Sunday, 19th September
It was rather worse weather than any that we had yet. At breakfast Dr Johnson said, 'Some cunning men choose fools for their wives, thinking to manage them, but they always fail. There is a spaniel fool and a mule fool. The spaniel fool may be made to do by beating. The mule fool will neither do by words or blows; and the spaniel fool often turns mule at last: and suppose a fool to be made do pretty well, you must have the continual trouble of making her do. Depend upon it, no woman is the worse for sense and knowledge.' Whether afterwards he meant merely to say a polite thing, or to give his opinion, I could not be sure; but he added, 'Men know that women are an over-match for them, and therefore they choose the weakest or most ignorant. If they did not think so, they never could be afraid of women knowing as much as themselves.' In justice to the sex, I think it but candid to acknowledge, that, in a subsequent conversation, he told me that he was serious in what he had said.
He came to my room this morning before breakfast, to read my Journal, which he has done all along. He often before said, 'I take great delight in reading it.' Today he said, 'You improve: it grows better and better.' I observed, there was a danger of my getting a habit of writing in a slovenly manner. 'Sir,' said he, 'it is not written in a slovenly manner. It might be printed, were the subject fit for printing.' [Footnote: As I have faithfully recorded so many minute particulars, I hope I shall be pardoned for inserting so flattering an encomium on what is now offered to the publick.] While Mr Beaton preached to us in the dining-room, Dr Johnson sat in his own room, where I saw lying before him a volume of Lord Bacon's works, the Decay of Christian Piety, Monboddo's Origin of Language, and Sterne's Sermons. He asked me today, how it happened that we were so little together: I told him, my Journal took up much time. Yet, on reflection, it appeared strange to me, that although I will run from one end of London to another, to pass an hour with him, I should omit to seize any spare time to be in his company, when I am settled in the same house with him. But my Journal is really a task of much time and labour, and he forbids me to contract it.
I omitted to mention, in its place, that Dr Johnson told Mr M'Queen that he had found the belief of the second sight universal in Sky, except among the clergy, who seemed determined against it. I took the liberty to observe to Mr M'Queen, that the clergy were actuated by a kind of vanity. 'The world,' say they,'takes us to be credulous men in a remote corner. We'll shew them that we are more enlightened than they think.' The worthy man said, that his disbelief of it was from his not finding sufficient evidence; but I could perceive that he was prejudiced against it.
After dinner to-day, we talked of the extraordinary fact of Lady Grange's being sent to St Kilda, and confined there for several years, without any means of relief. [Footnote: The true story of this lady, which happened In this century, is as frightfully romantick as if it had been the fiction of a gloomy fancy. She was the wife of one of the Lords of Session in Scotland, a man of the very first blood of his country. For some mysterious reasons, which have never been discovered, she was seized and carried off in the dark, she knew not by whom, and by nightly journies was conveyed to the Highland shores, from whence she was transported by sea to the remote rock of St Kilda, where she remained, amongst its few wild inhabitants, a forlorn prisoner, but had a constant supply of provisions, and a woman to wait on her. No inquiry was made after her, till she at last found means to convey a letter to a confidential friend, by the daughter of a Catechist who concealed it in a clue of yarn. Information being thus obtained at Edinburgh, a ship was sent to bring her off; but intelligence of this being received, she was conveyed to M'Leod's island of Herries, where she died.
In Carstares's State Papers, we find an authentick narrative of Connor, a Catholick priest, who turned Protestant, being seized by some of Lord Seaforth's people, and detained prisoner in the island of Herries several years: he was fed with bread and water, and lodged in a house where he was exposed to the rains and cold. Sir James Ogilvy writes (June 18, 1667) that the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Advocate, and himself, were to meet next day, to take effectual methods to have this redressed. Connor was then still detained (p. 310). This shews what private oppression might in the last century be practised in the Hebrides.
In the same collection, the Earl of Argyle gives a picturesque account of an embassy from 'the great M'Neil of Barra', as that insular chief used to be denominated. 'I received a letter yesterday from M'Neil of Barra, who lives very far off, sent by a gentleman in all formality, offering his service, which had made you laugh to see his entry. His style of his letter runs as if he were of another kingdom' (p. 643).] Dr Johnson said, if M'Leod would let it be known that he had such a place for naughty ladies, he might make it a very profitable island. We had, in the course of our tour, heard of St Kilda poetry. Dr Johnson observed, 'it must be very poor, because they have very few images.' BOSWELL. 'There may be a poetical genius shewn in combining these, and in making poetry of them.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, a man cannot make fire but in proportion as he has fuel. He cannot coin guineas but in proportion as he has gold.' At tea he talked of his intending to go to Italy in 1775. M'Leod said, he would like Paris better. JOHNSON. 'No, sir; there are none of the French literati now alive, to visit whom I would cross a sea. I can find in Buffon's book all that he can say.'[Footnote: I doubt the justice of my fellow-traveller's remark concerning the French literati, many of whom, I am told, have considerable merit in conversation, as well as in their writings. That of Monsieur de Buffon, in particular, I am well assured is highly instructive and entertaining.]
After supper he said, 'I am sorry that prize-fighting is gone out; every art should be preserved, and the art of defence is surely important. It is absurd that our soldiers should have swords, and not be taught the use of them. Prize-fighting made people accustomed not to be alarmed at seeing their own blood, or feeling a little pain from a wound. I think the heavy glaymore was an ill-contrived weapon. A man could only strike once with it. It employed both his hands, and he must of course be soon fatigued with wielding it; so that if his antagonist could only keep playing a while, he was sure of him. I would fight with a dirk against Rorie More's sword. I could ward off a blow with a dirk, and then run in upon my enemy. When within that heavy sword, I have him; he is quite helpless, and I could stab him at my leisure, like a calf. It is thought by sensible military men, that the English do not enough avail themselves of their superior strength of body against the French; for that must always have a great advantage in pushing with bayonets. I have heard an officer say, that if women could be made to stand, they would do as well as men in a mere interchange of bullets from a distance: but, if a body of men should come close up to them, then to be sure they must be overcome; now (said he), in the same manner the weaker-bodied French must be overcome by our strong soldiers.'
The subject of duelling was introduced. JOHNSON. 'There is no case in England where one or other of the combatants MUST die: if you have overcome your adversary by disarming him, that is sufficient, though you should not kill him; your honour, or the honour of your family, is restored, as much as it can be by a duel. It is cowardly to force your antagonist to renew the combat, when you know that you have the advantage of him by superior skill. You might just as well go and cut his throat while he is asleep in his bed. When a duel begins, it is supposed there may be an equality; because it is not always skill that prevails. It depends much on presence of mind; nay on accidents. The wind may be in a man's face. He may fall. Many such things may decide the superiority. A man is sufficiently punished, by being called out, and subjected to the risk that is in a duel.' But on my suggesting that the injured person is equally subjected to risk, he fairly owned he could not explain the rationality of duelling.