boswell and johnson: on the road again

James Boswell dragged Dr. Samuel Johnson form Edinburgh to Inverness to Skye and back to the lowlands. Boswell could, and soon set about immortalizing the tour. “Who can like the Highlands?,” asked Dr. Johnson…

After some interesting conversations with the local notabilities, Boswell and Johnson began their journey northward, on Wednesday, August 18, Johnson wearing “a very wide brown cloth greatcoat with pockets which might have almost held two volumes of his folio dictionary,” and carrying a heavy oak staff. Boswell, no doubt, was much more fashionably dressed, and they were accompanied by his body servant, “Joseph Ritter, a Bohemian, a fine steady fellow above six feet high.” For the story of the subsequent adventures, we can consult three firsthand sources: Johnson’s own topographic account of A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, which he published in 1775; Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, which, as a trial run fro his famous biography, emerged in 1785; and the original text of the Journal, edited by Frederick A. Pottle and Charles H. Bennett, which appeared in 1936. Of these,the latter is by far the most vivid. With the assistance of the Shakespearean scholar Edmond Malone, Boswell made extensive alterations before he allowed his journal to be printed-rephrasing, cutting, and wherever a passage seemed too caustic or too indecorous, prudently removing it. Even so, the narrative caused offense, and one of the Scottish lairds who figures in the story threatened that he would challenge the author to a duel.

— Rowlandson’s Caricature Etchings Illustrating Boswell’s Tour to the Hebrides. 20 folio sheets comprising a complete set of nineteenth century restrikes of the original twenty copper-plates originally published in 1786. Lacks title or plate list. Exceedingly scarce, no copies on net at time of writing.
Price: $850.00Item #947
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The expedition lasted from August 18 till November 9. It began quietly; the food was good, and the beds were not uncomfortable. Having crossed the Firth of Forth, they traveled north, up Scotland’s eastern coast, through Saint Andrews, Montrose, and Aberdeen; then westerly to Banff and Forres, Nairn, Cawdor, Fort George, and the country town of Inverness. On the way they were hospitably entertained, viewed “natural curiosities,” and scrambled around ruined castles.

—Caricaturist and genre painter Samuel Collings (died 1795) was commissioned by the Marylebone publisher E Jackson to imagine scenes from this trip and come up with humorous illustrations. Princeton holds 22 of these original drawings. Thomas Rowlandson (1756/57-1827), who had collaborated with Collings on several other projects, was enlisted to etch the drawings. —Read More:

Johnson conversed with the eccentric Lord Monboddo, whose theories about the virtues of the noble savage he had previously dismissed as arrant nonsense; and when they approached Forres and drove over the blasted heath where Macbeth was reputed to have met the Weird Sisters, and where the corpse of a highwayman now hung in chains, he solemnly quoted from the tragedy. Later, when they had reached their inn, he “diverted himself with trying to frighten me,” and pretended that the witches themselves would “come and dance at the foot of my bed.”

Boswell was not to be put down- “I said he would be the most frightened of the two”; but he admits to being “really a little uneasy. However, the door of my room opened into his…and I soon fell asleep.” ( to be continued)…

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