The late summer of 1773 and James Boswell had succeeded in dragging Dr. Samuel Johnson, the Dr. Johnson, from Edinburgh to Inverness to Skye and back to the Lowlands. Boswell could, and soon set about immortalizing the tour…
…Johnson and Boswell remained at Coirechatachan from the sixth until the eighth. Their intention was now to visit Raasay, a smaller island off the eastern coast of Skye, and on the morning of the eighth, when the wind had abated and the day proved fine and clear, they rode down to the shore and climbed into “a good stout open boat.” As their pilot they had Malcolm MacLeod, a member of the Raasay family, celebrated for the fidelity with which he had served Prince Charles during the revolt of 1745, whose rough-bearded and weather-beaten face, blue bonnet, purple kilt, and “short cloth green coat with gold cord” immediately delighted Boswell. It was a stormy passage, and they were lashed by winds and waves, but while they rowed the boatmen sang, and “as we came to shore, the music of rowers was succeeded by that of reapers” at work in the hills above. On landing, they met Raasay- like all Highland lairds, he bore the name of his ancestral heritage- and ” a large company” of friends and followers, and were escorted to the house, at which they found coffee and tea prepared “in genteel order” on the table. “We had a dram of excellent brandy, according to the Highland custom…On a sideboard was served up directly…mutton chops and tarts, with porter,claret, mountain, and punch.”
“This is truly the patriarchal life. This is what we came to find,” Johnson soon observed to Boswell. Among the MacLeods they discovered a rare mixture of sophistication and simplicity; nearly every detail was harmonious. “Minute things mark civilized life. We had here variety of preserves, and two parrots in cages were set out before the door to bask in the sun,” wrote Boswell.
Raasay’s household furnishings, moreover, included “some elegantly bound books.” Yet one adjunct of a civilized house seems to have been lacking. Although that in the old castle that Boswell explored on the island, he found a well-built “necessary-house,” the modern building that had replaced the castle possessed no form of indoor sanitation, and Boswell feels obliged to admit “how rare that convenience is amongst us.” Being a forthright man, he did not hesitate to suggest to Raasay that he should not lag behind his ancestors. His host agreed with him but Boswell suspected, he writes, that many years might pass before the laird built himself a decent privy. ( to be continued)…
(see link at end)…During our sail, Dr Johnson asked about the use of the dirk, with which he imagined the highlanders cut their meat. He was told, they had a knife and fork besides, to eat with. He asked, how did the women do? and was answered, some of them had a knife and fork too; but in general the men, when they had cut their meat, handed their knives and forks to the women, and they themselves eat with their fingers. The old tutor of Macdonald always eat fish with his fingers, alledging that a knife and fork gave it a bad taste. I took the liberty to observe to Dr Johnson, that he did so. ‘Yes,’ said he; ‘but it is because I am short-sighted, and afraid of bones, for which reason I am not fond of eating many kinds of fish, because I must use my fingers.’
Dr M’Pherson’s Dissertations on Scottish Antiquities , which he had looked at when at Corrichatachin, being mentioned, he remarked, that ‘you might read half an hour, and ask yourself what you had been reading: there were so many words to so little matter, that there was no getting through the book’. As soon as we reached the shore, we took leave of Kingsburgh, and mounted our horses. We passed through a wild moor, in many places so soft that we were obliged to walk, which was very fatiguing to Dr Johnson….Read More:http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/text/chap_page.jsp?t_id=Boswell&c_id=9