Footsteps of Dr. Johnson (Scotland)/Chapter 3

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The drive to St. Andrews (August 18).

At Kinghorn, "a mean town," which was said to consist chiefly of "horse-hirers and boatmen noted all Scotland over for their impudence and impositions,"[1] our travellers took a post-chaise for St. Andrews. A few years earlier Johnson would not have found there his favourite mode of conveyance. By the year 1758 post-chaises had only penetrated as far north as Durham.[2] He found the roads good, "neither rough nor dirty." The absence of toll-gates, "afforded a southern stranger a new kind of pleasure." He would not have rejoiced over this absence had he known that their want was supplied by the forced labour of the cottars. On these poor men was laid "an annual tax of six days' labour for repairing the roads."[3] Used as he was to the rapid succession of carriages and riders, and to the beautiful and varied scenery in the neighbourhood of London, he complained that in Scotland there was "little diversion for the traveller, who seldom sees himself either encountered or overtaken, and who has nothing to contemplate but grounds that have no visible boundaries, or are separated by walls of loose stone." There were few of the heavy waggons which were seen on the roads in England. A small cart drawn by one little horse was the carriage in common use. "A man seemed to derive some degree of dignity and importance from the reputation of possessing a two-horse cart." Three miles beyond Kinghorn they drove through Kirkaldy, "a very long town, meanly built," where Adam Smith perhaps at that very time was taking his one amusement, "a long, solitary walk by the sea-side," smiling and talking to himself and meditating his Wealth of Nations[4] Here, too, Thomas Carlyle was to have "will and waygate" upon all his friend Irving's books, and here "with greedy velocity" he was to read the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, at the rate of a volume a day. Along the beach he was to walk "in summer twilights, a mile of the smoothest sand, with one long wave coming on gently, steadily, and breaking in gradual explosion into harmless, melodious white at your hand all the way."[5] Of all the scenery which Johnson saw, either here or on the rest of his drive, his description is of the briefest. "The whole country," he wrote, "is extended in uniform nakedness, except that in the road between Kirkaldy and Cupar I passed for a few yards between two hedges." Night, however, had come on before their journey was ended, for they had lost time at Inch Keith. They could not, moreover, have been driven at a fast pace, for between Kinghorn and St. Andrews, a distance of nearly thirty miles, there was no change of horses to be had.[6] They crossed, perhaps without knowing it, Magus Moor, where Archbishop Sharpe, "driving home from a council day," was killed "by a party of furious men."[7] In going over this same moor many years later, Sir Walter Scott, being moved, as he says, by the spirit to give a picture of the assassination, so told his tale that he "frightened away the night's sleep of one of his fellow-travellers."[8]

  1. Ray's History of the Rebellion of 1745-6, p. 284.
  2. Dr. A. Carlyle's Autobiography, p. 331.
  3. Lord Kames's Sketches, iii. 483.
  4. Hume's Letters to Strahan, p. 353, and Boswell's Johnson, iv. 24, n. 2.
  5. Reminiscences, i. 102-4.
  6. Saint-Fond's Voyage, &c., ii. 253.
  7. Burnet's History of His Own Time, ed. 1818, ii. 82. Balfour of Burley, the leader, is known to the readers of Old Mortality.
  8. Lockhart's Scott, i 72.