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James Boswell, Biographer and Diarist, Fall 2016 @ Archives & Special Collections: Case VI: Scotland and the Hebrides

The Special Collections Department at the University of Pittsburgh presents an exhibition of the life of James Boswell, the writer who revolutionized the genre of biography and the broader literary tradition.

[A banner reading, "Scotland and the Hebrides"]

Boswell in Scotland

Boswell’s manuscript journal for the Hebridean expedition, dating from August 18th to October 26th 1775 and containing 318 leaves, was one of the major documents found among his papers at Malahide Castle in Ireland. Until its discovery, the details of this remarkable journey were known chiefly through the highly edited version that he published 12 years after the tour. Samuel Johnson wrote and published his own travel narrative, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), about the 83-day journey in the late summer and autumn of 1773.  

Johnson came to Scotland as a critic of society and an amateur anthropologist. Boswell came as a devoted observer of Johnson, resulting in a personal, somewhat biased portrayal of the lexicographer rather than an objective one. 

An oil portrait of Flora MacDonald.
Allan Ramsay (1713-1784)
Portrait of Flora MacDonald (1722-1790), 18th century
Oil on canvas
74 x 61 cm
Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

One of the highlights of Boswell and Johnson's time in Scotland was meeting Flora MacDonald. She became something of a folk hero after helping Charles Edward Stuart escape Scotland following his defeat in the Battle of Culloden in 1746. She was briefly jailed for this, as Stuart had been an ursurper in the Jacobite Rebellions, a series of uprisings in Great Britain and Ireland undertaken with the hope of restoring James II and VII, King of England, Ireland, and Scotland, to the throne. She was regarded as an emblem of bravery, loyalty, and patriotism by many. 

A quote from Samuel Johnson with regards to Flora MacDonald, reading as follows: "...a name that will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honor."

A quote from Samuel Johnson from "A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and the Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides," reading as follows: "All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own, and if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it."

A display case featuring a large map of Scotland and the books, supplementary texts, and images featured on this page.
A view of Case VI as displayed for the exhibition. 

The map of Scotland on display, which features Boswell and Johnson's travel route.
Scotland, depicted as experienced by Boswell and Johnson during their tour. 

Included Works

Flora Macdonald, Boswell, Johnson, and others sitting around a table.
Unknown artist
Johnson and Boswell with Flora MacDonald (19th Century)
Oil on canvas
81.5 x 93 cm
Dr. Johnson's House at 17 Gogh Square

In addition to the above publications, Case VI includes the map of Scotland pictured to the left and a scan of the Boswell, Johnson, and Fiona MacDonald portrait by an unknown artist. Another publication on display in Case VI is Virginia Maclean's Much Entertainment: A Visual and Culinary Record of Johnson and Boswell's Tour of Scotland in 1773 (TX717.3.M32 1973b), published in 1973, in which the author reports on the pair's dietary habits during the tour, using traditional Scottish recipes, 18th and 19th century prints, paintings, and drawings to illustrate the tour.