, and you may think it strange,
To live at a court, yet never to change;
A’ falsehood and flattery I do disdain,
In my secret thoughts nae guile does remain.
My king and my country’s foes I have faced,
In city or battle I ne’er was disgraced;
I do every thing for my country’s weal,
And feast upon bannocks o’ barley meal.

I will quickly lay down my sword and my gun,
And put my blue bonnet and my plaidie on;
With my silk tartan hose, and leather-heel’d shoon,
And then I will look like a sprightly loon.
And when I’m sae dress’d frae tap to tae,
To meet my dear Maggie I vow I will gae,
Wi’ target and hanger hung down to my heel;
And I’ll feast upon bannocks o’ barley meal.

I’ll buy a rich garment to gie to my dear,
A ribbon o’ green for Maggie to wear;
And mony thing brawer than that, I declare,
Gin she will gang wi’ me to Paisley fair.
And when we are married, I’ll keep her a cow,
And Maggie will milk when I gae to plow;
We’ll live a’ the winter on beef and lang kail,
And feast upon bannocks o’ barley meal.

Gin Maggie should chance to bring me a son,
He’ll fight for his king, as his daddy has done;
He’ll hie him to Flanders, some breeding to learn,
And then hame to Scotland, and get him a farm.
And there we will live by our industry,
And wha’ll be sae happy as Maggie and me?
We’ll a’ grow as fat as a Norway seal,
Wi’ our feasting on bannocks o’ barley meal.

Then fare ye weel, citizens, noisy men,
Wha jolt in your coaches to Drury Lane;
Ye bucks o’ Bear-garden, I bid ye adieu;
For drinking and swearing, I leave it to you.
I’m fairly resolved for a country life,
And nae langer will live in hurry and strife;
I’ll aff to the Highlands as hard’s I can reel,
And whang at the bannocks o’ barley meal.*

* From Herd’s Collection, 1776. Another conjecture or tradition gives the song to James Boswell.

— Robert Chambers, The Scottish Songs, Vol. 1, 1829.

Rascals

BOSWELL. “I drank chocolate, Sir, this morning with Mr. Eld; and, to my no small surprize, found him to be a Staffordshire Whig, a being which I did not believe had existed.” JOHNSON. “Sir, there are rascals in all countries.” BOSWELL. “Eld said, a Tory was a creature generated between a non-juring parson and one’s grandmother.” JOHNSON. “And I have always said, the first Whig was the Devil.” BOSWELL. “He certainly was, Sir. The Devil was impatient of subordination; he was the first who resisted power:

‘Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.’

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

Once the Luminary of the Caledonian Regions

Iona Abbey, c. 1899.
Iona Abbey, c. 1899.

Perhaps, in the revolutions of the world, Iona may be sometime again the instructress of the Western Regions.

James Boswell, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides

A Wretched Little Hovel of Earth

This entry in Boswell’s Diary is demonstrative of the abject poverty among the common folk of the Scottish Highlands after the final defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden in 1745 and the subsequent terrors and hardships placed on the people whose clans were all but destroyed as the Government tried to blot out even their very culture and distinctiveness.

* * *

Loch Ness.

It was a delightful day. Lochness, and the road upon the side of it, shaded with birch trees, and the hills above it, pleased us much. The scene was as sequestered and agreeably wild as could be desired, and for a time engrossed all our attention.

To see Dr Johnson in any new situation is always an interesting object to me; and, as I saw him now for the first time on horseback, jaunting about at his ease in quest of pleasure and novelty, the very different occupations of his former laborious life, his admirable productions, his London, his Rambler, &c. &c. immediately presented themselves to my mind, and the contrast made a strong impression on my imagination.

When we had advanced a good way by the side of Lochness, I perceived a little hut, with an old looking woman at the door of it. I thought here might be a scene that would amuse Dr Johnson: so I mentioned it to him. ‘Let’s go in,’ said he. We dismounted, and we and our guides entered the hut. It was a wretched little hovel of earth only, I think, and for a window had only a small hole, which was stopped with a piece of turf, that was taken out occasionally to let in light. In the middle of the room or space which we entered, was a fire of peat, the smoke going out at a hole in the roof. She had a pot upon it, with goat’s flesh, boiling. There was at one end under the same roof, but divided by a kind of partition made of wattles, a pen or fold in which we saw a good many kids.

Dr Johnson was curious to know where she slept. I asked one of the guides, who questioned her in Erse. She answered with a tone of emotion, saying (as he told us) she was afraid we wanted to go to bed to her. This coquetry, or whatever it may be called, of so wretched a being, was truly ludicrous. Dr Johnson and I afterwards were merry upon it. I said, it was he who alarmed the poor woman’s virtue. ‘No, sir,’ said he, ‘she’ll say, ‘”There came a wicked young fellow, a wild dog, who I believe would have ravished me, had there not been with him a grave old gentleman, who repressed him: but when he gets out of the sight of his tutor, I’ll warrant you he’ll spare no woman he meets, young or old.”‘ ‘No, sir,’ I replied, ‘she’ll say, “There was a terrible ruffian who would have forced me, had it not been for a civil decent young man who, I take it, was an angel sent from heaven to protect me.”‘

Dr Johnson would not hurt her delicacy, by insisting on ‘seeing her bedchamber’, like Archer in The Beaux’ Stratagem. But my curiosity was more ardent; I lighted a piece of paper, and went into the place where the bed was. There was a little partition of wicker, rather more neatly done than that for the fold, and close by the wall was a kind of bedstead of wood with heath upon it by way of bed; at the foot of which I saw some sort of blankets or covering rolled up in a heap. The woman’s name was Fraser; so was her husband’s. He was a man of eighty. Mr Fraser of Balnain allows him to live in this hut, and keep sixty goats, for taking care of his woods, where he then was. They had five children, the eldest only thirteen. Two were gone to Inverness to buy meal; the rest were looking after the goats. This contented family had four stacks of barley, twenty-four sheaves in each. They had a few fowls. We were informed that they lived all the spring without meal, upon milk and curds and whey alone. What they get for their goats, kids, and fowls, maintains them during the rest of the year.

She asked us to sit down and take a dram. I saw one chair. She said she was as happy as any woman in Scotland. She could hardly speak any English except a few detached words. Dr Johnson was pleased at seeing, for the first time, such a state of human life. She asked for snuff. It is her luxury, and she uses a great deal. We had none; but gave her six pence a piece. She then brought out her whisky bottle. I tasted it; as did Joseph and our guides: so I gave her sixpence more. She sent us away with many prayers in Erse.

— The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by James Boswell; Monday, 30th August 1773: Inverness, Fort Augustus.

 

The Total Defiance of Expence

Armoury Hall in Inveraray Castle.

My acquaintance, the Reverend Mr John M’Aulay, one of the ministers of Inveraray, and brother to our good friend at Calder, came to us this morning, and accompanied us to the castle, where I presented Dr Johnson to the Duke of Argyle. We were shewn through the house; and I never shall forget the impression made upon my fancy by some of the ladies’ maids tripping about in neat morning dresses. After seeing for a long time little but rusticity, their lively manner, and gay inviting appearance, pleased me so much, that I thought, for the moment, I could have been a knight-errant for them. [Footnote: On reflection, at the distance of several years, I wonder that my venerable fellow-traveller should have read this passage without censuring my levity.]

We then got into a low one-horse chair, ordered for us by the duke, in which we drove about the place. Dr Johnson was much struck by the grandeur and elegance of this princely seat. He thought, however, the castle too low, and wished it had been a story higher. He said, ‘What I admire here, is the total defiance of expence.’ I had a particular pride in shewing him a great number of fine old trees, to compensate for the nakedness which had made such an impression on him on the eastern coast of Scotland.

When we came in, before dinner, we found the duke and some gentlemen in the hall. Dr Johnson took much notice of the large collection of arms, which are excellently disposed there. I told what he had said to Sir Alexander McDonald, of his ancestors not suffering their arms to rust. ‘Well,’ said the doctor, ‘but let us be glad we live in times when arms MAY rust. We can sit to-day at his grace’s table, without any risk of being attacked, and perhaps sitting down again wounded or maimed.’

The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by James Boswell;
Monday, 25th October 1773: Inveraray.