«* National Library of Scotland ■■jin B000157358*. V POEMS OF OSSIAN, IN THE ORIGINAL GAELIC, WITH A LITERAL TRANSLATION INTO LATIN, BY THE LATE ...»
Mr. Shaw, in his reply to this accusation, qualifies his former assertion, and observes, “ With respect to Mr. M‘ Leod, I now say again, what I have said before, that I offered him half a crown a line for any part of Ossian that he would repeat. Such offers at a jovial table are not very serious. My intention was to provoke him to repeat something, but the provocation had no effect. What he has heard Mr. Macpherson read, he has not distinctly told us; and the passages which he has received from Mr. Macpherson he does not tell us the length of, nor consequently, whether they are not such as might be occasionally fabricated.” It is to be regretted that a controversy of this nature should, in the outset, have been carried on with so much acrimony, and with so many bitter invectives on both sides; so as to render it necessary for either party to contradict the other, or to make unqualified assertions, without having proofs to support them.
Note P, referred to p. 319.
Although the writer of this note has not seen Mr. Clarke’s Answer to Mr. Shaw's Inquiry into the Authenticity of Ossian, yet he believes the grounds on which Mr. Clarke founded his arguments to shew Mr.
Shaw, in contradiction with himself, are principally drawn from his first publication, entitled an Analysis of the Gaelic Language. At the close of Mr. Shaw’s Introduction to that work, he justly remarks, “ an acquaintance with the Gaelic, being the mother longue of all the languages in the west, seems necessary to every antiquary who would study the affinity of languages, or trace the migrations of the ancient races of mankind. Of late it has attracted the attention of the learned in different parts of Europe; and shall its beauties be neglected by those who have opportunities, from their infancy, of understanding it!
Antiquity being the taste of the age, some acquaintance with the Gaelic begins justly to be deemed a part of the Belles Lettres. The language that boasts of the finished character of Fingal, must richly rew-ard the curiosity of whoever studies it. Of this Sir James Foulis is a rare instance, who, in advanced years, has learned to read and write it; and now drinks of the Pierian spring untainted, by reading fragments of poetry in Fingal’s own language.”
OF CESAROTTl’s DISSERTATION. 351Mr. Shaw might have likewise added the name of an English gentleman, the late General Sir Adolphus Oughton, commander in chief in Scotland, who studied and acquired a competent knowledge of the Gaelic.
Mr. Shaw has also said, in his Analysis of the Gaelic Language, under the head of Prosody, that, “ The Gael, when their language was formed, seem to be in that state of society when the arts of peace and war were not entirely strangers ; when it was an approved maxim to “ bind the strong in arms, but spare the feeble hand, be a stream of many tides against the foes of the people, but like the gale that moves the grass to those who ask the aid.”—Parcere subjectis debellare superbos. Such was the genius of the language in the days of Trenmore and Fingal.
In another part, treating of the measure of Gaelic poetry, he remarks, that, ‘‘All compositions have hitherto been orally repeated, and which by different persons will ever be differently performed ; whereas, had these pieces, been written, every one would have repeated them alike. Even Ossian’s poems could not be scanned; for every reciting bard pronounced some words differently, and sometimes substituted one word for another. Nevertheless the poetry always pleases the ear, and is well adapted to the music for which it was originally intended; and the language and composition seldom fail to please the fancy and gain approbation.” Mr. Shaw, afterwards, with great ingenuity, treats of the Gaelic measures, under the heads of dactyles, spondees, jambs, troches, &c. and exhibits specimens of the irregular and various measures of Ossian’s poetry.
It is but fair in this place to notice that Mr. Shaw, in his reply to Mr. Clark, contained in an appendix to the second edition of his Inquiry into the Authenticity of Ossian, (and which the learned Abbe Cesarotti appears not to have seen) rests the strength of his arguments on the mysterious conduct of Mr. Macpherson, by withholding from the public the Gaelic originals. “ If Fingal (says Shaw) exists in Gaelic, let it be shewn ; and if ever the originals can be shewn, opposition may be silenced.” With respect to that part of Clark’s Answer Shaw against Shaw, wherein he is shewn to be at variance with himself, on the grounds, principally of what has been quoted in this note from his Analysis, Shaw replied with candour, and more than usual moderation, that, “ if they even contained all the contradictions pretended to be found, it would
NOTES BY THE TRANSLATOR35* prove only, what I very willingly confess, that with respect to the abundance of Erse literature, I have changed my mind. I once certainly believed too much. 1 perhaps now believe too little ; but when my present belief shall be overpowered by conviction, I have already promised to change my mind again.” We have no doubt that the period of Mr. Shaw’s conviction is now arrived, when, in addition to the evidence arising from the variety of materials lately collected and reported upon by a committee of the Highland Society of Scotland, in their Inquiries into the Authenticity of Ossian’s Poems, there is now published, what has been so long expected, the originals from which Mr. Macpherson translated. The internal evidence arising from a particular examination of the nature and construction of the language, and from the comparison, and as it were analysis of these originals, and Mr. Macpherson’s translation of them, will doubtless remove the stumbling-block on which Dr. Johnson’s and Mr. Shaw’s incredulity was founded. In fact, there is every reason to believe that Mr. Shaw was not at heart so obstinate a sceptic as he professed in his Inquiry into the Authenticity of Ossian : and although it brought upon him the acrimonious invectives of his opponents, yet it not only gratified Doctor Johnson, in being, as he conceived, so well supported, and that too by a Highlander; but it secured to Mr. Shaw ever after the Doctor’s friendship and patronage. The burden of their argument was a cry of “shew us the manuscripts,”—“ Produce the originals, or a transcript of a transcript of the original.” “ I look not,” says Mr. Shaw, in his reply to Mr. Clark, “ for Ossian’s own hand writing, but I look for a transcript of a transcript from some copy, however distant.” A strict examination of the originals now ’published, will at all events afford Mr. Shaw, or any Gaelic scholar, the means of discovering either the internal evidence of their authenticity, or internal proofs of their fabrication.
Note Q, referred to p. 319.
John Barbour wrote the Life and heroic Actions of King Robert Bruce, in ancient Scottish verse, from which Sir John Sinclair has given a quotation, in page xxv. of his Dissertation prefixed to this work. This ancient poem has always been in great estimation, and possesses considerable merit, having run through several editions. It is founded on materials and facts which the author received from some of those
OF CESAROTTl’s DISSERTATION. 353gallant heroes who had fought under that illustrious prince Robert Bruce, when he drove the English out of Scotland.
Note R, referred to p. 321.
In the Report of the Committee of the Highland Society of Scotland, appointed to enquire into the nature and authenticity of Ossian’s poems, page 50, and Appendix, No. VIII. and IX. there are Critical Strictures on the editions of Ancient Gaelic Poems, collected by Mr. Hill, together with specimens of the corruption of the original poetry and of the incorrectness of his translation. Among other remarks, the following is made by the ingenious reporter : “ Mr. Hill published these translations with the original Gaelic prefixed, first in the Gentleman’s Magazine, and afterwards in a small pamphlet. He subjoined remarks of his own upon the question, much agitated at the time, of the genuineness of Macpherson’s Fingal, and on the general nature of Gaelic poetry. These remarks are written in general with candour and impartiality, and with considerable acuteness, as far as the author’s limited information enabled him to judge of the subject: but it were unreasonable to expect from the imperfect materials furnished by a desultory tour in the Highlands, made by a person ignorant of the language, as well as the manners of the country, a very satisfactory discussion of questions, on which a well-informed judgment can only be the result of laborious inquiry, and the examination of many documents, not more difficult to procure, than to read or understand when procured. This remark might perhaps be applied, in a more or less considerable degree, to most of the writers on the subject, and to none more justly than to the most celebrated of the number, Dr. Samuel Johnson.” Note S, referred to in p. 323.
The most conclusive evidence is adduced in the Dissertation prefixed to the first volume of this work, that a manuscript of Ossian’s poems, in Gaelic, actually existed at the Scottish College of Douay in Flanders, previous to Mr. Macpherson having made any collection of those poems. It appears that Ossian’s poems, in the manuscript folio volume alluded to, were collected and written by the late Rev. John Farquharson, a Roman Catholic clergyman, about the year 1745, while living at Strathglass in the North Highlands. This manuscript he carried with him VOL. III. Aa
NOTES BY THE TRANSLATORto the college of Douay, where he was made prefect of studies; and on his leaving that place in 1773, he left the MS. at the college. The concurrent testimony of the venerable Bishops Cameron and Chisholm, of the Roman Catholic persuasion, and of the Rev. James Macgillivray, who were students at the college of Douay between the years 17f3 and 1773, as exhibited in their correspondence with Sir John Sinclair, inserted in his Dissertation, will at the present moment be perused with the most lively interest, by all impartial enquirers after truth, and admirers of Gaelic literature.
Note T, referred to p. 323.
There is an evident mistake in the quotation given from Smith in the text. The fact is, that Smith, in an addenda to his Dissertation on the Authenticity of Ossian’s Poems, gives an account of the poems translated by himself, in his work on the Gaelic Antiquities; and the extract given in the text is exclusively applied to them, and not to those translated by Macpherson.
Note U, referred to p. 325.
The poems of Homer, the prince of epic poets, were transmitted orally for ages in detached and irregular fragments, in the same manner as Ossian’s, and were at length digested and connected into the epic form, at Athens, by the assiduity of Solon, Pisistrates, and his son Hipparchus. These poems were originally sung, or recited, in fragments, and each of the rhapsodies, or pieces, took its name from the contents, such as “ The Battle of the Ships,”—“ The Death of Dolon,”—u The Valour of Agamemnon,”—“ The Grot of Calypso,”—“ The Slaughter of the Wooers,” and the like. Lycurgus, it is reported on the authority of ancient writers, was the first who made them known in Greece in their detached form; that law-giver having, while in Ionia, carefully transcribed them from perfect copies with his own hand, and thence brought them to Lacedasmon. It, however, appears from undoubted testimony, that until Solon’s time, these poems were not digested into the regular form now transmitted to us, but had been only circulated among the Athenians, in separate or detached pieces, and were sung or repeated in recitative.
It therefore appears to have been a task no less laborious than Macpherson’s, to collate the originals and prepare the text of the, Iliad and
OF CESAROTTI S DISSERTATION. 355Odyssey, in its pristine purity. Homer composed his poems and flourished, according to the Arundeiian Marbles, anno 907 before Christ, and Pisistratus, and his son Hipparchus, who first put together the confused parts of Homer for publication, flourished about the year 500 before Christ. Hence we perceive that near four centuries had elapsed, before the traditionary works of Homer were reduced into the epic form, or noticed among the learned of that age as a regular work.
Supposing Homer’s verses to have been all as correctly measured, as they are now transmitted to us, yet it cannot be supposed that this was the case at the period of their being collected from oral tradition ; or that vanity had not led some poetical reciter, or rhapsodist, to make additions or transpositions of his own, and even to alter some lines and interpolate others ; or that necessity might not have induced others to supply chasms, to connect the detached parts.—In short, the perfect poems given to us cannot be the identical Greek composed by Homer, no more than we can presume to say that those of Ossian, collected by Macpherson, are literally in every part the identical Gaelic composed by that bard; since it is obvious, even to the most strenuous advocates for the authenticity of Ossian’s poems, that they must have been arranged, digested, and connected by or under the authority of him, who had mind enough to make the collection.
From the testimony of ancient writers, there appear to have been seven poets of inferior talents, who bore the name of Homer. Contending nations, districts, and cities, claimed the honour of his birth.
The Celtic bard too, has had his imitators in Ireland and Scotland, who assumed the name of Ossian ; and his birth has been claimed by both countries : (See note X). But in the concluding words of Cesarotti we may remark, Let Ossian be a native of Morven, or of Ulster, no one will say, he was not the son of Apollo, Note W, referred to p. 327* Throughout the whole of Ossian’s poems, collected and translated by Macpherson, there is no mention made of the apostle St. Patrick, neither is there a single allusion thrown out relative to the Christian religion, or its tenets; nor a single hint given of the customs or manners of a more advanced age than that early one, in which they are supposed to have been written. St. Patrick appears, from every authority to be relied upon, to have been born in Scotland, at a place called Kirk, or