«* National Library of Scotland ■■jin B000157358*. V POEMS OF OSSIAN, IN THE ORIGINAL GAELIC, WITH A LITERAL TRANSLATION INTO LATIN, BY THE LATE ...»
Neil Macmurrich, the bard alluded to, repeated before him the whole of the poem of Darthula, or Clan Usnoch, with few variations from the translation, which he (Macmurrich) declared that he saw and read, together with many others, in a manuscript book of poems collected by a branch of the ClanroReport of the Highland Society, Appendix, p. 18.
AUTHENTICITY" OF OSSIAN’S POEMS. 455 nald family, but which had been carried over to Ireland sometime before, by a worthless person, in a clandestine manner, and was thought to be irrecoverably lost. Neil Macmurrich declared also to the Rev. Angus Macneill, that the original of the poem of Berrathon was contained in a manuscript which Mr. Macneill saw him deliver, with three or four more, to Mr. Macpherson when he was in that country, and for which Mr. Macpherson gave him a missive, or letter, obliging himself to restore it, which shows that in the opinion of both, the manuscript contained something of great importance.* Mr. Neil Macleod, Minister of R,oss, in Mull, by his letter of the 22d January, 1764,f bears testimony to the declaration of Mr. Campbell, of Octomore, an aged gentleman, then living in his neighbourhood, who assured him, that in his younger days he heard Fingal repeated very frequently in the original, just as Mr. Macpherson has translated it. Mr. Macleod himself declared, that he had frequently heard repeated in the Isle of Sky, when a boy, Morla’s proposal of peace to Cuthullin, with Cuthullin’s answer and Morla’s reply ; also the whole episode of Borbar and Faineasollis in Fingal, Book III.; likewiseFingal’s orders for raising his standards, his orders to his * It is much to be regretted that the originals of the beautiful poems of Darthula and Berrathon were not found among the papers of the late Mr. Macpherson, consequently have not been published. It seems probable, that Mr. Macpherson did not keep copies of them after he had prepared his translations; but restored the originals, in pursuance of his obligation to that effect, to Macmurrich, from whom he appears to have borrowed them.
+ See Appendix to Report of the Highland Society, p. 21.
456 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEchiefs before the battle &c. in Book IV. and the whole poem of Darthula, with many others.* The Rev. Alexander Macaulay, in his letter to Dr.
Blair dated 25th January, 1764,t gives the testimony of Lieutenant Duncan Macnicol, of the late 88th Regiment, who declares, that on examining several old people in Glenorchy respecting Ossian’s poems, he found the originals of the episode of Faineasollis, Fingal, Book III. ; also the greatest part of the fourth and fifth books of the poem of Fingal. The battle of Lora, Darthulla, and the greatest part of Temora and Carric-Thura.
Lieut. Macnicol declared, that, at that very time, there were many people in Glenorchy, who could neither read nor write, that could repeat as many of the poems composed by Ossian, at least pretty much in the same strain, as would, if gathered together, make a larger volume than that which Mr. Macpherson had given to the public : and he concludes with observing, that he heard most of these poems repeated ever since he could remember any thing, * The original of the beautiful episode of Faineasollis, sometimes called “ the Maid of Craca,” was not found in the copy of Ossian transcribed by Mr. Macpherson for the press. But this episode having been accidentally discovered, since the preceding part of this work was printed, among detached copies of Ossian’s poems, which Mr. Macpherson had collected on his tour, we have given it verbatim and a literal translation, at the end of these observations. The Gaelic reader will thereby have an opportunity of comparing this edition of the episode with Mr. Macpherson’s free translation of it, as well as with one given by the Rev. Dr. Smith in his original of the poem of Cathula, Gaelic Antiquities, p, 176.
t See Appendix to Report of the Highland Society, p. 23.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN's POEMS. 457 and at a period of life when Mr. Macpherson could neither read nor write.
The Rev. Donald Macleod, minister of Glenelg, in his letter to Doctor Blair, dated 20th March, 1764,* goes fully into the evidence on the genuineness of Macpherson’s translation of Ossian. He declares, tJiat it was in his house Mr. Macpherson got the description of Cuthullin’s horses and car from Allan Maccaskie, schoolmaster, and Rory Macleod, both living at that time in Glenelg. That Macpherson had not taken in the whole of the description ;
and his translation of it (spirited as it appears as far as it goes) falls so far short of the original in the picture it exhibits of Cuthullin’s horses and car, their harness and trappings, &e. that in none of his translations is the inequality of Macpherson’s genius to that of Ossian so very conspicuous. Mr. Macleod then gives evidence to several parts of Fingal, in Books II. III. and IV. and remarks that Macpherson’s translation of the description of the sun-beam, Fingal’s standard, does not come up to the beauty and spirit of the original. Along with that of the sun-beam, there is in the original a particular description of the standards of the seven principal chiefs of Fingal, which, in Mr. Macleod’s opinion, are all so inimitably beautiful, that he could not imagine how Mr. Macpherson has omitted them in his translation. Dermod, or Dermid, who had led the right-hand of the army to that battle (as it is expressed in the original) had a standard, which, * Appendix to Report of the Highland Society, p. 28.
458 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEin magnificence, far exceeded the sun-beam.* He is by tradition said to be the predecessor of the Campbells.
Upon the whole, Mr. Macleod acknowledges that he knew of no person so capable of doing justice to the original as Mr. Macpherson. One thing he is sorry for, namely, his having omitted the description which Ossian gives of Fingal’s ships, their sails, masts, and rigging, their extraordinary feats in sailing, the skill and dexterity of his men in working them, and their intrepidity in the greatest storms.
With regard to the authenticity of the poems, he concludes by declaring that “ they were by the traditions of our forefathers, as far back as we can trace them, ascribed to Ossian, and to the most remote period of time, of which we have any account.
It is a word commonlv used in the Highlands to this day, when they express a thing belonging to the most remote antiquity, to call it Jiountachk, i. e. belonging to the time of Fingal.” “ I know not (says Mr. Macleod) a county in the Highlands, which has not places that are famous for being the scenes of feats of arms, strength, or agility, of some of the heroes of the race of Fingal.” Hugh Macdonald, of Killipheder in the Isle of * Fingal’s standard was distinguished by the name of sun-beam, probably on account of its bright colour, and its being studded with gold.
To begin a battle is expressed, in old composition, by lifting of the sunbeam. Macpherson’s note, Fingal, Book IV. “ We reared the sunbeam of battle ; the standard of the king! Each hero exulted with joy as waving it flew on the wind. It was studded with gold above, as the blue wide shell of the nightly sky. Each hero had his standard too;
and each his gloomy men !” AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’s POEMS. 459 South Uist, made a solemn declaration, in the Gaelic language, on the 12th day of August, 1800, in the presence of the Rev. Edmund Macqueen, minister at Barra, and several other respectable gentlemen mentioned in the said declaration,* and among other matters he affirms, that there are infinitely more of Ossian’s poems to be found in the Highlands and Western Isles, than what Macpherson is said to have translated, and that too among persons who never saw that man, who never heard of his name, and who are totally ignorant of the English language. Though the poems of Ossian are not found to correspond precisely in every expression over all the Highlands and isles, when repeated by different persons, yet they all correspond in substance; and there is not one instance in any corner of the country, in which one poem is found contrary to the rest, or in opposition to their general character. And though it were attempted to make the ablest scholar translate these poems into English, or any other tongue, he surely could not transfuse into them the merits of the original; but still less could he (as is alleged) first compose them in English, and then turn them into such Gaelic as should retain the bone and marrow of their own true language.
Hugh Macdonald bears testimony to the fact that bards were kept in the great Highland families, and gives the names of those that were kept in his own time in the families of Sir James Macdonald, Clanronald, and Others, and that these bards were held in * See the original in Gaelic, with an English translation. Appendix to Report of the Highland Society, No. II.
460 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEgreat estimation. “ It is no argument (says Mr.
Macdonald) against the transmission of these ancient poems, that no man can now be found who is aide to repeat the whole of them. There are few men who can repeat much of any poetry with accuracy, excepting such persons as make it their profession, and who earn their bread by their memories. It is enough, that thousands can be still found in our Highlands and isles, who can recite many detached portions of them, according as they were pleased with particular passages, or as certain incidents recorded in them made a peculiar impression on their minds. How, if all were fictitious, could so many poems named after Ossian have existed for so many hundred years, and been still retained amongst the remotest islands, and the most sequestered corners of our Highlands.” The Rev. Mr. Pope, Minister of Rea in Caithness, in his letter dated 15th November, 1763, to the Rev.
Alexander Nicholson, minister of Thurso,* observes in one part of his letter, that many of the poems of Ossian are lost partly owing to our clergy, who were declared enemies to these poems, so that the rising generation scarcely know any thing material of them.
However, we have some still that are famous for repeating them, and these people never heard ot Mr.
Macpherson; and it is an absurdity to imagine, that Mr. Macpherson caused any person to teach these old people. On the contrary, they had these poems before Mr. Macpherson was born; and it the literati would defray the expense, I could produce these old people, at least some of them, at London.
* Appendix to Report of the Highland Society, p. 53.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS. 461 What has been a very great mean to preserve these poems among our Highlanders, is this, that the greatest number of them have particular tunes to which they are sung. The music is soft and simple; but when these airs are sung by two or three, or more good voices, they are far from being disagreeable. The greatest number are called duans, and resemble the odes of Horace very much ; others have different names, but the duans are generally set to some tunes different from the rest.
Dr. John Smith, in his letter dated 31st January, 1798, to Henry Mackenzie, Esq.* by whom the Report of the Committee of the Highland Society was drawn up, justly observes, that “ the institution of bards retained in the families of several chieftains till the present century will account for the preservation of these poems’ (Ossian’s) by oral tradition ;
as will also the manners of the people, whose winterevening entertainment was, till very lately, the repetition of poems, tales, and songs. The language of these poems being still intelligible, excepting some words, may be accounted for, from having been constantly repeated and made familiar, and from the Highlanders having always remained a separate people, secluded from the rest of the world, by their peculiar language, customs, and manners. So the wild Arabs retain, I believe, to this day their ancient language, as well as their ancient dress and manners.” The affidavit made by Archibald Fletcher, residenter in Achalader, Glenorchay, before a justice of * See Appendix to the Report of the Society, p. 79SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE peace at Edinburgh, on the 19th day of January, 1801,* bears testimony of his having deposited with the deputy secretary of the Highland Society of Edinburgh, a collection of Gaelic poems, consisting ot one hundred and ninety-four pages, many of which relate to the achievements of the tribe or race of Fingal, or of the Fionns, as they are named in the Gaelic language, and of which poems the declarant got copies written in the country, /rom his own oral recitation.^ That some of the poems in this collection he heard recited and learnt by heart forty years prior to the date of his affidavit, and that the poem published by Macpherson, under the name of Darthula, and which is commonly called in the country, Clan Uisneachain, or the sons of Usno, he heard recited above fifty years ago by many persons in Glenorchay, particularly by Nicol Macnicoll in Arivean, and this he thinks was about ten years before Macpherson went about collecting the poems of Ossian.
Captain John Macdonald of Breakish, now residing at Thurso in the county of Caithness, has by affidavit made before Colonel Benjamin Williamson of Banneskirk, one of his Majesty’s justices of the peace for the county of Caithness, dated the 25th day of September, 1805, ^ solemnly declared that he was then aged seventy-eight years, and that when about twelve and fifteen years of age, he could repeat from one hundred to two hundred of those poems of * See Appendix to Report of the Highland Society, p. 270.
+ Although Archibald Fletcher could write his name, he could not read the manuscript deposited.
J See Appendix to Sir John Sinclair’s Dissertation, No. I.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’s POEMS.