Saturday, 18th September
Before breakfast, Dr Johnson came up to my room, to forbid me to mention that this was his birthday; but I told him I had done it already; at which he was displeased; I suppose from wishing to have nothing particular done on his account. Lady M'Leod and I got into a warm dispute. She wanted to build a house upon a farm which she has taken, about five miles from the castle, and to make gardens and other ornaments there; all of which I approved of; but insisted that the seat of the family should always be upon the rock of Dunvegan. JOHNSON. 'Ay, in time we'll build all round this rock. You may make a very good house at the farm; but it must not be such as to tempt the Laird of M'Leod to go thither to reside. Most of the great families of England have a secondary residence, which is called a jointure-house: let the new house be of that kind.' The lady insisted that the rock was very inconvenient; that there was no place near it where a good garden could be made; that it must always be the rude place; that it was a Herculean labour to make a dinner here. I was vexed to find the alloy of modern refinement in a lady who had so much old family spirit. 'Madam,' said I, 'if once you quit this rock, there is no knowing where you may settle. You move five miles first, then to St Andrews, as the late laird did; then to Edinburgh; and so on till you end at Hampstead, or in France. No, no; keep to the rock: it is the very jewel of the estate. It looks as if it had been let down from heaven by the four corners, to be the residence of a chief. Have all the comforts and conveniencies of life upon it, but never leave Rorie More's cascade.' 'But,' said she, 'is it not enough if we keep it? Must we never have more convenience than Rorie More had? He had his beef brought to dinner in one basket, and his bread in another. Why not as well be Rorie More all over, as live upon his rock? And should not we tire, in looking perpetually on this rock? It is very well for you, who have a fine place, and every thing easy, to talk thus, and think of chaining honest folks to a rock. You would not live upon it yourself.' 'Yes, madam,' said I, 'I would live upon it, were I Laird of M'Leod, and should be unhappy if I were not upon it.' JOHNSON (with a strong voice, and most determined manner). 'Madam, rather than quit the old rock, Boswell would live in the pit; he would make his bed in the dungeon.' I felt a degree of elation, at finding my resolute feudal enthusiasm thus confirmed by such a sanction. The lady was puzzled a little. She still returned to her pretty farm--rich ground, fine garden. 'Madam,' said Dr Johnson, 'were they in Asia, I would not leave the rock.' My opinion on this subject is still the same. An ancient family residence ought to be a primary object; and though the situation of Dunvegan be such that little can be done here in gardening, or pleasure-ground, yet, in addition to the veneration acquired by the lapse of time, it has many circumstances of natural grandeur, suited to the seat of a Highland chief: it has the sea, islands, rocks, hills, a noble cascade; and when the family is again in opulence, something may be done by art.
Mr Donald M'Queen went away today, in order to preach at Bracadale next day. We were so comfortably situated at Dunvegan, that Dr Johnson could hardly be moved from it. I proposed to him that we should leave it on Monday. 'No, sir,' said he, 'I will not go before Wednesday. I will have some more of this good.' However, as the weather was at this season so bad, and so very uncertain, and we had a great deal to do yet, Mr M'Queen and I prevailed with him to agree to set out on Monday, if the day should be good. Mr M'Queen though it was inconvenient for him to be absent from his harvest, engaged to wait on Monday at Ulinish for us. When he was going away, Dr Johnson said, 'I shall ever retain a great regard for you'; then asked him if he had the Rambler. Mr M'Queen said, 'No; but my brother has it' JOHNSON. 'Have you the Idler?' M'QUEEN. 'No, sir.' JOHNSON. 'Then I will order one for you at Edinburgh, which you will keep in remembrance of me.' Mr M'Queen was much pleased with this. He expressed to me, in the strongest terms, his admiration of Dr Johnson's wonderful knowledge, and every other quality for which he is distinguished. I asked Mr M'Queen, if he was satisfied with being a minister in Sky. He said he was; but he owned that his forefathers having been so long there, and his having been born there, made a chief ingredient in forming his contentment. I should have mentioned, that on our left hand, between Portree and Dr Macleod's house, Mr M'Queen told me there had been a college of the Knights Templars; that tradition said so; and that there was a ruin remaining of their church, which had been burnt: but I confess Dr Johnson has weakened my belief in remote tradition. In the dispute about Anaitis, Mr M'Queen said, Asia Minor was peopled by Scythians, and, as they were the ancestors of the Celts, the same religion might be in Asia Minor and Sky. JOHNSON. 'Alas! sir, what can a nation that has not letters tell of its original? I have always difficulty to be patient when I hear authors gravely quoted, as giving accounts of savage nations, which accounts they had from the savages themselves. What can the M'Craas tell about themselves a thousand years ago? There is no tracing the connection of ancient nations, but by language; and therefore I am always sorry when any language is lost, because languages are the pedigree of nations. If you find the same language in distant countries, you may be sure that the inhabitants of each have been the same people; that is to say, if you find the languages a good deal the same; for a word here and there being the same, will not do. Thus Butler, in his Hudibras, remembering that Penguin, in the Straits of Magellan, signifies a bird with a white head, and that the same word has, in Wales, the signification of a white-headed wench (PEN head, and GUIN white), by way of ridicule, concludes that the people of those Straits are Welch.'
A young gentleman of the name of M'Lean, nephew to the Laird of the Isle of Muck, came this morning; and, just as we sat down to dinner, came the Laird of the Isle of Muck himself, his lady, sister to Talisker, two other ladies their relations, and a daughter of the late M'Leod of Hamer, who wrote a treatise on the second sight, under the designation of Theophilus Insulanus. It was somewhat droll to hear this laird called by his title. Muck would have founded ill; so he was called Isle of Muck, which went off with great readiness. The name, as now written, is unseemly, but is not so bad in the original Erse, which is MOUACH, signifying the Sows' Island. Buchanan calls it Insula Porcorum. It is so called from its form. Some call it Isle of MONK. The laird insists that this is the proper name. It was formerly church-land belonging to Icolmkill, and a hermit lived in it. It is two miles long, and about three quarters of a mile broad. The laird said, he had seven score of souls upon it. Last year he had eighty persons inoculated, mostly children, but some of them eighteen years of age. He agreed with the surgeon to come and do it, at half a crown a head. It is very fertile in corn, of which they export some; and its coasts abound in fish. A taylor comes there six times in a year. They get a good blacksmith from the Isle of Egg.