Boswell and Johnson's Scottish Road Trip (2020) - Travel Documentary
In 1773, the famous English writer Samuel Johnson made a grand tour of Scotland. He was accompanied by his friend, the Edinburgh-born James Boswell, and both wrote accounts of their travels. I'm going to follow in their footsteps. Hello, Frank, how are you? And like Johnson, my travelling companion is a best-selling Scottish writer, Denise Mina.
The pair travelled around the coast of Scotland, taking in the great monuments of the Lowlands. Oh, wow. The majestic beauty of the Highlands.
And the rugged, isolated splendour of the Hebrides. Exploring a country that was then far from the tourist trail. As a lifelong fan of Samuel Johnson, I've long been fascinated by this extraordinary adventure. "I stopped at Dundee, where I remember nothing remarkable." (BOTH LAUGH) And I want to find out more about James Boswell, whose forensic eye for detail conjures up a lost Scotland.
"The old tower must be of great antiquity. There's a drawbridge." That's right there. There is the tower. Together Denise and I are going to retrace one of the great journeys in the history of literature. The City of London.
In the late 18th century, this was the stomping ground of England's most celebrated man of letters. He was a Midlander who came to London as a penniless young man. And he's commemorated today outside the church where he worshipped. This is Samuel Johnson, and here's the inscription, right. "Critic, essays, philologist, biographer, wit, poet, moralist, dramatist, political writer, talker." It's not a bad old CV. And things that Johnson said and wrote
you still hear today. "When a man is tired of London, he's tired of life." Or... They're all very apt nowadays. "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Or what about his views on a second marriage? "The triumph of hope over experience." He would've been brilliant on Twitter. I've loved Johnson since I was a student in the late Seventies.
I wrote two dissertations on his work, and one of my proudest achievements was becoming president of the Samuel Johnson Society in 2010. His writings were like self-help books for me, especially The Rambler, where he offered advice on topics as diverse as the dangers of overlooking one's faults and the folly of continuing too long on the stage. He also created one of the great intellectual achievements of the 18th century. Just a short walk from his statue, you come to the house where Samuel Johnson lived and worked. Hello, Frank, welcome back to Samuel Johnson's house. It was here that he was to give up almost a decade of his life to create the first comprehensive English dictionary.
How many words are in these two volumes? In terms of individual words for the word lists, there are over 42,000. But then all these literary illustrations of where they can be found and how they're used by Shakespeare and Addison and Dryden, it's so rich, isn't it, the whole thing? It's incredible. But there are certainly jokes in here to keep you amused as well. Can you give us an example? Absolutely.
I will happily show you one on oats, if I may? So here it is. OK. ..but in Scotland supports the people." Love it. One of my favourites is politicians, the definition. I think you're quite right. The great thing about Johnson, not just in the dictionary but in so many of his sayings and writings, is that it is still true.
Yes. It's a really well-observed commentary, really. He says "a politician is one versed in the arts of government." And his second definition is...
It's great, because I think you kind of feel, when you look at a book like this, that it is a work of reference, it's gonna be objective. There's gonna be none of the author in it. But there's quite a lot of Johnson in this. You've just brought to mind the definition of "lexicographer", which, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to pull up for you now. "A lexicographer, a writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the significations of words." He's just got his head down, working away, to allow others, really, to flourish.
But to have worked in this room for nine years on this masterpiece and then describe himself as "a harmless drudge", it's...it's a thing of beauty. While Frank's exploring Georgian London, I'm in Edinburgh enjoying the creative chaos of the festival. It's not all about theatre and comedy. I love coming to the Edinburgh Festival as a writer. That's lovely.
And it was here that Samuel Johnson began his Scottish adventure. He was persuaded to come to the nation's capital by one remarkable man. The Edinburgh-born James Boswell was a very different figure to the Englishman.
Half Johnson's age, he was an aristocrat and a lawyer with a taste for women and drink. Even in this grand portrait there's a little hint of his love of the wild side. Boswell was a great fan of Johnson's and recorded their unlikely friendship in...
A book that's been called "the first modern biography". I think there's a wee plaque somewhere around here. That's the plaque there. I've never seen that before. But despite his literary importance, Boswell is a forgotten figure in the city of his birth. That's... That is all there is that commemorates Boswell having lived here. If you compare that to a museum,
there's statues in London to Johnson. And what's Boswell got? Boswell's got this plaque. And the first thing it says about him is he was a lawyer.
There's something really mean and slightly shameful about the way he's commemorated. Why are we so ashamed about Boswell being a Scottish writer? You'd think there would be a statue to such groundbreaking figure. But there isn't.
Novelist Andrew O'Hagan has a few clues as to why this great Scottish writer isn't more celebrated in his native city. Andrew. Hi. Hello, how are you? Lovely to see you. Good to see you. So why did you suggest meeting here? This is one of the great buildings in Edinburgh, not least because Johnson and Boswell actually spent some time inside this building. Right. Together.
I mean, like many of the buildings in the Royal Mile, as it was, pretty much, in the 18th century. Although it's called Boswell Court, it isn't actually named for James Boswell, the biographer, it's his uncle. He was quite a well-known man and the court was named after him. Did they actually eat in here, or is that just a rumour? They drank probably more than eat if Boswell's got anything to do with it.
Boswell was a very well regarded advocate, living quite a conventional life here in Edinburgh. He was a published author though. He had got himself into quite a bit of trouble by writing a book about Corsica. It's essentially a travel book, but he took to wearing the costume of the Corsicans. In Edinburgh, did he? He did, yeah. I love him. He is a troublemaker and a bit of a fool.
Such a hipster. I love that about him, that he would pin his colours to the mast. In Edinburgh there was always this contradiction for James Boswell between the respectable life of an Edinburgh lawyer, tick, but on the other side the debauched life of the whore-visiting, claret-guzzling, lampoon-authoring Boswell, tick. (LAUGHS) He did both, and he did them, you know, sometimes in the same day. I mean this was a guy who, you know, would consort with prostitutes at six o'clock and be at church at seven o'clock.
Be posting a literary meeting about the nature of moral philosophy by nine o'clock, and by ten o'clock he was upside drunk in the back of one of these pubs. A mass of contradictions but a man of enormous human sympathy as well. Boswell's reputation was permanently tarnished by his hedonistic lifestyle. But he must've been a really engaging character to form such a close bond with the sober and moralistic Samuel Johnson. In 1773, after years of cajoling, Boswell finally persuaded Johnson to pack his bags...
Are you for Skinner? ..to begin a tour of a country about which Johnson had... very strong opinions. In 1773, Samuel Johnson departed for Scotland. It will take me a few hours to get to Edinburgh, it took Johnson, a man in his mid-sixties, nine days.
I wonder if he ever thought just why am I making this incredible effort to travel to a strange and foreign land? Johnson was clearly a very intelligent, compassionate man. But he did love an anti-Scottish remark, there's no getting round it. I'd like to read you a few examples even though I am on the train to Edinburgh. So I'm slightly playing with fire. But we're in first class, I think that gives me a fighting chance. Anyway, here we go.
"The noblest prospect any Scotsman sees is the road to England." "Scotch learning is like bread in a besieged town. Every man a mouthful, no man a belly full."
And this one, when he was talking to a friend who was thinking of going to Scotland, a bit cruel I think, "Seeing Scotland is only seeing a worse England. It is seeing the flower gradually fade away to the naked stalk." I'll leave it there.
But despite this Scottish antipathy, Johnson wrote a brilliant account of his trip, which is going to be my guide book. It's called simply... You know if you're in a charity shop and you see a guide book and you're gonna go on holiday to that place, and you think, tsk, this might be out of date now.
I'm really pushing that to the limit. Um, and yet it is that fan boy thing, is that I wanna stand and look at the same prospects, the same things he did. I wanna see if the stuff that's identified in the book is still there as he described it. And yet, I guess, I know it's a bit of a cliche, but I wanna stand in his buckled shoes and I wanna go where Johnson went and do what Johnson did.
Johnson arrived in Edinburgh on the 14th of August, 1773. We know the exact date because Boswell wrote his own account of this historic journey, and I'll be bringing it with me. The Journal Of A Tour To The Hebrides, with Samuel Johnson. Unlike Johnson's more serious book, Boswell's is gossipy and candid.
Boswell tells you where the pair met in Scotland, at Boyd's Inn, today commemorated by this plaque. But only Johnson is mentioned on it. Hello, Frank, how are you? Like Boswell. Nice to see you. How are you? I'm great. Good. How was your journey?
It was sort of northwards. (LAUGHS) Are you excited? I'm really excited, of course. Who wouldn't be? I love Edinburgh, I love Samuel Johnson, and I like you. Oh, that's overwhelming.
(LAUGHS) That's overwhelming. So anyway, listen. So Johnson's staying at this hotel. And Johnson coming here is like, it's like The Beatles playing Paisley. And Boswell is massively excited, he's desperate for it to go well.
And Johnson's just quite interested. Can I read you an extract - Oh, go on. Because this is Johnson's description of Edinburgh. "On the 18th of August, we left Edinburgh, a city too well known to admit description." That's it. (BOTH LAUGH)
So shall we go up to... You're leading. Come on then, I'll take you up. Johnson would never have worked for the Lonely Planet. (LAUGHS) He'd have been rubbish. No wonder Johnson was so terse about Edinburgh. His first experience of the city was dodging the contents of chamber pots being emptied out of the window.
With typical detail, Boswell wrote... "Mr Johnson and I walked arm-in-arm up the High Street. I could not prevent his being assailed by the evening effluvia of Edinburgh." Boswell spent the next three days trying to show his native city in a better light.
And he took Johnson to one of the great historical buildings in Edinburgh, the site of the once-mighty Scottish Parliament. This is where all Scottish laws were passed until the start of the 18th century, when Scotland became unified with England and was no longer an independent sovereign nation. It's incredible. Look at the ceiling. (ANNOUNCEMENT OVER PA) I think I've missed my flight. Do you know what that is? (LAUGHS) Run. Now what is it? What is that?
That is an announcement announcing the cases that are being heard in the Court of Session today. Because this is now... this used to be where the Scottish Parliament sat until 1707 and the Treaty of Union, but it is now the highest court in Scotland. So that's them announcing the cases that are being heard today.
I thought it was an alarm because an English person had entered the building. It might be. (LAUGHS) The Act of Union is still controversial. It happened at a time when Scotland was close to economic collapse. Robert Burns wrote Scottish independence was "bought and sold for English gold." So Johnson and Boswell come here. They're looking round cos it's the Parliament house, and they had this quite fraught conversation about Scottish independence. Yeah.
And it's a conversation that could be had now, where Boswell's quite sad about it, you know? There's a kind of sense of being defeated in joining the Union. And I think Johnson comes out brilliantly out of it. Oh, good. They're surrounded by people who are listening to them and they're all very much on Boswell's side, and Johnson manages to sort of hold his ground without giving anything away. Right, so Boswell says, "I here began to indulge old Scottish sentiments and to express a warm regret, that, by our Union with England, our independent kingdom was lost."
"Sir, never talk of your independence. You could let your queen remain 20 years in captivity and then be put to death without your ever attempting to rescue her, and such a queen, too." So that's, um, that's Mary, Queen of Scots.
He's talking about Mary, Queen of Scots, who was held in an English castle and basically nobody went to get her. But I like the debate starts, and Sam Johnson plays his Mary, Queen of Scots card very early. Straight in. Straight in. So then one of the other people, he chips in. "Half our nation was bribed by English money." "Sir, that's no defence, that makes you worse!" Another awkward pause ensues, I suspect. Yes. And then good Mr Brown... I love Mr Brown.
Happiest as peacemaker. Here he goes. "Good Mr Brown, keeper of the Advocate's Library, 'We had better say nothing about it,' says Mr Brown." He tries to put a lid on it. That's what I love.
I think that Johnson, because he's in Scotland, I think Johnson's thinking, OK, it's an away game but we're still gonna attack. We're still gonna play ten men upfront. He's thinking, I'm totally outnumbered. I'm gonna be even more forceful than I would've been if this was in some London drawing room.
With the awkward subject of Scottish independence hanging over the pair, they made their final preparations for the journey. Boswell minutely described Johnson's travelling outfit because "everything relative to so great a man is worth observing." John Liddell, from the Scottish opera, is an expert on 18th-century fashion. Now, in the 18th century, you wear the garter here, above the knee. I'm gonna tie this tight enough so that your stockings don't fall down. OK. It's interesting, cos there are occasionally descriptions of Johnson, when people see him, and his stockings are round his ankles.
There's one where a man goes to visit him in his lodgings. He said the lodgings were very shabby. His stockings are round his ankles, he looked dishevelled. He said but everything he said was as correct as a second edition, which I love. Boswell described Johnson's austere appearance.
"He wore a plain shirt, black worsted stockings, a full suit of plain brown clothes with buttons of the same colour." So what does this costume say about Samuel Johnson? He deliberately dressed not to emulate a higher class, he was deliberately keeping himself, he was making a statement about where he saw himself in society - Mm-hmm - by these simple brown, woollen clothes. Another idea that somewhat appeals to me, we know he was a messy dresser and we've talked about his stockings falling down, maybe he was just a dirty slob. What do you think about that? I can't accept that. For me, Johnson had such an enormous mind, if you like, that his thoughts were on higher things. Mm-hmm. I like to think that's the reason with Johnson rather than he was just a slob. (LAUGHS)
You know, you get dandies, like yourself, John, I'm not saying that to mess you about. It's possible to be a dandy and an intellect. Of course it is. And I think you prove that.
I'm very tempted to start doing this, I don't know why. It's kind of a bit Tales of Beatrix Potter. Yeah, yeah. It's so very nice. Ah, very fine.
Yeah, good. Boswell was the more practical of the pair. He realised that after they left Edinburgh they were heading into territories that even he, as a Scot, knew very little about.
But luckily there was one writer who could give Boswell a few travelling tips. This is a copy of a Description of the Western Islands of Scotland by Martin Martin. This was their guide to the Western Islands. This was the book they took with them.
And it's more than that. This is the actual copy of the book they took with them. Because here is the inscription. Normally we don't like to see people write in library books, but on this case you have to make an exception. "This very book accompanied Mr Samuel Johnson and me in our tour of the Hebrides in autumn 1773. This book is erroneous as to many particulars, yet I cannot but have a kindness for him notwithstanding his defects.
James Boswell, 16th of April, 1774." Our time in Edinburgh is coming to a close. Like Boswell and Johnson, we have a whole country to discover.
(LAUGHS) Oh, God. What have you done to yourself? What are you talking about? Look at you. That's amazing. Pretty good, eh? Come on. Let's go. I'm learning to rock. Are you? (LAUGHS) Come on. Oh, my God! Can I read you a very famous Samuel Johnson quote? "If I had no duties, and no reference to futurity, I would spend my life in driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman.
But she will be one who could understand me and add something to the conversation." (LAUGHS) The pressure's on you. Shall we go? Let's do it. Oh, my God, this is so exciting. (LAUGHS)
On the 18th of August, 1773, the pair headed north by post-chaise, leaving the comforts of Edinburgh far behind. Somebody wave. You see, I think this is proof that if they put you in a carriage with horses, you will start waving eventually. # I'm on my way # I'm on my way... # Denise and have swapped the horse and carriage for the comforts of the 21st century. Well, I liked the post-chaise but it didn't massage your bum the way this seat does. (BOTH LAUGH)
After leaving Edinburgh, Boswell and Johnson's carriage snaked along Scotland's Eastern coastline. You're supposed to scream when you see the sea. Are you? Is that not a family tradition for you? Not if you grew up in the West Midlands. Oh, right, OK. We didn't see the sea often enough to have a family tradition. They visited various historic spots en route, including the university town of St Andrews, a place that Johnson said was "pining in decay and struggling for life."
Johnson is still clearly not that impressed by Scotland. Boswell described a visit to a church in the village of Leuchars, even meeting "a civil old man", who told them the building was "supposed to have stood 800 years." I don't know about you, but whenever I'm travelling, if I see a church that looks even mildly interesting, I do need to go in. Do you? Oh, yeah. Oh, look at this though. I do like the tower, I must say. Johnson doesn't even mention it.
Oh, wow. There's Dundee. Oh, there's Dundee. That is an amazing view to come across. I'll read a bit of what Johnson said.
"I stopped at Dundee, where I remember nothing remarkable." What a write-up for Dundee. (LAUGHS) And rather than enjoying the beauty of the landscape, the Englishman became obsessed by one thing. The absence of trees. Here's a quote, right, from Johnson's account of the journey. "A tree may be a show in Scotland as a horse in Venice.
And nothing is ever yet grown here to the height of a table." Oh, really? And it seems odd to go on about the tree thing, but I don't think you can read Johnson's journey without it. It's a regular theme. Yes. He said that basically Scotland was deforested. He says, one of the phrases he uses, he says there is "uniformed nakedness". Yeah. And he was kind of laughing at people for not having forests and he was saying how much better England was.
But I think it's hugely significant he's saying that, cos what he's essentially saying is you've cut down all your ancient timber and you're not replanting them. The country is not being well-managed. So you think he's right? Yeah, I think at that time he was right. Scotland was really naked and it wasn't being managed very well. And it really strikes him immediately. So it must have been an extreme situation.
Also Johnson, if he wants to insult you, he just insults you. He doesn't passively aggressive stress "you have a deficiency of trees". (BOTH LAUGH) However, Johnson's attitude to Scotland was about to change. On the 20th of August, 1773, the pair arrived in a harbour town then known as Aberbrothick, 80 miles from Edinburgh. Who knows how the locals would've responded to having a celebrity in their midst. (BOTH LAUGH) It's a lovely offer. I'm working.
(LAUGHS) Today the town is called Arbroath, home to one of Scotland's most famous culinary treats. A type of smoked haddock called the Arbroath smokie. Hello, how are you? Hello.
Have you got any fish? Got plenty of fish. What would you like? Wow, there's stuff like I've never seen before. But the pair had their mind on more spiritual matters. They wanted to see what Johnson called "the ancient magnificence of the monastery at Aberbrothick". Oh, wow.
So this is it, this is what they saw. I wonder how much the ruins have changed since the 18th century? I mean do ruins...do ruins hit a sort of spot where they've completed their ruination and then they stop? Or do they just continue to get more and more ruined? The monastery dates from the late 12th century. And today it looks identical to how our Georgian travellers saw it. I think here is the first place in the book where Johnson really gets excited.
Look, he says, "The monastery of Aberbrothick is of great renown in the history of Scotland. Its ruins afford ample testimony of its ancient magnificence." And that is totally true. And he even says, "I should scarcely have regretted my journey as it afforded nothing more than the sight of Aberbrothick." So worth coming just to see this. Just for that.
And that is the first positive adjective he's used. Well, he's properly, properly enthusiastic. "Mr Boswell, whose inquisitiveness is seconded by great activity, scrambled in at a high window but found the stairs within broken and couldn't reach the top." Do you fancy having a go? There.
I'll give you a leg up. Come on, you'll be fine. I'd love to see you go up there like a marmoset. Shimmy up. (LAUGHS) Boswell and Johnson's guide books can only take you so far. Time to meet an expert. Fiona, why is this a ruin? Ah, yes, it's a bit of shame, isn't it, cos it must have been unbelievable.
But the Scottish Reformation, the minute we turned Protestant, the mobs came out and that was the end of a lot of this stuff. So it was still fairly intact until then. It would be operational.
Johnson refers to the "ruffians of the Reformation". (LAUGHS) And all the damage they did. Well, they certainly did a good job if you want a ruin. So we find this very moving, but in fact it's a result of vandalism.
Yes. But for a... Well... For a purpose. I should warn you, Fiona, I'm Catholic before you go any further.
(LAUGHS) But Boswell and Johnson's account don't mention the reason this abbey is so important. Because it's the spiritual home of Scottish independence. In 1320, a group of Scottish nobles asserted that they'd never bow down before the English. The words of the Declaration of Arbroath are still potent today. "For as long as a hundred of us remain alive, we will never, in any degree, be subject to the dominion of the English. For it is not for glory, riches or honours we fight, but for freedom alone which no good man loses but with his life."
Very stirring. It is very stirring. Can I say I'm stirred - and I'm the bad guy in this declaration. (LAUGHS) And you can see why that resonates now. It's those lines,
which are only a small part of the entire declaration, yeah, as I say, they make it on to numerous tea towels and T-shirts and posters. It's still not quite as famous as the smokie. It's not. (ALL LAUGH) Boswell must've been delighted that Johnson liked the abbey. But would the Englishman be as impressed by the local food, including of course the Arbroath smokie. I suppose, because he's the Scotsman, he's the host, isn't he, so he really would love Johnson to go home saying, "ah, Scotland, it was brilliant". Yeah. "I mean the food..." I don't think anyone's ever done that.
Yeah. But that's what he's hoping for. Yeah. So he starts trying to tempt him into the local delicacies.
It's so tender the way he does it. He's trying to get him to eat this fish stuff, and he says, er, "I insisted on Scottifying his palate." He was very reluctant. "With difficulty I prevailed upon him to let a bit of it lie in his mouth." So he's basically cramming bits of fish in his mouth. "He did not like it." (LAUGHS)
But "to lie in his mouth", it's not even... Just try it. He hasn't gone so far as chewing. No. Just...
If you have that half, then I can use fingers on this bit. Unless you find that objectionable. Well, no, I just don't really want to do that. It's warm. I didn't realise it was gonna be warm. Oh, my God, that's beautiful. It tastes great.
That is gorgeous. Yeah. We're doing that thing now they do on cookery programmes. Mmmmm. I've got a lovely dinner, and I know you're sitting at home with your Rice Krispies with no milk. Yeah.
(JOHNNY CASH SINGS ON STEREO) # Well, I taught the weeping willow # How to cry # And I taught the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky... Do you like Johnny Cash? I love Johnny Cash. Boswell and Johnson had been on the road for nine days. # Until I die... # As they edged closer to the Highlands Johnson was finally enjoying himself, because this was a landscape with a very special resonance for a lover of literature. Johnson had edited The Complete Works of Shakespeare and begun with Macbeth. It was here, in this part of Scotland,
that Macbeth committed his dark deeds. You know, often when I'm driving on my own I have an audio book on, and it's a rare occasion - You want a live action audio book? You can keep audio books live. OK. That's what I think. Do this is them, pretty much on this road. And Johnson starts making jokes about Macbeth, as you do.
Yeah. Well, it's Macbeth country. He's in Macbeth Country. They're thrilled. That's the thing, they are beside themselves with excitement. It's like they're going to Graceland or something. "Dr Johnson again solemnly repeated, 'How far is it to Forres?' which they're coming up to. 'What are these, so weathered and so wild
in their attire that look not like the inhabitants on Earth and yet are on't.'" Clumsy. And he repeats a good deal more of Macbeth. "His recitation was grand and effective." So he's repeating big chunks of Shakespeare. And it's probably quite tedious to listen to. I do that all the time,
I quote Shakespeare all the time to people. I said to some pals the other day, "When shall we three meet again?" And I expected them to go, "In thunder, lightning or in rain." And one of them says, "Tuesday." We're going to Zumba.
I was involved in a road accident. And I got out the car and said, "Come on, mate, you saw me coming there, you should've slowed down" and all that. And his wife wound down the window and said, "Yeah, it was your fault, I'll back him up on that." And I'd been teaching Hamlet that week at A level English.
Um, and I said, when the wife spoke, I said, "How all occasions inform against me," and this bloke said, "There's no need to inform anybody. We can sort this out." I swear that's true. (LAUGHS) These two Shakespeare fans were excited to visit the local literary landmarks. While Frank is off to "blasted heath", I'm visiting Cawdor Castle, a place that bewitched our Macbeth-obsessed pair.
Oh, my God. Oh, my Lord. That is incredible. That is so impressive, they must've been blown away.
Cawdor is the ancestral seat of the Thane of Cawdor, one of the titles bestowed upon Macbeth in the play. Our travellers came because of the Scottish play, but they were surprised and delighted by Cawdor's amazing collection of trees. Johnson said, "This is a day of novelties. I've seen old trees in Scotland."
Unfortunately for Boswell, the Thane wasn't at home. But luckily for me, the present-day Dowager of Cawdor is receiving guests, and she explains how the pair were able to get into the house. The housekeeper at the time used to show people round.
So basically Cawdor was one of the very early castles open to the public. Oh, wow. In that sense. And they will have seen exactly what you see now because nothing has changed. I've got a copy of Boswell's journal here, and he actually describes it. "The old tower must be of great antiquity. There's a drawbridge..." That's right there. There is the tower. "And an ancient court." Yes.
"The thickness of the walls, the small slanting windows and the great iron door at the entrance on the second storey as you ascend the stairs all indicate the rude times in which the castle was erected." You can see why visitors imagined Macbeth committing his horrid deeds in this castle. Cawdor's ancient walls bearing silent witness to the brutal murder of the sleeping King Duncan. But looks can be deceiving. In those days they would've seen King Duncan's bed, which was a very beautiful, old wooden bed, but of course had nothing to do with King Duncan, but the housekeeper embellished all of that. So, you know, we know from other people of the time saying, "We've seen King Duncan's bed and the blood stains on the floor."
Well, no. The castle wasn't here when Macbeth was alive. Macbeth was killed by Malcolm in 1057. What you see here, the tower, was built in 1370. Oh, right.
Quite modern. Quite modern, exactly. I mean a little bit of a difference. Well, real or not, the travellers were intoxicated by the spooky atmosphere of this landscape. And my final stop in Macbeth country is where Boswell and Johnson tried to locate where the Three Witches met Macbeth. Of course Johnson was an expert on Shakespeare, but he was a lot more than an expert. When he was a little boy, he got terrified by the ghost scene in Hamlet, as an adult he couldn't read King Lear without crying at the end. So he had a visceral,
real passionate approach to Shakespeare. So imagine how it would feel to get near to somewhere really Shakespearean and special. Listen to this. "We went forward the same day to Forres,
the town to which Macbeth was travelling when he met the Weird Sisters in his way." So now we're in a scary, dark place, slightly undermined by the glamping site, but let's forget about that, it wouldn't have been here then. He says, "This to an Englishman is classic ground. Our imaginations were heated."
Imagine being here with Johnson, the Shakespeare expert. He'd be quoting lines, directing it. This is like an enormous theatre for him.
And it's the real thing, the "blasted heath". In the modern world there can seem little place for witches - and even in Johnson's time some critics derided Macbeth because they thought hocus pocus had no place in great literature. Johnson was determined to prove them wrong, because his research showed that when Macbeth was written in 1606, the king himself was interested in witchcraft. And so it wasn't fiction, it wasn't wildness. Shakespeare had been talking about something that was very real at the time, and Johnson used what, in modern terms, is called "historical criticism" to show that Shakespeare wasn't on a flight of fancy, he was reflecting what was around him, and he was indeed holding up a mirror to society. Johnson was finally beginning to appreciate Scotland's rich sense of history.
Boswell must've felt vindicated in persuading his hero to make this arduous journey. But ahead of them lay far less chartered territory. Next time.
Our pair arrive in the Highlands and Hebrides. (BOTH LAUGH) Come on. (TUNELESS SOUND) When do I play the tune, Peter? In 1773, the Englishman Samuel Johnson, the most famous author of his age and creator of the first great English dictionary, made a grand tour of Scotland. He was accompanied by his young friend, the Edinburgh-born James Boswell. I'm going to follow in their footsteps. Hello, Frank! How are you? (CHUCKLES) Hi, Boswell! And, like Johnson, my travelling companion is a best-selling Scots writer, Denise Mina.
Boswell and Johnson travelled around the coast of the country, taking in the great monuments of the Lowlands... Oh, wow! ..the majestic beauty of the Highlands... ..and the rugged, isolated splendour of the Hebrides... ..exploring a country that was then far from the tourist trail. 'As a lifelong fan of Samuel Johnson as a man and a writer, I'm fascinated by this adventure. I'm going to use Johnson's brilliantly descriptive account of his travels as my guidebook.'
(READS) I stopped at Dundee, where I remember nothing remarkable. (BOTH LAUGH) 'And Boswell wrote his own candid book about this tour. That will be my guide - an account full of delicious details.' (READS) The old tower must be of great antiquity. There's a drawbridge! That's right there. There is the tower.
'Together, Denise and I are going to retrace one of the great journeys in the history of literature.' (BLEATING) 'Our two travelling companions were now a couple of weeks into their grand tour of Scotland. The aristocratic Boswell had shown his esteemed English friend the civilised delights of his native Lowlands, including the nation's capital Edinburgh... ..the ancient magnificence of Arbroath Abbey and the palatial splendour of Cawdor Castle. But now Boswell was taking the elderly Johnson into what was for both of them alien territory - the Scottish Highlands.'
'Their Highland adventure began in late August 1773 in the city of Inverness. Johnson noted that here "the appearance of life began to alter". He quickly realised this was a very different world than the Lowlands. He heard people speaking a different language - Erse.
Today, we'd call it Gaelic.' That's where the inn was. That's where they stayed. What, so this is Bridge Street? 'What did the Englishman make of being in this strange land?' When Johnson was in Inverness, he said a couple of things about the locals that I'd like to run by you, because I'm an Englishman and I can't...
Obviously, I'm fine with colonialism, but erm... (LAUGHS) And slagging off Scottish people (!) Yes. While you're in Inverness! There are some things that, to me, are the norm, but I just want to run them by you. Go on, then. Read it. OK, OK.
(READS) Yet what the Romans did to other nations was, in a great degree, done by Cromwell to the Scots. He civilised them by conquest. Bringing up Cromwell in any positive regard in Scotland is really quite appalling. I mean, it's like saying, "Hitler had some good points," really, because Cromwell's behaviour in Scotland and in Ireland was really brutal. It is almost always my inclination to defend Johnson, but this one, I think, is trickier. OK. (READS) Till the Union made them acquainted with English manners, the culture of their lands was unskilful and their domestic life unformed.
Their tables were coarse as the feasts of Eskimo and their houses filthy as the cottages of Hottentots. You're not allowed to say "Eskimo" any more. I don't think you can say "Hottentot", either, but I can quote. So what was the deal with Johnson and being rude about Scottish people? I think, if Johnson had travelled with an Irishman, he'd have said anti-Irish things. Yes. I mean, I think he was a...a joker. Yeah.
I mean, I did an Edinburgh show that opened with me saying, "Look, I often speak to Scottish people in London and the problem is, I don't always have spare change (!)" (LAUGHS) Now, that could be classed as...as unkind, or whatever, but it's...it's a joke. Yeah. But when it's written in a book, then I think it feels a bit... harder. A bit more pointed. Yeah. I think he did believe the civilising Cromwell thing, cos he gives an example. He said, "I was told in Aberdeen that the people learned from Cromwell's soldiers to make shoes and to plant kale." You know, important skills. Shoes? Like they never had shoes (!)
I think they brought shoes. Oh, did they (?) Apparently. Yeah, and I must say, they've caught on (!) (LAUGHS) Yeah! 'Johnson's talk of the savagery of the Highlands sounds shocking today... ..but his opinions were coloured by an event that had taken place less than 30 years before the pair arrived.' 'The reputation of the Highlanders was changed for ever by what happened at Culloden in 1746, the last battle to be fought on British soil.'
If you're touring Scotland with your mate trying to see all the interesting bits and you're going past a battlefield where there was an incredibly significant battle that involved the English and the Scots, you think you'd go and have a look, wouldn't you? But Johnson and Boswell go within two or three miles and they don't stop and visit it. It sounds like a deliberate decision to not visit the Culloden battlefield. I'd love to know what that decision was based on.
(MOURNFUL BAGPIPE MELODY) 'Culloden witnessed the last stand of Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie. He'd raised an army to reclaim the throne of Scotland and England for his Catholic Stuart dynasty from the Protestant George II. The pro-Stuart forces, known as Jacobites, were annihilated here by George's troops.' To be honest, I've never visited the site of a famous battle before in my life... ..and, inevitably, it's a big field... ..and there must be, I'm guessing, the remains of people under all this but this is such a significant place in British history... ..and it changed everything. (CLAMOURING) 'Many of these Jacobites were drawn from the Highland clans.
Their doomed support for the Stuart claim caused them to be seen as traitors. Highland customs and dress were brutally suppressed by the government.' John! Hi, Frank. Great to meet you. And you. How are you doing? I thought you might punch me straight in the face, meeting a Scotsman at Culloden! (LAUGHS) It's actually gone quite well, so far. Yeah. 'Brigadier John MacFarlane feels passionately about the fate of his fellow countrymen after Culloden.' The aftermath was bloody indeed.
It was really an attempted murder of a society, a way of life, a culture and a language because they thought the Highlanders were the focus for Jacobite feelings. These are my people. Yeah. These are the people of my language, the people from my culture, but we're still there and we're still clinging to our culture, our language, our dress and...and our way of life, to a certain extent.
The clans have had their resurgence. Not the same as they did before, but they have had a resurgence. We are proud of our own heritage. Yeah, and it shows, because if two people saw us here talking, I think they'd probably guess, without getting too close, which one was the Highlander! (LAUGHS) Absolutely! (BOTH LAUGH) 'Culloden shaped the way the rest of Scotland and England saw the Highlanders. They were now the enemy within. So why didn't Johnson come to such an important location? Some have accused him of ignoring this controversial place because he was receiving a pension from the Georgian government.'
I just cannot buy into the idea that Johnson felt that he had to say nice things about the King. That is so anti-Johnson. I think Johnson would rather have starved. And if you think what he says in his book... He says the Scots are a whole nation left dejected and intimidated after Culloden, and he talks about the ban on tartan: (READS) Their pride had been crushed by the heavy hand of a vindictive conqueror. That doesn't sound like a man who's trying to be nice about the Georgian royalty! In fact, George III read this book and said after that he suspected that Johnson was "a Papist and a Jacobite". 'But Boswell and Johnson did visit a location that spoke of Highland repression after Culloden.
On the 28th of August 1773, the pair arrived at the newly-built military site Fort George.' (BAGPIPES PLAY MARCH) 'Still an active base today, this fortress was supposed to deter the Highlanders from future rebellions.' Johnson and Boswell came here to this extraordinary place and had dinner, and Boswell says, "We had a dinner of two complete courses, varieties of wines and the regimental band played music in the square." I mean, they're very comfortable here and they don't seem to have taken on the ambivalence of the fact that this fort was built here to contain the Highlands... ..and you get a real sense of what a forceful statement it was on behalf of the British crown. And yet they're very comfortable here and Boswell says, "The whole scene gave me a strong impression of the power and excellence of human art." And it all speaks of power - and that's what really comes over.
'Resplendent in a uniform from the time, nobody knows Fort George better than local historian Paul Laing.' So what's the significance of this fort at the time it was built? It would have been intimidating and to a countryside that's been dealing with wars - the Jacobite wars, rebellions - this is basically saying, "We're here and we're not going away." 'But even in Boswell and Johnson's time, this fort that was meant to terrify the local population was actually helping to preserve Highland traditions.'
After Culloden, they banned the wearing of Highland clothes and tartan, the speaking of Gaelic and the carrying of weapons - unless you joined a British Highland regiment and in the space of ten years, the Highlands goes from having one regiment to having over 20 battalions of regiments, so the recruiting became very popular in the north. It was seen as a way of continuing your culture, because the regiments are being led by the gentlemen that would have been the clan chiefs, except this time as a colonel. So it's, basically, transplanting from the clan system into the regimental system, and if you join the Highland Regiment, you can continue your culture. The difference is, you're getting paid for it now.
(BAGPIPES PLAY) 'Boswell was captivated by Fort George. "In this place," he wrote, "I even fancied myself a military man." But, like many a Scot, he also had a nostalgia for the world that was being lost. "Thinking of Culloden," he said, "I could not refrain from tears. Highland names or the sound of a bagpipe will stir my blood and fill me with a mixture of melancholy and respect for courage."' (UPBEAT BAGPIPE AND PERCUSSION TUNE) 'So far, Boswell and Johnson had only seen the most populated areas of the Highlands.'
(MUMBLES) 'They were about to travel into territory few travellers had seen before.' 'Up here, would he be nervous? After Culloden, this was a land with an aura of fear and now they faced the challenge of the roads - or the lack of them (!)' (READS) We were now to bid farewell to the luxury of travelling and to enter a country upon which, perhaps, no wheel has ever rolled. What a load of nonsense! (CHUCKLES) They've not invented the wheel, cos Johnson hasn't been here yet (!) (LAUGHS) But they've left their post chaise behind. Yeah!
And they are on ponies now, so it's serious travelling now. The roads are just impassable on a carriage... Yeah. ..so maybe a wheel never has rolled there! I don't think that's true! Unless it's had an English missionary tied to it and it was on fire (!) (LAUGHS) 'So they abandoned their comfortable carriages for the joys of horse riding. Johnson was not happy.
A huge man, he was scared: "I should not find a horse able to carry me." But he hadn't met a Highland pony before.' Hello, there. How are you? Nice to meet you. They already know!
They're all ready to go. No, but I think they see someone who isn't a rider, and you can see the malice in their eyes. If you can see their eyes (!) (CHUCKLES) All right, Frank, I'm going to put you today on Shakira. Shakira? OK. Our beautiful, big mare. Hello. (GASPS) Look at her eyelashes! She's very...wide.
We could lose the saddle and get a sofa in from the house (!) (CHUCKLES) When Samuel Johnson rode a horse, "he had no control or direction", Boswell said, and he said he floated along "as if in a balloon". So he didn't really have anything to do with the horse, so I'm gonna attempt that. And then swing over. I knew it was the right foot. (CHUCKLES) So, how does it feel? It feels... Yeah, I feel like I'm on a wide horse. Well, you look like a natural, but you know what Boswell said about Johnson? No. He'd never seen him on a horse before and he said, "You, sir, are a macaroni."
Do you know what that even means? No. It means you're a sissy boy. You don't know anything about horsemanship. "Macaroni" was a sort of flouncy city dweller who wore velvet and fancy shirts, and all that. Wow! Because they couldn't imagine anything fancier than an Italian.
(CHUCKLES) Than macaroni! Macaroni - that's a pasta joke. You, sir, are a ma... (DISSOLVES INTO LAUGHTER) Is this the sort of horses they would have rode - Highland ponies? I think that would have been, yeah. They're especially bred for this area and they're hardy, so they can live outside all year round in the hills. Imagine Johnson on one of these! I bet his feet touched the ground. That would've been some sight, wouldn't it? I can imagine the horses drawing lots in the stable.
(LAUGHS) This is the way to do it, though. 'The pair travelled by horseback to one of the most famous bodies of water in the world. Loch Ness.' 'Boswell must have been hoping that, despite all the discomforts, Johnson would finally be impressed by the beauty of the Highlands.' So it's pretty remarkable! It's big, isn't it? Do you find yourself getting all sort of romantic and poetical? But it is! I mean, the thing is...it's so overwhelming, it literally is awesome when you see it.
Well, let's listen to Samuel Johnson's romantic, heartfelt approach. (CHUCKLES) (READS) Loch Ness is about 24 miles long and from one mile to two miles broad. We were told that, in some places, 140 fathoms deep! A profundity scarcely credible, and which probably those that relate it have never sounded. Its fish are salmon, trout and pike. I mean, it's like angels singing to you, isn't it (?) Beautiful! It's like an estate agent is trying to sell it to you.
He...he fancies himself as a practical man, now, Johnson, always. He doesn't like the idea of that very "away with the fairies" type, creative-artist type. You know, he's a working writer. It's that sort of Augustan age that they feel that they should have reason at all times. Yeah.
The poetry and the romance shouldn't get in the way of that. Yes. And I think it's why people sometimes don't warm to 18th-century writers. They like Shelley and Keats and torn shirts on the beach, and all that, whereas Johnson is mainly measuring. Yeah. And Boswell tries to join in with that factual stuff, as well, and he points to some mountain and he says, "This is a cone shape," and Johnson says, "No, it's not a cone shape," and fights with him about the shape.
"It is a protuberance." (LAUGHS) A perfectly technical term (!) So he's not letting Boswell do that. That's his thing, you know - stating facts. He's so much the bloke you want to go on holiday with (!) (LAUGHS) He really is! Correcting your postcards before you're allowed to post them. I quite like that. I quite like that! (WAVES LAP) 'As beautiful as Loch Ness and the Highlands are today, they posed real dangers for the 18th-century travellers and Johnson came equipped with sturdy clothes and a stout walking stick for the journey.'
They're going to get wet for long periods of time...and they've got to have the right gear. Have you brought the right gear? My list said, "Get yourself a boff." What's a boff? Er, this. (SNIGGERS) What is it? It's a long tube of material, which I haven't yet... It's got a snood...element. It's a snood.
I'm thinking, if it got really windy, you could wear it er... Like that. Or if the smell of scampi becomes overwh... Overwhelming. Oh, God! I'm so sorry!
I don't remember slamming the dashboard for the emergency stop! I hate snoods so much! Oh... I'm just gonna finish this cow off... I'm sorry! ..so it doesn't die slowly (!) Why did you stop then? I don't know. I just started stopping
and I couldn't stop stopping. It's the last time I wear a boff! They're bad luck. RAMBLIN' JACK ELLIOTT: # Riding In My Car # SWEET: Tom Tom Turnaround # Don't ever let me down # Don't ever leave my life # Tom Tom turn around # Don't ever let me down # You can't leave your wife # So Tom Tom turned around... # 'In September 1773, Boswell and Johnson journeyed into the most remote area they'd encountered on their grand tour - the isolation of the Highland Mountains... ..and by now, Johnson, who'd been so disparaging about the Highlanders, was intrigued. With his anthropological eye, he said he wished to document the primitive manners of the mountain dwellers.
We're now coming up here to Auchnasheal, which they stopped in a village here. Boswell says, "We soon afterwards came to Auchnasheal, a kind of rural village, a number of cottages being built together, and we saw all along in the Highlands. We passed many miles this day without seeing a house."
"Auchnasheal" means "the field of the willows", so it's that sort of greeny patch up here. They were so interested about the occupants, weren't they? To be fair, they spoke of a "savage wildness". That's what they said. I think they ask for milk and a woman erm...gives them milk and, first of all, she doesn't want paying and then she says she'll take a... A shilling. ..a shilling, yeah. And in the end, they give her half a crown - two shillings and sixpence, and so they feel they've done a good turn and, you know, they've been nice to these poor primitives (!) And one of the guides said, "Yeah, when she said 'shilling', all the other people around was going, 'No, you'll get more!'" It was like The Price Is Right, you know? Higher! Higher! Higher! So they weren't, like, "the noble savage", you know, a romanticised thing.
They knew what they were at. Just normal people. 'The pair had spent a couple of days travelling westwards through the mountains and were now some 15 miles from Loch Ness. Samuel Johnson took an unscheduled stop in this wilderness that was to completely change his attitude to the Highlands.'
# DR FEELGOOD: Roxette 'Although I'm pretty sure the burger van wasn't here in Johnson's day!' I'm on a bit of an epic journey. Yeah? There's a bloke called Samuel Johnson came here in the 18th century. I think this is the spot he had a bit of a spiritual moment. Uh-huh? Er, so I might nip down and see if I can sort one out.
Yeah! To be honest, if you count Dr Feelgood singing "Roxette" as a spiritual moment, you've done pretty well. Definitely! Absolutely. There you go. Thank you very much. I'll see you in a bit. When I come back this way, I'll be a different man. Absolutely! The spirit will catch you. 'Johnson was no romantic, but here, amidst this awesome scenery, he put away his measuring stick to describe his feelings.' So the guide says to Johnson that they need to rest the horses cos they're tired.
I'm guessing just up by the burger van. And so Boswell's not around. Johnson comes and has a sit-down. Johnson doesn't often give us his deep, inner soul, but he has quite an epiphany in this spot.
(READS) We were in this place at ease and by choice, and had no evil to suffer or to fear, yet the imagination's excited by the view of an unknown and untravelled wilderness. Man is made unwillingly acquainted with his own weakness and meditation shows him only how little he can sustain and how little he can perform. So amidst all this grandeur and all this epic size, I think Johnson has that moment when you realise how small and insignificant you are in the context of the universe, your vulnerability, your lack of power, and it really shakes him up.
It's one of these moments that his friend Edmund Burke would have described as "the sublime", when you realise your context in the universe and it's less about the beauty of the place and the grandeur of the place. It's more about the terror, the terror of how tiny we are, and you can really feel Johnson experiencing it here. 'This was an important moment in literary history. Johnson was so inspired, he decided that he had to publish an account of his time in Scotland.
The result was the book which allows me to follow in his footsteps today. But at this sublime moment, he was quickly brought down to earth with a bump by his travelling companion.' Now, they have their big argument coming down these hills and it starts because Boswell goes on, and Johnson doesn't say anything about it. It's not in the Johnson, is it? No, it's not. Well, Boswell's got a lot to say about it.
And he says that he left him and he just went on ahead. And before that, the guides were kind of making little, you know, jokes and getting goats to jump to cheer Johnson on and Boswell laughed, because Johnson's such an erudite man and it was funny to see the pony-trek people trying to cheer him on, but from Johnson's point of view, Boswell's laughing at him when he's very vulnerable. Then he rides off on ahead and when he comes back, Johnson is furious! And he says, "If you hadn't come back for me, I would've gone back to Edinburgh and just never seen you again, never spoken to you again." (LAUGHS) The thing he's touchiest about is any sense of a knock to his pride... Yeah.
..and also, it's almost impossible - maybe I shouldn't be saying this to you at this point - it's almost impossible to go on holiday with someone without having an argument. Oh, my God! Of course you have an argument. I was once in a Paris apartment with my partner and we had an enormous argument about what colour my hair was. (LAUGHS) And she said it was completely grey and I said there was still some original colour. This is a few years ago... Some Just For Men (!) ..so my argument was stronger than it is now. 'Hostelries were few and far between in the mountains.'
Oh, I can see a fire. Bingo! (CHUCKLES) 'Glenelg Inn is on the exact spot where Boswell and Johnson stayed in September 1773... ..and it's fair to say the pair were not that impressed by the hospitality on offer.' You know, normally you'd say... if they haven't got much stuff for a place, you'd say, "They haven't got much stuff." Johnson says, "Of the provisions, the negative catalogue was very copious." (LAUGHS) (READS) Here was no meat, no milk, no bread, no eggs, no wine.
We did not express much satisfaction. (LAUGHS) Oh, that's grim, because that is a hard journey. So they got here and they had a huge fall-out. The atmosphere was poisonous and Boswell says, "I sent for fresh hay, on which we made our beds." Well... Oh, God! Yeah, but... on the subject of that, Johnson gives us some extra delicious information.
"Our Highlanders..." - that's the guys they brought with to help - "..had at last found some hay, with which the inn could not supply them." Oh, they didn't have hay? Oh, God! And then he says... This, I love: "I directed them to bring a bundle into the room and slept upon it in my riding coat."
Wait for it. "Mr Boswell, being more delicate... ..laid himself sheets with hay over and under him and lay in linen like a gentleman." (BOTH LAUGH) What a toff! Actually, Boswell mentions that, as well. Oh, OK. Yeah, he says, "He laid down, buttoned up in his great coat.
I had my sheet spread upon the hay and my clothes and great coat laid over me by way of blankets." (CHUCKLES) Yeah! So he's obviously, like, the more prissy of the two. But I have to say, it has gone up a bit. Oh, yeah. It's lovely now. Well, we haven't eaten yet! I know. I think we can say progress has happened. (LAUGHS) 'Boswell and Johnson had survived the difficult journey through the mountains.
They had spent their time documenting the simple lives of the clansmen. They were now on a mission to meet the clan chieftains... ..and so they left the mainland to travel to the Isle of Skye, ancestral home of the MacLeods, a clan dating back to the 13th century. Boswell and Johnson made the crossing by boat, but these days there's an easier option.' Look at that! (BOTH CHUCKLE) Come on! They should sort that out. It's too beautiful!
'Johnson was fascinated by the idea of a feudal clan laird ruling over his people. He called them the "monarchs of the Highlands".' You'll love this, Denise. He likes "the reverence of patriarchal authority". Yeah, that's something I'm very into, as well (!) (LAUGHS) But it's interesting the way he talks. He said "the laird was the father of the clan...
..and his tenants commonly bore his name. Not many years have passed since the clans knew no law but the laird's will. It told them to whom they should be friends or enemies, what king they should obey and what religion they should profess." I think he's slightly excited by that level of authoritarianism. Yeah!
'Johnson travelled to the grandiose home of the Clan MacLeod - Dunvegan Castle.' Imagine you've been on horseback for a few days, going over mountains and stuff, and stayed at some terrible inns with no food and then you turn up and you're here! It's one of those moments where you think, "Oh, it's gonna be all right now." 'The young laird Norman MacLeod was in attendance when they arrived.' Hi. A very warm welcome to Dunvegan Castle. 'Jeroen Roskam is the present-day custodian of Dunvegan.'
A very warm welcome. Can I show you around the castle? Oh, please do! There you go. So do come inside. 'It's here Johnson saw the drinking horn of the legendary medieval clan chief Rory Mor.' This is the actual horn? It hasn't changed through the years? This is the one Johnson would've seen? Yes. And he says that the young laird had to drink two quarts out of this straight back in one, and then he could bear arms and sit with the men and...
So the tradition says you have to drink it without sitting or setting down, which I think is quite lovely. OK, yeah. What about falling down? Well, that's...that's allowed. Yeah. 'But Johnson made a discovery.
The chieftains now lived what he called "the civilised life". The castle had an extensive library and Johnson was entertained by the urbane Lady MacLeod, who'd spent time in London. Johnson called her "a fine lady" and later wrote a letter complimenting her politeness.' Oh, wow! There we go. So his handwriting could be a doctor's, but it's quite interesting. Well, it is a doctor's! Yeah, very good.
He goes into a little bit of detail on how he thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality at Dunvegan Castle and it is one of our prized possessions still here. Fantastic! I'll show you the other side, as well, which has got his signature on it... ..and the date, which is...as you can see, the ink has gone almost right through it. Ah, yes! (READS) So I am, sir, your most obliged and most humble servant Sam Johnson. September 28... September 28 1773. Yeah. Brilliant! It's good.
That is brilliant. 'Johnson saw that, after Culloden, these Highland chiefs were now not so different from the aristocracy in England. Even the bagpipes, that had been used as an instrument of war, were now deployed for dinnertime entertainment.' (PLAYS MELODY) Peter, you know that Samuel Johnson came here in 1773? I don't know if you did know that. I do, yeah. Can I read you what he wrote at the time? (READS) The solace which the bagpipe can give they have long enjoyed.
I have had my dinner exhilarated by the bagpipe at Armidale, at Dunvegan and in Col. So, Dr Johnson - he'd really liked it. Yeah, yeah. When he was here, he would've... The MacLeods at the time still had their hereditary piper, who were the MacCrimmons, and all the clan chiefs had, or the big clan chiefs had their piper and this hospitality was really important and showing off your piper, how good he was, was a very important thing, as well. And Johnson apparently used to put his ear close to them to try and hear them even better.
I wonder if he was actually trying to feel the vibrations. It's possible. I mean, I think...apparently, he was a little bit deaf, as well, you know, so... Whether he was deaf before he did that... (LAUGHS) (BOTH LAUGH) I'd love to have a go. Is that allowed? Of course.
So how do I do it? This goes under the arms. You want to balance that on your shoulder. Yeah. This part's close to your neck. Quite close to your neck, like that.
Now, what you want to do is to blow quickly and when the bag is full of air, the first noise you hear will be the three drones going, which is the humming noise. Oh, yeah. And to get the melody going, you have to blow a bit harder and y