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The Account of the Tour to the Western Islands of Scotland, which was undertaken in the autumn of 1773, in company with Mr. Boswell, was not published till some time in the year 1775. This book has been variously received; by some extolled for the elegance of the parrative, and the depth of observation on life and manners; by others, as much condemned, as a work of avowed hostility to the Scotch nation. The praise was, beyond all question, fairly deserved; and the censure, on due examination, will appear hasty and illfounded. That Johnson entertained some prejudices against the Scotch, must not be dissembled. It is true, as Mr. Boswell says, “ that “he thought their success in England exceeded " their proportion of real merit, and he could “ not but see in them thut nationality which no *“ liberal-minded Scotsman will deny." The author of these memoirs well remembers, that Johnson one day asked him, " Have you ob“ served the difference between your own “ country impudence and Scottish impu“dence?” The answer being in the negative: " Then I will tell you,” said Johnson. « The "impudence of an Irishman is the impudence “ of a fly, that buzzes about you, and you put “ it away, but it returns again, and flutters and “teazes you. The impudence of a Scotsman “is the impudence of a leech, that fixes and “ sucks your blood." Upon another occasion, this writer went with him into the shop of Davis the bookseller, in Russell-street, Covent, garden. Davis came running to him almost out of breath with joy : “ The Scots gentle" man is come, Sir; his principal wish is to “ see you; he is now in the back-parlour.” “ Well, well, I'll see the gentleman,” said Johnson, He walked towards the room. Mr. Boswell was the person. This writer followed with no small curiosity. “I find,” said Mr. Boswell, “ that I ain come to London at a bad “ time, when great popular prejudice has gone “ forth against us North Britons; but when I “ am talking to you, I am talking to a large “ and liberal mind, and you know that I can“ not help coming from Scotland.” “ Sir," said Johnson, “ no more can the rest of your coun“ trymen *.”
He had other reasons that helped to alienate him from the natives of ScotlandBeing a cordial well-wisher to the constitution in Church and State, he did not think that Calvin and John Knox were proper founders of a national religion. He made, however, a wide distinction between the Dissenters of Scotland and the Separatists of England. To the former he imputed no disaffection, no want of loyally. Their soldiers and their officers had shed their blood with zeal and courage in the service of Great Britain, and the people, he used to say, were content with their own established modes of worship, without wishing, in the present age, to give any disturbance to the Church of England. This he was at all times ready to admit; and therefore declared, that whenever he found a Scotchman to whom an Englishman was as a Scotchman, that Scotchman should be as an Englishman to him. In this, surely, there was no rancour, no malevolence. The Dissenters on this side the Tweed appeared to him in a different light. Their religion, he frequently said, was too worldly, too political, too restless and ambitious. The doctrine of cashiering kings, and erecting on the ruins of the constitution a new form of government, which lately issued from their pulpits, he always thought was, under a calm disguise, the principle that lay lurking in their hearts. He knew that a wild democracy had overturned Kings, Lords, and Commons; and that a set of Republican Fanátics, who would not bow at the name of JESUS, had taken possession of all the livings and all the parishes in the kingdom. That those scenes of horror might never be renewed, was the ardent wish of Dr. Johnson; and though he apprehended no danger from Scotland, it is probable that his dislike of Calvinism mingled sometimes with his reflections on the natives of that country. The association of ideas could not be easily broken; but it is well known that he loved and respected many gentlemen from that part of the island. Dr. Robertson's History of Scotland and Dr. Beattie's Essays, were subjects of his constant praise. Mr. Boswell, Dr. Rose of Chiswick, Andrew Millar, Mr. Hamilton the printer, and the late Mi, Strahan, were among his most intimate frienda. Many others might be added to the list. He scorned to enter Scotland as a spy; though Hawkins, his biographer, and the professing defender of his fame, allowed himself leave to represent him in that ignoble character. He went into Scotland to survey men and manners. Antiquities, fossils, and minerals, were not within his province. He did not visit that country to settle the station of Roman camps, or the spot where Galgacus fought the last battle for public liberty. The people, their customs, and the progress of literature, were his objects. The civilities which he received in the course of his tour have been repaid with grateful acknowledgement, and, generally, with great elegance of expression. His crime is, that he found the country bare of trees, and he has stated the fact. This, Mr. Boswell, in his Tour to the Hebrides, has told us, was resented by his countrymen with anger inflamed to rancour; but he admits that there are few trees on the east side of Scotland. Mr. Pennant, in his Tour, says, that in some parts of the eastern side of the country, he saw several large plantations of pine planted by gentlemen near their seats; and in this respect such a laudable spirit prevails, that, in another half century, it never shall be said, “ To spy the naked“ ness of the land are you come.” Johnson could not wait for that half century, and therefore mentioned things as he found them. If in any thing he has been mistaken, he has made a fair apology in the last paragraph of his book, avowing with candour, " That he may have * been surprised by modes of life, and appear"ances of nature, that are familiar to men of "wider survey, and more varied conversation. “ Novelty and ignorance must always be reci“procal; and he is conscious that his thoughts "on national manners are the thoughts of one “ who has seen but little.”
* Mr. Boswell's account of this introduction is very different from the above. See his Life of Johnson, Vol.ie p. 360, 8vo. Edit. 1804.
The Poems of Ossian made a part of Johnson's enquiry during his residence in Scotland and the Hebrides. On his return to England, November 1773, a storm seemed to be gathering over his head; but the cloud never burst, and the thunder never fell. -Ossian, it is well known, was presented to the publick as a translation from the Earse; but that this was a fraud, Johnson declared without hesitation. “ The Earse,” he says, “ was always oral only, “ and never a written language. The Welch “and the Irish were more cultivated. In Earse “there was not in the world a single manu“script a hundred years old. Martin, who in “the last century published an Account of the “ Western Islands, mentions Irish, but never “ Earse manuscripts, to be found in the islands “ in his time. The bards could not read; if “they could, they might probably have written. “ But the bard was a barbarian among bar“barians, and, knowing nothing himself, lived “ with others that knew no more. If there is “a manuscript from which the translation was “ made, in what age was it written, and where “ is it? If it was collected from oral recitation, " it could only be in detached parts and scat "tered fragments: the whole is too long to be