Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland by Samuel Johnson


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Page 1

We left this little island with our thoughts employed awhile on the
different appearance that it would have made, if it had been placed at
the same distance from London, with the same facility of approach; with
what emulation of price a few rocky acres would have been purchased, and
with what expensive industry they would have been cultivated and adorned.

When we landed, we found our chaise ready, and passed through Kinghorn,
Kirkaldy, and Cowpar, places not unlike the small or straggling market-
towns in those parts of England where commerce and manufactures have not
yet produced opulence.

Though we were yet in the most populous part of Scotland, and at so small
a distance from the capital, we met few passengers.

The roads are neither rough nor dirty; and it affords a southern stranger
a new kind of pleasure to travel so commodiously without the interruption
of toll-gates. Where the bottom is rocky, as it seems commonly to be in
Scotland, a smooth way is made indeed with great labour, but it never
wants repairs; and in those parts where adventitious materials are
necessary, the ground once consolidated is rarely broken; for the inland
commerce is not great, nor are heavy commodities often transported
otherwise than by water. The carriages in common use are small carts,
drawn each by one little horse; and a man seems to derive some degree of
dignity and importance from the reputation of possessing a two-horse


At an hour somewhat late we came to St. Andrews, a city once
archiepiscopal; where that university still subsists in which philosophy
was formerly taught by Buchanan, whose name has as fair a claim to
immortality as can be conferred by modern latinity, and perhaps a fairer
than the instability of vernacular languages admits.

We found, that by the interposition of some invisible friend, lodgings
had been provided for us at the house of one of the professors, whose
easy civility quickly made us forget that we were strangers; and in the
whole time of our stay we were gratified by every mode of kindness, and
entertained with all the elegance of lettered hospitality.

In the morning we rose to perambulate a city, which only history shews to
have once flourished, and surveyed the ruins of ancient magnificence, of
which even the ruins cannot long be visible, unless some care be taken to
preserve them; and where is the pleasure of preserving such mournful
memorials? They have been till very lately so much neglected, that every
man carried away the stones who fancied that he wanted them.

The cathedral, of which the foundations may be still traced, and a small
part of the wall is standing, appears to have been a spacious and
majestick building, not unsuitable to the primacy of the kingdom. Of the
architecture, the poor remains can hardly exhibit, even to an artist, a
sufficient specimen. It was demolished, as is well known, in the tumult
and violence of Knox's reformation.

Not far from the cathedral, on the margin of the water, stands a fragment
of the castle, in which the archbishop anciently resided. It was never
very large, and was built with more attention to security than pleasure.
Cardinal Beatoun is said to have had workmen employed in improving its
fortifications at the time when he was murdered by the ruffians of
reformation, in the manner of which Knox has given what he himself calls
a merry narrative.

The change of religion in Scotland, eager and vehement as it was, raised
an epidemical enthusiasm, compounded of sullen scrupulousness and warlike
ferocity, which, in a people whom idleness resigned to their own
thoughts, and who, conversing only with each other, suffered no dilution
of their zeal from the gradual influx of new opinions, was long
transmitted in its full strength from the old to the young, but by trade
and intercourse with England, is now visibly abating, and giving way too
fast to that laxity of practice and indifference of opinion, in which
men, not sufficiently instructed to find the middle point, too easily
shelter themselves from rigour and constraint.

The city of St. Andrews, when it had lost its archiepiscopal
pre-eminence, gradually decayed: One of its streets is now lost; and in
those that remain, there is silence and solitude of inactive indigence
and gloomy depopulation.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Tue 23rd Jul 2024, 2:59