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Indian affairs ; though, surely, they are of much im. portance to Great Britain. Under the recollection of this, I shelter myself from the reproach of ignorance about the Americans. If
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 BOSWELL, ESQ.
« 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 any thing to the contrary. I am glad that you like the book so well. I hear no more of Macpherson. I shall Tong to know what Lord Hailes says of it. Lend it him privately. I shall send the parcel as soon as I can. Make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell, I am, Sir, &c.
“ SAM. JOHNSON,".
LETTER 202, 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 were 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, yon would not be so uncandid as to assert that he had refused reasonable proof. That you paid no regard to his message, but published your strong attack upon
him n; 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 whether
• Legitimas faciunt pectora pura preces' be according to the rubric; but that is your concern; for, you know, he is a Presbyterian." LETTER 209. TO DR. LAWRENCE. (2)
« Feb. 7. 1775. “SIR, — One of the Scotch physicians is now prosecuting a corporation that in some public instrument have
(1) His lordship, notwithstanding his resolution, did commit his sentiments to paper, and in one of his notes to his Collection of Old Scottish Poetry, says, “ to doubt the authenticity of those poems is a refinement in scepticism indeed.". Boswell, Jun.
(2) The learned and worthy Dr. Lawrence, whom Dr. Jobs son respected and love his physician and friend.
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.
“ Feb. 7. 1775. « MY DEAR BOSWELL, - I am surprised that, knowing as you do the disposition of your countrymen to tell lies in favour of each other(1), 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 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 menaces 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. Nu man has a claim to credit upon his own word, when better evidence, if he had it, 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.
(1) My friend has, in this letter, relied upon my testimony, with a confidence, of which the ground has escaped my recollection.
“But whatever he has he never offered to show. If old manuscripts should now be mentioned, I should, unless there were more evidence that 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 physie (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 practise 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 servant,
“ 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.”(1)
(1) I have deposited it in the British Museum,
LETTER 205. TO MR. MACPHERSON."
“ MR. JAMES MACPHERSON, – I received your fool. ish and impudent letter. Any violence offered me I shall do my best to repel; and what I cannot do for myself, the law shall do for me.
never shall be deterred from detecting 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 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 feared nothing else, not even what might occasion death. (1)
(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