A JOURNEY TO THE WESTERN ISLANDS OF SCOTLAND by Samuel Johnson
RETURN TO EDINBURGH
We now returned to Edinburgh, where I passed some
days with men of learning, whose names want no advancement from my commemoration, or with
women of elegance, which perhaps disclaims a pedant's praise.
conversation of the Scots grows every day less unpleasing to the English; their
peculiarities wear fast away; their dialect is likely to become in half a century
provincial and rustick, even to themselves. The great, the learned, the ambitious, and the
vain, all cultivate the English phrase, and the English pronunciation, and in splendid
companies Scotch is not much heard, except now and then from an old Lady.
There is one subject of philosophical curiosity to be found in
Edinburgh, which no other city has to shew; a college of the deaf and dumb, who are taught
to speak, to read, to write, and to practice arithmetick, by a gentleman, whose name is
Braidwood. The number which attends him is, I think, about twelve, which he brings
together into a little school, and instructs according to their several degrees of
I do not mean to mention the instruction of the deaf as new.
Having been first practised upon the son of a constable of Spain, it
was afterwards cultivated with much emulation in England, by Wallis and Holder, and was
lately professed by Mr. Baker, who once flattered me with hopes of seeing his method
published. How far any former teachers have succeeded, it is not easy to know; the
improvement of Mr. Braidwood's pupils is wonderful. They not only speak, write, and
understand what is written, but if he that speaks looks towards them, and modifies his
organs by distinct and full utterance, they know so well what is spoken, that it is an
expression scarcely figurative to say, they hear with the eye.
That any have attained to the power mentioned by Burnet, of feeling
sounds, by laying a hand on the speaker's mouth, I know not; but I have seen so much, that
I can believe more; a single word, or a short sentence, I think, may possibly be so
It will readily be supposed by those that consider this subject,
that Mr. Braidwood's scholars spell accurately. Orthography is vitiated among such as
learn first to speak, and then to write, by imperfect notions of the relation between
letters and vocal utterance; but to those students every character is of equal importance;
for letters are to them not symbols of names, but of things; when they write they do not
represent a sound, but delineate a form.
This school I visited, and found some of the scholars waiting for
their master, whom they are said to receive at his entrance with smiling countenances and
sparkling eyes, delighted with the hope of new ideas. One of the young Ladies had her
slate before her, on which I wrote a question consisting of three figures, to be
multiplied by two figures. She looked upon it, and quivering her fingers in a manner which
I thought very pretty, but of which I know not whether it was art or play, multiplied the
sum regularly in two lines, observing the decimal place; but did not add the two lines
together, probably disdaining so easy an operation. I pointed at the place where the sum
total should stand, and she noted it with such expedition as seemed to shew that she had
it only to write.
It was pleasing to see one of the most desperate of human calamities
capable of so much help; whatever enlarges hope, will exalt courage; after having seen the
deaf taught arithmetick, who would be afraid to cultivate the Hebrides?
Such are the things which this journey has given me an opportunity
of seeing, and such are the reflections which that sight has raised. Having passed my time
almost wholly in cities, I may have been surprised by modes of life and appearances of
nature, that are familiar to men of wider survey and more varied conversation.
Novelty and ignorance must always be reciprocal, and I cannot but be
conscious that my thoughts on national manners, are the thoughts of one who has seen but