페이지 이미지
[ocr errors]

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 (1), 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."


“ 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 (2), a gentleman of Sir Allan's family; and two

(1) This was, no doubt, the book styled “Remarks on Dr. Samuel Johnson's Journey to the Hebrides, &c., 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.- WALTER Scott. – [See antè, p. 16.]

of the clan Grant; so that the Highland and Hebridean genius reigned. We had a great deal of conversation about you, and drank your 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 any thing 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 coexistent 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. I 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.



« Feb. 25. 1775. “ DEAR SIR, - I am sorry that I could get no books for my friends in Scotland. 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(), and 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 it be an hundred, it proves nothing. The tale of Clanranald is no proof. Has Clanranald told it? 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

Can he prove

(1) From a list in his handwriting.

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.

“ 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 Mr. 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? Every thing 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 knows much less of the matter than ourselves.

In the mean time, 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

that I have not managed to send the book sooner. I have left four for you, and do not restrict you abso. lutely 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,



am sorry

(1) Of his “ Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland."


“ University College, Oxford, March 3. 1775. The fate of my proposal for our friend Mr. Carter (1) 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 I hope he will have scholars.

I am very deaf; and yet cannot well help being much in company, 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.”

(1) He visited Oxford, chiefly, it would seem, with the friendly design of having Mr. Carter established as ridingmaster' there, under the Duchess of Queensberry's donation See post, March 12. 1776. — C.

Od. 62

« 이전계속 »