Anoch is the fourteenth chapter of Samuel Johnson's book Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, about a trip he took in 1773. The previous chapter was Fort Augustus and the next is Glensheals.
Early in the afternoon we came to Anoch, a village in Glenmollison
of three huts, one of which is distinguished
by a chimney
. Here we
were to dine and lodge, and were conducted through the first room,
that had the chimney, into another lighted by a small glass window
attended us with great civility, and told us what he
could give us to eat and drink. I found some books on a shelf,
among which were a volume or more of Prideaux's Connection
This I mentioned as something unexpected, and perceived that I did
not please him. I praised the propriety of his language, and was
answered that I need not wonder, for he had learned it by grammar.
By subsequent opportunities of observation, I found that my host's
diction had nothing peculiar. Those Highlanders that can speak
English, commonly speak it well, with few of the words, and little
of the tone by which a Scotchman is distinguished. Their language
seems to have been learned in the army or the navy, or by some
communication with those who could give them good examples of
accent and pronunciation. By their Lowland neighbours they would
not willingly be taught; for they have long considered them as a
mean and degenerate race. These prejudices are wearing fast away;
but so much of them still remains, that when I asked a very learned
minister in the islands, which they considered as their most savage
clans: 'Those,' said he, 'that live next the Lowlands.'
As we came hither early in the day, we had time sufficient to
survey the place. The house was built like other huts of loose
stones, but the part in which we dined and slept was lined with
turf and wattled with twigs, which kept the earth from falling.
Near it was a garden of turnips and a field of potatoes. It stands
in a glen, or valley, pleasantly watered by a winding river. But
this country, however it may delight the gazer or amuse the
naturalist, is of no great advantage to its owners. Our landlord
told us of a gentleman, who possesses lands, eighteen Scotch miles
in length, and three in breadth; a space containing at least a
hundred square English miles. He has raised his rents, to the
danger of depopulating his farms, and he fells his timber, and by
exerting every art of augmentation, has obtained an yearly revenue
of four hundred pounds, which for a hundred square miles is three
halfpence an acre.
Some time after dinner we were surprised by the entrance of a young
woman, not inelegant either in mien or dress, who asked us whether
we would have tea. We found that she was the daughter of our host,
and desired her to make it. Her conversation, like her appearance,
was gentle and pleasing. We knew that the girls of the Highlands
are all gentlewomen, and treated her with great respect, which she
received as customary and due, and was neither elated by it, nor
confused, but repaid my civilities without embarrassment, and told
me how much I honoured her country by coming to survey it.
She had been at Inverness to gain the common female qualifications,
and had, like her father, the English pronunciation. I presented
her with a book, which I happened to have about me, and should not
be pleased to think that she forgets me.
In the evening the soldiers, whom we had passed on the road, came
to spend at our inn the little money that we had given them. They
had the true military impatience of coin in their pockets, and had
marched at least six miles to find the first place where liquor
could be bought. Having never been before in a place so wild and
unfrequented, I was glad of their arrival, because I knew that we
had made them friends, and to gain still more of their good will,
we went to them, where they were carousing in the barn, and added
something to our former gift. All that we gave was not much, but
it detained them in the barn, either merry or quarrelling, the
whole night, and in the morning they went back to their work, with
great indignation at the bad qualities of whisky.
We had gained so much the favour of our host, that, when we left
his house in the morning, he walked by us a great way, and
entertained us with conversation both on his own condition, and
that of the country. His life seemed to be merely pastoral, except
that he differed from some of the ancient Nomads in having a
settled dwelling. His wealth consists of one hundred sheep, as
many goats, twelve milk-cows, and twenty-eight beeves ready for the
From him we first heard of the general dissatisfaction, which is
now driving the Highlanders into the other hemisphere; and when I
asked him whether they would stay at home, if they were well
treated, he answered with indignation, that no man willingly left
his native country. Of the farm, which he himself occupied, the
rent had, in twenty-five years, been advanced from five to twenty
pounds, which he found himself so little able to pay, that he would
be glad to try his fortune in some other place. Yet he owned the
reasonableness of raising the Highland rents in a certain degree,
and declared himself willing to pay ten pounds for the ground which
he had formerly had for five.
Our host having amused us for a time, resigned us to our guides.
The journey of this day was long, not that the distance was great,
but that the way was difficult. We were now in the bosom of the
Highlands, with full leisure to contemplate the appearance and
properties of mountainous regions, such as have been, in many
countries, the last shelters of national distress, and are every
where the scenes of adventures, stratagems, surprises and escapes.
Mountainous countries are not passed but with difficulty, not
merely from the labour of climbing; for to climb is not always
necessary: but because that which is not mountain is commonly bog,
through which the way must be picked with caution. Where there are
hills, there is much rain, and the torrents pouring down into the
intermediate spaces, seldom find so ready an outlet, as not to
stagnate, till they have broken the texture of the ground.
Of the hills, which our journey offered to the view on either side,
we did not take the height, nor did we see any that astonished us
with their loftiness. Towards the summit of one, there was a white
spot, which I should have called a naked rock, but the guides, who
had better eyes, and were acquainted with the phenomena of the
country, declared it to be snow. It had already lasted to the end
of August, and was likely to maintain its contest with the sun,
till it should be reinforced by winter.
The height of mountains philosophically considered is properly
computed from the surface of the next sea; but as it affects the
eye or imagination of the passenger, as it makes either a spectacle
or an obstruction, it must be reckoned from the place where the
rise begins to make a considerable angle with the plain. In
extensive continents the land may, by gradual elevation, attain
great height, without any other appearance than that of a plane
gently inclined, and if a hill placed upon such raised ground be
described, as having its altitude equal to the whole space above
the sea, the representation will be fallacious.
These mountains may be properly enough measured from the inland
base; for it is not much above the sea. As we advanced at evening
towards the western coast, I did not observe the declivity to be
greater than is necessary for the discharge of the inland waters.
We passed many rivers and rivulets, which commonly ran with a clear
shallow stream over a hard pebbly bottom. These channels, which
seem so much wider than the water that they convey would naturally
require, are formed by the violence of wintry floods, produced by
the accumulation of innumerable streams that fall in rainy weather
from the hills, and bursting away with resistless impetuosity, make
themselves a passage proportionate to their mass.
Such capricious and temporary waters cannot be expected to produce
many fish. The rapidity of the wintry deluge sweeps them away, and
the scantiness of the summer stream would hardly sustain them above
the ground. This is the reason why in fording the northern rivers,
no fishes are seen, as in England, wandering in the water.
Of the hills many may be called with Homer's Ida 'abundant in
springs', but few can deserve the epithet which he bestows upon
Pelion by 'waving their leaves.' They exhibit very little variety;
being almost wholly covered with dark heath, and even that seems to
be checked in its growth. What is not heath is nakedness, a little
diversified by now and then a stream rushing down the steep. An
eye accustomed to flowery pastures and waving harvests is
astonished and repelled by this wide extent of hopeless sterility.
The appearance is that of matter incapable of form or usefulness,
dismissed by nature from her care and disinherited of her favours,
left in its original elemental state, or quickened only with one
sullen power of useless vegetation.
It will very readily occur, that this uniformity of barrenness can
afford very little amusement to the traveller; that it is easy to
sit at home and conceive rocks and heath, and waterfalls; and that
these journeys are useless labours, which neither impregnate the
imagination, nor enlarge the understanding. It is true that of far
the greater part of things, we must content ourselves with such
knowledge as description may exhibit, or analogy supply; but it is
true likewise, that these ideas are always incomplete, and that at
least, till we have compared them with realities, we do not know
them to be just. As we see more, we become possessed of more
certainties, and consequently gain more principles of reasoning,
and found a wider basis of analogy.
Regions mountainous and wild, thinly inhabited, and little
cultivated, make a great part of the earth, and he that has never
seen them, must live unacquainted with much of the face of nature,
and with one of the great scenes of human existence.
As the day advanced towards noon, we entered a narrow valley not
very flowery, but sufficiently verdant. Our guides told us, that
the horses could not travel all day without rest or meat, and
intreated us to stop here, because no grass would be found in any
other place. The request was reasonable and the argument cogent.
We therefore willingly dismounted and diverted ourselves as the
place gave us opportunity.
I sat down on a bank, such as a writer of Romance might have
delighted to feign. I had indeed no trees to whisper over my head,
but a clear rivulet streamed at my feet. The day was calm, the air
soft, and all was rudeness, silence, and solitude. Before me, and
on either side, were high hills, which by hindering the eye from
ranging, forced the mind to find entertainment for itself. Whether
I spent the hour well I know not; for here I first conceived the
thought of this narration.
We were in this place at ease and by choice, and had no evils to
suffer or to fear; yet the imaginations excited by the view of an
unknown and untraveled wilderness are not such as arise in the
artificial solitude of parks and gardens, a flattering notion of
self-sufficiency, a placid indulgence of voluntary delusions, a
secure expansion of the fancy, or a cool concentration of the
mental powers. The phantoms which haunt a desert are want, and
misery, and danger; the evils of dereliction rush upon the
thoughts; man is made unwillingly acquainted with his own weakness,
and meditation shows him only how little he can sustain, and how
little he can perform. There were no traces of inhabitants, except
perhaps a rude pile of clods called a summer hut, in which a
herdsman had rested in the favourable seasons. Whoever had been in
the place where I then sat, unprovided with provisions and ignorant
of the country, might, at least before the roads were made, have
wandered among the rocks, till he had perished with hardship,
before he could have found either food or shelter. Yet what are
these hillocks to the ridges of Taurus, or these spots of wildness
to the deserts of America?
It was not long before we were invited to mount, and continued our
journey along the side of a lough, kept full by many streams, which
with more or less rapidity and noise, crossed the road from the
hills on the other hand. These currents, in their diminished
state, after several dry months, afford, to one who has always
lived in level countries, an unusual and delightful spectacle; but
in the rainy season, such as every winter may be expected to bring,
must precipitate an impetuous and tremendous flood. I suppose the
way by which we went, is at that time impassable.