38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2000
Boswell persuaded Johnson, almost age 64, to visit the highlands of Scotland with him in August, 1773. Both Boswell and Johnson wrote small books about it. Johnson's view, both in his letters to Hester Thrale and in this book, was as a social scientist cum historian, taking a clinical examination of the changes that were occurring in Scotland after the Union. Where Boswell's volume (sometimes paired with Johnson's) tends to focus on dialogs with Johnson, Johnson discusses the decaying of the clan structure, emigration, assimilation into the Union... Johnson is very careful as he describes what he sees, carefully measuring distances and relating his observations to historical context.
This review may appear with other editions, but the Oxford edition, edited by Fleeman, is a very thorough and detailed edition for the specialist. For the specialist, it's worth the relatively high price. Fleeman provides detailed notes, and appendices on the the various early editions, cancelled sheets, clans structures, etc. If you are a serious reader of Johnson, as I am, this is the edition to have.
If you are -not- a serious reader, then you would do well to buy the penguin paperback, which combines Johnson's and Boswell's volumes. The two books are fascinating to read in tandem, and it's revealing about Boswell that Johnson doesn't even mention conversations which meant so much to Boswell. In addition, the notes in the Penguin edition (by Peter Levi) are also very helpful.
The -third- part of the story, however -- Johnson's letters to Hester Thrale while J & B were traveling -- are not included in any current edition that I know of. I suspect we will have to wait for an electronic version in order to be able to compare all three resources at once.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2000
An inspired combination - Johnson's celebrated travel book and Boswell's trial run at biography. Johnson and Boswell toured the Highlands of Scotland in 1773, when Johnson was the undisputed capo di tutti capi of English letters, and Johnson published his account of it two years later. Boswell published his in 1785, the year after Johnson's death, as a flexing of writerly muscles before taking on the enormous task of writing the famous biography.
The differences between the two books are manifold, not just in style and tone. Johnson is in his usual grave, polysyllabic manner, inspecting the houses, the landscape and the people with the eye of a moralist for whom pretty much everything reminds him of the hardship of highland life. Characteristically, after witnessing all this deprivation, he finishes the book not by speculating on how it happened or what could be done about it, but by musing that he thought he'd seen everything, but it's a big world, right enough, etc. Boswell is perkier, chattier, as anxious to shine as ever and much more prone to repeat conversations. Few things are as funny as Boswell in full social-climbing effect.
The real difference, of course, is that Johnson is looking at the Western Isles, and Boswell is looking at Johnson looking at the Western Isles. This doesn't prevent Johnson poking some deadpan fun at his companion, such as when he relates how he slept in a barn wrapped in his coat, while Boswell (the sissy) had to have _sheets_, for goodness' sake.
The only problem with this book is Peter Levi's self-regarding introduction and his deeply irritating refusal to translate odd bits of Latin. The Oxford University Press had a much better-annotated joint edition of these two books out years ago, but it seems to be out of print. Pity.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2002
Quite a while back I posted a review of the Oxford edition of Samuel Johnson's writings in which I included a short review of the Penguin edition of the Sctoland journey/journal. Reposting that review to the newest edition of the Oxford book, it occurred to me I ought to place this review where it belongs.
There is little with which one might compare these two wonderful pieces of writing today -- and yet to some extent they are, each in its own way, foundations upon which much of modern writing has been built. Johnson is here, if not at his finest, still nearing an apogee of clarity, lucidity and intellectual rigor. Boswell is making his initial foray into the published first-hand journal, written only half-a-thought out of the public eye, that would eventually lead him to write his enormous and enormously popular Life of Johnson.
Reading the two interlaced is an utter delight -- moving from the formality, grace and power of Johnson to the smaller, more intimate pleasures of Boswell gives one the feeling of having captured, in the adventurous peregrinations of these two inimitable characters, the very breadth and depth of eighteenth century English writing. (I must point out that the Penguin book does not print the two Journals in interlaced fashion, but with a little effort the reader can move between the two so as to get the efect of Johnson and Boswell speaking in turns on the same topology, if not always the same topic...)
To love and admire Johnson, but not appreciate the brilliant, even if much different, stylistic inventions of Boswell seems to me somewhat perverse. Certainly Boswell had his shortcomings, but half the joy of reading and 'knowing' Johnson and his circle comes from appreciating the little peccadilloes and foibles that each displayed in his turn--not the least the Great Cham, Johnson, himself. Having said that I hope I may be allowed one short comment on Frank Lynch's review below. While meaning no disrespect to Frank it seems odd to me that he would note that Johnson does not comment on conversations that Boswell took as very important. Johnson knew of Boswell's journals as they were being written and encouraged Boswell to publish them. Moreover, Johnson was writing a topographical piece and not the more intimate "Travels with the Great Cham" journal that Boswell was writing.
In the long run, that Boswell found these conversations important is what delights us -- his ability to possess and bring weight to the smallness of life contrasts wonderfully with Johnson's ability to enlarge and ennoble life -- and the reflection is an interesting one when we find some of the Great Cham's noble thoughts somewhat bitterly missing the mark while Boswell's little thoughts can roll about one's mind for a very long time.
I cannot think of either of these two men that I don't see Thomas Rowlandson's wonderful caricature of the two walking arm in arm -- the older man a head taller, wagging his finger and pontificating casually and brilliantly on some weighty matter, and the other rolling along beside him smiling with sweet admiration and pride of association. To read Johnson and bypass Boswell, is to find one great treasure and forsake another.
If I must add one small quibble it is that the notes to the Penguin edition seem rather eccentric -- more the product of a dyspeptic travel writer than a Johnsonian scholar.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2012
I have a collectors edition of these two books but it is getting a bit old to handle daily. So this was just the book I needed to re-read a classic as told by two men who traveled the same trip, together, but wrote separately and marvelously differently about the same adventure.
It contains the observations of these two famous gentlemen on the natural history, history, culture, society and life of the Scots as seen through their different perspectives.
I highly recommend this paperback ed. to anyone who might be interested in Scottish history and customs, and/or might like to travel to these wonderful places with some knowledge aforehand of what has transpired here.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2011
Divided in two very different parts: the first one told by Johnson; the second by Bowell, it has things to entertain and amuse both types of audiences. The one quality that is shared by both is the amiability. Each one has a very different way of telling about their travels, but both are interesting because of each one seems to be enjoying it very much, and I different ways. Johnson in an amiable way focuses on the vicissitudes of the trip, the scenery, provides the sociologist's eye, the curiosity of the foreign traveler. Boswell, in a more humorous way, is interested in Johnson, and introduces the Scottish islands and its people through the interaction of these with Johnson. The excitement felt by Boswell when about to bring Johnson in contact with some native personage is successfully conveyed to the reader. I could imagine Doctor Watson doing something of this sort with Sherlock Holmes if they were to travel together to Watson's own neck-of-the-woods. The book's light and friendly tone makes up well for the -perhaps lack of other exciting happenings.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This 1984 Penguin Classic edition combines Samuel Johnson's "A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland" with the complementary account by Johnson's companion and biographer James Boswell, "The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides." Peter Levi provides an excellent introduction and necessary context.
Samuel Johnson was one of the great intellects of his age; his commentary on his 1773 trip to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is both a travelogue and an exploration of the remains of the vanishing Highland clan culture. Johnson's legendary commonsense and his strong feelings on morality and religion are evident in his comments. Readers familiar with Edinburgh, St. Andrews, the Great Glen, Skye, and the Inner Hebrides will recognize much of his route. James Boswell, a native Scotsman, focused his journal on Johnson himself, interacting with both educated and common folk in the Highlands and Islands, while displaying curiosity about practically everything. Johnson's perspective and sense of humor are captured in Boswell's sparkling style. The two accounts together capture a sense of time and place in a Scotland only a generation removed from the last Stuart revolt of the '45, and steadily losing population to North America.
The text notes provide necessary explanations for much that might be obscure for a modern audience This reviewer recommends reading the book with a good map to hand. This combined classic by Johnson and Boswell is highly recommended to fans of the men and the era.
on September 3, 2008
In 1773 James Boswell (age 33) convinced his older friend Samuel Johnson (age 64) to go on a 4 month tour of Scotland. Boswell took on the role of tour guide and confidant introducing Johnson to the "lairds" and "chiefs" of Boswell's native Scotland. For Johnson, it was his first trip outside of England. They each wrote a travel book, with Johnson focusing on Scotland, and Boswell on Johnson.
Boswell's Tour is something of a literary breakthrough. At the time it was not considered good manners to be too specific about ones personal habits but Boswell often talks about seemingly mundane things that for a modern reader would seem normal in a travelogue but for the day was scandalous. Boswell repeated conversations with well known figures that didn't portray them in a glowing light and this resulted in years of tit-for-tat newspaper editorial attacks and defenses. Later editions would include letters, apologies and defenses. Today with all the personalities long dead it seems like a Hollywood tabloid. In the context of the times, Johnson and Boswell were seen by some critics as outsiders gatecrashing the establishment - Johnson was a provincial "hack" as one Londoner called him, and Boswell was Scottish, damning enough on its own, but with a personal reputation as a "rouge" (ladies man) and heavy drinker (demons that would follow him to the grave). However their reputations as towering figures of the Enlightenment would soon be solidified, further increasing the popularity of this book.
As a work of literature Boswell's account is warm and endearing. Johnson and Boswell are Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, respectively. Boswell at once mythologizes Johnson hanging on his every word, a great master who can say no falsehood, and at the same time makes him into a lovable blundering traveler. Certainly Charles Dickens' Mr. Pickwick of the Pickwick Papers was influenced by Boswell's Johnson. As travel literature Boswell's observations of Scottish life are valuable. Boswell had an excellent memory and kept a daily diary so we have very exact details of food and conversation, although Boswell did not think much of scenery or geography.
`Tour to the Hebrides` was a best-seller from its first publication and is still widely read. Its influence is probably hard to quantify, it was partly responsible for popularizing the English tradition of traveling to Scotland which would be so common among the literary set in the late 18th and 19th centuries (and to this day). One can only wonder how many travelers have re-traced Johnson and Boswell on a literary vacation. In the early 20th century a cache of Boswell's unpublished papers were discovered in a castle, among them the complete unedited manuscript of the Tour. This was published in 1936, it is substantially different, with many passages cut from the original restored, it is the better and recommended.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2006
Samuel Johnson had long planned a journey to the western islands of Scotland, but it wasn't until 1773, when he was already 64 years old, that he was able to realize the trip; his companion was James Boswell (who would write his own account of the excursion). The two men left Edinburgh in August and traveled up the east coast through Aberdeen, then west to Inverness and south to Loch Ness, before making it to Glenelg on the western coast. From there they explored a number of islands - Skye, Col, and Mull - before continuing to Inveray on the mainland, Glasgow, Auchinleck (Boswell's home), and finally back to Edinburgh. They were back in Edinburgh in November, about 100 days after they started.
The purpose of the trip was to sightsee, and to report on what was encountered. Ancient castles, ruined monasteries and churches, old forts all come under Johnson's scrutiny, as do various inns and innkeepers, lodgings, and numerous natural sights, including caves (in one they forgot to bring candles and couldn't explore it as thoroughly as they wished), Loch Ness (Johnson is amused at how inaccurately the loch has been described in the past), and much rugged and wild terrain (Johnson explored thoroughly some mountain crags that is impressive for a 64-year-old man to be attempting). The only thing missing are people; Johnson did not include much about the people he met, conversations held, etc. (Boswell, on the other hand, included much along those lines.) His view of Scotland and the Scots is often derogatory (he thinks the lack of trees on the western islands can be blamed on the "laziness" of the people in not planting them), but he is careful to include information about all sorts of Scottish customs and habits, from the use of silver at table to bagpipe playing. Many of his comments are of the political kind (immigration to America, the clans, the schools, laws), often in comparison to England. It's a fascinating travel book and reveals as much about Johnson as it does about Scotland.
on May 22, 2011
I took this book along on my recent trip to Scotland. What a treat! My review is for Boswell's Journal, rather than Johnson's account of the same trip, both of which are contained in this book.
For years, Boswell, a Scot, tried to get Samuel Johnson to accompany him on a tour through Scotland. Johnson, who was English, harbored many of the typical prejudices against Scotland, believing it to be a wild country with bad terrain, bad weather, bad food and uneducated people. Finally, in 1773, he agreed to make the trip. The tour started in Edinburgh and ended in Auchinleck, the family home of Boswell. The pair stayed in many homes and met many people during their three month journey. They spent most of their time in the Hebridean Islands.
Boswell is an incredible journalist. He faithfully captured the details of their excursion, everything from food consumed and sleeping conditions to conversations and emotions. He wrote one to two hours per day and conferred with his companion and hosts to make sure that his account was accurate. Boswell's frank depiction of Johnson is striking. Boswell depicts Johnson as a snobbish know-it-all. At times, Boswell seems to be describing a fictional character rather than a real person. In fact, many times during the book, Johnson seemed to be very much like a male version of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the uppity and quite self-unaware character from Pride and Prejudice.
In the end, while he certainly found plenty to complain about, Johnson was genuinely impressed with what he saw in Scotland. Many of his prejudices gave way to appreciation for the hospitality and ingenuity of the people, not to mention the natural beauty of the country.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2002
This book was my companion on my first trip to Norway, the origin in viking times of the settlement of much of Northern Scotland and the Hebrides. I was curious to know how the region looked in earlier times and, is always the case with the writing of Johnson and Boswell, was happily entertained. If one reads only one travel book then maybe this one is the right one--maybe Lawrence's 'Travels in Italy' is second on my list.