9 glen aray – auchinleck


23 X 1773
24 VII 2013

25 X 1773
23 VII 2013

27–28 X 1773
24 VII 2013

2–7 XI 1773
19 V 2013


The old Wade military road on the map passes, as it heads south from Loch Awe to Inveraray, many burns and waterfalls. We went looking for the ‘rough music’ of the torrents and waterfalls Johnson counted, totalling, he said, 53 in all. None were to be seen; it has been too dry, and the forestry plantations are too dense. But we did come across the Neil Munro monument, a dour stone pintle dating from 1935, inscribed in Gaelic ‘SAR LITREACHAS’, ‘matchless literature’. The wide view was grand though, and well chosen, between and Cruach na Gearr-choise and Beinn Ghlas.

Later, Ken and Amy climb to Dùn na Cuaiche, the folly on the hill above Inveraray Castle, through woods, and then cleared woodland. It affords a fine view south down Loch Fyne. We meet a Swede, who tells us he’s from Uppsala, adding, as though he knows our minds are stuck in the 1770s, that it’s where Linnaeus lived.

The RCHAMS website gives the following details: ‘1748. Roger Morris, architect; William Douglas, mason. 'Gothick' folly. Square, 1 storey and basement. Rubble, domed, aperture at top. Doorway; 2 pointed unglazed windows. Apsidal recess at basement. Stone floor.’

It’s made to be seen from below – up close it’s inelegant, though the grafitti that covers the floor-lintel is very neatly chiselled, all serifs and swirls. (Did young folks once carry mallets and chisels as they carry cans of spraypaint today?)



Linnaeus, Carl von Systema Naturae (1735–58)

Munro, Neil the Para Handy stories (1905–1923)
Walker, Frank Arneil Argyll and Bute, in the series Pevsner Architectural Guides: Buildings of Scotland (2000)


   What are dreams

   without means?

Johnson speaks of the Duke’s ‘total defiance of expence’, whereas the Duke admits the diminishment that excess can bring, reflecting on his experience at the Spanish court.

   it takes a Duke to observe

   we are diminished by wealth

The metal bridge entrance to the castle, filled with tubs and hanging baskets of flowers, looks like an upmarket railway station. We see the Duke about the place, in a ‘Royal Salute; polo-shirt; elsewhere he appears in photographs as a teenage page-boy to the queen; dining with 9 other dukes on the occasion of a Tatler anniversary (all that old money in one room!); and kilted before a waterfall, sword and sceptre in hand, a piece of theatre to mark an appointment to the Royal Household in Scotland. A wall is decorated with weapons, perhaps those Johnson was happy to see rust, and a cabinet houses relics of the Marquis of Argyle, executed on the Maiden in 1685. A Raeburn neighbours a Gainsborough, but otherwise the labels give precedence to subject over artist, and number and title over given name; 9th Earl, 5th Duke. Upstairs William Morris wallpaper forms a backdrop to a display of kitsch 1980s ornaments; downstairs Downton Abbey photos and banners highlight that the Scottish scenes are shot here.

We read in the saloon to three friends, a miscellany of tourists passing through, plus the 18th century dukes and their relatives on the walls (who are a most loyal and attentive audience). Elizabeth Gunning, the wife of the Duke who invited Boswell and Johnson, is present only in miniature, though as Minerva, no less. Johnson teased her – not to her face –calling her, for her three titles, a ‘Duchess with three tails’. She disliked, and ignored, Boswell, but he writes: ‘when I recollected that my punishment was inflicted by so dignified a beauty, I had that kind of consolation which a man would feel who is strangled by a SILKEN CORD’.

The former Ms Middleton, Her Royal Highness Princess William, Duchess of Cambridge, Countess of Strathearn, Baroness Carrickfergus, equals her – a 3-3 draw – though being a princess probably gets you awarded a dodgy penalty in stoppage time, so it’s 4-3 to Kate. Yesterday a new prince was born to the Royalist faction – another George, in fact, just as in 1773 – and to some, the news of another Royal, extending the line and dominating the news of the day, has the effect of strangulation.




Was the folly on Dùn na Cuaiche the only daring thing we saw, for its very madness, its crazed nature? It rested on the most articulate setting, the natural bowl of the Quaich, and maintained the intelligence of geology and drama of skyline. Its rule, in terms of aesthetics, is total, as the castle is so crude in its riches.


Fellowes, Jessica The World of Downton Abbey (2011)

Henley, Victoria Undone (2003)
Killen, Mary and Tempest, Annie Best Behaviour: Tatler’ Book of Alternative Etiquette (1990)
Tatler, June 2013, Royal Baby Collector's Edition


Heading towards Glasgow, they stay overnight at ‘Cameron, the seat of Commissary Smollet’, a relative of the novelist Tobias Smollett, who had died two years previously in Italy. The judge has ‘erected a pillar to the memory of his ingenious kinsman’, and is now thinking of a suitable inscription. But should it be written in English or Latin? Lord Kames – a colleague of Boswell’s father, and on friendly terms with Boswell – had suggested an English text, but Johnson insists on Latin, and Boswell, in another outbreak of snobbery, backs him up, since ‘all to whom Dr Smollet's merit could be an object of respect and imitation, would understand it as well in Latin; and that surely it was not meant for the Highland drovers, or other such people, who pass and repass that way.

We stopped in Renton to see the Smollett memorial, prominent and irrelevant. I wonder what its reputation locally would be? Next to the primary school, with the war memorial as a neighbour, and an English translation of the Latin tribute (which Coleridge didn’t rate; not all of Johnson’s suggestions were adopted). A tall column, perhaps it needs a wider landscape to flourish in.

Alec asked me if there are any memorials I liked, and I was hard pressed to name any; what comes to mind are Robert Fergusson striding down Edinburgh’s Canongate, its spark the lack of plinth and walking gait; Hume’s burnished toe further up the hill, but not the rest of him; and the bronze book and quill of Balzac’s grave in Paris.


Smollett, Tobias, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker (1771)

Stanford, Peter, How to Read a Graveyard: Journeys in the Company of the Dead (2013)


May 19 is the anniversary of Boswell's death in 1795. He is buried in the family mausoleum at Auchinleck House, Ayrshire, the square building to the side of the old church.
A nearby gravestone recalls Johnson and Mr Nairne, advocate, punning at Leith.


live mindful of death

After a wreath-laying ceremony by the mausoleum, ten of us walk the via sacra from church to house.

This gave me an opportunity to shew my friend the road to the church, made by my father at a great expence, for above three miles, on his own estate, through a range of well enclosed farms, with a row of trees on each side of it. He called it the Via sacra, and was very fond of it.

(Boswell, 5 XI 1773)

The original trees, some of which remain, were Beech and Oak, their initials beginning the family name.




Arriving at the house, I notice the lines from Horace above the door which Boswell quotes in his journal.

Quod petis hic est
Est Ulubris animus si te non deficit aequus

What you seek is here at Ulubrae
so long as peace of mind does not desert you

Said to be a message to Boswell from his father – stop your gallivanting and settle down, here.

The Boswell Book Festival is in full swing, and I go to Gordon Turnbull's talk on the 1773 Tour, when he highlights what he calls the “conflicts and inversions” in Boswell's account, including the ‘altercation’ between Johnson and his father in the library here which he chooses not to describe.

On the way back, I make a contemporary homage with Alec's poem-label to the parallel lines of the via sacra.


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