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Lord Orrery's unkind treatment of his son, in his will, led us to talk of the dispositions a man should have when dying. I said, I did not see why a man should act differently with respect to those of whom he thought ill when in health, merely because he was dying.– JOHNSON: “I should not scruple to speak against a party, when dying; but should not do it against an individual. It is told of Sixtus Quintus, that on his death-bed, in the intervals of his last pangs, he signed death-warrants.”—Mr. Macqueen said he should not do so; he would have more tenderness of heart.-JOHNSON: “I believe I should not either; but Mr. Macqueen and I are cowards. It would not be from tenderness of heart; for the heart is as tender when a man is in health as when he is sick, though his resolution may be stronger. Sixtus Quintus was a sovereign as well as a priest; and, if the criminals deserved death, he was doing his duty to the last. You would not think a judge died ill, who should be carried off by an apoplectic fit while pronouncing sentence of death. Consider a class of men whose business it is to distribute death-soldiers, who die scattering bullets-nobody thinks they die ill on that account.”
Talking of biography, he said, he did not think that the life of any literary man in England had been well written. Beside the common incidents of life, it should tell us his studies, his mode of living, the means by which he attained to excellence, and his opinion of his own works. He told us he had sent Derrick to Dryden's relations to gather materials for his life ; and he believed Derrick had got all that he himself should have got; but it was nothing. He added, he had a kindness for Derrick, and was sorry he was dead.
His notion as to the poems published by Mr. Macpherson, as the works of Ossian, was not shaken here. Mr. Macqueen always evaded the point of authenticity, saying only that Macpherson's pieces fell far short of those he knew in Erse, which were said to be Ossian's.—JOHNSON : “I hope they do. I am not disputing that you may have poetry of great merit; but that Macpherson's is not a translation from ancient poetry. You do not believe it. I say before you, you do not believe it, though you are very willing that the world should believe it.”—Mr. Macqueen made no answer to this.Dr. Johnson proceeded : “I look upon Macpherson’s · Fingal' to be as gross an imposition as ever the world was troubled with. Had it been really an ancient work, a true specimen how men thought at that time, it would have been a curiosity of the first rate. inodern production, it is nothing."—He said he could never get the meaning of an Erse song explained to him. They told him the chorus was generally unmeaning. “I take it,” said he, “ Erse songs
are like a song which I remember : it was composed in Queen Elizabeth's time, on the Earl of Essex; and the burthen was—
" Radaratov, radarate, radara tadara tandore." “ Bat surely,” said Mr. Macqueen, “there were words to it which had meaning."-JOHNSON : “Why, yes, sir; I recollect a stanza, and you shall have it:
“O! then bespoke the prentices all, Living in London, both proper and tall, For Essex's sake they would fight all.
Radaratoo, radarate, radara, tadara, tandore."* When Mr. Macqueen began again to expatiate on the beauty of Ossian's poetry, Dr. Johnson entered into no farther controversy, but, with a pleasant smile, only cried “Ay, ay; Radaratoo radarate.”
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 23. I took “ Fingal” down to the parlour in the morning, and tried a test proposed by Mr. Roderick Macleod, son to Ulinish. Mr. Macqueen had said he had some of the poem in the original. I desired him to mention any passage in the printed book, of which he could repeat the original. He pointed out one in page 50 of the quarto edition, and read the Erse, while Mr. Roderick Macleod and I looked on the English ; and Mr. Macleod said, that it was pretty like what Mr. Macqueen had recited. But when Mr. Macqueen read a description of Cuchullin's sword, in Erse, together with a translation of it in English verse, by Sir James Foulis, Mr. Macleod said that was much more like than Mr. Macpherson's translation of the former passage. Mr. Macqueen then repeated, in Erse, a description of one of the horses in Cuchillin's car. Mr. Macleod said Mr. Macpherson's English was nothing like it.
When Dr. Johnson came down, I told him that I had now obtained some evidence concerning “ Fingal;” for that Mr. Macqueen had repeated a passage in the original Erse, which Mr. Macpherson's translation was pretty like; and reminded him that he himself had
This droll quotation, I have since found, was from a song in honour of the Earl of Essex, called “Queen Elizabeth's Champion," which is preserved in a collection of Old Ballads, in three volumes, published in London, in different years, between 1720 and 1730. The full verse is as follows:
"0! then bespoke the prentices all,
Raderer too, tandaro te,
once said, he did not require Mr. Macpherson's Ossian to be more like the original than Pope's “Homer.”—JOHNSON :“ Well, sir ; this is just what I always maintained. He has found names, and stories, and phrases—nay, passages in old songs, and with them has blended his own compositions; and so made what he gives to the world as the translation of an ancient poem.”—If this was the case, I observed, it was wrong to publish it as a poem in six books.-JOHNSON : “ Yes, sir; and to ascribe it to a time, too, when the Highlanders knew nothing of books, and nothing of six, or perhaps were got the length of counting six. We have been told by Condamine, of a nation that could count no more than four. This should be told to Monboddo; it would help him. There is as much charity in helping a man down hill as in helping him up hill.”—BOSWELL: “I don't think there is as much charity.”—JOHNSON : Yes, sir; if his tendency be downwards. Tin he is at the bottom, he flounders ; get him once there and he is quiet. Swift tells, that Stella had a trick, which she learned from Addison, of encouraging a man in absurdity, instead of endeavouring to extri
cate him." *
Mr. Macqueen’s answers to the inquiries concerning Ossian were so unsatisfactory, that I could not help observing that, were he examined in a court of justice, he would find himself under a necessity of being more explicit.—JOHNSON : “Sir, he has told Blair a little too much, which is published ; and he sticks to it. He is so much at the head of things here, that he has never been accustomed to be closely examined ; and so he goes on quite smoothly.”—BOSWELL: “ He has never had any body to work him.”—JOHNSON : “No, sir; and a man is seldom disposed to work himself; though he ought to work himself, to be sure.”—Mr. Macqueen made no reply.†
* “Whether this proceeded from her easiness in general, or from her indifference to persons, or from her despair of mending them, or from the same practice which she much liked in Mr. Addison, I cannot determine; but when she saw any of the com. pany warm in a wrong opinion, she was more inclined to confirm them in it than oppose them. The excuse she commonly gave when her friends asked the reason, was, “That it prevented noise and saved time.'"-On the Death of Mrs. Johnson (Stella).-ED.
+ I think it but justice to say, that I believe Dr. Johnson meant to ascribe Mr. Macqueen's conduct to inaccuracy and enthusiasm, and did not mean any severe imputation against him.-Boswell.
[Mr. Macqueen was very sharply censured by his countrymen for his vacillating conduct at this interview, which, it was said, was opposed to all his previous declarations. Yet in his letter to Dr. Blair, written so early as 1764, Macqueen had expressed himself very guardedly. “I have,” he said, “a just esteem for the translator's genius, and believe, after the narrowest search I could make, that there is a foundation in the ancient songs for every part of his work, but I am apt to believe also that he hath tacked together into the poem descriptions, similes, names, &c., from several detached pieces; but of this I can give no demonstration, as I met only
Having talked of the strictness with which witnesses are examined in courts of justice, Dr. Johnson told us that Garrick, though accustomed to face multitudes, when produced as a witness in Westminster Hall, was so disconcerted by a new mode of public appearance, that he could not understand what was asked. It was a cause where an actor claimed a free benefit, that is to say, a benefit without paying the expense of the house; but the meaning of the term was disputed. ?. Garrick was asked, “Sir, have you a free benefit ?”—“ Yes.”—“Upon what terms have you it?"_" Upon—the terms-of—a free benefit." ; He was dismissed as one from whom no information could be obtained. Dr. Johnson is often too hard on our friend Mr. Garrick. When I asked him why he did not mention him in the preface to his Shakspeare, he said, “ Garrick has been liberally paid for anything he has done for Shakspeare. If I should praise him, I should much more praise the nation who paid him. He has not made Shakspeare better known ;* he cannot illustrate Shakspeare: so I have reasons enough against mentioning him, were reasons necessary.
There should be
with fragments."—(Highland Society's Report.) This seems to be a just representa tion of the state of the case, and is the same conclusion arrived at by the Highland Society's Committee, after an elaborate investigation. There was a great body of traditional poetry relating to the Fingalians, and universally ascribed to Ossian, preserved in the Highlands, but no one poem has been found the same in title and tenor with the poems published by Macpherson. Johnson affirmed that the Erse or Gaelic never was a written language, and that there was not in the world an Erse manuscript & hundred years old. This assertion has been completely disproved. Both in Ireland and the Highlands such manuscripts existed, and Macpherson undoubtedly met with such in the course of his search. The Highland Society also received some, of which they published fac-similes. Martin mentions (1703) that a Life of Columbus, written in the Erse language, was in the custody of a John Macneil, in Barra, and another copy was in the possession of Macdonald of Benbecula. A deed of fosterage between Sir Norman Macleod, and John Mackenzie, executed in the year 1645, shows that the Gaelic language was not disused in legal obligations at that period. Johnson admits in his “ Journey” that the Welsh and Irish were cultivated tongues. Now, the Irish is very nearly the same as the Gaelic; the natives of the two countries can converse freely in the same Celtic speech; and the Welsh is believed to be a cognate dialect of the Celtic.-Ed.]
* It has been triumphantly asked, “ Had not the plays of Shakspeare lain dormant for many years before the appearance of Mr. Garrick? Did he not exhibit the most excellent of them frequently for thirty years together, and render them extremely popular by his own inimitable performance ?" He undoubtedly did. But Dr. John. son's assertion has been misunderstood. Knowing as well as the objectors what has been just stated, he must necessarily have meant that “Mr. Garrick did not, as a critic, make Shakspeare better known; he did not illustrute any one passage in any of his plays by acuteness of disquisition or sagacity of conjecture;" and what had been done with any degree of excellence in that way was the proper and immediate subject of his preface. I may add in support of this explanation the following anecdote, related to me by one of the ablest commentators on Shakspeare, who knew much of Dr. Johnson : Now I have quitted the theatre," cries Garrick, “I will sit down and read Slakspeare."—“'Tis time you should," exclaimed Johnson, "for I much doubt if you ever examined one of his plays from the first scene to the last.”—Boswell.
reasons for it.”—I spoke of Mrs. Montague's very high praises of Garrick.—JOHNSON : “Sir, it is fit she should say so much, and I should say nothing. Reynolds is fond of her book, and I wonder at
for neither I, nor Beauclerk, nor Mrs. Thrale, could get through it."
Last night Dr. Johnson gave us an account of the whole process
• No man has less inclination to controversy than I have, particularly with a lady. But as I have claimed, and am conscious of being entitled to, credit for the strictest fidelity, my respect for the public obliges me to take notice of an insinuation which tends to impeach it. Mrs. Piozzi (late Mrs. Thrale), to her “Anecdotes of Dr. Johnson," adds the following postscript:
"Naples, February 10, 1786. “Since the foregoing went to the press, having seen a passage from Mr. Boswell's ‘Tour to the Hebrides,' in which it is said that I could not get through Mrs. Montague's 'Essay on Shakspeare,' I do not delay a moment to declare, that, on the contrary, I have always commended it myself, and heard it commended by every one else ; and few things would give me more concern than to be thought incapable of tasting, or unwilling to testify my opinion of its excellence."
It is remarkable that this postscript is so expressed as not to point out the person who said that Mrs. Thrale could not get through Mrs. Montague's book; and therefore I think it necessary to remind Mrs. Piozzi, that the assertion concerning her was Dr. Johnson's, and not mine. The second observation that I shall make on this postscript is, that it does not deny the fact asserted, though I must acknowledge, from the praise it bestows on Mrs. Montague's book, it may have been designed to convey that meaning.
What Mrs. Thrale's opinion is or was, or what she may or may not bave said to Dr. Johnson concerning Mrs. Montague's book, it is not necessary for me to inquire. It is only incumbent on me to ascertain what Dr. Johnson said to me. I shall therefore confine myself to a very short state of the fact.
The unfavourable opinion of Mrs. Montague's book which Dr. Johnson is here reported to have given, is known to have been that which he uniformly expressed, as many of his friends well remember. So much for the authenticity of the paragraph, as far as it relates to his own sentiments. The words containing the assertion to which Mrs. Piozzi objects are printed from my manuscript journal, and were taken down at the time. The journal was read by Dr. Johnson, who pointed out some inaccuracies, which I corrected, but did not mention any inaccuracy in the paragraph in question; and what is still more material, and very flattering to me, a considerable part of my journal, containing this paragraph, was read several years ago by Mrs. Thrale herself, wbo had it for some time in her possession, and returned it to me, without intimating that Dr. Johnson had mistaken her sentiments.
When the first edition of my journal was passing through the preşs, it occurred to me, that a peculiar delicacy was necessary to be observed in reporting the opinion of one literary lady concerning the performance of another; and I had such scruples on that head, that in the proof sheet I struck out the name of Mrs. Thrale from the above paragraph, and two or three hundred copies of my book were actually printed and published without it; of these Sir Joshua Reynolds's copy happened to be one. But while the sheet was working off, a friend, for whose opinion I have great respect, suggested that I had no right to deprive Mrs. Thrale of the high honour which Dr. Johnson had done her, by stating her opinion along with that of Mr. Beauclerk, as coinciding with, and, as it were, sanctioning his own. The observation appeared to me so weighty and conclusive, that I hastened to the printing-house, and, as a piece of justice, restored Mrs. Thrale to that place from which a too scrupulous delicacy had excluded her. On this simple state of facts I shall make no observations what ever.-BOSWELL.