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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Johnson and Boswell. What a Team!, 4 Mar 2009
This review is from: A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland AND The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
If you were able to select guests for a dinner party from any persons living or dead, then I would suggest that you place Samuel Johnson at the top of your list. And if you were to invite him, then you should of course invite James Boswell. Johnson would set the party ablaze with his forthright remarks and his caustic wit. His curious mind always thirsting for knowledge he would be full of questions. Boswell might interject occasionally but mostly he would be paying attention to the musings of Johnson, and would put his pearls of wisdom in pen and ink at the earliest opportunity. And so the two are captured in these fascinating travelogues/memoirs.

In 1773 when Johnson was sixty-three years old and Boswell thirty-two, the two set out on an arduous journey around Scotland. Prior to the trip Boswell had mentioned the idea to Voltaire. Wrote Boswell. "He looked at me as if I had talked of going to the North Pole....". Johnson and Boswell had already been friends for ten years and. Their journals of this journey are published here together. "A journey to the Western Isles of Scotland" was written by Johnson and "The journal of a Tour to the Hebrides" was written by Boswell. Johnson's incredible interest in the world and his close observations of subjects as diverse as ancient arrowheads to the medicinal waters of Loch Ness are carefully recorded.

In Boswells account we get a very personal observation of the character of Johnson. Whilst Johnson was meticulously observing Scotland he was being meticulously observed by Boswell. His record is very entertaining and full of Johnson's sardonic wit. Johnson was expecting Scotland to be a wild and barbaric country. Bearing in mind this was less than thirty years after Culloden that is not an unreasonable assumption. But no, he was surprised to learn when asking a Highlander " Do you use the Dirk to cut up your meat". The man replied, " No we use knives and forks". What a disappointment!

It is a remarkable journey that the two made. It would have been arduous enough for a young man let alone one of Johnson's age. The old military/cattle roads of those days were not the pleasant green roads we tend to think of. Others have struggled to follow the route. A few years ago there was a documentary on TV where they tried to drive cattle along part of the route. It ended in farce with the cattle refusing to go through the lochs and wandering off at night.

As a result of the trip, their friendship grew even stronger. This no doubt helped Boswell in preparation for his monumental classic biography "Life of Johnson". Despite Johnson's irascibility he had a soft heart and you will enjoy his skilled observations and wit through his own pen, and his agreeable company through the observant eyes of his friend and companion Boswell. This is a joy to read.
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Location: Wiltshire, England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 106