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LETTER 199.

TO JAMES ROSWELL, ESQ.

Jan. 21, 1779

"DEAR SIR,-1 long to hear how you like the book; it is, I think, much liked here. But Macpherson is very furious; can you give me any more intelligence about him, or his Fingal? Do what you can, and do it quickly. Is Lord Hailes on our side? Pray let me know what I owed you when I left you, that I may send it to you.

"I am going to write about the Americans. If you have picked up any hints among your lawyers, who are great masters of the law of nations, or if your own mind suggests anything, let me know. But mum, it is a secret.I will send your parcel of books as soon as I can; but I cannot do as I wish. However, you find everything mentioned in the book, which you recom. mended.

"Langton is here; we are all that ever we were. He is a worthy fellow, without malice, though not without resentment. Poor Beauclerk is so ill that his life is thought to be in danger. Lady Di nurses him with very great assi duity. Reynolds has taken too much to strong liquor,' and seems to delight in his new character.

"This is all the news that I have; but as you love verses, I will send you a few which I made upon Inchkenneth; but remember the condition-you shall not show them, except to Lord Hailes, whom I love better than any man whom I know so little. If he asks you to transcribe them for him, you may do it, but I think he must promise not to let them be copied again, nor to show them as mine.

"I have at last sent back Lord Hailes's sheets. I never think about returning them, because I alter nothing. You will see that I might as well have kept them. However, I am ashamed of my delay; and if I have the honour of receiving any more, promise punctually to return them by the next post. Make my compliments to dear Mrs. Boswell, and to Miss Veronica. I am, dear Sir, yours most faithfully,

"SAM. JOHNSON." "

! It should be recollected that this fanciful description of his friend was given by Johnson after he himself had become a water-drinker.-B. Johnson had been a water-drinker ever since 1766, and therefore, that could not be his motive for making, nine years after, an observation on Sir Joshua's “new character." Sir Joshua was always convivial, and this expression was either an allusion to some little anecdote now forgotten, or arose out of that odd fancy which Johnson (perhaps from his own morbid feelings) entertained, that every one who drank wine, in any quantity whatsoever, was more or less drunk.-C.

2 He now sent me a Latin inscription for my historical picture, Mary, Queen of Scots, and afterwards favoured me with an English translation. Mr. Alderman Boydell, that eminent patron of the arts, has subjoined them to the engraving from my picture :

"Maria, Scotorum Regina, hominum seditiosorum contumeliis lassata, minis territa, clamoribus victa, libello, per quem regno cedit, lacrimans trepidansque nomen apponit." "Mary, Queen of Scots, harassed, terrified and overpowered by the insults, menaces, and clamours of her rebellious subjects, sets her hand, with tears and confusion, te a resignation of the king lom "

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ETAT. 66

LITTER 200.

OSSIAN CONTROVERSY.

FROM MR. BOSWELL.

LETTER 202.

"Edinburgh, Jan. 27, 1775.

"You rate our lawyers here too high, when you call them great masters of the law of nations. As for myself, I am ashamed to say I have read little and thought little on the subject of America. I will be muck obliged to you, if you will direct me where I shall find the best information of what is to be said on both sides. It is a subject vast in its present extent and future consequences. The imperfect hints which now float in my mind tend rather to the formation of an opinion that our government has been precipitant and severe in the resolution taken against the Bostonians. Well do you know that I have no kindness for that race. But nations, or bodies of men, should, as well as individuals, have a fair trial, and not be condemned on character alone. Have we not express contracts with our colonies, which afford a more certain foundation of judgment, than general political speculations on the mutual rights of states and their provinces or colonies? Pray let me know immediately what to read, and I shall diligently endeavour to gather for you anything that I can find. Is Burke's speech on American taxation published by himself? Is it authentic? I remember to have heard you say, that you had never considered East Indian affairs; though, surely, they are of much importance to Great Britain. Under the recollection of this, I shelter myself from the reproach of ignorance about the Americans. If you write upon the subject, I shall certainly understand it. But, since you seem to expect that I should know something of it, without your instruction, and that my own mind should suggest something, I trust you will put me in the way.

What does Becket mean by the Originals of Fingal and other poems of Ossian, which he advertises to have lain in his shop?"

LETTER 201.

TO JAMES BOSWEI, ESQ.

75

"Jan. 28, 1775.

"DEAR SIR,-You sent me a case to consider, in which I have no facts but what are against us, nor any principles on which to reason. It is vain to try to write thus without materials. The fact seems to be against you; at least I cannot know or say anything to the contrary. I am glad that you like the book so well. I hear no more of Macpherson. I shall long to know what Lord Hailes says of it. Lend it him privately. I shall send the parcel as soon Make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell. I am, Sir, &c.,

as I can.

"SAM. JOHNSON."

FROM MR. BOSWELL.

"Edinburgh, Feb. 2, 1775.

"As to Macpherson, I am anxious to have from yourself a full and pointed account of what has passed between you and him. It is confidently told here, that before your book came out he sent to you, to let you know that he understood you meant to deny the authenticity of Ossian's poems; that the originals wer in his possession; that you might have inspection of them, and might

take the evidence of people skilled in the Erse language; and that he hoped, after this fair offer, you would not be so uncandid as to assert that he had re fused reasonable proof. That you paid no regard to his message, but published your strong attack upon him; and then he wrote a letter to you, in such terms as he thought suited to one who had not acted as a man of veracity. You may believe it gives me pain to hear your conduct represented as unfavourable, while I can only deny, what is said, on the ground that your character refutes it, without having any information to oppose. Let me, I beg it of you, be furnished with a sufficient answer to any calumny upon this occasion. Lord Hailes writes to me (for we correspond more than we talk together), 'As to Fingal, I see a controversy arising, and purpose to keep out of its way. There is no doubt that I might mention some circumstances; but I do not choose to commit them to paper.' What his opinion is I do not know. He says, I am singularly obliged to Dr. Johnson for his accurate and useful criticisms. Had he given some strictures on the general plan of the work, it would have added much to his favours.' He is charmed with your verses on Inchkenneth, says they are very elegant, but bids me tell you, he doubts vhether

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LETTER 203.

' Legitimas faciunt pectora pura preces'

be according to the rubric; but that is your concern; for, you know, he is a Presbyterian."

TO DR. LAWRENCE."

"Feb. 7, 1775.

"SIR,-One of the Scotch physicians is now prosecuting a corporation that in some public instrument have styled him doctor of medicine instead of physician. Boswell desires, being advocate for the corporation, to know whether doctor of medicine is not a legitimate title, and whether it may be considered as a disadvantageous distinction. I am to write to-night; be pleased to tell me. I am, Sir, your most, &c.,

"SAM. JOHNSON."

LETTER 204.

TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.

3

"Feb. 7, 1775. "MY DEAR BOSWELL,-I am surprised that, knowing as you do the disposi.ion of your countrymen to tell lies in favour of each other, you can be at all affected by any reports that circulate among them. Macpherson never in his life offered me a sight of any original or of any evidence of any kind; but

1 His lordship, notwithstanding his resolution, did commit his sentiments to paper, and in ene of his notes to his Collection of Old Scottish Poetry, says, "to doubt the authenticity of those poems is a refinement in scepticism indeed."-J. BoSWELL, Jan.

2 The learned and worthy Dr. Lawrence, whom Dr. Johnson respected and loved, as his physician and friend.

My friend has, in this letter, relied upon my testimony, with a confidence, the ground of which has escaped my recollection.

ÆTAT. 66.

OSSIAN CONTROVERSY.

71

thought only of intimidating me by noise and threats, till my last answer— that I would not be deterred from detecting what I thought a cheat, by the mena ces of a ruffian-put an end to our correspondence.

"The state of the question is this. He, and Dr. Blair, whom I consider as deceived, say, that he copied the poem from old manuscripts. His copies, if he had them, and I believe him to have none, are nothing. Where are the manuscripts? They can be shown if they exist, but they were never shown. De non existentibus et non apparentibus, says our law, eadem est ratio. No man has a claim to credit upon his own word, when better evidence, if he had , may be easily produced. But so far as we can find, the Erse language was never written till very lately for the purposes of religion. A nation that cannot write or a language that was never written, has no manuscripts.

"But whatever he has he never offered to show. If old manuscripts should now be mentioned, I should, unless there were more evidence than can be easily had, suppose them another proof of Scotch conspiracy in national falsehood. Do not censure the expression; you know it to be true.

"Dr. Memis's question is so narrow as to allow no speculation; and I have no facts before me but those which his advocate has produced against you. I consulted this morning the President of the London College of Physicians, who says, that with us, doctor of physic (we do not say doctor of medicine) is the highest title that a practiser of physic can have; that doctor implies not only physician, but teacher of physic; that every doctor is legally a physician; but no man, not a doctor, can practice physic but by licence particularly granted. The doctorate is a licence of itself. It seems to us a very slender cause of prosecution.

"I am now engaged, but in a little time I hope to do all you would have My compliments to Madam and Veronica. I am, Sir, your most humble ser vant, SAM. JOHNSON."

What words were used by Mr. Macpherson in his letter to the venerable sage, I have never heard; but they are generally said to have been of a nature very different from the language of literary contest. Dr. Johnson's answer appeared in the newspapers of the day, and has since been frequently republished; but not with perfect accuracy. I give it as dictated to me by himself, written down in his presence, and authenticated by a note in his own handwriting, "This, I think, is a true copy."

99 1

LETTER 205.

TO MR. MACPHERSON.

"MR. JAMES MACPHERSON,-I received your foolish and impudent letter. Any violence offered me I shall do my best to repel; and what I cannot do for

1 I have deposited it in the British Museum.

myself, the law shall do for me. I hope I never shall be deterred from detect ing what I think a cheat, by the menaces of a ruffian.

"What would you have me retract? I thought your book an imposture; I think it an imposture still. For this opinion I have given my reasons to the public, which I here dare you to refute. Your rage I defy. Your abilities, since your Homer, are not so formidable; and what I hear of your morals inclines me to pay regard not to what you shall say, but to what you shall prove You may print this if you will.

"SAM. JOHNSON."

Mr. Macpherson little knew the character of Dr. Johnson, if he supposed that he could be easily intimidated; for no man was ever more remarkable for personal courage. He had, indeed, an awful dread of death, or rather, "of something after death :" and what rational man, who seriously thinks of quitting all that he has ever known, and going into a new and unknown state of being, can be without that dread? But his fear was from reflection ; his courage natural. His fear, in that one instance, was the result of philosophical and religious consideration. He feared death, but he Seared nothing else, not even what might occasion death."

Many instances of his resolution may be mentioned. One day, at Mr. Beauclerk's house in the country, when two large dogs were fighting, he went up to them, and beat them till they separated; and at another time, when told of the danger there was that a gun might burst if charged with with many balls, he put in six or seven, and fired it off against a wall. Mr. Langton told me, that when they were swimming together near Oxford, he cautioned Dr. Johnson against a pool, which was reckoned particularly dangerous; apon which Johnson directly swam into it. He told me himself that one night he was attacked in the street by four men, to whom he would not yield, but kept them all at bay, till the watch came

1 Fear was indeed a sensation to which Mr. Johnson was an utter stranger, excepting when some sudden apprehensions seized him that he was going to die; and even then he kept all his wits about him, to express the most humble and pathetic petitions to the Almighty: and when the first paralytic stroke took his speech from him, he instantly set about composing a prayer in Latin, at once to deprecate God's mercy, to satisfy himself that his mental powers remained unimpaired, and to keep them in exercise, that they might not perish by permitted stagnation. When one day he had at my house taken tincture of antimony instead of emetic wine, for a vomit, he was himself the person to direct what to do for him, and managed with as much coolness and deliberation as . he had been prescribing for an indifferent person. -PIOZZI,

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