There is no doubt that I might mention some circumstances; but I do not choose to commit them to paper." What his opinion is, I do not know. He says, "I am singularly obliged to Dr. Johnson for his accurate and useful criticisms. Had he given some strictures on the general plan of the work, it would have added much to his favours." He is charmed with your verses on Inchkenneth, says they are very elegant, but bids me tell you he doubts whether be according to the rubrick; but that is your concern; for, you know, he is a Presbyterian.'
"Legitimas faciunt pectora pura preces."
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'To DR. LAWRENCE.
'Feb. 7, 1775.
'One of the Scotch physicians is now prosecuting a corporation that in some publick instrument have stiled him Doctor of Medicine instead of Physician. Boswell desires, being advocate for the corporation, to know whether Doctor of Medicine is not a legitimate title, and whether it may be considered as a disadvantageous distinction. I am to write to-night; be pleased to tell me.
'I am, Sir, your most, &c.,
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'My DEAR BOSWELL,
'I am surprised that, knowing as you do the disposition of your countrymen to tell lies in favour of each other, you can be at all affected by any reports that circulate among them. Macpherson never in his life offered me a sight of any original or of any evidence of any kind; but thought only of intimidating me by noise and threats, till my last answer,--that I would not be deterred from detecting what I thought a cheat, by the menaces of a ruffian--put an end to our correspondence.
'The state of the question is this. He, and Dr. Blair, whom I consider as deceived, say, that he copied the poem from old manuscripts. His copies, if he had them, and I believe him to have none, are nothing. Where are the manuscripts? They can be shown if they exist, but they were never shown. De non existentibus et non apparentibus, says our law, eadem est ratio. No man has a claim to credit upon his own word, when better evidence, if he had it, may be easily produced. But, so far as we can find, the Erse language was never written till very lately for the purposes of religion. A nation that cannot write, or a language that was never written, has no manuscripts.
'But whatever he has he never offered to show. If old manuscripts should now be mentioned, I should, unless there were more evidence than can be easily had, suppose them another proof of Scotch conspiracy in national falsehood.
'Do not censure the expression; you know it to be true.
'Dr. Memis's question is so narrow as to allow no speculation; and I have no facts before me but those which his advocate has produced against you.
'I consulted this morning the President of the London College of Physicians, who says, that with us, Doctor of Physick (we do not say Doctor of Medicine) is the highest title that a practicer of physick can have; that Doctor implies not only Physician, but teacher of physick; that every Doctor is legally a Physician; but no man, not a Doctor, can practice physick but by licence particularly granted. The Doctorate is a licence of itself. It seems to us a very slender cause of prosecution.
* * * * *
'I am now engaged, but in a little time I hope to do all you would have. My compliments to Madam and Veronica.
'I am, Sir, 'Your most humble servant, 'SAM. JOHNSON.'
'February 7, 1775.'
What words were used by Mr. Macpherson in his letter to the venerable Sage, I have never heard; but they are generally said to have been of a nature very different from the language of literary contest. Dr. Johnson's answer appeared in the newspapers of the day, and has since been frequently re-published; but not with perfect accuracy. I give it as dictated to me by himself, written down in his presence, and authenticated by a note in his own hand-writing, 'This, I think, is a true copy.'
'MR. JAMES MACPHERSON,
'I received your foolish and impudent letter. Any violence offered me I shall do my best to repel; and what I cannot do for myself, the law shall do for me. I hope I shall never be deterred from detecting what I think a cheat, by the menaces of a ruffian.
'What would you have me retract? I thought your book an imposture; I think it an imposture still. For this opinion I have given my reasons to the publick, which I here dare you to refute. Your rage I defy. Your abilities, since your Homer, are not so formidable; and what I hear of your morals, inclines me to pay regard not to what you shall say, but to what you shall prove. You may print this if you will.
Mr. Macpherson little knew the character of Dr. Johnson, if he supposed that he could be easily intimidated; for no man was ever more remarkable for personal courage. He had, indeed, an aweful dread of death, or rather, 'of something after death;' and what rational man, who seriously thinks of quitting all that he has ever known, and going into a new and unknown state of being, can be without that dread? But his fear was from reflection; his courage natural.