Johnson and Boswell: The Transit of Caledonia

By Pat Rogers | Go to book overview

6
The Rambler and the Wanderer:
Boswell's Road to the Isles

On Saturday last, being the 30th of January, I . . . had solemn conversation with the Reverend Mr Falconer, a nonjuring bishop, a very learned and worthy man. He gave two toasts, which you will believe I drank with cordiality, Dr. Samuel Johnson, and Flora Macdonald.

( LSJ ii. 282)

Nobody believes any longer that the missing dates in Johnson's diary during 1745 and 1746 indicate that he was busy supporting the Pretender in Scotland. John Buchan made a lively story out of this supposition in his novel Midwinter, but that is as far as it goes. Yet in Boswell's picturesque imagination the dream of the rising as a noble and (albeit perversely) loyal enterprise refused to be dispelled. There are many signs that at some level Boswell was undertaking the journey as a fantasy recreation of Charles Edward's experiences in the Highlands. In order to sustain this fantasy, he made use of Johnson as a kind of fetishistic aid, by which his friend stood in for the missing prince. In this chapter I shall try to provide evidence for the statements just made.1 The focus will be first on the Prince and second on Johnson; but less on their historic reality, than on their role in the Tour as Boswell's own identity crisis required them to act this out.

____________________
1
There is of course a vast literature on Jacobitism, some of it unduly favourable to the cause and to the leading actors. The most scholarly and fullest biography is Frank McLynn, Charles Edward Stuart: A Tragedy in Many Acts ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). A valuable survey of the movement more generally is Bruce Lenman , The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746 ( London: Eyre Methuen, 1980). For the detailed itinerary of the Prince's flight, as first established by W. B. Blaikie and others, I have used Eric Linklater, The Prince in the Heather ( New York: Harcourt Brace, 1965). Other particularized sources are employed in situ.

-139-

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