Page images
PDF
EPUB

peat the original. He pointed out one in page 50 of the quarto edition, and read the Erse, while Mr. Roderick M'Leod and I looked on the English ;-and Mr. M'Leod said, that it was pretty like what Mr. M'Queen had recited. But when Mr. M'Queen read a description of Cuchullin's sword in Erse, together with a translation of it in English verse, by Sir James Foulis, Mr. M'Leod said, that was much more like than Mr. McPherson's translation of the former passage. Mr. M'Queen then repeated in Erse a description of one of the horses in Cuchullin's car. Mr. M'Leod said, Mr. M'Pherson'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. M'Queen had repeated a passage in the original Erse, which Mr. M'Pherson's translation was pretty like; and reminded him, that he himself had once said, he did not require Mr. M Pherson'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. Till 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 extricate him."

Mr. M'Queen'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. M'Queen made no reply.*

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 publick 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 expence 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.

* I think it but justice to say, that I believe Dr. Johnson meant to ascribe Mr. M'Queen's conduct to inaccuracy and enthusiasm, and did not mean any severe imputation against him.

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 any thing 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 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 it; for neither I, nor Beauclerck, nor Mrs. Thrale, could get through it."

Last night Dr. Johnson gave us an account of the whole process of tanning,—and of the nature of milk, and the various operations upon it, as making whey, &c. His variety of information is surprizing; and it gives one much satisfaction to find such a man bestowing his attention on the useful arts of life. Ulinish was much struck with his knowledge; and, said, “He is a great orator, sir: it is musick to hear this man speak.”—A strange thought struck me, to try if he knew any thing of an art, or whatever it should be called, which is no doubt very useful in life, but which lies far out of the way of a philosopher and poet; I mean the trade of a butcher. I enticed him into the subject, by connecting it with the various researches into the manners and customs of uncivilized nations, that have been made by our late navigators into the South Seas.-I began with observing, that Mr. (now Sir Joseph) Banks tells us, that the art of slaughtering animals was not known in Otaheite, for, instead of bleeding to death their dogs, (a

[ocr errors]

common food with them,) they strangle them. This he told me himself; and I supposed that their hogs were killed in the same way. Dr. Johnson said, "This must be owing to their not having knives,-though they have sharp stones with which they can cut a carcase in pieces tolerably." By degrees, he shewed that he knew something even of butchery. "Different animals (said he) are killed differently. An ox is knocked down, and a calf stunned; but a sheep has its throat cut, without any thing being done to stupify it. The butchers have no view to the ease of the animals, but only to make them quiet, for their own safety and convenience. A sheep can give them little trouble.-Hales is of opinion, that every animal should be blooded, without having any blow given to it, because it bleeds better."-Boswell. "That would be cruel."-Johnson. "No, sir; there is not much pain, if the jugular vein be properly cut."-Pursuing the subject, he said, the kennels of Southwark ran with blood two or three days in the week; that he was afraid there were slaughter-houses in more streets in London than one supposes: (speaking with a kind of horrour of butchering;) and, yet he added, "any of us would kill a cow, rather than not have beef."-I said we could not.-" Yes, (said he,) any one may. The business of a butcher is a trade indeed, that is to say, there is an apprenticeship served to it; but it may be learnt in a month."

I mentioned a club in London, at the Boar's Head in Eastcheap, the very tavern where Falstaff and his joyous companions met; the members of which all assume Shakspeare's characters. One is Falstaff, another Prince Henry, another Bardolph, and so on.-Johnson. "Don't be of it, sir. Now that you have a name, you must be careful to avoid many things, not bad in them

selves, but which will lessen your character.* This every man who has a name must observe. A man who is not publickly known may live in London as he pleases, without any notice being taken of him; but it is wonderful how a person of any conseqence is watched. There was a member of parliament, who wanted to prepare himself to speak on a question that was to come on in the House; and he and I were to talk it over together. He did not wish it should be known that he talked with me; so he would not let me come to his house, but came to mine. Some time after he had made his speech in the house, Mrs. Cholmondeley, a very airy lady, told me, 'Well, you could make nothing of him!' naming the gentleman; which was a proof that he was watched. -I had once some business to do for government, and I went to Lord North's. Precaution was taken that it should not be known. It was dark before I went; yet a few days after I was told, 'Well, you have been with Lord North.' That the door of the prime minister should be watched, is not strange; but that a member of parliament should be watched, or that my door should be watched, is wonderful."

We set out this morning on our way to Talisker, in Ulinish's boat, having taken leave of him and his family. Mr. Donald M'Queen still favoured us with his company, for which we were much obliged to him. As we sailed along Dr. Johnson got into one of his fits of railing at the Scots. He owned that they had been a very learned nation for a hundred years, from about 1550 to about 1650; but that they afforded the only in

* I do not see why I might not have been of this club without leesening my character. But Dr. Johnson's caution against supposing one's self concealed in London, may be very useful to prevent some people from doing many things, notonly foolish, but criminal.

« PreviousContinue »