Among the most poignant episodes in the two Hebridean narratives are those brief moments when emigration ceases to be an abstract debating point, and surfaces abruptly as a live reality:
The port is made by an inlet of the sea, deep and narrow, where a ship lay waiting to dispeople Sky, by carrying the natives away to America. ( JWI 67)
The gentlemen of the clan went away early in the morning to the harbour of Lochbracadale, to take leave of some of their friends who were going to America. ( LSJ v. 212)
In the morning I walked out, and saw a ship, the Margaret of Clyde, pass by with a number of emigrants on board. It was a melancholy sight. ( LSJ v. 236)
There is a bitter irony here. John Locke famously said that all nature was once in the state of America. Now Johnson and Boswell had come to inspect this aboriginal state of nature on their own doorstep, only to find that the inhabitants were leaving for the real America. One motive on Johnson's part, at least, had probably been to counter optimistic views of primitive living (as propounded by men like Rousseau) by encountering the hardships and rigours of the 'real' primitive world. Hence his stress on the harshness of the climate, the inconveniences of 'a country upon which perhaps no wheel has ever rolled' ( JWI29), and the suffering of a people whose agriculture was 'perhaps rather feeble than unskilful' ( JWI 79). So much for the idylls of Tahiti. The Journey can be seen as Johnson own Supplément au voyage de Cook.
To be literal about it, Johnson could not have seen the Supplément au voyage de Bougainville. Diderot drafted most of this in 1772, and a manuscript version circulated in the following years: but it was not published until 1796. None the less this is a classic statement of Enlightenment revaluation of the primitive. An interlocutor in one of the dialogues in the Supplément observes that 'the Calabrians are practically the only people left who have not yet succumbed to the blandishments of legislators,' and suggests that 'their barbarism is less depraved than our urbanity'. The exchange continues with a disputant: 'A--I see that, on the whole, you'd be
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Publication information: Book title: Johnson and Boswell:The Transit of Caledonia. Contributors: Pat Rogers - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1995. Page number: 216.