Saturday, 11th September
It was a storm of wind and rain; so we could not set out. I wrote some of this Journal, and talked awhile with Dr Johnson in his room, and passed the day, I cannot well say how, but very pleasantly. I was here amused to find Mr Cumberland's comedy of the Fashionable Lover, in which he has very well drawn a Highland character, Colin M'Cleod, of the same name with the family under whose roof we now were. Dr Johnson was much pleased with the Laird of Macleod, who is indeed a most promising youth, and with a noble spirit struggles with difficulties, and endeavours to preserve his people. He has been left with an incumbrance of forty thousand pounds debt, and annuities to the amount of thirteen hundred pounds a year. Dr Johnson said, 'If he gets the better of all this, he'll be a hero; and I hope he will. I have not met with a young man who had more desire to learn, or who has learnt more. I have seen nobody that I wish more to do a kindness to than Macleod.' Such was the honourable elogium, on this young chieftain, pronounced by an accurate observer, whose praise was never lightly bestowed.
There is neither justice of peace, nor constable in Rasay. Sky has Mr M'Cleod of Ulinish, who is the sheriff substitute, and no other justice of peace. The want of the execution of justice is much felt among the islanders. Macleod very sensibly observed, that taking away the heritable jurisdictions had not been of such service in the islands, as was imagined. They had not authority enough in lieu of them. What could formerly have been settled at once, must now either take much time and trouble, or be neglected. Dr Johnson said, 'A country is in a bad state, which is governed only by laws; because a thousand things occur for which laws cannot provide, and where authority ought to interpose. Now destroying the authority of the chiefs set the people loose. It did not pretend to bring any positive good, but only to cure some evil; and I am not well enough acquainted with the country to know what degree of evil the heritable jurisdictions occasioned.' I maintained hardly any; because the chiefs generally acted right, for their own sakes.
Dr Johnson was now wishing to move. There was not enough of intellectual entertainment for him, after he had satisfyed his curiosity, which he did, by asking questions, till he had exhausted the island; and where there was so numerous a company, mostly young people, there was such a flow of familiar talk, so much noise, and so much singing and dancing, that little opportunity was left for his energetick conversation. He seemed sensible of this; for when I told him how happy they were at having him there, he said, 'Yet we have not been able to entertain them much.' I was fretted, from irritability of nerves, by M'Cruslick's too obstreperous mirth. I complained of it to my friend, observing we should be better if he was gone. 'No, sir,' said he. 'He puts something into our society, and takes nothing out of it.' Dr Johnson, however, had several opportunities of instructing the company; but I am sorry to say, that I did not pay sufficient attention to what passed, as his discourse now turned chiefly on mechanicks, agriculture and such subjects, rather than on science and wit. Last night Lady Rasay shewed him the operation of wawking cloth, that is, thickening it in the same manner as is done by a mill. Here it is performed by women, who kneel upon the ground, and rub it with both their hands, singing an Erse song all the time. He was asking questions while they were performing this operation, and, amidst their loud and wild howl, his voice was heard even in the room above.
They dance here every night. The queen of our ball was the eldest Miss Macleod, of Rasay, an elegant well-bred woman, and celebrated for her beauty over all those regions, by the name of Miss Flora Rasay. [Footnote: She had been some time at Edinburgh, to which she again went, and was married to my worthy neighbour, Colonel Mure Campbell, now Earl of Loudoun; but she died soon afterwards, leaving one daughter.] There seemed to be no jealousy, no discontent among them; and the gaiety of the scene was such, that I for a moment doubted whether unhappiness had any place in Rasay. But my delusion was soon dispelled, by recollecting the following lines of my fellow-traveller:
Yet hope not life from grief or danger free, Nor think the doom of man revers'd for thee!