Johnson, Boswell, and Anti-Scottish
Hester Piozzi thought that Johnson's dislike for the Scottish nation was a matter of common information. Well before Boswell Life had enshrined familiar stories which lend credence to this view of her friend, she remarked: 'Mr Johnson's hatred of the Scotch is so well known, and so many of his bons mots expressive of that hatred have been already repeated in so many books and pamphlets . . .' ( JM i. 264-5).1 The question arises, from where exactly did all this stock of familiar knowledge derive? And when did it originate? It can be shown that it was the Journey which provoked the loudest clamour against Johnson in Scotland, as one who exhibited prejudice and a narrow nationalism. However, the roots of this suspicion went back as far as the first edition of the Dictionary; and matters would not be improved by the disputes between Johnson and James Macpherson. But there are two further complicating factors. The first is the general climate of anti-Scottish feeling which pervaded England in the third quarter of the eighteenth century--a vein of popular sentiment affecting political alignments, professional relations, and artistic trends. Second, there was the copresence of Boswell on the Hebridean tour, which led in due course to the younger man's candid account of the trip in 1785. Boswell's interest in what he regarded as a typical Johnsonian prejudice went along with an intense anxiety about his own Scottish identity, and together these were to create a highly coloured--and perhaps misleading--portrayal of Johnson as a hostile witness on matters Scottish. Yet the Journey itself is plainly deeply sympathetic to many of the people and social mores encountered by the travellers.
This is a paradox which has never been fully explored. In this chapter I aim first to give a brief review of the climate of anti- Scottish feeling which had prevailed for a number of years prior to____________________