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The Journey to the Western Islands Scotland and The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (Penguin English Library) Paperback – September 4, 1984
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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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I mainly wanted this book to find the quote, "At seventy-seven, it's time to be in earnest," which I found, but although some of the description was not of much interest to... Read morePublished 13 months ago by readNreview
Loved both tales. Two interesting, humorous writers still enjoyable 200 years on. As a result I will add many of the Western Isles to my trip next year.Published on November 2, 2012 by GKWilie
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... Read morePublished on July 4, 2012 by Amazon Customer
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... Read morePublished on February 9, 2012 by HMS Warspite
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. Read morePublished on October 10, 2011 by Buenoslibros.es
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... Read morePublished on May 22, 2011 by NoVAReader
In 1773 James Boswell (age 33) convinced his older friend Samuel Johnson (age 64) to go on a 4 month tour of Scotland. Read morePublished on September 3, 2008 by Stephen Balbach