Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands

  1. What are some features of Dr. Johnson's character and preoccupations discernible from his account? Do you feel you come to know him well during the course of his Journey?
  2. What seems to be the audience for this book? Will they be likely to have traveled to the Highlands?
  3. What are some features of Dr. Johnson's prose style? His modes of description and argumentation? What are some of his best qualities as a writer?
  4. Do you find yourself agreeing with Dr. Johnson's opinions as you read? Disagreeing? What aspects of his account create interest or suspense?
  5. What motivated Johnson to visit the Western Islands? Does he seem to admire little-populated regions?
  6. What are his views on the feuds of the Highlanders? their chieftains? their interest in genealogy? their history? their military tradition? their use of alcohol? their work habits? their religion? their traditional plaid garb?
  7. What bothers him greatly about the information he receives? Why do you think it may have seemed so contradictory?
  8. What are his views on Highland emigration? On what grounds does he justify a class system within the Highlands? What aspects of English law does he think might be abrogated?
  9. What is his reaction to the alleged phenomenon of "second sight"? To traditional oral composition?
  10. Why does he seem to feel so strongly about the importance of a written language?
  11. Do any of his opinions seem biased to you? Which of them might have seemed controversial to his audience?
  12. What does he believe is happening to the Scots language? Was he correct?
  13. What seem to be Johnson's views on politics and religion? How can you tell?
  14. What purpose is served by the book's ending? Does it provide a satisfactory/characteristic closure to his account?

Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides

  1. How does Boswell's character seem different from that of Dr. Johnson? How do his preoccupations through the trip differ from Johnson's?
  2. What seems to be Boswell's relationship with Johnson?
  3. What did you find out from his account that you didn't learn from Johnson's? How does his style contrast with that of Johnson?
  4. What are some dramatic/psychologically complex moments of his account? What seem to be his motives in including them?