Johnson and Boswell: The Transit of Caledonia

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'The Transit of the Caledonian Hemisphere': Johnson and Boswell in an Age of Discovery

If the Hebridean trip was not, then, a grand tour--indeed, was more like the antithesis of such a thing--we need to consider what kind of undertaking it was. The first answer I shall suggest, in this chapter, is that it partook in some measure of a European voyage of discovery.

Towards the end of Boswell Tour when the travellers have reached Auchinleck, the author makes an ostentatious gesture of his refusal to show his father and Dr Johnson as 'intellectual gladiators'. 'Therefore,' continues the entry for 6 November 1773, 'I suppress what would, I dare say, make an interesting scene in this dramatick sketch,--this account of the transit of Johnson over the Caledonian Hemisphere' ( LSJ v. 382.). The aim of this chapter is to gloss Boswell's phrase and to supply a context for the Hebridean trip in the accounts of travel, exploration, and discovery which were so conspicuous in the public mind at this very moment.

Recent books have provided us with a wider perspective on travel literature in the eighteenth century, and Thomas M. Curley's valuable study, Samuel Johnson and the Age of Travel, has pointed to a pervasive tradition and model. But Professor Curley dwells more on Rasselas than on the Journey and he sees the work as one shaped to 'a travel book format influenced by previous accounts of Scotland' such as those by Martin Martin and Thomas Pennant.1

Thomas M. Curley, Samuel Johnson and the Age of Travel ( Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1976), 203; see generally pp. 183-219. Curley acutely notes that the Journey states: 'The Highlanders are treated as if they were Eskimos, Siberian nomads, American Indians, and Pacific savages', but he does not develop the point. Other relevant works include Charles L. Batten, jun., Pleasurable Instruction: Form and Convention in Eighteenth-Century Travel Literature ( Berkeley, Calif., and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1978); and Percy G. Adams , Travel Literature and the Evolution of the Novel ( Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 1983).


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