Friday, 27th August
It was dark when we came to Fores last night; so we did not see what is called King Duncan's monument. I shall now mark some gleanings of Dr Johnson's conversation. I spoke of Leonidas, and said there were some good passages in it. JOHNSON. 'Why, you must SEEK for them.' He said, Paul Whitehead's Manners was a poor performance. Speaking of Derrick, he told me he had a kindness for him, and had often said, that if his letters had been written by one of a more established name, they would have been thought very pretty letters.
This morning I introduced the subject of the origin of evil. JOHNSON. 'Moral evil is occasioned by free will, which implies choice between good and evil. With all the evil that there is, there is no man but would rather be a free agent, than a mere machine without the evil; and what is best for each individual, must be best for the whole. If a man would rather be the machine, I cannot argue with him. He is a different being from me.' BOSWELL. 'A man, as a machine, may have agreeable sensations; for instance, he may have pleasure in musick.' JOHNSON, 'No, sir, he can not have pleasure in musick; at least no power of producing musick; for he who can produce musick may let it alone: he who can play upon a fiddle may break it: such a man is not a machine.' This reasoning satisfied me. It is certain, there cannot be a free agent, unless there is the power of being evil as well as good. We must take the inherent possibilities of things into consideration, in our reasonings or conjectures concerning the works of God.
We came to Nairn to breakfast. Though a county town and royal burgh, it is a miserable place. Over the room where we sat, a girl was spinning wool with a great wheel, and singing, an Erse song: 'I'll warrant you,' said Dr Johnson, 'one of the songs of Ossian.' He then repeated these lines:
'"Verse sweetens toil, however rude the sound. All at her work the village maiden sings; Nor, while she turns the giddy wheel around Revolves the sad vicissitude of things."'
I thought I had heard these lines before. JOHNSON. 'I fancy not, sir; for they are in a detached poem, the name of which I do not remember, written by one Giffard, a parson.'
I expected Mr Kenneth M'Aulay, the minister of Calder, who published the history of St Kilda, a book which Dr Johnson liked, would have met us here, as I had written to him from Aberdeen. But I received a letter from him, telling me that he could not leave home, as he was to administer the sacrament the following Sunday, and earnestly requesting to see us at his manse. 'We'll go,' said Dr Johnson; which we accordingly did. Mrs M'Aulay received us, and told us her husband was in the church distributing tokens. [Footnote: In Scotland, there is a great deal of preparation before administering the sacrament. The minister of the parish examines the people as to their fitness, and to those of whom he approves gives little pieces of tin, stamped with the name of the parish, as TOKENS, which they must produce before receiving it. This is a species of priestly power, and sometimes may be abused. I remember a lawsuit brought by a person against his parish minister, for refusing him admission to that sacred ordinance.] We arrived between twelve and one o'clock, and it was near three before he came to us.
Dr Johnson thanked him for his book, and said 'it was a very pretty piece of topography'. M'Aulay did not seem much to mind the compliment. From his conversation, Dr Johnson was persuaded that he had not written the book which goes under his name. I myself always suspected so; and I have been told it was written by the learned Dr John M'Pherson of Sky, from the materials collected by M'Aulay. Dr Johnson said privately to me, 'There is a combination in it of which M'Aulay is not capable.' However, he was exceedingly hospitable; and, as he obligingly promised us a route for our tour through the Western Isles, we agreed to stay with him all night.
After dinner, we walked to the old castle of Calder (pronounced Cawder), the Thane of Cawdor's seat. I was sorry that my friend, this 'prosperous gentleman', was not there. The old tower must be of great antiquity. There is a draw-bridge,--what has been a moat--and an ancient court. There is a hawthorn-tree, which rises like a wooden pillar through the rooms of the castle; for, by a strange conceit, the walls have been built round it. The thickness of the walls, the small slaunting windows, and a great iron door at the entrance on the second story as you ascend the stairs, all indicate the rude times in which this castle was erected. There were here some large venerable trees.
I was afraid of a quarrel between Dr Johnson and Mr M'Aulay, who talked slightingly of the lower English clergy. The Doctor gave him a frowning look, and said, 'This is a day of novelties: I have seen old trees in Scotland, and I have heard the English clergy treated with disrespect.'
I dreaded that a whole evening at Caldermanse would be heavy; however, Mr Grant, an intelligent and well-bred minister in the neighbourhood, was there, and assisted us by his conversation. Dr Johnson, talking of hereditary occupations in the Highlands, said, 'There is no harm in such a custom as this; but it is wrong to enforce it, and oblige a man to be a taylor or a smith, because his father has been one.' This custom, however, is not peculiar to our Highlands; it is well known that in India a similar practice prevails.
Mr M'Aulay began a rhapsody against creeds and confessions. Dr Johnson shewed, that 'what he called "imposition", was only a voluntary declaration of agreement in certain articles of faith, which a church has a right to require, just as any other society can insist on certain rules being observed by its members. Nobody is compelled to be of the church, as nobody is compelled to enter into a society.' This was a very clear and just view of the subject: but, M'Aulay could not be driven out of his track. Dr Johnson said, 'Sir, you are a BIGOT TO LAXNESS.'
Mr M'Aulay and I laid the map of Scotland before us; and he pointed out a rout for us from Inverness, by Fort Augustus, to Glenelg, Sky, Mull, Icolmkill, Lorn, and Inveraray, which I wrote down. As my father was to begin the northern circuit about the 18th of September, it was necessary for us to make our tour with great expedition, so as to get to Auchinleck before he set out, or to protract it, so as not to be there till his return, which would be about the 10th of October. By M'Aulay's calculation, we were not to land in Lorn till the 20th of September. I thought that the interruptions by bad days, or by occasional excursions, might make it ten days later; and I thought too, that we might perhaps go to Benbecula, and visit Clanranald, which would take a week of itself.
Dr Johnson went up with Mr Grant to the library, which consisted of a tolerable collection; but the Doctor thought it rather a lady's library, with some Latin books in it by chance, than the library of a clergyman. It had only two of the Latin fathers, and one of the Greek fathers in Latin. I doubted whether Dr Johnson would be present at a Presbyterian prayer. I told Mr M'Aulay so, and said that the Doctor might sit in the library while we were at family worship. Mr M'Aulay said, he would omit it, rather than give Dr Johnson offence: but I would by no means agree that an excess of politeness, even to so great a man, should prevent what I esteem as one of the best pious regulations. I know nothing more beneficial, more comfortable, more agreeable, than that the little societies of each family should regularly assemble, and unite in praise and prayer to our heavenly Father, from whom we daily receive so much good, and may hope for more in a higher state of existence. I mentioned to Dr Johnson the over-delicate scrupulosity of our host. He said, he had no objection to hear the prayer. This was a pleasing surprise to me; for he refused to go and hear Principal Robertson preach. 'I will hear him,' said he, 'if he will get up into a tree and preach; but I will not give a sanction, by my presence, to a Presbyterian assembly.'
Mr Grant having prayed, Dr Johnson said, his prayer was a very good one; but objected to his not having introduced the Lord's Prayer. He told us, that an Italian of some note in London said once to him, 'We have in our service a prayer called the Pater Noster, which is a very fine composition. I wonder who is the author of it.' A singular instance of ignorance in a man of some literature and general inquiry!