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in company expressing his opinion, "that Fingal was certainly genuine, for that he had heard a great part of it repeated in the original," Dr. Johnson indignantly asked him, whether he understood the original; to which an answer being given in the negative, " Why, then (said Dr. Johnson), we see to what tins testimony comes: thus it is."
I mention this as a remarkable proof how liable the mind of man is to credulity, when not guarded by such strict examination as that which Dr. Johnson habitually practised. The talents and integrity of the gentleman who made the remark are unquestionable; yet, had not Dr. Johnson made him advert to the consideration, that he who does not understand a language cannot know that something which is recited to him is in that language, he might have believed, and reported to this hour, that he had " heard a great part of Fingal repeated in the original."
For the satisfaction of those on the north of the Tweed who may think Dr. Johnson's account of Caledonian credulity and inaccuracy too strong, it is but fair to add, that he admitted the same kind of ready belief might be found in his own country. "He would undertake," he said, "to write an epic poem on the story of Robin Hood; and half England, to whom the names and places he should mention in it are familiar, would believe and declare they had heard it from their earliest years."
One of his objections to the authenticity of Fingal, during die conversation at Ulinish, is omitted in my Journal, but I perfectly recollect it. "Why is not the original deposited in some public library, instead of exhibiting attestations of its existence? Suppose there was a question in a court of justice, whether a man be dead or alive. You aver he is alive, and you bring fifty witnesses to swear it. I answer, 'Why do you not produce the man ?'" This is an argument founded on one of the first principles of the law of evidence, which Gilbertl would have held to be irrefragable.
a great part of it repeated in the original.' Dr. Johnson indignantly asked him, ' Sir, do you understand the original?' Tytler: 'No, Sir.' Johnson: 'Why, then, we see to what this testimony comes: Thus it is.' He afterwards said to me: 'Did you observe the wonderful confidence with which young Tytler advanced, with his front ready brazed ?'" This passage was suppressed in the second and third editions; and as Boswell had certainly a right to make alterations in his own book, the passage is printed, not as Mr. Croker gives it, but as the author preferred to give it in his last revised edition.—Editor.
I do not think it incumbent on me to give any precise decided opinion upon this question, as to which I believed more than some, and less than others. The subject appears to have now become very uninteresting to the public. That Fingal is not from beginning to end a translation from the Gaelic, but that some passages have been supplied by the editor to connect the whole, I have heard admitted by very warm advocates for its authenticity. If this be the case, whv are not these distinctly ascertained? Antiquaries and admirers of the work may complain, that they are in a situation similar to that of the unhappy gentleman whose wife informed him, on her death-bed, that one of their reputed children was not his; and, when he eagerly begged her to declare which of them it was. she answered, " That you shall never know;" and expired, leaving him in irremediable doubt as to them all.
I beg leave now to say something upon second-sight, of which I have related two instances, as they impressed my mind at the time. I own, I returned from the Hebrides with a considerable degree of faith in the many stories of that kind which I heard with a too easy acquiescence, without any close examination of the evidence: but, since, that time, my belief in those stories has been much weakened, by reflecting on the careless inaccuracy of narrative in common matters, from which we may certainly conclude that there may be the same in what is more extraordinary. It is but just, however, to add, that the belief in second-sight is not peculiar to the Highlands and Isles.
Some years after our Tour, a cause was tried in the court of session, where the principal fact to be ascertained was, whether a ship-master, who used to frequent the Western Highlands and Isles, was drowned in one particular year, or in the year after. A great number of witnesses from those parts were examined on each side, and swore directly contrary to each other upon this simple question. One of
1 Chief Baron Gilbert wrote a treatise on Evidence.—Crokir.
them, a very respectable chieftain, who told me a story of second-sight, which I have not mentioned, but which I toeimplicitly believed, had in this case, previous to this public examination, not only said, but attested under his hand, that he had seen the ship-master in the year subsequent to that in which the court was finally satisfied he was drowned. When interrogated with the strictness of judicial inquirv, and under the awe of an oath, he recollected himself better, and retracted what he had formerly asserted, apologizing for his inaccuracy, by telling the judges, "A mau will say what he will not swear." By many he was much censured, and it was maintained, that every gentleman would be as attentive to truth without the sanction of an oath as with it. Dr. Johnson, though he himself was distinguished at all times by a scrupulous adherence to truth, controverted this proposition; and, as a proof that this was not, though it ought to be, the case, urged the very different decisions of elections under Mr. Grenville's Act, from those formerly made. "Gentlemen will not pronounce upon oath, what they would have said, and voted in the house, without that sanction."
However difficult it may be for men who believe in preternatural communications, in modern times, to satisfy those who are of a different opinion, they may easily refute the doctrine of their opponents, who impute a belief in second-sight to superstition. To entertain a visionary notion that one sees a distant or future event may be called superstition; but the correspondence of the fact or event with such an impression on the fancy, though certainly very wonderful, if proved, has no more connection with superstition than magnetism or electricity.
After dinner various topics were discussed; but I recollect only one particular. Dr. Johnson compared the different talents of Garrick and Foote, as companions, and gave Garrick greatly the preference for elegance, though he allowed Foote extraordinary powers of entertainment. He said, " Garrick is restrained by some principle; but Foote has the advantage of an unlimited range. Garrick has some delicacy of feeling: it is possible to put him out; you may get the better of him s^but Foote is the most incompressible fellow that I ever knew: when you have driven him into a corner, and think you are sure of him, he runs through between your legs, or jumps over vour head, and makes his escape."
Dr. Erskine and Mr. Kobert Walker, two very respectable ministers of Edinburgh,1 supped with us, as did the Rev. Dr. Webster. The conversation turned on the Moravian missions, and on the methodists. Dr. Johnson observed in general, that missionaries were too sanguine in their accounts of their success among savages, and that much of what they tell is not to be believed. He owned that the methodists had done good; had spread religious impressions among the vulgar part of mankind; but, he said, they had great bitterness against other Christians, and that he never could get a methodist to explain in what he excelled others; that it always ended in the indispensable necessity of hearing one of their preachers.
Thursday, Nov. 11.—Principal Eobertson came to us as we sat at breakfast; he advanced to Dr. Johnson, repeating a line of Virgil, which I forget. I suppose, either
"Post varies casus, per tot discrimina rerum," l or
''—multum ille et terris jactatus, et alto."2
Every body had accosted us with some studied compliment on our return. Dr. Johnson said, " I am really ashamed of the congratulations which we receive. We are addressed as if we had made a voyage to Nova Zembla, and suffered five persecutions in Japan." And he afterwards remarked, that " to see a man coine up with a formal air, and a Latin line, when we had no fatigue and no danger, was provoking." I told him, he was not sensible of the danger, having lain under cover in the boat during the storm: he was like the chicken, that hides its head under its wing, and then thinks itself safe.
1 Dr. Erslune and Mr. Walker are the two clergymen described i:i Guy Maunering.—Lockhart.
1 "Through various hazards and events we move."
2 "Long labours both by sea and land he bore."
Lord Elibank came to us, as did Sir William Forbes. The [rash attempt in 1745 being mentioned, I observed, that it would make a fine piece of history.1 Dr. Johnson said it would. Lord Elibank doubted whether any man of his age could give it impartially. Johnson. "A man, by talking with those of different sides, who were actors in it, and putting down all that he hears, ma)- in time collect the materials of a good narrative. You are to consider, all history was at first oral. I supose Voltaire was fifty years' in collecting his 'Louis XIV.' which he did in the way that I am proposing." Robertson. "He did so. He lived much with all the great people who were concerned in that reign, and heard them talk of every thing ; and then either took Mr. Boswell's way of writing down what he heard, or, which is as good, preserved it in his memory; for he has a wonderful memory." With the leave, however, of this elegant historian, no man's memory can preserve facts or sayings with such fidelity as may be done by writing them down when they are recent. Dr. Robertson said, "It was now full time to make such a collection as Dr. Johnson suggested; for many of the people who were then in arms
1 It were to be wished that the master hand of Sir Walter Scott, which has created a European interest in the details of the Scotch character and manners, should give tts a history of the Young Pretender's proceedings. Mr. Boswell's notes, the work called Ascanius, the journals in the Lockhart papers, and the periodical publications of the day, contain a great deal of the prince's personal history; and the archives of the public offices and the Stuart papers would probably be open to his inquiries. There is perhaps little new to tell, but it might be collected into one view, and the interest heightened by his admirable powers of narration.—Croker, 1831. This was written in the hope of directing my illustrious friend's mind to a lighter, as I thought, and less exciting task than original invention; but, alas, the over-worked intellect had already begun to fail, and I think I may say that the notes which his friendship had furnished to this work, were nearly the last efforts of his perfect mind. He died within little more than a year after their publication, on a calm and beautiful noon of the autumnal equinox, 21st Sept., 1832, "in presence of all his children." The last scene was one that he himself would have loved to anticipate!" It was," says Mr. Lockhart, " a beautiful day: so warm that every window was open : and so perfectly still, that the sound of all others most delicious to his ear, the gentle ripple of the Tweed over its pebbles, was distinctly audible as we knelt around the bed, and his eldest son kissed and closed his eyes."—Lockhart's Life, vol. vii., p. 394.— Croker.
2 Hardly—he was only 57 when it was published.— Croker.