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ROBERT FERGUSSON, 'To Dr. Samuel Johnson', 1773

ROBERT FERGUSSON, 'To Dr. Samuel Johnson', 1773

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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.



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.



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,


Journey, 4.

George Buchanan (1506–82), poet and scholar, was Principal of St. Leonard’s

College, St. Andrews, 1566–70.


Isaiah 29:13.


Journey, 9.




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



Ibid., 3.

Bute (see above, p. 212n.).



the ditches, You are a lizard of the waste, Crawling and creeping like

a reptile.

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


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