A JOURNEY TO THE WESTERN ISLANDS OF SCOTLAND by Samuel Johnson
To describe a city so much frequented as Glasgow, is
unnecessary. The prosperity of its commerce appears by the greatness of many private
houses, and a general appearance of wealth. It is the only episcopal city whose cathedral
was left standing in the rage of Reformation. It is now divided into many separate places
of worship, which, taken all together, compose a great pile, that had been some centuries
in building, but was never finished; for the change of religion intercepted its progress,
before the cross isle was added, which seems essential to a Gothick cathedral.
The college has not had a sufficient share of the increasing magnificence of
the place. The session was begun; for it commences on the tenth of October and continues
to the tenth of June, but the students appeared not numerous, being, I suppose, not yet
returned from their several homes. The division of the academical year into one session,
and one recess, seems to me better accommodated to the present state of life, than that
variegation of time by terms and vacations derived from distant centuries, in which it was
probably convenient, and still continued in the English universities. So many solid months
as the Scotch scheme of education joins together, allow and encourage a plan for each part
of the year; but with us, he that has settled himself to study in the college is soon
tempted into the country, and he that has adjusted his life in the country, is summoned
back to his college.
Yet when I have allowed to the universities of Scotland a more
rational distribution of time, I have given them, so far as my inquiries have informed me,
all that they can claim. The students, for the most part, go thither boys, and depart
before they are men; they carry with them little fundamental knowledge, and therefore the
superstructure cannot be lofty. The grammar schools are not generally well supplied; for
the character of a school-master being there less honourable than in England, is seldom
accepted by men who are capable to adorn it, and where the school has been deficient, the
college can effect little.
Men bred in the universities of Scotland cannot be expected to be
often decorated with the splendours of ornamental erudition, but they obtain a mediocrity
of knowledge, between learning and ignorance, not inadequate to the purposes of common
life, which is, I believe, very widely diffused among them, and which countenanced in
general by a national combination so invidious, that their friends cannot defend it, and
actuated in particulars by a spirit of enterprise, so vigorous, that their enemies are
constrained to praise it, enables them to find, or to make their way to employment,
riches, and distinction.
From Glasgow we directed our course to Auchinleck, an estate
devolved, through a long series of ancestors, to Mr. Boswell's father, the present
possessor. In our way we found several places remarkable enough in themselves, but already
described by those who viewed them at more leisure, or with much more skill; and stopped
two days at Mr. Campbell's, a gentleman married to Mr. Boswell's sister.
Auchinleck, which signifies a stony field, seems not now to have any
particular claim to its denomination. It is a district generally level, and sufficiently
fertile, but like all the Western side of Scotland, incommoded by very frequent rain. It
was, with the rest of the country, generally naked, till the present possessor finding, by
the growth of some stately trees near his old castle, that the ground was favourable
enough to timber, adorned it very diligently with annual plantations.
Lord Auchinleck, who is one of the Judges of Scotland, and therefore
not wholly at leisure for domestick business or pleasure, has yet found time to make
improvements in his patrimony. He has built a house of hewn stone, very stately, and
durable, and has advanced the value of his lands with great tenderness to his tenants.
I was, however, less delighted with the elegance of the modern
mansion, than with the sullen dignity of the old castle. I clambered with Mr. Boswell
among the ruins, which afford striking images of ancient life. It is, like other castles,
built upon a point of rock, and was, I believe, anciently surrounded with a moat. There is
another rock near it, to which the drawbridge, when it was let down, is said to have
reached. Here, in the ages of tumult and rapine, the Laird was surprised and killed by the
neighbouring Chief, who perhaps might have extinguished the family, had he not in a few
days been seized and hanged, together with his sons, by Douglas, who came with his forces
to the relief of Auchinleck.
At no great distance from the house runs a pleasing brook, by a red
rock, out of which has been hewn a very agreeable and commodious summer-house, at less
expence, as Lord Auchinleck told me, than would have been required to build a room of the
same dimensions. The rock seems to have no more dampness than any other wall. Such
opportunities of variety it is judicious not to neglect.