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with present listless ease.
Even harsh scenes acquire a softness by length of time (1); and some are like very loud sounds, which do not please, or at least do not please so much, till you are removed to a certain distance. They may be compared to strong coarse pictures, which will not bear to be viewed near. Even pleasing scenes improve by time, and seem more exquisite in recollection, than when they were present; if they have not faded to dimness in the memory. Perhaps, there is so much evil in every human enjoyment, when present, much dross mixed with it, that it requires to be refined by time; and yet I do not see why time should not melt away the good and the evil in equal proportions ; — why the shade should decay, and the light remain in preservation.
After a tedious sail, which, by our following various turnings of the coast of Mull, was extended to about forty miles, it gave us no small pleasure to perceive a light in the village at Icolmkill, in which almost all the inhabitants of the island live, close to where the ancient building stood. As we approached the shore, the tower of the cathedral, just discernible in the air, was a picturesque object.
When we had landed upon the sacred place, which, as long as I can remember, I had thought on
(1) I have lately observed that this thought has been elegantly expressed by Cowley:
“ Things which offend when present, and aftright,
In memory, well-painted, move delight." -B. It is odd that Mr. Boswell, who had lately made so apt a quotation from the Æneid, should have forgotten the
« Forsan et hæc olim hisse juvabit."--C.
with veneration, Dr. Johnson and I cordially embraced. We had long talked of visiting Icolmkill; and, from the lateness of the season, were at times very doubtful whether we should be able to effect our purpose. To have seen it, even alone, would have given me great satisfaction; but the venerable scene was rendered much more pleasing by the company of my great and pious friend, who was no less affected by it than I was; and who has described the impressions it should make on the mind, with such strength of thought, and energy of language, that I shall quote his words, as conveying my own sensations much more forcibly than I am capable of doing:
unhe It 586 “ We were now treading that illustrious island, which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge, and the blessings of religion, cetu To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible. Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses, whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future, predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me, and from my friends, be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue. That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona ()!”
(1) Had our Tour produced nothing else but this sublime passage, the world must have acknowledged that it was not made in vain. The present respectable President of the Royal
Upon hearing that Sir Allan M‘Lean was arrived, the inhabitants, who still consider themselves as the people of M‘Lean, to whom the island formerly belonged, though the Duke of Argyle has at present possession of it, ran eagerly to him.
We were accommodated this night in a large barn, the island affording no lodging that we should have liked so well. Some good hay was strewed at one end of it, to form a bed for us, upon which we lay with our clothes on; and we were furnished with blankets from the village. Each of us had a portmanteau for a pillow. When I awaked in the morning, and looked round me, could not help smiling at the idea of the chief of the M-Leans, the great English moralist, and myself, lying thus extended in such a situation.
Wednesday, Oct. 20.- Early in the morning we surveyed the remains of antiquity at this place, accompanied by an illiterate fellow, as cicerone, who called himself a descendant of a cousin of Saint Columba, the founder of the religious establishment here. As I knew that many persons had already examined them, and as I saw Dr. Johnson inspecting and measuring several of the ruins of which he has since given so full an account, my mind was quiescent ; and I resolved to stroll among them at my ease, to take no trouble to investigate minutely, and only receive the general impression of solemn anti
Society (Sir Joseph Banks] was so much struck on reading it, that he clasped his hands together, and remained for some time in an attitude of silent admiration.
quity, and the particular ideas of such objects as should of themselves strike my
attention. We walked from the monastery of nuns to the great church or cathedral, as they call it, along an old broken causeway. They told us that this had been a street, and that there were good houses built on each side. Dr. Johnson doubted if it was any thing more than a paved road for the nuns. The convent of monks, the great church, Oran's chapel, and four other chapels, are still to be discerned. But I must own that Icolmkill did not answer my expectations; for they were high, from what I had read of it, and still more from what I had heard and thought of it, from my earliest years. Dr. Johnson said it came up to his expectations, because he had taken his impression from an account of it subjoined to Sacheverel's History of the Isle of Man, where it is said, there is not much to be seen here. We were both disappointed, when we were shown what are called the monuments of the kings of Scotland, Ireland, and Denmark, and of a king of France. There are only some grave-stones flat on the earth, and we could see no inscriptions. How far short was this of marble monuments, like those in Westminster Abbey, which I had imagined here! The gravestones of Sir Allan M.Lean's family, and of that of M'Quarrie, had as good an appearance as the royal grave-stones, if they were royal; we doubted.
My easiness to give credit to what I heard in the course of our Tour was too great. Dr. Johnson's peculiar accuracy of investigation detected much traditional fiction, and many gross mistakes. It is not to be wondered at that he was provoked by people carelessly telling him, with the utmost readiness and confidence, what he found, on questioning them a little more, was erroneous.
Of this there were innumerable instances. (1)
I left him and Sir Allen at breakfast in our barn, and stole back again to the cathedral, to indulge in solitude and devout meditation. While contemplating the venerable ruins, I reflected with much satisfaction, that the solemn scenes of piety never lose their sanctity and influence, though the cares and follies of life may prevent us from visiting them, or may even make us fancy that their effects are only “ as yesterday, when it is past,” and never again to be perceived. I hoped that, ever after having been in this holy place, I should maintain an exemplary conduct. One has a strange propensity to fix upon some point of time from whence a better course of life may begin.
Being desirous to visit the opposite shore of the island, where Saint Columba is said to have landed, I procured a horse from one M‘Ginnis, who ran along as my guide. The M Ginnises are said to be a branch of the clan of M‘LeanSir Allan had been told that this man had refused to send him some rum, at which the knight was in great indignation. “ You rascal !” said he,“ don't you
know that I can hang you, if I please?" Not adverting to the chieftain's power over his clan, I imagined that Sir Allan had known of some capital crime that
(1) See post, 7th Feb. 1775. - C.