Sam Johnson: A great dictionary-maker and fun on a road-trip.
Sophie Pollitt-Cohen writes:
The History Channel’s new show Expedition: Africa follows a group of travelers recreating Henry Morton Stanley’s 1871 journey through Africa to find Dr. Livingstone. It (ok, an article in the Times about it) has got me wondering which historical trip I would want to recreate.
I would go on Boswell and Johnson’s tour of the Hebrides. Scotland seems like the perfect place for me. It’s not too hot or too cold, and it has so many things I love—Scottish accents, ancient ruins, drinking, rugby players, and ponies.
Of course, the Hebrides I would be visiting would be quite different from the one Boswell and Johnson traveled through in 1773. But in many ways, they were already seeing this modernization. For Johnson, it was a complicated trip. He and Boswell thought the Hebrides were going to be like Colonial Williamsburg, a window into the past. Many Highlanders had no written language or modern medicine. However, British laws were changing so much of what made the Hebrides different from England—the legal system, the clothes, etc. Boswell and Johnson went looking for the land of Macbeth, but, Johnson said, “we came thither too late to see what we expected, a people of peculiar appearance, and a system of antiquated life…there remain only their language and their poverty.”
People who spent a semester Junior year abroad have probably noticed something similar. It was a little disheartening to see my Italian host mom cook with frozen vegetables or the same gelato place in our town that is also in my hometown on 76th street. Though I love sampling the different McDonald’s around the world, and MTV Roma is hilarious and how I knew about Lady Gaga before my friends back home, I do wish countries could retain more of what makes them different from America.
Really, I want to go to the Hebrides because of the way Johnson described it. His attention to detail, his ability to find what is interesting and worth thinking about in nearly everything, his friendship with Boswell—these are what make the trip seem so fun. The Hebrides seem exciting and wonderful because Johnson and Boswell are exciting and wonderful. A good writer can make any place or activity seem thrilling and moving. And a bad one can suck the fun up like a black hole.