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Journals of the Western Islands by Samuel…

Journals of the Western Islands

by Samuel Johnson, James Boswell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 4 of 4
The two diarists Dr Johnson (he of Dictionary fame) and James Boswell recount their voyage (taken in the late 18th century) from Edinburgh to around the Hebrides and back. So firstly it's Dr Johnson's "A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland", which in some ways was an easier read for me, in that it was an account of the places they went to and selected people they met (see later on for Boswell's focus, which was less what I was hoping for). There was one passage near the beginning where they are travelling north of Aberdeen where he talks of being told of a previous weather event where the sand dunes were deposited inland and the landowner ended up giving up his land rather than pay to sort it out. That was interesting to me as I am pretty sure that is the same place where Donald Trump has built his highly-contested and locally unpopular golf course, where he thinks that he can control the sand dunes. Other than that, my main impression of Dr Johnson was that he could be quite bitchy, and there was a fair bit of English superiority coming across, even in the many passages where he was obviously appreciative of the hospitality he was being shown. There was also a lot of approval of the feudal system and aristocracy/royalty which I really don't like. I think what didn't help was that the image in my head of Dr Johnson is entirely based on his appearance in an episode of "Blackadder the Third", so it was sometimes hard to take it seriously! After that I read Boswell's "The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides", which I found much harder to read. Unlike Johnson's account, which was based on places, Boswell's was just a daily account, and he mainly seemed to write about the contents of conversations, regardless of whether they were relevant to the places they were visiting that day. So I did a lot of skim-reading of this one. He also seemed, like Johnson, pretty approving of status/aristocracy, but the really overwhelming impression was of his utter reverence of Dr Johnson, so I found that quite difficult, that he was praising this man for saying stuff to his hosts which I often considered quite rude! This focus just cemented the "Blackadder the Third" character as the Dr Johnson in my head! Even though I was skim-reading, it didn't make this particular account go any quicker! It was just quite hard work, I found - I had to skim, but still look frequently to see if the conversation had stopped and he had actually put in a few sentences about the place they were visiting (which was what I wanted to read!). Overall, I'm really pleased I've read both of these, but I'm not sure I'll be rushing to read them again. ( )
  Jackie_K | Sep 3, 2016 |
Samuel Johnson being the creator of the first English dictionary, I expected this journal to be a challenging and thorough chronicle. At least to begin with it seems surprisingly the contrary, sparse in general descriptions and more often fastening onto some specific detail or aspect (local education, the clergy, etc.) I also found it to be full of platitudes. Once he gets to the isles, his real destination of interest, he becomes much more thorough. Johnson's story is rather dry but there were interesting bits to glean throughout every so many pages: one standout was his commentary on ruins that pass into nothing, after which all is forgotten - a troubling note in a journal written in the 1770s. The British disarmed Scotland after Culloden and Johnson provides enough coverage of the results to give anti-gun lobbyists a good lead. He journeys past Loch Ness with not a mention of the monster (no one "saw it" until 1933), but describes the Second Sight and other local legends.I enjoyed following his journey with an atlas (although I can't seem to google up a reliable image that traces the route), and if I lived in the area I'd be tempted to follow at least a portion of his steps and see the contrast with today. ( )
  Cecrow | Dec 8, 2014 |
The first book by Johnson was good the second by Boswell was better, at least more humourous, with the recording of the sayings of Johnson. I thought it was fascinating to travel with these two gentleman during the time when there were no trains and tours were pretty well rustic. The time in which they travelled too, when Scotland or Old Scotland was disappearing, and the peaceful and the more refined Scotland we know today was taking its place. ( )
  charlie68 | May 25, 2010 |
For a brief overview see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Journey_to_the_Western_Islands_of_Scotland - A charming and fascinating account of traveling through Scotland when it was still "primitive" (in parts) - this is what Johnson went to see, but he laments they came "too late" .. Scotland was already changing quickly. But they did find some of the "Old Scotland"

It is not only a travel narrative but intermixed with social criticism on issues of education in Scotland, religion and other issues of the day related to the progress of the country.

Parts that are memorable include the monastic ruins at Iona, the trip through the Isle of Skye along the tops of ridges with no roads, the story of the imprisoned Scotsman given salted beef and an empty glass and left to die, the one story stone huts, and 2-story stone "houses", the caves along the coasts.

Even though it is a short book I would like to create an abridged version that removes the social commentary (now largely outdated) and sticks to the travel and site seeing only which is the highlite of the book. ( )
  Stbalbach | Jul 27, 2006 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Johnson, SamuelAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boswell, Jamesmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Black, RonaldEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chapman, R. W.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Daniell, WilliamIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Levi, PeterEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McGowan, IanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I had desired to visit the Hebrides, or Western Islands of Scotland, so long, that I scarcely remember how the wish was originally excited; and was in the Autumn of the year 1773 induced to undertake the journey, by finding in Mr. Boswell a companion, whose acuteness would help my enquiry, and whose gayety of conversation and civility of manners are sufficient to counteract the inconveniences of travel, in countries less hospitable than we have passed.
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This work combines two works by two different authors, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, who together toured the Hebrides in western Scotland. Johnson published his book in 1775, Boswell in 1785. Later editors have often combined the two. Boswell also described the tour more briefly in his biography of Johnson (1791).
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140432213, Paperback)

"I mentioned our design to Voltaire," wrote Boswell. "He looked at me as if I had talked of going to the North Pole …"

As it turned out, Johnson enjoyed their Scottish journey (although the land was not quite so wild and barbaric as perhaps he had hoped), and Boswell delighted in it. The year was 1773, they were sixty-three and thirty-two years old, and had been friends for ten years.

Their journals, published together here, perfectly complement each other. Johnson's majestic prose and hawk eye for curious detail take in everything from the stone arrowheads found in the Hebrides, to the 'medicinal' waters of Loch Ness and 'the mischiefs of emigration'. Meanwhile, it is very lucky that as Johnson was observing Scotland, Boswell was observing Johnson. His record is perceptive, highly entertaining and full of sardonic wit; for him, as for us, it is an appetizer for The Life of Johnson.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:07 -0400)

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