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ROBERT FERGUSSON, 'To Dr. Samuel Johnson', 1773
As we, who never can peroculate
The miracles by thee miraculiz’d,
The Muse silential long, with mouth apert
Would give vibration to stagnatic tongue,
And loud encomiate thy puissant name,
Eulogiated from the green decline
Of Thames’s banks to Scoticanian shores,
Where Loch-lomondian liquids undulize.
To meminate thy name in after times,
The mighty Mayor in each regalian town
Shall consignate thy work to parchment fair
In roll burgharian, and their tables all
Shall fumigate with fumigation strong:
SCOTLAND, from perpendicularian hills,
Shall emigrate her fair MUTTONIAN store,
Which late had there in pedestration walk’d,
And o’er her airy heights perambuliz’d.
Oh, blackest execrations on thy head,
EDINA shameless! tho’ he came within
The bounds of your NOTATION; tho’ you knew
His HONORIFIC name, you noted not,
But basely suffer’d him to chariotize
Far from your tow’rs, with smoke that nubilate,
Nor drank one amicitial swelling cup
To welcome him convivial. BAILIES all,
With rage inflated, Catenations tear,
Nor ever after be you vinculiz’d,
Since you that sociability denied
To him whose potent Lexiphanian stile
Words can PROLONGATE, and inswell his page
With what in others to a line’s confin’d.
Welcome, thou verbal potentate and prince!
To hills and vallies, where emerging oats
From earth assurge our pauperty to bay,
And bless thy name, thy dictionarian skill,
Which there definitive will still remain,
And oft be speculiz’d by taper blue,
While youth STUDENTIOUS turn thy folio page.
Have you as yet, in per’patetic mood,
Catenations, vide chains. JOHNSON.
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Regarded with the texture of the eye
The CAVE CAVERNICK, where fraternal bard,
CHURCHILL, depicted pauperated swains
With thraldom and bleak want, reducted sore,1
Where Nature, coloriz’d, so coarsely fades,
And puts her russet par’phenalia on?
Have you as yet the way explorified,
To let lignarian chalice, swell’d with oats,
Thy orofice approach? Have you as yet,
With skin fresh rubified by scarlet spheres,
Applied BRIMSTONIC UNCTION to your hide,
To terrify the SALAMANDRIAN fire
That from involuntary digits asks
The strong allaceration? —Or can you swill
The USQUEBALIAN flames of whisky blue
In fermentation strong? Have you apply’d
The kelt aerian to your Anglian thighs,
And with renunciation assigniz’d
Your breeches in LONDONA to be worn?
Can you, in frigor of Highlandian sky,
On heathy summits take nocturnal rest?
It cannot be—You may as well desire
An alderman leave plumb-puddenian store,
And scratch the tegument from pottage-dish,
As bid thy countrymen, and thee conjoin’d,
Forsake stomachic joys. Then hie you home,
And be a malcontent, that naked hinds,
On lentiles fed, can make your kingdom quake,
And tremulate Old England libertiz’d.
Cf. Charles Churchill, The Prophecy of Famine, A Scots Pastoral, 1763, ll. 311–34.
44. Ralph Griffiths, unsigned review, Monthly
January–February 1775, lii, 57–65, 158–62
Griffiths (1720–1803) was the founder of the Monthly Review in
Scotland seems to be daily so much increasing in consideration with her
sister-kingdom, that tours to the Highlands, and voyages to the isles, will
possibly become the fashionable routes of our virtuosi, and those who
travel for mere amusement. Mr. Pennant has led the way,1 Dr. Johnson
has followed; and with such precursors, and the sanction of such
examples, what man of spirit and curiosity will forbear to explore these
remote parts of our island, with her territorial appendages, —of which,
indeed, and of the public advantages which might be derived from them,
we have hitherto been shamefully ignorant.
Dr. Johnson’s book may be regarded as a valuable supplement to Mr.
Pennant’s two accounts of his northern expeditions, —the more properly
supplemental, as it is a very different performance, on the same subject;
both Writers concurring in the general representation, where the track
in which they proceed, and the subjects they view, happen to be the
same (which is not very frequently the case) and disagreeing in no
circumstance of importance.
Mr. Pennant travels, chiefly, in the character of the naturalist and
antiquary; Dr. Johnson in that of the moralist and observer of men and
manners. The former describes whatever is remarkable in the face of the
country—the extraordinary productions of Nature—the ruins, the relics,
and the monuments of past times; the latter gives us his observations
on the common appearances and productions of the soil and climate,
with the customs and characteristics of the inhabitants, just as
particulars and circumstances chanced to present themselves to his
notice. The ingenious Cambrian delights in painting sublime scenes, and
Thomas Pennant, naturalist, antiquarian and traveller; published his Tour in Scotland,
1771, and A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, 1774–6.
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pleasing pictures; while the learned English Rambler seems rather to
confine his views to the naked truth, —to moralize on the occurrences
of his journey, and to illustrate the characters and situation of the people
whom he visited, by the sagacity of remark, and the profundity of
None of those who have the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with
Dr. Johnson, will suppose that he set out with many prejudices in favour
of that country. With what opinion of it he returned, will be seen from
the extracts we shall give from his observations.
[by summary and quotation traces the route of Johnson’s journey.]
‘ALL travel,’ says our reflecting and philosophizing Rambler, ‘has
its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to
improve his own, and if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to
enjoy it.’ One of these advantages may, indeed, be most comfortably
drawn from this survey of a cluster of islands, of which it is confessed,
‘that they have not many allurements, but to the mere lover of naked
nature.’ For, ‘the inhabitants are thin, provisions are scarce, and
desolation and penury give little pleasure.’
As the enjoyment of this satisfaction may, however, (to the national
English Reader) be mingled with some degree of malignant exultation,
we do not, at present, feel so much desire to gratify him, as to pass on,
directly, to matters of higher curiosity. —Besides, with regard to those
circumstances of description, which chiefly serve but to mark the natural
disparity between the southern and northern parts of our island, enough
of them are to be found in the former part of this article.
The public attention hath been much excited by the altercations to
which this work hath given birth, concerning the Earse language, and
our Author’s opinion as to the originality and authenticity of Ossian’s
Poems, as published by the ingenious Mr. Macpherson. We shall
therefore preextract what the learned traveller has inserted, on that
subject, in the work before us.
[quotes fourteen paragraphs of Johnson’s views on Erse and Ossian.]
Such is the opinion, and such are the reasonings of our learned
Author, in relation to the northern Homer and his supposed writings.
To these arguments, nothing hath been opposed, by the champions for
Ossian, but railing and ridicule, in the newspapers; together with an
Advertisement from Mr. Becket, the Bookseller, declaring that the
original was publickly exposed, during several months, at his shop, for
the examination of the curious. But still it does not appear in what
language that same original was written; and our honest publisher hath,
since, modestly declined his part in the controversy: it is even said that,
in private, among his friends, he makes no scruple of acknowledging
that he is no better acquainted with the Earse, than Dr. Johnson himself.
The appearance of an inclination in our Author to believe in the
second sight, (the notion of which hath so long, and so seriously
obtained in the Highlands and the Isles) hath given rise to some
pleasantry at the Doctor’s expence. He does not, however, profess his
entire faith in this species of prophecy. He declares that, on a strict
inquiry into the subject, he never could ‘advance his curiosity to
conviction.’ But he acknowledges that he ‘came away at last, only
willing to believe.’ —This will, no doubt, extort a smile even from the
gravest of our Readers; but all who have perused the Doctor’s book must
allow that he seems to have made the most, and the best, that could be
made, of so very singular an investigation: and that he hath thrown out
some observations on the subject, which only a man of genius could
have offered. And the most infidel reader must subscribe to the justice
of the Doctor’s remark, that he, and his companion, would have had but
‘little claim to the praise of curiosity if they had not endeavoured, with
particular attention, to examine the question of the second sight.’ He
adds, ‘Of an opinion received for centuries by a whole nation, and
supposed to be confirmed through its whole descent, by a series of
successive facts, it is desirable that the truth should be established, or
the fallacy detected.’
The Doctor’s remark, and intention, are equally entitled to our
approbation; but the misfortune is, that, still, with regard to this question,
there is no truth established, nor fallacy detected.
We must now, for the present, take leave of this very able and
entertaining writer; but not without expressing our thanks for the
pleasure we have received in the perusal of his animated and instructive
As to any little defects that may possibly be espied in this work, by
the minute critic, we have not, at this time, either leisure or inclination
to engage in the search of them. —Indeed, the modesty, and dignity of
simplicity, with which this philosophic traveller concludes his volume,
are sufficient to turn the edge of all true and liberal criticism.
[quotes the final paragraph of the Journey.]
45. Anonymous, Remarks on a Voyage to the
Hebrides, in a letter to Samuel Johnson LL.D.
Extracts from pp. 1–6, 34–6. See Introduction, p. 29.
It cannot be denied, that he who publishes his speculations to the world,
submits them to the animadversion of every reader; the following
observations therefore on your Tour to the Hebrides, need little apology;
that work containing remarks sufficient to move passions less irritable
than those which commonly warm a Scotchman’s breast; and the world
will not be surprized to find, that he who is said to ‘prefer his country
to truth.’1 should prefer it also to prejudice, and to you.
I shall not endeavour to reduce to method what I have to say upon this
occasion, but my remarks shall follow each other as nearly as possible,
in the order of those observations which occasion them; and if, in imitation
of so great a model, I should now and then quit the common path, ‘to
view a solitary shrub, or a barren rock/I hope for excuse.
A man is not likely to be a very unprejudiced traveller through a
country which he has held for forty years in contempt: ocular
demonstration may convince him that his opinions were erroneous, but
no demonstration will oblige him to retract: he whose errors have
acquired a kind of classic authority, will not easily confess one of so
long a standing, though founded on misapprehension or mistake; and
much less will he be inclined to retract an error which arose from the
malice of his heart.
The contemptible ideas you have long entertained of Scotland and
its inhabitants, have been too carefully propagated, not to be universally
known; and those who read your Journey, if they cannot applaud your
candour, must at least praise your consistency, for you have been very
careful not to contradict yourself. Your prejudice, like a plant, has
gathered strength with age—the shrub which you nursed so many years
in the hothouse of confidential conversation, is now become a full-grown
tree, and planted in the open air.
Cf. Boswell, Life, ii. 311.
I, Sir, who am almost as superstitious as yourself, could not help
regarding your description of Inch Keith, the first object of your
attention, as ominous of what was to follow. ‘Inch Keith is nothing more
than a rock, covered with a thin layer of earth, not wholly bare of grass,
and very fertile of thistles.’2 It immediately struck me, that your book
would be something like this rock, ‘a barren work, covered with a thin
layer of merit; not only void of truth, but very fertile of prejudice:’ —
how far it may agree with this description, those only who have seen
what you have seen, can judge.
Immortal Buchanan!3 If yet thy sacred spirit has any influence on the
scenes of thy earthly existence, let a blasting fog consume the present
productions of that holy place, where thou wert wont to exalt thy
Creator! And yet this, so much complained of, vegetable congregation,
may as much display the glory of God, and be as acceptable in His sight,
as those who, though endowed with reason, ‘draw near him only with
their lips, whilst their hearts are far from Him.’4 Let not him complain
that an episcopalian chapel is turned into a green-house, who would not
hesitate to convert a presbyterian kirk into a privy.
What can be said for the alienated college? do you think there are not
professors sufficient for the students? if there be, surely they will not be
less assiduous because they are better paid; the Scotch clergy do not
become negligent of their duty in proportion as their income is augmented.
He who is determined to say whatever he can in prejudice of an
object, will not only be apt to say untruths, but even improbabilities.
When you said that ‘a tree might be a show in Scotland,’5 you certainly
overshot your mark; such an assertion will never be believed, no, not
though Dr. Johnson had sworn it. I will not say it is improbable you saw
no trees, for much of the eastern coast of England, as well as of
Scotland, is more naked of wood than the inland country; and the greater
part of the road between Edinburgh and Inverness (at least the road
which you travelled) is often upon the sands, and always near the sea.
And yet I think you must have passed the Bridge of Don with your eyes
shut. Middleton of Seaton took, perhaps, no notice of you; and you in
return, disdained to take notice of his beautiful seat, whose surrounding
woods adjoin to that bridge.
You saw few trees in that part of Scotland through which you passed,
George Buchanan (1506–82), poet and scholar, was Principal of St. Leonard’s
College, St. Andrews, 1566–70.
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and you modestly insinuate, there are none in Scotland; a Scotchman
who had traversed the north-west side of London, might affirm by the
same rule, that there is not a corn field in England. Scotland, however,
has its extensive and well-grown woods, as well as England; and you
might have reclined, in every county, under the oak or the pine of an
hundred years old.
It must not be denied, that the north of Scotland is universally
destitute of hedges; for which I can recollect only one good reason.
Hedges and trees are in general a mark of distinction peculiar to
Gentlemen’s seats: a farmer no sooner attempts to inclose his fields with
a hedge, or ornament them with a row of trees, than he becomes the
object of the Laird’s jealousy or avarice; —he is supposed to be rich,
his rent is raised, and he is compelled to the alternative of starving on
his farm, or quitting it. To this may be added, that a farmer in Scotland
is not allowed to lop even the wood which he has planted: the loppings,
without which no farmer’s houses are built, must be purchased of the
Laird at his own price.
[there follow nearly thirty pages of censorious comment on a wide variety of
Johnson’s remarks. Concludes:]
I conclude with a parody on your own words, —‘To propagate error,
by refusing evidence, is a degree of insolence with which the world was
not till now acquainted; but stubborn audacity, is the last refuge of
These are far from being all the observations which a more attentive
perusal of your book might have given birth to; but these will perhaps
be sufficient to convince the unprejudiced, that veracity and candour are
not always to be expected from grey hairs. Should they prompt some
abler pen to vindicate a country and a people, which you have taken so
much pains to asperse, they will not have been written in vain.
Of all the various readers into whose hands your book may fall, it is
almost impossible to say to whom it can prove useful, unless it be to him
who would perfect himself in the illiberal art of insinuation, or to him who
loves to accumulate subjects for national abuse. To the former it will be a
complete manual; and there is hardly a misfortune, a folly, or a vice, that
it will not enable the latter to ascribe to poor Scotland, on the indubitable
authority of Dr. Johnson. Let him, then, who may in future have
occasion to prove that a Scotchman is poor, dirty, lazy, foolish, ignorant,
proud, an eater of kail, a liar, a brogue-maker, or a thief; and that Scot
Cf. Journey, 107.
land is a barren wilderness; let him apply to your book, for there he will
find ample authority.
‘You had long desired,’ you say, ‘to visit Scotland;’7 the desire was
invidious, for it was to discover the nakedness of a sister. The flame of
national rancour and reproach has been for several years but too well
fed—you too have added your faggot, and well deserved the thanks of
your friends; but whether you have merited those of the Scotchman who
procured you the means of subsistence,8 or of the Monarch by whose
bounty you are fed, is a question which your own conscience must
46. James McIntyre, ‘On Samuel Johnson, who
wrote against Scotland’
Translated from the text of the MacLagan Manuscript printed in the
Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, xxii (1898), 177–8.
Four Gaelic songs are extant which vigorously trounce ‘the
London savant’ for the ‘insult, contempt and defamation’ which
he allegedly lavished on his Scottish hosts. Three appeared in
Gillie’s Collection of Ancient and Modern Gaelic Poems and
Songs, Perth, 1786; the fourth is given below.
Indeed I do not believe that the monster’s ancestral root Is of the Clan
MacIan [Johnson]: Rather he was begotten to his mother By a stranger
with the nature of Venus.
A boor without manners full of spite; a slave who is disrespectful to
himself. The best meat when it spoils Will double its smell of corruption.
You are a slimy, yellow-bellied frog, You are a toad crawling along
Bute (see above, p. 212n.).
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the ditches, You are a lizard of the waste, Crawling and creeping like
You are a filthy caterpillar of the fields; You are an ugly, soft, sluggish
snail; You are a tick [such as] it is not easy to draw from What you grip
in your claws.
You are the weedings of the garden, You are the straw and the chaff
of the winnowing, When productive seed is sown; You are a duncoloured
heap of tobacco.
You are the malingerer from battle, You are the kite of the birds. You
are now the secret jest of the bards. Among fish you are the cub of the
Or that sullen beast the devil fish; You are the brat in the midst of
filth, The badger with its nose in his buttocks three quarters of a year,
A sheep-tick that is called the leech.
Foul is the wealth that you share, And if it were not that I do not like
the name of satirist, I myself would earnestly desire to abuse you.
47. Donald McNicol, Remarks on Dr. Samuel
Johnson’s Journey to the Hebrides
Extracts from pp. 1–15, 242–3, 364–71.
Boswell refers to this work as ‘a scurrilous volume, larger than
Johnson’s own, filled with malignant abuse, under a name, real
or fictitious, of some low man in an obscure corner of Scotland’
(Life, ii. 308). The Remarks is certainly malevolent; it is lengthy
(371 pages); but the author could not be dismissed as ‘some low
man’. McNicol (1736–1802) was a learned minister (of Lismore
in Argyll), an antiquary, and a Celtic poet in his own right. His
book was republished together with Johnson’s Journey in one
volume, at Glasgow, 1817. (James ‘Ossian’ Macpherson may have
collaborated with McNicol on the original publication.) See
Introduction, pp. 7, 29.
Travelling through the different kingdoms of Europe has greatly prevailed,
of late years, among men of curiosity and taste. Some are led abroad by
the mere love of novelty; others have a more solid purpose in view, a
desire of acquiring an extensive knowledge of mankind. As the
observations of the former are generally of a cursory nature, and seldom
extend beyond the circle of their private acquaintance, it is from the latter
only that we can expect a more public and particular information relative
to foreign parts. Some ingenious and valuable productions of this kind
have lately made their appearance; and when a man communicates, with
candour and fidelity, what he has seen in other countries, he cannot render
a more agreeable or useful service to his own.
By such faithful portraits of men and manners, we are presented
with a view of the world around us, as it really is. Our Author, like
a trusty guide, conducts us through the scenes he describes, and makes
us acquainted with the inhabitants; and thus we reap all the pleasures
and advantages of travel, without the inconveniencies attending it.
There is no country so contemptible as not to furnish some things that