«* National Library of Scotland ■■jin B000157358*. V POEMS OF OSSIAN, IN THE ORIGINAL GAELIC, WITH A LITERAL TRANSLATION INTO LATIN, BY THE LATE ...»
different lengths and number of verses. That he learned them from an old man about eighty years of age, who sung them for years to his father at night, when he went to bed, and in spring and winter in the morning before he rose, and that even at the advanced age of seventy-eight, he still can repeat two poems of considerable length. That he met with the late Mr. James Macpherson at Dr. Macpherson’s house in Sleat, Avhen collecting Ossian’s poems, that he sung many of them to him, and that Mr. Macpherson wrote them down as he repeated them* The late ingenious Mr. Garnett, Professor of Natural Philosophy and Chemistry in the Royal Institution of Great Britain, has, in his Observations on a Tour through the Highlands and part of the Western Isles of Scotland in the year 1798, given great weight to his own opinion respecting the authenticity of Ossian’s poems, by introducing an extract of a letter from the Rev. Mr. MacIntyre, minister of Glenorchay, which was intended as an answer to the inquiries of the Highland Society in London, and is peculiarly interesting.
Mr. Garnett, in describing the celebrated Glencoe, introduces the subject in the following words: “This glen was frequently the resort of Fingal and his * Dr. John Macpherson, in his letter to Dr. Blair, published in the Appendix to Report of the Society, p. 11 and 12, gives evidence to Captain Macdonald’s rehearsing several fragments, or detached pieces of Ossian’s poems, and that he compared them with Mr. Macpherson’s translation, and found them in general correct. Dr. Macpherson mentions in particular Captain Macdonald’s repeating Cuthullin’s car, the episode of Faineasollis, and the combat between Oscar and Ullin.
464 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEparty. It seems to me wonderful, that any person, who has travelled in the Highlands, should doubt the authenticity of the Celtic poetry, which has been given to the English reader by Macpherson, since in almost every glen are to be found persons, who can repeat from tradition several of these, and other Celtic tales of the same date.
“ I cannot pretend to offer any evidence stronger than what has been brought forward. I trust, however, thar the following extract from a letter, which I received from Dr. Macintire, of Glenorchay, on this subject, will not be uninteresting to the reader.
“ To the mass of evidence laid already before the public by persons of the first respectability in the nation, I know of little that can be added These tales we have been accustomed to hear recited from our earliest years, and they have made an indelible impression on my memory. In the close of the year 1783, and beginning of 1784, I was in London.
For some time previous to that period, I had a correspondence with Mr. Macpherson, but not on subjects of Celtic literature. During two months that I continued in London, I was frequently with him at his own house and elsewhere. We spoke occasionally about the poems, and the attempts made by Dr.
Johnson to discredit them. I hinted that, though my own belief of their authenticity was unalterably fixed, still my opinion ever was, that he had never found the poem of Fingal in the full and perfect form in which he had published it; but that, having got the substance, or greater part of the interesting tale, he had, from his knowledge of Celtic imagery AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS. 465 and allusions, filled up the chasms in the translation.
He replied, You are much mistaken in the matter:
I had occasion to do less of that than you suppose.
And at any time that you are at leisure, and wish to see the originals, tell me, and we will concert a day forgoing to my house on Putney-heath, where those papers lie, and you will then be satisfied.’ “ This conversation passed in the presence of Dr.
Shaw, a Scotch physician, to whom he introduced me.
“ I fully intended to avail myself of this offer, but have to regret that, from various avocations, and leaving London sooner than I thought I could, I was prevented from a sight and perusal of the originals of these poems.
“ Calling the day before I left London on the late General Macnab, a gentleman well versed in Celtic literature, and of unimpeached veracity and honour, who had lived long in habits of intimacy with Mr.
Macpherson, I mentioned this circumstance to him, and my regret. He said, he was sorry I had not seen the poems; that to him Mr. Macpherson had often recited parts of Fingal in the Gaelic, with various other tales/ which brought to his remembrance what had given him so much gratification when a boy.
“ Thus, my dear Sir, have I given you a diffuse, but a true detail of a circumstance, that can add men, whom no consideration could induce to avow a falsehood.
“ The Highland Society, who intend to publish the vol. in. h h.
466 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEoriginal of Fingal, have applied to me for an account of the preceding conversation with Mr. Macpherson, which I have hitherto been prevented from communicating ; you are therefore at full liberty to make what use of it you please.
“ At the time when I was a student of theology, I was present at the delivery of a sermon by a worthy, but eccentric preacher, on the resurrection from the dead. He concluded his subject with words that I can never forget. ‘ Thus have I endeavoured to set before you this great truth of God ; and I trust, that you believe it: but, believe it who will, I believe it myself.’ “ So say I, in all the candour of truth, as to the poems of Ossian, believe them who will, I believe them myself.
“ My son is anxious to procure you some unpublished Celtic tales, but the truth is, that Dr. Smith of Campbeltown, who is a native of this parish, and who has been indefatigable in his research for these tales, has picked up every thing of value of that kind in the country, and published them with translations. Indeed the period is past, or almost past, when an investigation and research, after these amusements of the times of old would be of avail.
“ Happily our people are forming habits, and acquiring modes of industry and manners, that preclude the tale, and the song, and the harp.” The unequivocal assertions contained in these affidavits and declarations, the terms in which they are expressed, and the very high respectability of the gentlemen who made them, yield a body of evidence sufficient perhaps for the establishment of any, even AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS. 4^7 the most improbable circumstance ; but when applied to a subject in itself so likely to be true, namely, the oral transmission of poems such as Ossian’s, among a people secluded from the world, and immoderately attached to the language and manners of their ancestors, it is irresistible.
3. It now remains to shew briefly, that the poems ascribed to Ossian, and translated by Mr. Macpherson, were collected by him from oral tradition, and manuscripts he procured with the assistance of bis friends in the Highlands and Isles, and that similar collections were made at dilferent periods prior to Mr. Macpherson’s translation.
Lachlan Macpherson, of Strathmashie, in his letter to Doctor Blair, dated 22d October, 1763,* declares in explicit terms, than in the year 1760, he accompanied his friend Mr. James Macpherson during some part of his journey in search of the poems of Ossian through the Highlands. That he assisted in collecting them ; and took down from oral tradition, and transcribed from old manuscripts by far the greatest part of those pieces he has published. That since the publication he had carefully compared the translation with the copies of the originals in his hands, and found it amazingly literal, even in such a degree, as to preserve, in some measure, the cadence of the Gaelic versification.
The Rev. Alexander Macaulay, in his letter to Doctor Blair, dated 25th January, 1764,t declares, that he saw the originals which Mr. Macpherson * See Appendix to the Report of Highland Society, p. 8.
-f Ibid. p. 24.
468 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEcollected in the Highlands. He very energetically remarks, “ no man will say, that he could impose his own originals upon us, if we had common sense, and a knowledge of our mother tongue. Those, who entertain any suspicions of Mr. Macpherson’s veracity in that respect, do not advert, that, while they are impeaching his honesty, they pay a compliment to his genius that would do honour to any author of the age.” The Rev. Donald Macleod, minister of Glenelg, in his letter to Doctor Blair, of the 20th March, 1764,* bears evidence, that it was in his house Mr.
Macpherson got the descripsion of Cuthullin’s horses and car, from Allan Maccaskie, schoolmaster, and Rory Macleod, both of Glenelg, and that the translation falls far short of the spirit of the original.
Doctor Blair, in his letter to Henry Mackenzie, Esq. the reporter of the Committee of the Highland Society of Scotland, bearing date 20th December, 1797,f gives a particular account of the circumstances relating to the first discovery and publication of the poems of Ossian. This letter contains a most interesting statement of the circumstances, which gave rise to Mr. Macpherson’s poetical mission to the Highlands, and breathes so much honest zeal and impartiality in the cause of the ancient Highland bards, and the genuineness of the poems ascribed to Ossian, that it is earnestly recommended to our readers to peruse the whole.
It may not, however, be amiss to notice a passage at the conclusion of Doctor Blair’s letter, where after * See Appendix to the Report of Highland Society, p. 28.
f Ibid. p. 56.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS. 469 some impartial criticisms on Mr. Macpherson’s translation, he observes, “ That his work, as it stands, exhibits a genuine authentic view of ancient Gaelic poetry, I am as firmly persuaded as I can be of any thing. It will, however, be a great satisfaction to the learned world, if that publication shall be completed, which Mr. Macpherson had begun, of the whole Gaelic originals in their native state on one page, and a literal translation on the opposite page.
The idea, which he once entertained, and of which he shewed me a specimen, of printing the Gaelic in Greek characters (to avoid the disputes about Gaelic orthography), I indeed strongly reprobated, as what would carry to the world a strange affected appearance, and prevent the originals from being legible by any, but those who were accustomed to read Greek characters.”* The Rev. Andrew Gallic, in his letter to Charles Macintosh, Esq. a member of the Committee of the Highland Society of Edinburgh, dated March 12, 1799,t declares, that Mr. James Macpherson, the translator of Ossian’s poems, was, for some years before he entered on that work, his intimate acquaintance and friend. That when he returned from his tour through the western Highlands and Islands, he came to Mr. Gallie’s house in Brae-Badenoch, and on enquiring the success of his journey, he produced '•.. »!
* Dr- Adam Ferguson, the Rev. Dr. Carlisle, and Mr. Home, author of Douglas, also bear testimony to the circumstances of the first discovery and publication of Ossian’s poems. See Appendix to the Report of the Highland Society, p. 62, et seq.
f See Letter inserted in the Report of Highland Society, p. 30.
470 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEseveral volumes small octavo, or rather large duodecimo, in the Gaelic language and characters, being the poems of Ossian and other ancient bards.
Mr. Gallic declares, he remembers perfectly that many of those volumes were, at the close, said to have been collected by Paul Macmhuirich, Bard Clanraonuil, and about the beginning of the 14th century. As we have, in a former part,* noticed his description of the characters, illuminated capitals, and parchment of these manuscripts, we shall only add what Mr. Galliesays towards the conclusion of his letter, namely, that some years after the publication of Fingal, he happened to pass several days with Mr. Macdonald of Clanronald, in the house of Mr.
Butter of Pitlochry, who then resided in tne neighbourhood of Fort William. Clanronald told him, that Mr. Macpherson had the Gaelic manuscripts from him, and that he did not know them to exist, till, to gratify Mr. Macpherson, a search was made among his family papers.
Dr John Smith, of Campbeltown, in his letter to Henry Mackenzie, Esq. dated the 31st January, 1798, declares, that in the original poems and translations which he had published,'!' he had occasion to introduce several passages of Mr. Macpherson’s originals into the notes; for without searching for them, he had got considerable portions of several of those poems, that were then recited in the higher parts of Argyleshire ; as were the Poem of Darthula, perhaps the most beautiful in the collection, called in Gaelic by the name of Claim Usnathain (the Children * See page 437. t Gaelic Antiquities.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS. 471 of Usnoth) ; a part of the first book of Temora, known by the title of Bus Oscair (the Death of Oscar), one of the tenderest pieces in the book ; and the description of Cuthullin’s car and horses, one of the most improbable. Dr. Smith adds, that, in that part of the country, many will be found, who remember to have heard these often recited, and perhaps some, who can still recite a part of them;
although within these last 50 years, the manners of the Highlanders are totally changed, and the songs and tales of their fathers neglected and almost forgotten.
The Rev. Mr. Pope, minister of Rea, in Caithness, in his letter, dated loth November, 17b3, to the Rev.
Alexander Nicholson, minister of Thurso,* delares, that, about 24 years prior to the date of his letter, a gentleman living on Lord Reay’s estate entered into a project with him of collecting Ossian’s poems.
That they had actually got a list of poems said to be composed by Ossian ; and wrote some of them ; but his coadjutor’s death put an end to the scheme.