«* National Library of Scotland ■■jin B000157358*. V POEMS OF OSSIAN, IN THE ORIGINAL GAELIC, WITH A LITERAL TRANSLATION INTO LATIN, BY THE LATE ...»
Whether the ancient Celtic character was derived from the Greek, or the Greek from the Celtic, we have no positive proofs, and the question is still problematical : yet Mr. Astle is inclined to believe the former.
The ancient Spaniards used also letters nearly Greek, before their intercourse with the Romans.
“ It is singular, as observed by Mr. Astle, and no less true, that the Roman characters were generally used in England from the coming of William I. and * Origin and Progress of Writing, p. 57- 2d Edit.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS. 419 that the Saxon characters were entirely disused in the very beginning of the twelfth century; but the Irish and Scots preserved the ancient forms of their characters till the end of the sixteenth century."* It is a fact well known to every Oriental scholar, that the different transcripts of Persian MSS. of the heroic poems of Ferdusi, the sublime poems of Khakani, the elegant odes of Hafz, and the works of Nizami, and others, also the ancient popular tales called Bakht-yar-nameh, differ essentially from each other; for several copies, in passing through the hands of ignorant or conceited transcribers, have suffered a considerable debasement of the original text.
In the Persian popular tales of a very remote period, it is curious to remark, that all the names of the persons introduced are, like Ossian’s, characteristic compounds, formed by two nouns, the one qualifying the other, and governing it in gender. Thus the name of Bakht-yar is derived from bakht, fortune, and yar, friend, and may be translated “ fortune’s friend.” Sepeh-salar, a proper name also, signifies a general, or “ leader of an army.” Various other instances might be cited, in the Arabic and Persian literature, as characteristic compounds; to prove that in very remote periods, and among nations speaking different dialects, and separated from each other at the extremities of the globe, similar modes of composition, as well as manners and customs to * The MSS. written in the northern parts of Scotland and in Ireland, between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries, noticed by Mr. Astle, and of which he has given engraved fac-similes, are in similar characters to the Saxon.
420 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEthose ascribed to the Eera of Ossian prevailed. Let us examine a few of Ossian’s characters, and we shall find a striking analogy. Thus Duchomar signifies a c “ black well made man.” Fergus, or Ferguth, the man of the word.” “ Where is that cloud in war, Duchomar ?” “ Hast thou left me,0 Fergus, in the day of the storm ?” Trenmore signifies “ tall and mighty Cean daona, head of the people: Cormar, expert at sea: Guraoch, the madness of battle; and a variety of other names.
Were a laudable spirit of research and inquiry to be encouraged and excited among the learned, in order to trace and compare the affinity of the Celtic roots, with those in the Oriental and other languages, there might be reason to hope we should, at no distant period, see the venerable remains of Celtic literature made an object of classical learning under professors at our Universities. Then we might expect, that the sublime poems of the Caledonian bard would be duly and universally appreciated, and that a grammatical knowledge of the original language would consequently become a desideratum with the student, who would be actuated by stronger motives to acquire it, than those which stimulate many to learn Spanish, for the sake of merely relishing the humourous adventures of Dou Quixotte in the original."
* Several gentleman born and educated in England have recently made the Gaelic language an object of study, under good masters;
William Rose, Esq. has, we are informed, by application, acquired a competent knowledge of the language; and Mr. J. A. M‘Arthur, ol Trinity College, Cambridge, and others we could name, have begun to study the Gaelic with assiduity.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN S POEMS.
As it is our intention not “ to strain facts out of etymologies f zee shall only exhibit a few examples from the Latin, Greek, and Oriental languages, in which the sound and meaning correspond with the radicals in the Gaelic.
* I» the language of Otaheite the higher classes of the people are called Erree, and the king is called Errie no Rahie, signifying the King of the Nobility. See Cooke’s Voyage.
428 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE
* There is a poem in Arabic called Moalakat (i. e.) In Praise, written by Prince Amaralkeis, a cotemporary of Mahomet. It is in praise of a great action, and the following line has a great analogy to the Gaelic.
“ Fakalit yaminalahi ma lika hilatown,” which signifies “ And she said, by the right hand of God, you shall not be deceived.” There is a poem in Clark’s Caledonian Bards called “ Oran Molla,” a song of praise.
-(■ It deserves notice, that a certain class of nouns in the Gaelic, form their plurals by adding an to the singular number, and the same holds in the Persian by adding gan or an, as in the above example.
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We cannot conclude these desultory etymological researches, without noticing a Celtic proverb mentioned by Mr. Cambry of the Celtic Academy in France,* which from, its affinity with the Gaelic now spoken, is peculiarly striking, both as to the pronunciation and sense of the words. He says, “ that the people of Britanny have preserved the true etymology of Paris in a Celtic proverb, of which the style manifests its being of the most remote antiquity : namely, * Monumens Celtiques, p. 361.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN S POEMS.
and is thus translated into Latin and English:
Ex quo aqua inundavit civitatem Is Hand apparet ubi inveniatur par Parisiis.
Since the water has overflowed the city Is, There does not appear an equal to Paris.
The city of Is, alluded to in the Celtic proverb, is celebrated in ancient geography, and which tradition places in the Bay of Douarnenez, in the southwest of Britany near Quimper, and is said to have been submerged. The Celtic word par, signifying equal, or like, renders, when joined to Is, what is called, in the French language, unjeu de mots, viz.
Par-is, which means equal, or like Is, the name of the ancient city alluded to.
Thus we have endeavoured to demonstrate the analogy of the Greek, Latin, and Oriental languages to the Gaelic. From the proofs adduced, and examples given, whereof, were it necessary, many hundreds equally applicable might be added, we may safely venture to assert, that no language ancient or modern contains more primitive roots than the Celtic or Gaelic.
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IV. A SUMMARY OF THE EVIDENCE ADDUCED IN
SUPPORT OF THE AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S
POEMS, WITH FURTHER PROOFS.
For the sake of perspicuity, we shall divide this head into three branches, viz. 1. The Gaelic, which is confessedly a dialect of the Celtic, has been a written language in the Highlands of Scotland, and in parts of Ireland, from very remote periods. 2. The poems ascribed to Ossian commemorating the achievements of Fingal and his warriors, have been for ages recited and sung to music in the Highlands and isles of Scotland,and have for time immemorial been the entertainment of the people. 3. The poems translated by Mr.
Macpherson,were collected by him from oral tradition and manuscripts procured in the Highlands; and that similar collections have been made by other persons at different periods, prior to his translation.
1. That the Gaelic was a written language from very remote periods, may be deemed sufficiently proved by the observation already made in Note E to Cesarotti’s Dissertation; and by the facts and authorities noticed under the second general head of these Supplementary Observations.* It may therefore suffice to touch briefly on some particular points of evidence, which when summed up with those already adduced, will incontrovertibly establish the truth of our position, as well as the fallacy of Doctor Johnson’s assertion, that the Caledonians had been * See page 386 et seq.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS.
always a rude and illiterate people, and that they never had any written language.
When the druids who spoke the Gaelic language, and to whom writing was familiar,* had been driven from the rest of Britain, a few of them retired to Caledonia, and took up their residence in Iona, afterwards called Icolmkill,t where they founded a college, and lived and taught unmolested, until they
• Casar’s Com. B. VI. c. 13.
t The original name of Icolmkill, prior to Columba’s settling there, was Hy. During Columba’s Life, it was called Iona, and alter his death, it received the name of Icolmkill, that is, the isle of Columba’s chapel, compounded of I, island, colm, Columba, and cill, or kill, chapel, church-yard, or inclosed place.
Mr. Pennant, in his Tour, Vol. I. p. 284, second edition, mentions that the Dean of the Isles, and after him Buchanan, describe the tombs of the kings existing at Icolmkill iivthe time of the Dean. On one was inscribed Tumulus Regum Scotia:: in which were deposited the remains of forty-eight Scottish kings, beginning with Fergus II. and ending with the famous Macbeth. In another was inscribed Tumulus Regum Hibernice: in which were deposited the remains of four Irish monarchs;
and in a third, Tumulus Regum Norwegice, were deposited eight Norwegian princes, or more probably vice-roys of the Hebrides, while they were subject to that crown.
That so many crowned heads, from different nations, should prefer this as the place of their interment, is said to be owing to the following
ancient Gaelic prophecy:
Seachd blithna roimh ’n bhraa Thig muir thar Eirin re aon tra’ ’Sthar Ile ghuirm ghlais Ach snamhaidh Icholum clairich.
Which is thus literally translated :
“ Seven years before the conflagration The sea at one tide shall cover Ireland, And also the green-headed Islay, But the Isle of Columba of the harp shall swim (above the flood.) Ff VOL. III.
434 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEwere dispossessed by St. Columba in the sixth century. For several ages after that period, Iona was one of the most famous seats of learning, of which this or any of the neighbouring kingdoms could boast; and the language in which almost all their learning was retailed and written was the Gaelic.* Here then is the groundwork of our first position, and it carries with it a degree of conviction as strong as can well be derived from presumption or probability. Whether the ancient Celts borrowed the Greek, or the Greek the Celtic character, it will hardly be asserted that the Celts were strangers to writing, or that the druids, and particularly those of Britain, were not the literati of that nation. Like printing, when once established, the art of writing is not to be lost in any common revolution of human affairs ; and such of the druids as took refuge in Iona, must have carried with them the knowledge of that art, and taught it to their disciples. The druids were dispersed on the introduction of Christianity, but not extinguished; they became Culdees and bards. Say, however, that they were cut off root and branch, their successors were Christians under Christian bishops, and we cannot presume that they were unacquainted with writing; the more especially as it is a matter of notoriety, that for ages afterwards Icolmkill continued distinguished for its learning. What language then was the most likely to be committed to writing by Christian divines deputed from another country to convert the inhabitants of Scotland r That these missionaries underDr. John Smith’s Hist, of the Druids, p. f8.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’s POEMS. 435 stood and might write in Latin need not be denied ;
but surely Gaelic, the language of the people, is what they would most frequently have recourse to in propagating their doctrines.* It is not therefore a very violent presumption that some, more industrious than others, committed to writing at a very early period the poetry of their country, which from the moral precepts they contain had given delight to themselves as well as to their progenitors Dr. Smith, in addition to his sensible reasoning on this subject, adduces the following facts, to prove that the Gaelic was a written language. In the island of Mull, in the neighbourhood of Iona, there has been, from time immemorial till very lately, a succession of Ollas, or graduate doctors, in a family of the name of Maclean, whose writings, to the extent of a large chestfull, were all written in Gaelic.
What remained of this treasure was some years ago bought up as a literary curiosity, at the desire of the Duke of Chandos, and is said to have perished in the wreck of that nobleman’s fortune. Doctor Smith also mentions having in his own possession a mutilated treatise on physic, and another on anatomy, with part of a calendar, belonging, probably, to some ancient monastery; all in the Gaelic language and character. These pieces, when compared with others of a later date, appear to be several centuries old.
* At this day even all the missionary Societies in Europe qualify their eleves, not only in the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, but in the particular dialect of the distant nations to whom they may have missions for diffusing the light of Christianity.