Johnson and Boswell: The Transit of Caledonia

By Pat Rogers | Go to book overview

Introduction

The chapters which make up this book are grouped around two figures, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, and in particular around one event. The episode in question was the tour of the Hebrides and Western Islands of Scotland which the two undertook in 1773. Its outcome is to be found principally in the remarkable books which resulted from this undertaking: Johnson Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland ( 1775), and Boswell Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides ( 1785). These works do not provide the exclusive focus of the present book, but one or other is present throughout.

The theme of this book could also be defined in terms of Johnson and Boswell's place within the wider world--that is, their relationship to some external developments during their lifetime. These include the transformation of Scottish culture in the years after the second Jacobite rising and the enduring legacy of Jacobitism; the rapid unfolding of the Scottish Enlightenment; the opening-up of the world by means of overseas exploration in the era of Cook and Joseph Banks; the gradual expansion of tourism beyond the traditional aristocratic grand tour, and the quest for new locations (including, after this Scottish jaunt, picturesque Scotland) and the cult of the primitive, where a key role was played by the prose poems of James Macpherson, which turned Ossian into a leading figure within European literature and art for decades to come. There was also the rise of a virulent anti-Scottish feeling around the time of the North Briton. All these matters surface, in one way or another, in the text of the two Hebridean narratives, and each enters the argument of this book, although I have not attempted to provide a full account of their multiple manifestations in the thought of the period.

This is not so much a study of the Scottish Enlightenment as such as a series of readings of Johnson and Boswell in their dealings with specific matters which surfaced during their trip to the Hebrides. Again, I do not seek to explore the entire background of travel literature of the age--this has been well covered by earlier scholars. Instead, the book concentrates on those aspects of travel which are relevant to the conception and execution of the tour. These

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Johnson and Boswell: The Transit of Caledonia
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