The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 24. A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland
The prejudice in A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland is of a different kind, and never displeasing. It is only the natural prejudice of John Bull as a tourist. He makes many acute observations which even the most perfervid Scot must have recognised to be just; but his impartiality is occasionally impeded by a want of knowledge which he himself was the first to admit. He had been conducted round Scotland by Boswell from August to November, 1773, and the book—which was published in January, 1775—is not so much a record of the ninety-four days of “vigorous exertion” as a series of thoughts on a different civilisation. It had a different purpose from that of Pennant’s Tour in Scotland (1771), which Johnson praised highly. He had taken the opportunity of enquiring into the authenticity of the poems of Ossian, and convinced himself that “they never existed in any other form than that which we have seen.” This is the best known section of his book; but the reader may find more interest in the remarks on the superstitions of the Highlands, on American emigration and on the Scottish universities. In July and August, 1774, he made a tour in north Wales with his friends the Thrales, and kept a diary which might have served as the groundwork of a companion volume to his Scottish Journey; but he did not make any use of it, and it remained in MS. till 1816. The beauty of the Welsh scenery had greatly impressed him, and this diary must not be neglected in any estimate of his feeling for wild landscape. The fragmentary records of his tour in France with the Thrales in 1775 were left to be printed by Boswell. Johnson was content to pass the rest of his days in leisure, working only as the mood prompted, when, on Easter Eve, 1777, a deputation of booksellers asked him to undertake, at the age of sixty-seven, what was to prove his masterpiece.