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1775. Sir, if they had wit, they should have kept pelting me
with pamphlets." Ætat. 66.
MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
“ Edinburgh, 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. Mac . lean 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 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 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 passsd, 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 Gaelick (call it Erse 1775. or call it Irish,) has been written in the Highlands
Ætat.6, 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 Celtick cousins; and the ques. tion is, can sufficient evidence he shewn 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 shewn to me does appear to have the duskyness of antiquity.
“ The enquiry is not yet quite hopeless, and I should think that the exact truth may be discovered, if proper means be used. I am, &c.
« JAMES BOSWELL."
TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
“ I am sorry that I could get no books for my friends in Scotland. Mr. Strahan has at last pro
1775. mised to send two dozen to you. If they come, put Ærat. 66.
the name of my friends into them ; you may cut. them out, and paste thein 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 propably not fifty years old ; if 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 Erge 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 fetters had never been applied to their own. If there are manuscripts, let them be shewn, with some proof that they are not forged for the occasion. inany 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. Strahari'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
• From a list in his hand-writing.
pretence is, that the character was Saxon. If he had 1775. not talked unskilfully of manuscripts, he might have
Ætat. 66. fought with oral tradition much longer. As to Mr. Grant's information, I suppose he 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 inyself into the country about May.
“ I am sorry that I have nct 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, 65 Feb. 25, 1775.
66 SAM. JOHNSON."
On Tuesday, March 21, 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 manners. Johnson 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
* Of his “ Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland."
1775. do not know that there are any ancient Erse manu.
<scripts; and we have no other reason to disbelieve
that there are men with three heads, but that we do not know that there 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 any thing for the honour of Scotland.” He also persevered in his wild alles gation, 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 baulee?"
The doubts which, in niy correspondence with him, I had ventured to state as to the justice and wisdom of the conduct of Great-Britain towards the Ainerican colonies, while I at the same time requested that he would enable me to inform myself upon that momentous subject, he had altogether disregarded ; and had recently published a pamphlet, entitled, " Taxation no Tyranny; an answer to the Resolu. tions and Address of the American Congress.*".
He had long before indulged most unfavourable sentiments of our fellow-subjects in America. For, as early as 1769, I was told by Dr. John Campbell, that he had said of thein, “ Sir, they are a race of convicts and ought to be thankful for any thing we allow them short of hanging."
Of this perforinance I avoided to talk with him; for I had now formed a clear and settled opinion,