«* National Library of Scotland ■■jin B000157358*. V POEMS OF OSSIAN, IN THE ORIGINAL GAELIC, WITH A LITERAL TRANSLATION INTO LATIN, BY THE LATE ...»
After the train of evidence adduced in the Dissertation prefixed to this work, proving from the concurrent authorities of Barbour, Boethius, Bishop Leslie, Bishop Douglas, Lyndsay, Lord Hailes, Nicolson and Colgan, that the poems current in the Highlands were composed by Ossian, a Scottish bard; it is only necessary here to remark, that supposing Macpherson’s genius capable of fabricating the poems ascribed to Ossian, would he not in one part or another have been thrown off his guard, and discovered the imposture, by introducing some allusions to St. Patrick, or the rites of the Christian religion ? The inference therefore, to be fairly drawn from this apparent anachronism in the Irish poems ascribed to Ossian, is, that inferior poets might have assumed the name of Ossian in Ireland as well as in Scotland, like the inferior poets who assumed the name of Homer in Ionia, Attica, and other parts of ancient Greece. This opinion receives some weight from that of Colgan, an Irish author of great learning and research, who mentions that St. Patrick had a convert dignified with the name of Ossin, or Ossian.
The Scotch, as already noticed, claim for their country the honour of having given birth to St. Patrick, and there are many circumstances favouring this tradition, though Mr. O’Halloran, an Irish writer, supposes that he was rather a native of Wales. In a burying place in the churchyard of Old Kirk, or Kilpatrick, there is a stone of great antiquity, with a figure said to be that of St. Patrick upon it; and some go so far as to assert that he was buried under it.* Mr. Pennant says, “ Ireland will scarce forgive me if I am silent about the birth place of its tutelar saint. He first drew breath at Kirkpatrick, and derived his name from his father, a noble Roman (a Patrician) who fled hither in the time of persecution.”f The place of his nativity and burial, whether in Ireland or Scotland, * See Statistical Account by the Rev. John Davidson.
t Pennant’s Tour, Vol. II. p. 160, 5th edition.
OF CESAROTTI S DISSERTATION. 357has been a subject of as much controversy with the religious of both nations, as Homer’s birth place was formerly among the cities of Greece. It is however admitted by the Scottish writers, that St. Columba, the founder of the monastery of Icolmkill, and who flourished in the sixth century, was a native of Ireland. But that he died, worn out with age, at Iona, and was interred there. The Irish pretend, as Mr.
Pennant remarks, that in after times he was translated to Down, where, according to the epitaph, his remains were deposited with those of St. Bridget, and St. Patrick. But this is totally denied by the Scots, who affirm that the contrary is shewn in a life of the saint, extracted out of the Pope’s library, and translated from the Latin into Gaelic, by father Calohoran, which decides in favour of Iona, the dispute. This Gaelic MS. is in the Advocate’s library at Edinburgh (1693). In short whether Ossian, the son of Fingal, or the Irish apostle St. Patrick, or St. Columba, were natives of Scotland or Ireland, we do not consider of sufficient importance for such keen controversy as the subject has, at different periods, excited among writers of both nations;
for the fact being established either way, can neither augment or diminish the weight of external evidence necessary to prove that Fingal fought, and that Ossian sung, in Gaelic, in Ireland as well as in Scotland.
Nor can it be denied that the language peculiar to both countries was radically the same, being derived from the same parent stock ; and that the Irish and Scotch were one and the same people.
Although it may be lamented that the Gaelic language has been on the decline for many years, yet it is flattering to the admirers of Celtic literature, that it has survived Ossian as a living speech in parts of Scotland and Ireland for fifteen hundred years; and there is now a probability, before it becomes a dead or unspoken language, that from the fond attention of the Highlanders and Irish to their vernacular tongue, it may survive our ancient bard, as long as the language of Homer survived him as a living speech in the states of Greece, namely, more than two thousand years.
Note X, referred to p. 328, 9As we have the testimony of ancient w'riters, that there were seven other poets of inferior note, who bore the name of Homer, may it not be reasonably conjectured, by way of reconciling the apparent anachronisms in the Irish poems ascribed to Ossian, the son of Fingal, and
NOTES BY THE TRANSLATORpublished by Mr. Hill, the Baron de Harold, Miss Brookes, and others, that there might have been one or two other inferior poets, cotemporaries with Saint Patrick, and even posterior to that period, who bore the name of Ossian ; or who chose to assume a name in the days of old so renowned in poetic lore ?
The question, whether the Scots, derived from the Celtic origin, had first been established in Ireland, and migrated thence to the northwest coasts of Great Britain, has been (as noticed by Mr. Hume) disputed with as great zeal, and even acrimony, between the Scottish and Irish antiquaries, as if the honour of their respective countries were most deeply concerned in the decision. We need not therefore be sur^ prised, that the same zeal has been evinced by each nation in claiming Ossian as her native bard. Homer had contending nations and cities to claim the honour of his birth ; and many ages had elapsed before it was ascertained that he was a native of Ionia.
Neither need we be surprised that the bards and traditional preservers of ancient Gaelic songs in Scotland and Ireland, have ever been fond of ascribing them all to so divine a bard as Ossian, especially such poems as relate to the wars, in which he bore a part, and to the exploits of his own race. This may be the cause why there are so many ancient poems in both countries ascribed to Ossian, the son of Fingal. And it must be confessed there is some difficulty in separating the genuine from the spurious, so as to clear them from the mist of obscurity, in which, they are enveloped.
Note Y, referred to p. 329-
As it may not be unacceptable to the reader, we shall give a brief explanation of the terms Morgante and Ricciardetto, alluded to in the text, by the Abbfe Cesarotti.
1. Morgante, or rather Jl Morgante Maggiore, is an epic poem or romance, composed in the fifteenth century, by Luigi Pulci, a Florentine of noble descent. This poem is generally regarded as the prototype of die Orlando Furioso of Ariosto. The author appears to have lived on terms of intimacy with Lorenzo di Medici, who, in one of his poetical effusions titled La Caccia col Falcone, mentions him with great freedom and jocularity. This poem of Morgante, as observed by Mr. Roscoe, in his Life of Lorenzo di Medici,,e is the singular offspring of the wayward genius of Pulci, and has been as immoderately commended by its
OF CESAROTTI'S DISSERTATION. 359admirers as it has been unreasonably condemned and degraded by its opponents; and while some have not scrupled to prefer it to the productions of Ariosto and Tasso, others have decried it as vulgar, absurd, and profane.” It is said by Crescimbeni, that Pulci was accustomed to recite this poem at the table of Lorenzo, in the manner of the ancient rhapsodists.
2. Rkciardetto is the name of a burlesque poem in thirty cantos, written by Nicolas Fortiguerri, (under the feigned name of Niccolo Carteromaco), a learned Italian prelate, who flourished in the beginning of the last century. The author wished to prove to a party of wits and critics at Rome, how easy it is for a man of imagination to write in the style of Ariosto, whom some of them had preferred to Tasso. In this poem he gives full scope to his imagination; and its extravagance would be fatiguing beyond measure, were it not supported by the greatest ease of versification, and perpetual sallies of pleasantry and genius.
In these observations it is proposed to discuss in a cursory manner the following subjects, Avhich could not be brought within the limits of the preceding Notes on Cesarotti’s Dissertation, without extending them to a greater length than was consistent with the plan prescribed.
1. Oral tradition, ancient song and music.
2. The ancient name and inhabitants of Great Britain, and progress of letters among the Caledonians.
3. Philological enquiries, and the affinity of the Celtic, or Gaelic, with the Oriental and other languages.
4. A summary of the evidence already adduced in support of the authenticity of Ossian’s poems, with further proofs.
To which it is proposed to add topographic descriptions of some of the principal scenes of Fingal and his warriors, and notices of Celtic, Gaelic, Irish, and Welsh books published, also of Gaelic and Irish manuscripts still existing in Great Britain and Ireland.
364 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE
I. ORAL TRADITION, ANCIENT SONG AND MUSIC.
That unwritten compositions of heroic actions have been preserved unimpaired for ages, is a truth no person, who has given the subject an impartial consideration can deny. The retentive powers of memory, when duly exercised, more especially by minds accustomed to receive early impressions, from the great book of nature, on love, war, and hunting, Subjects so deeply interesting to man in the early stages of society, must have enabled the ancient druids and bards to transmit unimpaired to posterity what they had acquired, by long perseverance in professional duties, on topics perfectly congenial with their natural inclination.
It was not merely the constant practice of the druids and Scottish bards, like the ancient poets of Greece and Arabia, to recite or sing the heroic compositions of their country, but it was their official duty to transmit them to their successors unaltered as they had acquired them; and hence it may be inferred that those compositions were preserved in greater purity, than could have been expected had they been committed to writing. Because, in transmitting them orally, the cadence or rhyme, by the transposition of a single syllable, or even a change in the place of the same long or short vowel, could not fail to be detected, by every ear susceptible of the harmony of sounds; whereas, in written compositions, errors might imperceptibly creep into the successive transcripts handed down during a series;
• AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’s POEMS. 365 of ages ; they might become even unintentionally so disguised with alterations, as to destroy the original simplicity of the composition; and they might be subject to the imagined improvements, which the vanity of some transcribers would lead them to introduce. It may be added, that a written record is liable to be destroyed by various causes, not to mention the ravages of time; while narratives, imprinted on the minds of the youth of successive generations, can only be lost with the race itself.
In corroboration of this opinion, we have the authority of Julius Cassar, who, speaking of the druids, says, “ They are said to get by heart a great number of verses,so that some continue twenty years in their education. Neither is it held lawful to commit those things to writing, though, in almost all public transactions and private accounts, they use the Greek letter. They seem to have instituted this method for two reasons : because, they would not have their,learning divulged to the vulgar; and lest those who learned, by depending on their writings, should be less assiduous in cultivating their memory ;
and because it frequently happens, that, by the assistance of letters, persons take less pains in getting by heart or remembering.”* In a recent publication by a member of the Celtic Academy at Paris, we are told, that the principles of druidical learning were established and consigned in sixty thousand verses, and that it was incumbent on the druids of the first class to get them all by heart, f * Caes. Com. Lib. VI. Cap. 13.
t Les principes de leur doctrine furent etablis et consignes dans id' soixante mille vers qui n’etoient que des adages ou des resultats dans
S66 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEThe extraordinary powers of memory must at the present moment be universally admitted. Many persons might be named, to prove that those powers, even in our age, are almost unlimited when fully exercised and called into action. By affidavits and other sources of evidence, so conclusive that in any case, excepting the authenticity of Ossian’s poems, no person would dare to question them, it is indisputably established, that the whole of those poems published by Mr. Macpherson, and many others, were preserved in their native Gaelic, at least from time immemorial, by oral tradition; but reference shall be made to one affidavit only, (as given in the Appendix to Sir John Sinclair’s Dissertation prefixed to this work,)* namely, the affidavit of Captain John Macdonald of Breakish, who solemnly swears, and his veracity is unimpeached, that, for a certain period of his life, he could repeat some thousand verses of those poems, which he had acquired solely by oral tradition. In a subsequent division, viz. Summary of Evidence, we shall have occasion to detail more amply this and the other proofs.
In note E. to Cesarotti’s Dissertation we have the testimony of the learned Sir Wm. Jones, respecting the credit due to the traditions of the ancient Arabs;
whose monuments of old history are collections of poetical pieces orally recited for ages, and thus transmitted from one generation to another. Writing was so little practised among the Arabs, that their most tous les genres de connoissances: les druides de la premiere classe devoient les savoir par coeur.
Monumens Celtiqves, par M. Cambry de VAcademic Celdque, &c.
* Appendix, No. I.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’s POEMS. 36?
ancient poems, recording their most memorable transactions, may be considered as originally unwritten.