Open main menu

Page:Footsteps of Dr. Johnson.djvu/59

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

and often obscured by misty weather; narrow valleys, thinly inhabited and bounded by precipices resounding with the fall of torrents; a soil so rugged, and a climate so dreary, as in many parts to admit neither the amusements of pasturage nor the labours of agriculture; the mournful dashing of waves along the friths and lakes that intersect the country; the portentous noises which every change of the wind, and every increase and diminution of the waters, is apt to raise in a lonely region full of echoes, and rocks, and caverns; the grotesque and ghastly appearance of such a landscape by the light of the moon objects like these diffuse a gloom over the fancy which may be compatible enough with occasional and social merriment, but cannot foil to tincture the thoughts of a native in the hour of silence and solitude."[1]

The French writer, Faujas de Saint Fond, who visited the Highlands about the year 1780, was touched with the same un romantic gloom. When on his way from the barren mountains of the north he reached the fertile southern shore of Loch Tay, and caught the first glimpse of the change to happier climes, his soul experienced as sweet a joy as is given by the first breath of spring. He had escaped from a land where winter seemed eternally to reign, where all was wild, and barren, and sad.[2] Even Macleod of Macleod, the proprietor of nine inhabited isles and of islands uninhabited almost beyond number, who held four times as much land as the Duke of Bedford, even that "mighty monarch," as Johnson called him,[3] looked upon life in his castle at Dunvegan as " confinement in a remote corner of the world," and upon the Western Islands as "dreary regions."[4] Slight, then, must have been the shock which Johnson gave even to the poets among his fellows, when on "a delightful day" in April, he set Fleet Street with its "cheerful scene" above Tempé, and far above Mull.[5] To the men of his time rocks would have "towered in horrid nakedness,"[6] and "wandering in Skye" would have seemed "a toilsome drudgery."[7] Nature there would have looked "naked," and these poverty-stricken regions "malignant."[8] Few would have been "the allurements of these islands," for "desolation and penury" would have given as "little pleasure" to them as it did to him."[9] In Glencroe they would have found "a black and dreary region,"[10] and in Mull "a gloomy desolation."[11] Everywhere "they would have been repelled by the wide extent of hopeless sterility,"[12] and everywhere fatigued by the

  1. Beattie's Essays on Poetry and Music, p. 169.
  2. Voyage en Angleterre, etc., ii. 201.
  3. Piozzi Letters, i. 154, and Boswell's Johnson, v. 231.
  4. Croker's Boswell (ed. 1835), iv. 327.
  5. Boswell's Johnson, iii. 302.
  6. Johnson's Works, ix. 25.
  7. Piozzi Letters, i. 138.
  8. Works, ix. 78, 153.
  9. Ib. p. 153.
  10. Ib. p. 156.
  11. Ib. p. 150.
  12. Ib. p. 35.