«* National Library of Scotland ■■jin B000157358*. V POEMS OF OSSIAN, IN THE ORIGINAL GAELIC, WITH A LITERAL TRANSLATION INTO LATIN, BY THE LATE ...»
—All these poems the Baron ascribed to Ossian, except that of Lamor, which is supposed to be of a more remote antiquity; and that of Sitric, which appears to be of the ninth century. In the translation of the song of Ryno, on the death of Oscar, which appears to be the best in this small collection, the Baron has followed accurately all the inflections of the old Celtic language; but reasonable doubts may be entertained as to their authenticity. The style is neither so figurative nor so bold as in those published by Macpherson, and the translator himself informs us, that having only collected fragments, he has been obliged to put them together and to fill up the chasms, so that the manner and form in which they appear is entirely owing to the translator. A still more remarkable difference between those and the poems discovered by Macpherson, is, that in Ossian’s poems no mention is to be found of any deity, while those translated by the Baron, on the contrary, are filled with the most sublime descriptions of the Supreme Being. Macpherson’s Ossian appears to have been a native of the Highlands of Scotland, and Harold’s Ossian seems to be a native of Ireland. In fact, this collection of ancient poems is dedicated to Henry Grattan, Esq, the distinguished Irish patriot and orator; and the Baron de Harold, the translator, informs us that, though in the service of a foreign state, he is a native of Ireland, but left that country at an early period of life.
In justice to the Baron de Harold’s candour, and in order to convey to the minds of our readers the motives which induced him to publish translations of the fragments he had discovered in Ireland, we think it proper to give his own words, in the preface to the poems. “ The great approbation which the poems given to the public by Mr. Macpherson
OF CESAROTTI S DISSERTATION. 345have received, induced me to enquire whether any more of this kind of poetry existed. My endeavours would have been fruitless, had I expected to find complete pieces, for none such certainly exist; but in searching with assiduity and care, I found, by the help of my friends, several fragments of old traditionary songs, which were very sublime, and particularly remarkable for their simplicity, and elegance. I compiled these fragments, which are the more valuable, as the taste for this species of poetry every day decreases in the country, and that the old language threatens visibly to be soon extinguished, for it loses ground in proportion as the English tongue becomes predominant, the progress of which is very sensible to any person who has been occupied in disquisitions of this nature. It will appear singular to some, that Ossian, at times, especially in the Songs of Comfort, seems rather to be an Hibernian, than a Scotchman, and that some of these poems formally contradict passages of great importance in those handed to the public by Mr. Macpherson, especially that very remarkable one of Evir-alkn, where the description of her marriage with Ossian is essentially different in all its parts, from those given in the former poem.
“ I will submit the solution of this problem to the public : I am interested in no polemical dispute or party, and give these poems such as they are found in the mouths of the people, and do not pretend to ascertain what was the native country of Ossian. I honour, and revere equally a bard of his exalted talents, were he born in Ireland, or in Scotland.
“ It is certain that the Scotch, and Irish, were united at some early period : that they proceed from the same originis in disputable ; nay, I believe that it is proved beyond any possibility of negating it, that the Scotch derive their origin from the Irish.
“ This truth has been brought in question but of late years ; and all ancient tradition, and the general concert of the Scotch nation, and of their oldest historians, agree to confirm the certitude of this assertion.
“ If any man still doubts of it, he will find, in Macgeoghan’s History of Ireland, an entire connection, established by the most elaborate discussion, and most incontrovertible proofs.”
The learned Abbe Cesarotti is mistaken in saying that Mr. Shaw is a countryman of Doctor Johnson. Mr. Shaw is a native of the Island of
NOTES BY THE TRANSLATORArran, which, with the Isle of Bute, form the shire of Bute, where the Gaelic language is spoken, but not in the same purity as in other districts, more especially in parts of the shires of Argyle and Inverness.
Doctor Johnson was born at Litchfield, Staffordshire, in 1709, where his father had been many years before, a bookseller; and, from his own confession, he was totally unacquainted with the Gaelic language, and never had been in Scotland, until he made his tour to the Hebrides, in 1773, when the authenticity of the poems of Ossian made a part of his inquiries, which he gave to the public in 1775.
It may be proper to remark that Mr. Shaw, in his Analysis of the Gaelic language, the first work he published, professes himself a strenuous believer in Ossian’s poems, and the history of Fingal; but how he afterwards became a sceptic, we will leave his subsequent controversial writings to explain. See note P. In his native isle (Arran) he must have heard, in his youth, recited many traditional songs and fragments respecting Fingal, and his warriors ; and places are shewn at this day which bear his name. Mr. Pennant, in his voyage to the Hebrides, (p. 206), mentions Fingal’s caves, on the western shore of Arran.
“ The most remarkable,” says he, “ are those of Fin-mac-cuil, or Fingal, the son of Cumhal, the father of Ossian, who, tradition says, resided in this island for the sake of hunting. One of these caverns is an hundred and twelve feet long, and thirty high, narrowing to the top like a Gothic arch.” Mr. Martin, in his Description of the Western Isles (p. 219), says : “ There are several caves on the coast of this isle (Arran) ; those on the west are pretty large, particularly in Drum-crucy; an hundred men may sit or lie in it; it is contracted gradually from the floor upwards to the roof. In the upper end there is a large piece of rock formed like a pillar; there is graven on it a deer, and underneath it a two-handed sword. There is a void space on each side of the pillar.
The south side of the cave has a horse-shoe engraven on it. On each side of the door, there is a hole cut out, and that, they say, was for holding big trees, on which the cauldrons hung for boiling beef and venison. The natives say that this was the cave in which Fin-mac-coul lodged during the time of his residence in this isle, and that his guards lay in the lesser caves, which are near this big one.”
OF CESAROTTl’s DISSERTATION. 347Note L, referred to p. 317* Shaw, in his reply to Clark, qualified the story of the scalloped shell, by declaring that it was an anecdote he set down on a blank page at some distance from the finis of the MS. of his Enquiry into the Authenticity of Ossian, for the sake of his own memory, as a laughable circumstance, without any intention of publishing it. When he delivered the MS. to be printed, he drew his pen across that anecdote, and confesses he was much displeased and surprised when he saw that the printer had brought it forward to the place where it stands in print. He laments his negligence, and asks pardon for the imputation, trusting that the ingenuity of this confession will give him a right to credit in what he shall affirm, and what he shall deny. It may be proper to add, that it was a custom among the Highlanders to drink their beverage out of scalloped shells. Hence the expression “ a’ cur n’a slige chreachain mu’n cuaart," that is, putting round the shell,’' was the common phrase for drinking, or making merry. With regard to the person (a Highland clergyman) who asked him to translate Fingal, Shaw confesses that he does not know that he seriously intended to have the experiment tried;
for it was not at all likely that he should embrace such a proposal.
Note M, referred to p. 318.
Mr. Shaw, in his reply to this part of Mr. Clark’s answer, says, “ It is true, that upon a supposition which I then thought probable, I encouraged Mr. Clark to offer to the public a genuine collection of Highland poetry; for I was yet willing to believe that much Highland poetry was somewhere to be found. But I am now convinced it is only in the moon, for on earth I could never see it. The MSS. of Mr. Clark, like those of Mr. Macpherson, were always invisible.’' Here again Mr. Shaw, as in most of his arguments, harps (as we are free to confess, with some reason) on the silent and mysterious conduct of Mr. Macpherson; for had the originals been published in the state they now are, soon after his translation, Doctor Johnson and Mr.
Shaw would have been for ever silenced.
Note N, referred to p. 318.
The MSS. left at Becket’s for public inspection by Mr. Macpherson, were the originals now published, also a valuable miscellaneous
NOTES BY THE TRANSLATORcollection of Gaelic original MSS. afterwards presented by the Highland Society of London to the Highland Society of Edinburgh, in January, 1803,* containing no less than 11,000 verses, composed at difl'erent periods. In the Report of the Committee of the Highland Society, these poems are noticed to have been composed at different periods, from the time of our most ancient Scottish bards down to the beginning of the sixteenth century. Among the more ancient, are poems of Conal, son of Edirskeol; Ossian, son of Fingal; Fergus Fili (Fergus the Bard) ;
and Caoilt, son of Ronan, the friends and cotemporaries of Ossian. The titles of two of these poems, purporting them to be the composition of Ossian, and another ascribed to his brother, Fergus the Bard, are inserted in the Report, with English translations, f The oldest MS. of this collection was ascertained by the late Mr.
Astle to be a writing of the ninth or tenth century, and is called Emanuel, a title which the old Gaelic writers gave to many of their miscellaneous writings. It contains ancient history, written on the authority of Greek and Roman authors, and interspersed with notices of the arts, armour, dress, superstition, and usage of the Caledonians of the author’s own time. It also contains an interesting account of Caesar’s expedition to Britain. The learned author of this Gaelic MS. is not named, but it is inferred from his work, that it was composed between the fifth and eighth centuries.
In this collection there is a parchment book, which contains MSS.
by different hands, appearing to have been written in the tenth or eleventh century; and the late Mr. Donald Smith has, in the Appendix to the ahovementioned Report, given curious fac similes of the original writings; also English translations of some passages, consisting of religious and historical subjects.
There is also in the collection an ancient Life of St. Columba, evidently appearing to be a writing of the twelfth or thirteenth century, of which a fac simile of the original Gaelic writing is also given in the said Appendix.
The author’s name, of the Life of St. Columba, the founder of Icolmkill monastery, is not mentioned; but there is reason to infer that it is compiled from the life said to have been written by Adamnanus, abbot * See Catalogue of MSS. at the end.
•f See Report, p. 92 ; and Dr. Donald Smith’s account of this collection, in the Appendix to the Report, p. 310.
OF CESAROTTI’S DISSERTATION. 349of Icolmkill, who flourished in the seventh century. He wrote also the lives of some other monks of the sixth century. There is in the Advocate’s Library at Edinburgh, a Life of Columba, in MS. extracted from the Pope’s library, and translated, it is said, from the Latin into Gaelic, by father Calohoran. There is also a large volume of Columba s Life, apparently compiled from Adamnanus, by Manus (son of Hugh) O’Donnel of Tyrconnel. Adamnanus cites a former Life of Columba, written by Commenius Albus.
Mr. Martin, in his Tour through the Western Isles of Scotland, p. 264, mentions having discovered two manuscripts, written in the Irish character, containing the Life of St. Columba. The one in the custody of John Mackneal, and the other in the possession of Macdonald of Benbecula.
Mr. Sacheverel, governor of the Isle of Man, who visited Iona in 1688, also mentions a MS. book, of ancient inscriptions, at Icolmkill, that was presented by Mr. Frazier, son to the Dean of the Isles, to the Earl of Argyle, in King Charles the Second’s time; which, as Bishop Nicolson observes in his Historical Library, (if still in being), might probably throw some light upon the history of this Saint.—But it is to be lamented that this MS. volume, containing three hundred Gaelic inscriptions, was afterwards lost, in the troubles of the Argyle family.
In the Bodleain Library, Oxford, there is an old vellum MS. of 140 pages, in the form of a music book, containing the works of Columba in verse, with some account of his own life, his exhortations to Princes, and his Prophecies.
It is much to be regretted that these, with many other Gaelic or Irish manuscrips still existing in the. United Kindoms, have not been printed, with verbal translations into Latin or English : and, were a laudable spirit of enquiry and research to be encouraged, there is no doubt that many valuable Gaelic or Irish MSS. might, notwithstanding the various accidents and ravages of time, still be recovered.
The above train of evidence relative to the existence of Gaelic MSS.
at different remote periods, completely overturns Dr. Johnson's general reasoning on unwritten languages, and the non existence of Gaelic MSS.
of more than a hundred years old; consequently the principal pillar, which supported his fabric of scepticism, being destroyed, all the other arguments, advanced against the authenticity of Ossiau’s poems, fall to the ground.
NOTES BY THE TRANSLATOR
Note O, referred to p. 3iy.