Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

those whose characters he knew best, they afforded him the best opportunity for showing the acuteness of his judgment."

3

He expressed to his friend, Mr. Windham of Norfolk,' his wonder at the extreme jealousy of the Scotch, and their resentment at having their country described by him as it really was; when to say that it was a country as good as England would have been a gross falsehood. "None of us," said he, "would be offended if a foreigner who has travelled here should say, that vines and olives don't grow in England." And as to his prejudice against the Scotch, which I always ascribed to that nationality which he observed in them, he said to the same gentlemen, "When I find a Scotchman, to whom an Englishman is as a Scotchman, that Scotchman shall be as an Englishman to me." His intimacy with many gentlemen of Scotland, and his employing so many natives of that country as his amanuenses, prove that his prejudice was not virulent; and I have deposited in the British Museum, amongst other pieces of his writing, the following note in answer to one from me, asking if he would meet me at dinner at the Mitre, though a friend of mine, a Scotchman, was to be there :

“Mr. Johnson does not see why Mr. Boswell should suppose a Scotchman less acceptable than any other man. He will be at the Mitre." .

My much-valued friend Dr. Barnard, now Bishop of Killaloe, having once expressed to him an apprehension, that if he should visit Ireland he might treat the people of that country more unfavourably than he had done the Scotch, he answered, with strong pointed double-edged wit, "Sir, you have no reason to be afraid of The Irish are not in a conspiracy to cheat the world by false representations of the merits of their countrymen. No, Sir: the Irish are a fair people;-they never speak well of one another." "

me.

1 The Right Hon. William Windham of Felbrigg, born 1750, died 1810. He cultivated Johnson's acquaintance for the last few years of his life with great assiduity, as will be seen in the sequel of this work.-C.

2 We may be allowed to express our wonder at the extreme prejudice of Johnson against Scotland and the Scotch; which is the more surprising, because he was himself a Jacobite, and many of his earliest acquaintances and some of his nearest friends were Scotch. I have a strong suspicion that there was some personal cause for this unreasonable and, as it appears, unaccountable antipathy.-C.

Johnson one day asked me, "Have you observ 1 the difference between your own coun

ÆTAT. 66.

"" JOURNEY TO THE WESTERN ISLANDS."

Johnson told me of an instance of Scottish nationality, which made a very unfavourable impression upon his mind. A Scotchman of some consideration in London solicited him to recommend by the weight of his learned authority, to be master of an English school, a person of whom he who recommended him confessed he knew no more but that he was his countryman. Johnson was shocked at this anconscientious conduct.

All the miserable cavillings against his "Journey," in newspapers, magazines, and other fugitive publications, I can speak from certain knowledge, only furnished him with sport. At last there came out a scurrilous volume,' larger than Johnson's own, filled with malignant abuse, under a name, real or fictitious, of some low man in an obscure corner of Scotland, though supposed to be the work of another Scotchman, who has found means to make himself well known both in Scotland and England. The effect which it had upon Johnson was, to produce this pleasant observation to Mr. Seward, to whom he lent the book: "This fellow must be a blockhead. They don't know how to go about their abuse. Who will read a five shilling book against me? No, Sir, if they had wit, they should have kept pelting me with pamphlets."

LETTER 206.

85

FROM MR. BOSWELL.

"Edinburgh, Feb. 18, 1775.

"You would have been very well pleased if you had dined with me to-day. I had for my guests, Macquharrie, young Maclean of Col, the successor of our friend, a very amiable man, though not marked with such active qualities as his brother; Mr. Maclean of Torloisk in Mull. a gentleman of Sir Allan's family; and two of the clan Grant; so that the Highland and Hebridean genius reigned. We had a great deal of conversation about you, and drank your

try impudence and Scotch impudence?" The answer being in the negative; "Then I will tell you," said Johnson: "the impudence of an Irishman is the impudence of a fly that buzzes about you, and you put it away, but it returns again, and still flutters and teases. The impu dence of a Scotchman is the impudence of a leech, that fixes and sucks your blood."— MURPHY.

1 This was, no doubt, the book styled "Remarks on Dr. Samuel Johnson's Journey to the Hebrides, &, by the Rev. Donald M'Nicol." It had, by way of motto, a citation from Ray's Proverbs: "Old men and travellers LIE by authority." It was not printed till 1779. The second Scotchman, whom Mr. Boswell supposes to have helped in this work, Sir James MackIntosh very reasonably surmises to have been Macpherson.-C.

2 Maclean of Torloisk was grandfather to the present Marchioness of Northampton. —W! TEX SCOTT.

health in a bumper. The toast was not proposed by me, which is a circumstance to be remarked, for I am now so connected with you, that anything that I can say or do. to your honour has not the value of an additional compliment. It is only giving you a guinea out of that treasure of admiration which already belongs to you, and which is no hidden treasure; for I suppose my admiration of you is co-existent with the knowledge of my character.

"I find that the Highlanders and Hebrideans in general are much fonder of your 'Journey,' than the low-country or hither Scots. One of the Grants said to-day, that he was sure you were a man of a good heart, and a candid man, and seemed to hope he should be able to convince you of the antiquity of a good proportion of the poems of Ossian. After all that has passed, I think the matter is capable of being proved to a certain degree. I am told that Macpherson got one old Erse MS. from Clanranald, for the restitution of which he executed a formal obligation; and it is affirmed, that the Gaelic (call it Erse or call it Irish) has been written in the Highlands and Hebrides for many centuries. It is reasonable to suppose, that such of the inhabitants as acquired any learning possessed the art of writing as well as their Irish neighbours and Celtic cousins; and the question is, can sufficient evidence be shown of this?

"Those who are skilled in ancient writings can determine the age of MSS., or at least can ascertain the century in which they were written; and if men of veracity, who are so skilled, shall tell us that MSS. in the possession of families in the Highlands and isles are the works of a remote age, I think we should be convinced by their testimony.

"There is now come to this city, Ranald Macdonald from the Isle of Egg, who has several MSS of Erse poetry, which he wishes to publish by subscription. 1 have engaged to take three copies of the book, the price of which is to be six shillings, as I would subscribe for all the Erse that can be printed, be it old or new, that the language may be preserved. This man says, that some of his manuscripts are ancient; and, to be sure, one of them which was shown to me does appear to have the duskiness of antiquity. The inquiry is not yet quite hopeless, and I should think that the exact truth may be discovered, if proper means be used. I am, &c.

LETTER 207.

[ocr errors]

1 From a list in his handwriting.

[ocr errors]

TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.

"Feb. 25, 1775. "DEAR SIR,-I am sorry that I could get no books for my friends in Scot land. Mr. Strahan has at last promised to send two dozen to you. If they come, put the name of my friends into them; you may cut them out,' ana paste them with a little starch in the book.

"You then are going wild about Ossian. Why do you think any part can be proved? The dusky manuscript of Egg is probably not fifty years old: if

"JAMES BOSWELL."

87

it be an hundred, it proves nothing. The tale of Clanranald is no proof. Has Clanranald told it? Can he prove it? There are, I believe, no Erse manuscripts. None of the old families had a single letter in Erse that we heard of. You say it is likely that they could write. The learned, if any learned there were, could; but knowing by that learning some written language, in that language they wrote, as letters had never been applied to their own. If there are manuscripts, let them be shown, with some proof that they are not forged for the occasion. You say many can remember parts of Ossian. I believe all those parts are versions of the English; at least there is no proof of their antiquity.

ETAT 66

OSSIAN CONTROVERSY.

"Macpherson is said to have made some translations himself; and having taught a boy to write it, ordered him to say that he had learnt it of his grandmother. The boy, when he grew up, told the story. This Mrs. Williams heard at Mrs. Strahan's table. Don't be credulous; you know how little a Highlander can be trusted. Macpherson is, so far as I know, very quiet. Is not that proof enough? Everything is against him. No visible manuscript: no inscription in the language: no correspondence among friends: no transaction of business, of which a single scrap remains in the ancient families. Macpherson's pretence is that the character was Saxon. If he had not talked unskilfully of manuscripts, he might have fought with oral tradition much longer. As to Mr. Grant's information, I suppose he knows much less of the matter than ourselves.

*6

In the meantime, the bookseller says that the sale is sufficiently quick. They printed four thousand. Correct your copy wherever it is wrong, and bring it up. Your friends will all be glad to see you. I think of going myself into the country about May. I am sorry that I have not managed to send the book sooner. I have left four for you, and do not restrict you absolutely to follow my directions in the distribution. You must use your own discretion.

"Make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell: I suppose she is now beginning to forgive me. I am, dear Sir, your humble servant,

"SAM. JOHNSON."

LETTER 208,

TO MRS. THRALE.

"University College, Oxford, March 3, 1775. "The fate of my proposal for our friend Mr. Carter will be decided on Monday. Those whom I have spoken to are all friends. I have not abated any part of the entrance or payment, for it has not been thought too much, and [ hope he will have scholars.

"I am very deaf; and yet cannot well help being much in comp. y, though it is often very uncomfortable. But when I have done this thing, which I hope is a good thing, or find that I cannot do it, I wish to live a while under your care and protection."

Of his "Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland."

CHAPTER IV.

1775.

Boswell revisits London-Peter Carrick-Taxation no Tyrancy"-Dr. Tower's "Answer" -Gerard Hamilton-Sheridan's Gold Medal to home-Mrs. Abington-Cibber's "Nonjuror "-Boswell's "Surveillance"-Garrick's Prologues-The Adams-Garrick's Imitations of Johnson-Gray's Odes-Lord Chesterfield's Letters-Johnson's Diploma of LL.D.-Abyssinian Bruce-Coleman's "Odes to Obscurity and Oblivion."-Mason's "Elfrida," and "Caractacus"-The Bath-Easton Vase-Fleet Street and Charing Cross.

ners.

""

ON Tuesday, 21st March, I arrived in London; and on repairing to Dr. Johnson's before dinner, found him in his study, sitting with Mr. Peter Garrick, the elder brother of David, strongly resembling him in countenance and voice, but of more sedate and placid manJohnson informed me, that though Mr. Beauclerk was in great pain, it was hoped he was not in danger, and that he now wished to consult Dr. Heberden, to try the effect of a new understanding." Both at this interview, and in the evening at Mr. Thrale's, where he and Mr. Peter Garrick and I met again, he was vehement on the subject of the Ossian controversy; observing, "We do not know that there are any ancient Erse manuscripts; and we have no other reason to disbelieve that there are men with three heads, but that we do not know that there are any such men." He also was outrageous upon his supposition that my countrymen "loved Scotland better than truth," saying, "All of them,-nay not all,—but droves of them, would come up, and attest anything for the honour of Scotland." He also persevered in his wild allegation, that he questioned if there was a tree between Edinburgh and the English border older than himself. I assured him he was mistaken, and suggested that the proper punishment would be that he should receive a stripe at every tree above a hundred years old, that was found within that space. He laughed, and said, “I believe I might submit to it for a baubee."

The doubts which, in my correspondence with him, I had veg.

« VorigeDoorgaan »