«* National Library of Scotland ■■jin B000157358*. V POEMS OF OSSIAN, IN THE ORIGINAL GAELIC, WITH A LITERAL TRANSLATION INTO LATIN, BY THE LATE ...»
Mar fhuaitn nach cluinnear ni’s md :
Togadh baird a ’chiuil an duain ;
Thill gaisgeach nam buadh le chliu.” Carraig-thura, Vol. I. p. 96.
“ Let the beam spread in the hall, the King of Shells is returned ! The strife of Carun is past, like sounds that are heard no more. Raise the song, O bards! The king is returned with his fame.” Macpherson’s Translation.
t The funeral songs, or elegies, in Ossian’s time, closed every stanza with some remarkable epithet or simile in praise of the hero. “ Thou wert mighty in battle—thy strength was like the strength of a stream— thy speed like the eagle’s wing—thy path in battle was terrible: the steps of death were behind thy sword. Death of Cuthullin.
| Spenser’s Works, Vol. VI. (l‘2mo. edition) p, 121. His View of the State of Ireland was written between the years 1580 and 1589.
$76 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEus, that in his time there was amongst the Irish, a certain kind of people called bards, whose profession was to set forth the praises or demerits of men in their poems or rhythmes, and who were held in such high repute and estimation among the Irish, that none dared displease them, from a dread of their reproaches, and of being made infamous in the mouths of all men; for their verses were received with general applause, and sung at all feasts and meetings by certain other persons whose function it was.
Although there appear an evident debasement in the character of the bards of modern times, when compared with those of “ other years,” we ought not on that account, to withhold giving due faith to the traditional history, which Ossian and his contemporary bards have transmitted to us, respecting Fingal and his warriors. It has been shewn, that the memory, when duly cultivated, is capable of the most extraordinary degree of retention ; and that in remote ages, and in countries where the art of writing was not unknown, the most sublime moral truths, and the recital of the most heroic achievements, were entrusted wholly to memory, in preference to written records. That history so transmitted through a series of ages can, in all things, be equally correct as the historical productions of this day, would be too much to affirm; but the moral precepts may be allowed to be authentic, and the leading historical features are not to be denied. Why then make an exception? Why refuse credit to oral tradition, when applied to the history and transactions of the AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS. 377 scattered remnants of the Celtic nations, driven to the remote and mountainous regions of Caledonia, “ a people untouched by the Roman or Saxon invasions of the south, and by those of the Danes on the east and west skirts of their country: the unmixed remains of that Celtic empire, which once stretched from the pillars of Hercules to Archangel ” * When the military discipline of the Romans had prevailed, and driven the ancient Albions to preserve their independence among the bleak mountains of Caledonia, they carried with them and fondly cherished the arts, language, customs, and manners of their forefathers, to the entire exclusion of every thing Roman. The south of Britain soon afterwards became the prey of the Saxons, who conquered and desolated the country. The Saxons, in their turn, gave way to the Danes; and the Norman invaders completed the subjection of that part of Britain.
While desolation was thus laying waste the south, as well as the east and the west, feuds and conflicts among the Highland clans (confined to their fastnesses in the mountains of Caledonia) sprung up with the feudal system, and usurped the dignified independence, the refined manners, and elevated sentiments, which had prevailed in the days of Fingal.
The history of those domestic feuds, which disgrace the Celtic race, and the descendants of Fimral and his warriors, during a period of nearly seven centuries, namely, from the beginning of the eleventh to the latter end of the seventeenth century, exhibits to the cultivated mind a melancholy picture of * Dalrymple’s Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland.
378 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEthe savage fierceness and degenerated state of the Scottish Higlanders :* and this, while it indisputably proves that Ossian’s poems cannot be a production of the fifteenth century, is undoubtedly one of the greatest obstacles to a belief in their authenticity;
because it is difficult to believe that an ancestor of such a people can have been the author of the noble and manly sentiments with which those poems are replete.
After these unhappy times, about the beginning of the eighteenth century, civilization began again to dawn on the Highlanders, “ like the returning beam that was set;” and they appeared gradually to emerge from that state of worse than Gothic barbarism, which had succeeded the refined age of Fingal. A mortal blow was fortunately given to the feudal system, which had so long prevailed, by an act of the British legislature, passed in 1748, abolishing for ever hereditary jurisdiction in Scotland.
The manners of the Highlanders have within half a century undergone a wonderful change; and although we have to regret the decline of the ancient language, in which Fingal spoke and Ossian sung, yet in a political point of view, this is much more than compensated by the rapid strides which have been made, and are daily making, in the civilization of the Highlanders, and the consequent improvement of their country.
II. OF THE ANCIENT NAME AND INHABITANTS OF
BRITAIN, AND PROGRESS OF LETTERS AMONG THECALEDONIANS.
Writers have differed in their definitions of the word A Win, or Albion, the ancient name of the island of Great Britain. Dr. John Macpherson, late minister of Slate in the Isle of Sky, father of Sir John Macpherson, Bart, in his Critical Dissertation on the origin of the ancient Caledonians, has given the most rational and decided opinion upon it.* His words are, “ The indigenal name of the Caledonians is the only one hitherto known among their genuine descendants, the Highlanders of Scotland. They call themselves Albanich to this day. All the illiterate Highlanders are as perfect strangers to the national name of Scot, as they are to that of Parthian or Arabian. If a common Highlander is asked of what country he is, he immediately answers that he is an Albanach or Gad. It is unnecessary to produce authorities to shew, that the island, which now goes under the name of Britain, was in early ages called Albion. To search for a Hebrew or Phoenician etymon of Albion has been the folly of some learned writers.
In vain have some attempted to derive it from i.
the white cliffs near Dover, or from a Greek word which signifies a certain species of grain, or from a gigantic son of Neptune. In the Celtic language, of which so many different dialects were diffused over * Dr. Macplierson’s Critical Dissertation, p. 115. See also La Martiniere’s Diet. Geog. tit. Albion.
380 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEall the European nations of the west and north, and, let me add, the Scythians of Asia, the vocable alp, or alba, signifies high. Of the Alpes Grajae, Alpes Psenime, or Penninae, and the Alpes Bastarnicae, every man of letters has read. In the ancient lano-uag-e of Scotland alp signifies invariably an eminence. The Albani near the Caspian sea, the Albani of Macedon, the Albani of Italy, and the Albanich of Britain, had all the same right to a name founded on the same characteristical reason, the height or roughness of their respective countries. The same thing may be said of the Gaulish Albici near Massilia.” It is well known, to those even but indifferently conversant in the Gaelic language, that most of the words are peculiarly energetic, and expressive of some property or quality of their object, more especially of the external appearance of countries, mountains, rivers, &c. Albin, or Alpin, which in that language signifies high or mountainous country, is the ancient name of our island, Britain ; and the word is compounded of Alb, or Alp, high, and in, land.
That the Celts of Gaul were the progenitors of the first inhabitants of Britain has an air of probabilitjq from the vicinity of the two countries, and the testimony of several ancient writers. But Julius Ccesar thinks, that the inmost inhabitants were indigenous;
because, after diligent inquiry, he could discover nothing of their first coming hither, neither had they any monuments of learning whence he could receive information. Although a veil of obscurity be thus thrown over the aborigines of this island, and the remote period when the first migration of the AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS. 381 Celts of Gaul is supposed to have happened; yet there are more than conjectural arguments to prove, that the appellation of Albms, or Albions, given to the natives, was of the remotest antiquity, and is derived from the Celtic root Alpin, or Albin; and, as observed by Dr. Macpherson and La Martiniere, the term is now retained and pronounced in the Gaelic language Albanich, signifying natives of the High lands. The appellation of Albion appears to have been given to Britain by Strabo, and other Greek as well as Roman writers; * but Buchanan mentions, that several Greek and Latin authors called the whole island Britannia, and all its inhabitants Britons, without making any distinction. Strabo has remarked (lib. iv.), that no one can doubt that the name of Albion, which is given to Britain, comes from the same source as that indiscriminately given to the Alps, namely, Alpia, and Albia. Martiniere, in his Geographical Dictionary (before referred to), under the article Celts, tells us, on the authority of Strabo, that the word Alps is of Celtic origin, borrowed by the Romans and Greeks.f Stephanas of Byzantium,
• Pliny says, in speaking of our island, “ Albion ipsi nomen fuit, cum Britanniae vocarentur omnes insulas. Lib. IV. c. l6.
t “ J’ai remarque, au mot Alpes, que, de I’aveu m6me de Strabon, c’etoit un mot Celtique emprunte par les Latins et par les Grecs.” Dictionnaire Geographique par Bruzen La Martiniere.
Innes has given in his Critical Essay, two ancient fragments of Scottish history, which throw some light on the extensive boundaries of Fingal's kingdom. “ Fergus the son of Ere reigned over Albany from Drumalbin to the sea of Ireland and Innsegall (or Hebrides).” Lhuyd, in his Archaslogia Britannica, when giving a catalogue of Irish manuscripts in Trinity College, Dublin, mentions one called the Book of
382 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEAvho lived in the fifth century, describes our island thus: Albion insula est hodie Britannia dicta ah albis rupibus, quas mare abluit.
When or how our island received the general appellation of Britannia, is not precisely ascertained.
It is however well known, from the concurrent testimony of historians, that the ancient inhabitants, who were considered by Cassar as the inmost, or most remote from the southern parts, or those who were driven by successive invaders to the strongholds in the north of the island, were known and distinguished by the ancient name of Alpins, or Albions; which true Celtic name of Albion, the Gael of Scotland and Ireland continued to give to the whole island of Great Britain: and that, after the Saxons had defeated the South Britons, the portion which the former possessed of Britain was named by the ancient inhabitants, Sasson, the name England
goes by at the present day in the Gaelic language:
hence is derived in Gaelic the compound Sassonich, signifying Englishmen, or perhaps, more properly, Anglo-Saxons.
Some writers have, with more ingenuity than sound etymological reasoning, conjectured that, at the period alluded to, the Welsh, from having nobly maintained their independence, were distinguished by the honourable appellation of Ualsh, signifying, in the Celtic language, nobility. The reader conversant in the Gaelic language may, on first consideration Lecane containing several treatises, histories, and genealogies of Ireland and Scotland, among which there is a commentary on the antiquity of Albany, now called Scotland.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’s POEMS. 383 of the etymon of this appellation, allow the conjecture to have some weight. Uail, in Gaelic, signifies illustrious, or renowned. Uaisle, nobility, gentry, or generosity; from which is derived Uisleacha, to ennoble, &c. But the Scottish historian Buchanan, also Dr. Macpherson, and others, affirm, on more solid grounds, that the initial W or U ot the Teutonic language is commonly equivalent to the G of the British, Irish, French, and Italian languages.
Thus, the JVeales of the Anglo-Saxons is pronounced by the French Galles, as it is by the Irish and ancient Scots Gaulive. Hence the Anglo-Saxons denominated the Britons in the South JVeales in their own language, and Gauli, in the monkish Latin of their times,
terms literally signifying strangers, or foreigners:
and in the German language, the word JValsch still signifies strangers. Gaul, or Gauld, in the Gaelic, has the same signification at this day in the Highlands, and is applied to lowlanders, or strangers. Thus the compound gili-gauld, in Gaelic signifies a lowland, or strange youth. The distinction therefore between Gael and Gauld is obvious to every Gaelic scholar.
The first relates to the ancient language and country of the Albions ; and the Highlanders of Scotland, in speaking of their own language, call it Gaelic-Albanach, the language of the Gael in the Highlands, in contradistinction to Gaelic-Eirinach, the language of the Gael in Ireland; hence it may be demonstrated, that those congenial dialects may be referred to the same parent-stock, but which of them is now the least corrupted, by the exclusion of exotic words, or terms, must depend on the internal evidence to be