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Laxity of Highland conversation.
Macdonald, who had been lieutenant of grenadiers in the Highland regiment, raised by Colonel Montgomery, now Earl of Eglintoune, in the war before last; one of those regiments which the late Lord Chatham prided himself in having brought from the mountains of the North':' by doing which he contributed to extinguish in the Highlands the remains of disaffection to the present Royal Family. From this gentleman's conversation, I first learnt how very popular his Colonel was among the Highlanders; of which I had such continued proofs, during the whole course of my Tour, that on my return I could not help telling the noble Earl himself, that I did not before know how great a man he
We were advised by some persons here to visit Rasay, in our way to Dunvegan, the seat of the Laird of Macleod. Being informed that the Rev. Mr. Donald M'Queen was the most intelligent man in Sky, and having been favoured with a letter of introduction to him, by the learned Sir James Foulis, I sent it to him by an express, and requested he would meet us at Rasay; and at the same time enclosed a letter to the Laird of Macleod, informing him that we intended in a few days to have the honour of waiting on him at Dunvegan.
Dr. Johnson this day endeavoured to obtain some knowledge of the state of the country; but complained that he could get no distinct information about any thing, from those with whom he conversed'.
1 See ante, iii. 225, note 1.
Such is the laxity of Highland conversation, that the inquirer is kept in continual suspense, and by a kind of intellectual retrogradation knows less as he hears more.' Johnson's Works, ix. 47. 'They are not much accustomed to be interrogated by others, and seem never to have thought upon interrogating themselves; so that if they do not know what they tell to be true, they likewise do not distinctly perceive it to be false. Mr. Boswell was very diligent in his inquiries; and the result of his investigations was, that the answer to the second question was commonly such as nullified the answer to the first.' Ib. p. 114.
An English-bred chieftain.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 4.
My endeavours to rouse the English-bred Chieftain', in whose house we were, to the feudal and patriarchal feelings, proving ineffectual, Dr. Johnson this morning tried to bring him to our way of thinking. JOHNSON. 'Were I in your place, Sir, in seven years I would make this an independent island. I would roast oxen whole, and hang out a flag as a signal to the Macdonalds to come and get beef and whiskey.' Sir Alexander was still starting difficulties. JOHNSON. Nay, Sir; if you are born to object, I have done with you. Sir, I would have a magazine of arms.' SIR ALEXANDER. They would rust.' JOHNSON. 'Let there be men to keep them clean. Your ancestors did not use to let their arms rust'.'
We attempted in vain to communicate to him a portion of our enthusiasm. He bore with so polite a good nature our warm, and what some might call Gothick, expostulations, on this subject, that I should not forgive myself, were I to record all that Dr. Johnson's ardour led him to say. This day was little better than a blank.
'Mr. Carruthers, in his edition of Boswell's Hebrides, says (p. xiv): -The new management and high rents took the tacksmen, or larger tenants, by surprise. They were indignant at the treatment they received, and selling off their stock they emigrated to America. In the twenty years from 1772 to 1792, sixteen vessels with emigrants sailed from the western shores of Inverness-shire and Ross-shire, containing about 6400 persons, who carried with them in specie at least £38,400. A desperate effort was made by the tacksmen on the estate of Lord Macdonald. They bound themselves by a solemn oath not to offer for any farm that might become vacant. The combination failed of its object, but it appeared so formidable in the eyes of the "Englishbred chieftain," that he retreated precipitately from Skye and never afterwards returned.'
Dr. Johnson seems to have forgotten that a Highlander going armed at this period incurred the penalty of serving as a common soldier for the first, and of transportation beyond sea for a second offence. And as for 'calling out his clan,' twelve Highlanders and a bagpipe made a rebellion. WALTER SCOTT.
Sir James Macdonald.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 5.
I walked to the parish church of Slate, which is a very poor one. There are no church bells in the island. I was told there were once some; what has become of them, I could not learn. The minister not being at home, there was no service. I went into the church, and saw the monument of Sir James Macdonald, which was elegantly executed at Rome, and has the following inscription, written by his friend, George Lord Lyttelton:
To the memory
Of SIR JAMES MACDONALD, BART.
Had attained to so eminent a degree of knowledge,
And in every other branch of useful and polite learning
Great propriety of behaviour,
His eloquence was sweet, correct, and flowing;
His judgement strong and acute;
All which endowments, united
And every private virtue,
Procured him, not only in his own country,
The highest marks of esteem.
In the year of our Lord
The 25th of his life,
'Mackintosh (Life, ii. 62) says that in Mme. du Deffand's Correspondence there is an extraordinary confirmation of the talents and accomplishments of our Highland Phoenix, Sir James Macdonald. A Highland chieftain, admired by Voltaire, could have been no ordinary man.'
Sir James Macdonald.
After a long and extremely painful illness,
Which he supported with admirable patience and fortitude, He died at Rome,
Where, notwithstanding the difference of religion,
The fame he left behind him is the best consolation
Of a clear and enlightened understanding.
Reader, bewail our loss,
And that of all Britain.
And as the best return she can make
To her departed son,
For the constant tenderness and affection
His much afflicted mother,
The LADY MARGARET MACDONALD,
'This extraordinary young man, whom I had the pleasure of knowing intimately, having been deeply regretted by his country, the most minute particulars concerning him must be interesting to many. I shall therefore insert his two last letters to his mother, Lady Margaret Macdonald, which her ladyship has been pleased to communicate to
'Rome, July 9th, 1766.
'MY DEAR MOTHER,
'Yesterday's post brought me your answer to the first letter in which I acquainted you of my illness. Your tenderness and concern upon that account are the same I have always experienced, and to which I have often owed my life. Indeed it never was in so great danger as it has been lately; and though it would have been a very Dr. Johnson
Sir James Macdonald.
Dr. Johnson said, the inscription should have been in Latin, as every thing intended to be universal and permanent should be'.
great comfort to me to have had you near me, yet perhaps I ought to rejoice, on your account, that you had not the pain of such a spectacle. I have been now a week in Rome, and wish I could continue to give you the same good accounts of my recovery as I did in my last; but I must own that, for three days past, I have been in a very weak and miserable state, which however seems to give no uneasiness to my physician. My stomach has been greatly out of order, without any visible cause; and the palpitation does not decrease. I am told that my stomach will soon recover its tone, and that the palpitation must cease in time. So I am willing to believe; and with this hope support the little remains of spirits which I can be supposed to have, on the forty-seventh day of such an illness. Do not imagine I have relapsed;-I only recover slower than I expected. If my letter is shorter than usual, the cause of it is a dose of physick, which has weakened me so much to-day, that I am not able to write a long letter. I will make up for it next post, and remain always
'Your most sincerely affectionate son,
'J. MACDONALD.' He grew gradually worse; and on the night before his death he wrote as follows from Frescati:
'MY DEAR MOTHER,
'Though I did not mean to deceive you in my last letter from Rome, yet certainly you would have very little reason to conclude of the very great and constant danger I have gone through ever since that time. My life, which is still almost entirely desperate, did not at that time appear to me so, otherwise I should have represented, in its true colours, a fact which acquires very little horror by that means, and comes with redoubled force by deception. There is no circumstance of danger and pain of which I have not had the experience, for a continued series of above a fortnight; during which time I have settled my affairs, after my death, with as much distinctness as the hurry and the nature of the thing could admit of. In case of the worst, the Abbé Grant will be my executor in this part of the world, and Mr. Mackenzie in Scotland, where my object has been to make you and my younger brother as independent of the eldest as possible.' BOSWELL. Horace Walpole (Letters, vii. 291), in 1779, thus mentions this younger brother' :-' Macdonald abused Lord North in very gross, yet too applicable, terms; and next day pleaded he had been drunk, recanted, and was all admiration and esteem for his Lordship's talents and virtues.' 1 See ante, iii. 97, and post, Oct. 28.