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Johnson & Boswell in Scotland, Part 3

Continued from last week’s post: Johnson: ‘Loch Ness’

Boswell: Monday, 30 August 1773

This day we were to begin our equitation, as I said, for I would
needs make a word too. We might have taken a chaise to Fort Augustus. But we could not find horses after Inverness, so we resolved to begin here to ride. We
should have set out at seven. But one of the horses needed shoeing; the smith
had got drunk the night before at a wedding and could not rise early; so we did
not get off till nine. We had three horses for
Mr Johnson, myself, and Joseph,* and one which carried our portmanteaus; and
two Highlanders who walked with us, John Hay and Lauchlan Vass. Mr Johnson rode
very well.

A little above Inverness, I fancy
about three miles, we saw just by the road a very complete Druid’s temple; at
least we took it to be so. There was a double circle of stones, one of very
large ones and one of smaller ones. Mr Johnson justly observed that to go and
see one is only to see that it is nothing, for there is neither art nor power
in it, and seeing one is as much as one would wish.

It was a delightful day. Loch Ness,
and the road upon the side of it, between birch trees, with the hills above,
pleased us much. The scene was as remote and agreeably wild as could be
desired. It was full enough to occupy our minds for the time.

To see Mr Johnson in any new
situation is an object of attention to me. As I saw him now for the first time
ride along just like Lord Alemoor,* I thought of London, a Poem,
of the Rambler, of The False Alarm,* and I cannot express the
ideas which went across my imagination.

good way up the Loch, I perceived a little hut with an oldish woman at the door
of it. I knew it would be a scene for Mr Johnson. So I spoke of it. ‘Let’s go
in,’ said he. So we dismounted, and we and our guides went in. It was a
wretched little hovel, of earth only, I think; and for a window had just a hole
which was stopped with a piece of turf which could be taken out 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. She had at one end, under the same roof but divided with a kind of
partition made of wands, a pen or fold in which we saw a good many kids.

Johnson asked me where she slept. I asked one of the guides, who asked her in
Erse. She spoke with a kind of high tone. 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 like being was truly ludicrous. Mr Johnson and I afterwards made
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 young 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,’ said I. ‘She’ll say, “There was a terrible ruffian
who would have forced me, had it not been for a gentle, mild-looking youth,
who, I take it, was an angel.”‘

Johnson would not hurt her delicacy by insisting to ‘see her bedchamber’, like
Archer in The Beaux’ Stratagem.* But I was of a more ardent curiosity,
so 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 the one for the
fold, and close by the wall was a kind of bedstead of wood with heath upon it
for a bed; and at the foot of it 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 to keep
sixty goats for taking care of his wood. He was then in the wood. They had five
children, the oldest only thirteen. Two were gone to Inverness to buy meal. The
rest were looking after the goats. She had four stacks of barley, twenty-four
sheaves in each. They had a few fowls. They will live all the spring without
meal upon milk and curd, etc., alone. What they get for their goats, kids, and
hens maintains them. I did not observe how the children lay.

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, just detached words. Mr Johnson was pleased at seeing for the first
time such a state of human life. She asked for snuff. It is her luxury. She uses a great
deal. We had none, but gave her sixpence apiece. She then brought out her
whisky bottle. I tasted it, and Joseph and our guides had some. So I gave her
sixpence more. She sent us away with many prayers in Erse.

Travelwriting_johnson_boswell_0192840517A young and enthusiastic James Boswell befriended Samuel Johnson (1709-84), England’s most famous man of letters, in London in 1763. Soon Boswell was urging Johnson to accompany him on a tour to the Hebrides, reviving the fascination inspired in Johnson by a childhood reading of Martin Martin. The two men went to Scotland in the late summer and autumn of 1773, riding north from Edinburgh to Inverness and then westward through the Great Glen and across the mountains to the coast. Johnson published A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland two years later. Johnson published A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland two years later. These excerpts from Travel Writing, 1700-1830: An Anthology, are presented here as part of our Serial Blogging series.Click here to read from the beginning of this series.

Next week: Boswell: Wednesday, 1 September

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