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JOURNEY TO THE HEBRIDES.
The Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland was first published in the year 1775. Johnson had conceived in early life a desire to visit those romantic and remote retreats, and he was, at an advanced age, enabled to gratify the wish of his childhood, in company with Mr. Boswell, in the autumn of 1773. The first impulse was given to his mind by his father's putting into his hands Martin's Voyage to St. Kilda : and we have elsewhere had occasion to remark his early fondness for books of adventurous travels a.
The brief history which he has given of his little tour, is stamped with the impress of his powerful mind; and abounding with useful information, judicious remark, and well-drawn description, must be interesting to every reader whose taste has not been vitiated by the verbose and out-spun style of modern travel-writing. The man must be blinded by prejudice who decries the merits of Johnson's narrative, because he faithfully records what he really saw, and planted no waving and imaginary forests on naked and dreary heaths, nor professed to have found pastoral simplicity and innocence amidst the dark rocks and squalid cabins which he successively visited.
He travelled as he wrote, and read and conversed with utility in his view, for an increase of knowledge in life and manners. Like his own Rasselas, “his business was with man ; he travelled not to measure fragments of temples, or trace choked aqueducts, but to look upon the various scenes of the present world b.” The journey should be perused together with his letters to Mrs. Thrale, written on his route, which may be safely pronounced to afford models for elegant epistolary communication on travelling and its incidents. They, as well as the journey, abound with descriptions conveyed in unaffected language, but awakening emotions almost exclusively under the dominion of poetry.
a See vol. v. p. 255, note.
His plaintive and simple phrase, “and paradise was opened in the wild,” as illustrative of the softening effect of the evening services of religion, performed in a domestic group on the rugged island of Inch Kenneth, has, perhaps, been seldom surpassed. -We need scarcely allude to his heart-thrilling meditations among the ruins of Iona, nor to his exquisite picture of the scene where his first design to give his narrative to the world was conceived.
“ We would invoke the winds of the Caledonian mountains,” exclaim the critical reviewers of the journey, "to blow for ever with their softest breezes on the bank where our author reclined; and request of Flora that it might be perpetually adorned with the gayest and most fragrant productions of the year.”
Their taste is poor indeed who can peruse the passages to which we have referred, and have their minds so little enthralled thereby, as to have leisure to search whether the writer hated
Scotchman. We dismiss the unworthy inquiry.
b Rasselas, chap. xxx.
WESTERN ISLANDS OF SCOTLAND.
I HAD desired to visit the Hebrides, or Western Islands of Scotland, so long, that I scarcely remember how the wish was originally excited; and was, in the autumn of the year 1773, induced to undertake the journey, by finding in Mr. Boswell a companion, whose acuteness would help my inquiry, and whose gaiety of conversation and civility of manners are sufficient to counteract the inconveniencies of travel, in countries less hospitable than we have passed.
On the eighteenth of August, we left Edinburgh, a city too well known to admit description, and directed our course northward, along the eastern coast of Scotland, accompanied the first day by another gentleman, who could stay with us only long enough to show us how much we lost at separation.
As we crossed the frith of Forth, our curiosity was attracted by Inch Keith, a small island, which neither of my companions had ever visited, though, lying within their view, it had all their lives solicited their notice. Here, by climbing, with some difficulty, over shattered crags, we made the first experiment of unfrequented coasts. 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. A small herd of cows grazes annually upon it in the summer. It seems never to have afforded to man or beast a permanent habitation.