«* National Library of Scotland ■■jin B000157358*. V POEMS OF OSSIAN, IN THE ORIGINAL GAELIC, WITH A LITERAL TRANSLATION INTO LATIN, BY THE LATE ...»
324 TRANSLATION OF THE bard, it appears, were recited in fragments irregularly, and were blended by the vulgar with popular fables and other pieces on similar subjects, composed by posterior bards and senachies, of a genius and style dilferent from that of Ossian, as might be naturally expected in poems which pass through the mouths of the vulgar, and are successively transmitted by memory; and it is probable, that here and there various collections and compilations of them might be made, most of them indigested, without selection or judgment, by inexperienced and ignorant persons.
It is therefore reasonable to think, that Macpherson and Smith, having collected together the greatest number they could of such manuscripts, consulted the oldest and best informed people of those countries, and having compared the pieces with each other, were enabled to select from the various readings such as were most suitable to and consistent with the general character of Ossian; they would consequently put together the various fragments in the most rational order, and according to the natural connection of the subjects; thence had it in their power to compile and publish a genuine translation, worthy of the name of that author. Smith candidly confessed both for himself and for his colleague, that such had been their conduct. “ After the materials were collected,” says he, “ the next labour was to compare the different editions; to strike off several parts that were manifestly spurious;
to bring together some episodes that appeared to have a relation to one another, though repeated separately; and to restore to their proper places poem into another.*—I am very confident, that the poems so arranged are different from all other editions ; they have taken a certain air of regularity and of art, in comparison with the disunited and irregular manner of the original.” In another place Mr. Smith, speaking of Macpherson, remarks, “ that it must be confessed we have not the whole of the poems of Ossian, or even of the collection translated by Mr. Macpherson; yet still we have many of them, and of almost all a part. The building is not entire, but we have still the grand ruins of it.”j' In short, although Macpherson had not explicitly imparted to the public the particular quality of his compilation, he gave, however, in various parts of his annotations, sufficient hints that this was the method he adopted. In this place it is proper to observe, that the very system of Macpherson’s work may perhaps demonstrate his shyness in showing freely the original. He had in his possession several manuscripts of Ossian, and he had among them the genuine poems of Ossian, which were not to be found in any other edition though dispersed in all. But the true Ossian, as published in English, was only to be found in the compilation made by himself, and transcribed by his own hand. Whatever manuscripts therefore he might have offered to the public, the incredulous and malicious, on comparing the translation with I the text, and finding them strictly uniform, would have said, that Macpherson had counterfeited the *■ See Note T, at the end of the Dissertation, f See Note U, at the end of the Dissertation.
526 TRANSLATION OF THE original, with a view to deceive the unwary. For this reason, satisfied with having laid the matter of fact before those few, who were acquainted with the state of the different editions of Ossian, he scorned perhaps to expose himself to the risk of bearing the blame and slander, for that which ought to have rather excited the public estimation and gratitude.
But, whatever may be thought concerning the subject, the opinion of Mr. Hill, on the three questions above discussed, appears rational, and perhaps more satisfactory than any other to the minds of impartial critics; and ought even to have been approved and cherished by Macpherson himself.
Perhaps we must think differently of what is given in the latter part of his discourse, on two other questions, which he proposes as supplementary to the preceding ones. 1. He asks, was Ossian Irish or Scotch ? 2. What true idea had their countrymen of the Fingalians, and in what light ought we to consider them ? On the first question, he decides, that Fingal and his family were Irish heroes, and that Ossian’s poems are originally from Ireland. He assigns the following reasons. One of the principal characters in the poems is St. Patrick, the apostle of Ireland; the same poems are found among those of the Scotch particularly on the coast opposite to Ireland. In an account of the Irish customs, written b7 ) one Good, a schoolmaster at Limerick, in 1.5.56, of
which William Camden gives the following extract:
“The Irish,” says the author, “think, that the souls of the deceased are in communion with famous men of those places, of whom they retain many stories and
ABBE7 CESAROTTi’s DISSERTATION. 327sonnets; as of the giants, Fin-mac-huile, Oscar-macoshin, and Oshin-mac-owin. And they say, through illusion, that they often see them.” With respect to Gaelic manuscripts, Hill confesses, that he had not been able to consult a sufficient number to determine, whether the most ancient and primitive manuscripts were Caledonian or Irish; but, from what came under his notice, he seems inclined to believe them Irish. As to the second question he says, that the Fingalians were considered by their countrymen as a race of giants, and are represented as such in their mythological songs. This, he remarks, has nothing in it to surprize us, “ for such were all the heroes deified by the northern nations ; such were Odin, Thor, and the other Teutonic gods; such also were Hercules, Bacchus, and the otherheroes, ordemi-gods, of ancient Greece.” This last observation is a consequence of the preceding one, since neither Fingal, nor any of his family, appears to have been of a gigantic form in any of Ossian’s poems translated by Mr. Macpherson, and they are only found to be so in the Irish editions.4 It is not my province to decide on the two last opinions of this critic, but it is certain, that Macpherson could not be satisfied with them; he, who had previously combated these objections, first in his preface to the poem of Fingal, and afterwards more forcibly in the preliminary discourse to the poem of Temora, by adducing arguments which appear to be decisive.
We shall leave the learned of both nations to decide on the validity of the proofs, which Macpherson
• See Note W, at the end of the Dissertation.
TRANSLATION OF THEadduces on the anteriority of the origin of the Caledonian Celts over the Irish Celts, and on the purity of the Celtic mother tongue, which is much better preserved in the Highlands of Scotland, than in Ireland.
But if the poems or songs, which are prevalent in the former country concerning the family and the heroes of Fion Mac Comnal (Fingal son of Comnal) he such as are represented by Macpherson, the pretensions of the Irish are utterly vain and nugatory. There is no alternative: it must be one of the two; either Ossian’s poems, as published by Macpherson and Smith, are not genuine, or Fingal and his family do not belong to Ireland ; and what is more important, the traditional songs of the Irish nation are the works of posterior senachies, or rhapsodists, who were willing to claim the Caledonian heroes; and they contain nothing but crazy tales, and foolish romances.
Macpherson gives an analysis of the principal Irish songs alluded to, several of which contain nearly the same facts that are to be found in the real Ossian’s poems, and by quoting often the original words, he proves the former to be full of contradictions, anachronisms, allusions to modern times, and extravagant and ridiculous tales. In spite of the general pretension of the Irish nation, many of them call Fingal and his race Fion d'Albion, the proper name of the Highlands of Scotland.* Fingal, according to the * See Note X, also Supplemental Observations on the authenticity of Ossian’s poems at the end of Notes to this Dissertation, under the Head of the ancient Name and Inhabitants of Great Britain.
abbe' cesarotti’s dissertation. 329accounts of all the Irish poems, flourished in the reign of Cormac, who by general assent is placed in the third century; nevertheless, his son Ossian, in these same songs, makes himself contemporary with Saint Patrick, who is given out as the son-in-law of our bard, though it is notorious that the Saint went to Ireland to preach the Gospel about the middle of the fifth century; and we find besides, here and there, mention of Ossian, and of the pilgrimage of his heroes to the Holy Land, the Crusades, the Daughters of the Convent; Erragon King of Denmark, of two nations, alluding to the reunion of Norway and Denmark. Nay we have a threatened invasion of Ireland by France mentioned, and such like absurdities, which are in constant contradiction with chronology, and the history of Ossian.* All the records we have of the manners, ideas, and customs of the fifth century, are full of tales strangely romantic, of magic, sorcery, witchcraft, enchanted castles, maids bewitched, gigantic heroes, not however resembling Hercules, or Bacchus, as Mr. Hill will have it, but like the heroes of Morgante and Kicciardetto f of these, taking all things together, no traces whatever are to be found in the Caledonian Ossian. The exploits of Fingal were mostly achieved in Ireland, and as being related to the family of the kings of Ulster, according to Macpherson, the Irish, in the subsequent centuries, were actuated by the ardent wish of appropriating to themselves all those heroes so famous in tradition, and which gave their senachies an opporSee Note X, at the end of Dissertation.
t See Note Y, at the end of Dissertation.
330 TRANSLATION OF THE tunity to compose various songs on their history, altering and counterfeiting them so as to suit their purpose, and the predominant ideas of the people of that country. The same author believes he can assign the epoch of this novelty, and the circumstances that influenced the public credulity.
Whatever may be the prevailing opinion concernthis point, the question fundamentally can only be interesting to the two rival countries. It is enough for us to believe, first, that poems and stories of a character so different, cannot be the production of the same author, nor of the same epoch. Secondly, that the bard, who has been represented to us as a Scotchman, is one of the most transcendant geniuses that ever adorned the history of poetry, or that ever graced the annals of valour and glory. The parallel between the Asiatic and the Caledonian Homer, is truly striking ; both anterior to the epoch of letters, both blind, both extempore poets, both distorted in their limbs, and in want of some Esculapius to bring them together into one body.* There was nothing * It does not appear that the Caledonian bard was distorted in his limbs : on the contrary, Ossian appears from his poems to have been a handsome and stately person. “ The sound of shells had ceased. Amidst long locks, Sul-malla rose. She spoke with bended eyes, and asked of our course through seas, for of the kings of men are ye, tall riders of the wavealluding to Ossian and Oscar; see Sul-malla of Lumon, Ossian, in relating to Malvina his courtship of Everallin (Fingal, B IV.), says, “ Daughter of the hand of snow! I was not so mournful and blind. I was not so dark and forlorn, when Everallin loved me! A thousand heroes sought the maid, she refused her love to a thousand.
The sons of the sword were despised: for graceful in her eyes was Ossian." In other parts of Ossian’s poems there are allusions to
abbe' cesarotti’s dissertation. 331further required to render them perfectly equal, than that both should be of the same country, parents, name, and period of existence.
But whatever may be said or thought on the subject, the works of the Celtic Homer (Ossian) do exist; they are all of the same brilliant and harmonious colouring, and they have a certain author. Let that author have existed in the times of Caracalla, or of Saint Patrick; let him be a native of Morven, or of Ulster; let him belong to the family of a petty king, or to that of a simple Highlander, it is all the same to those who consider him in the light of a poet. Let such as do not like to name him Ossian, call him Orpheus : doubts may be entertained whether Fingal was his father, but no one will say, that he was not the son of Apollo.
his blindness, but none to his being distorted in his limbs. It is therefore presumed, that Cesarotti was under a mistake in this parallel, and had in view the Lacedcemonian bard Tyrtaeus, who we are told was of short stature and much deformed, blind of one eye, and also lame. He was nevertheless a warrior, as well as poet. (Justin, lib. iii. c. 5.) In the Supplemental Observations at the end of the Notes, under the head of Oral Tradition, &c. we shall have occasion to notice this ancient poet, and the war songs which he composed. Trans.
C 332 3
The Abbe' Cesarotti, author of the Historical and Critical Dissertation, relative to the controversy on the authenticity of Ossian’s poems, is well known in the republic of letters; not only for his elegant translation into Italian of the poems of Ossian, as published by Macpherson, and his translation of Homer into Italian, but also for his erudition as author of Reflections on the Philosophy of Language and Taste, and other acedemical and miscellaneous works. He was many years one of the professors at the University of Padua ; and, in the year 1796, the writer of these notes, on his way to Venice, became personally acquainted with him. It was then he first learned, that Cesarotti had given to the public, in 1763, an Italian version of Ossian’s Fingal, and some other poems of the Caledonian bard, soon after Marpherson’s translations had been first published. In 1772 Cesarotti published at Padua his second edition, in four volumes octavo; which included Temora, and the other poems in Macpherson’s quarto edition of
1763. In the year 1780, another Italian edition of Cesarotti’s Ossian was published at Nice, in three small volumes closely printed ; to which he prefixed translations of Macpherson's Preface, a Preliminary Dissertation on the /Era and Authenticity of Ossian’s Poems, and a Dissertation concerning the Caledonians.