A few poetical pieces by him had appeared in the Scots Magazine; he had published in a poem in six cantos, entitled The Highlander; and he had written an ode upon the arrival of the Earl Marischal in Scotland. All these facts pointed him out as qualified in a marked degree for the task, and accordingly he was commissioned to undertake a tour through the Highlands for the purpose of collecting and preserving the remains of Gaelic poetry.
Before the rebellion of the chief amusement of the Highlanders during the long dark nights of winter had been the recital of ancient tales and poems; and many old people who remembered these still survived when Macpherson made his enquiries. For the collation and translation of the poems, and for the determining of obsolete words, the collector engaged the assistance of Mr. Gallie, afterwards minister in Badenoch, as well as of Mr, Macpherson of Strathmashie. Presently, by the advice of friends, he removed to London; and there, in , under the patronage of Lord Bute, he published the first results of his labour.
These were two volumes of literal prose translations entitled Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem, in Six Books, with other lesser poems. At that time the dominating figure among the literary coteries of the metropolis was Dr. Samuel Johnson, the eminent dictionary maker; and his violent prejudices against everything Scottish were greatly in fashion.
Londoners, besides, had not forgotten or forgiven the panic into which they had been thrown seventeen years previously by the march to Derby of the Highland host under the young Chevalier. The fact, therefore, that a book hailed from the north side of the Border was by no means, just then, a passport to its kindly reception. When, therefore, a translator appeared, professing to have found among the mountaineers of Scotland, whom it was the fashion of the hour to ridicule, the remains of a bard who should take rank among the greatest of the world's singers, it was not at all likely that his work would pass unchallenged.
It was, indeed, as if a waterspout had suddenly discharged itself into the red-hot crater of a volcano. For a short time there was the silence of utter astonishment, and then the whole energies of literary London arose to destroy and expel the intruder. To Dr. Johnson and his anti-Scottish friends the discovery of such works of genius among the people of the "barbarous north" was so astonishing that they flatly declared it impossible; and at once there arose upon the subject as great a controversy, probably, as has ever raged in the arena of letters.
In the following year Macpherson printed a second instalment of translations— Temora, an Epic Poem in eight books, with other poems; and, as a specimen of the materials upon which his work was based, he annexed the original Gaelic to one of its divisions. With this publication Macpherson's contribution to the controversy may be said to have ended.
But, disgusted by the treatment he had received, he refused during his life to print another word of the originals. Only at his death it was found that he had left a thousand pounds to defray the cost of their publication. From various causes the appearance of the Gaelic text was delayed, and its issue, which would have gone far to set the question at rest, was only effected by the Highland Society of London, in By that time the forgeries of Chatterton had prejudiced the public mind, the war of words was over, and the ear of England was throbbing with the greater thunders of Trafalgar Bay.
The rest of Macpherson's career may be briefly sketched. In he went out to Pensacola as private secretary to the Governor there. In a volume of Gaelic antiquities which he published under the title of An Introduction to the History of Great Britain and Ireland , was most bitterly attacked upon its appearance.
The Government also employed him to write two pamphlets in defence of their action in the dispute and rupture with America. And on being appointed agent in Britain for the Nabob of Arcot he was provided with a seat in Parliament. Failing in health at last, he retired to Belleville, a mansion he had built in Alvie, Inverness-shire, where he died on the 17th February He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Upon the first appearance of Macpherson's translations of Ossian, the foremost, naturally, in the attack upon their authenticity was Dr.
Samuel Johnson. The great lexicographer was followed, however, by such a northern supporter as Dr.
Smith of Campbelltown. The natural sceptic bias of Hume's mind led him to take the same side. And Mr. Malcolm Laing, author of a set of "Notes and Illustrations" to Ossian, printed at Edinburgh in , finally professed to set the question at rest by showing how everything in Macpherson's translations had been stolen from such sources as the Bible and Homer. Shaw, A.
Browse journals by subject
Of later writers Lord Macaulay has inherited the anti-Scottish prejudices of Dr. Johnson with doubled virulence, and this to the suppression of fact in at least one instance. In the thirteenth chapter of his history he forgets the existence of Johnson, and describes an enthusiasm for things Scottish existing at the time of Ossian's publication.
That enthusiasm only arose forty years later with the rising star of Walter Scott. Time itself has answered many of these attacks. Johnson's declaration in his Journey to the Western Islands that "the poems of Ossian never existed in any other form than that which we have seen," and that "the editor or author never could show the original, nor can it be shewn by any other," was refuted by the publication, already referred to, of the Gaelic originals in And the "dissertations" of Dr.
Blair, Dr. Graham, Sir John Sinclair, and many others, offered abundant argument supporting the authenticity of the Ossianic poems. The alternative objection urged both by Johnson and Hume against the bona-fide character of Macpherson's translations, was that the human memory is incapable of retaining compositions of such length. And in these days of printed books, almanacs, and universal note-taking, the objection presents some plausibility.
The same argument was urged in by the German professor, F. Wolf, and others, against the authenticity of the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer. But Macpherson, it should be remembered, did not profess to have gathered his materials complete from the recitation of a single individual. He found them in scattered fragments, and exercised his judgment in piecing them together.
A parallel case might be cited in the Kalewala of Finland, an epic poem of which Dr. Even had the case been otherwise, the prodigious memories of Scott and Macaulay, well known in later years, are enough to prove such a feat as the remembrance of Ossian's entire poems by one mind possible. Among the humbler classes, too, "long" memories are by no means uncommon. If the curious will turn to the diary kept by Robert Burns during his Border tour in , they will find that upon the poet's visiting Jedburgh he was taken to see a certain "Esther," who could repeat Pope's Homer from beginning to end.
No one doubts now that immense powers of memory can be attained by practice. To this day, in remote Scottish kirks the members are accustomed to hear every Sunday from the pulpit one and sometimes more sermons of an hour's duration, which have been committed to memory during the previous week by the minister.
To these instances should be added the fact noticed by more than one critic, that the sequence and cadence of the Gaelic verses afforded a help to the memory equalled by the compositions of no other race.
Church of England - Wikipedia
There is proof, besides, that an organisation existed for the express purpose of preserving these poems. The Spartans, it will be remembered, disdaining writing, preserved their laws for centuries by a similar method.
The objection upon the score of memory may therefore very fairly be considered disposed of. The unsettled state of the Highlands, which Dr. Johnson urged as an additional hindrance to the authentic preservation of oral traditions for long periods, possesses even less force at the present day as an argument.
Celts V Romans Book One
The survival of the unwritten Iliad and Odyssey through the troubles of early Greece might be matter for equal scepticism. Rather were these lonely and secluded glens, inaccessible to enemies, and the home of an unmixed race, proud of its antiquity, the most likely places for such traditions to be preserved.
- Shiva Speaks: Conversations with Maha Avatar Babaji?
- Church of England;
- Billy McNeill Remembrance Page | CelticFC.
- The Scottish Gael.
It would be an interesting study, indeed, to discover how much of the world's romance has come out of mountainous countries. In flat and peaceful lands life is easy and eventless and commonplace.
The art of Holland deals largely with eating and drinking. But among the hills men dwell alone with nature. To the present day in the Highlands are to be heard recited compositions of undoubted beauty, descended from the remotest antiquity. The Dean of Lismore's Book was engrossed before , yet the editor of the printed edition of was able to append to one of its contents p. Hume, again, in his well-known letter to Dr. Blair, demanded proof that there existed in the memory of the Highlands any Gaelic poem corresponding exactly and completely to a translation by Macpherson.
And it is true that with all the researches of the Highland Society on the subject, detailed in the "Report" of their special committee published at Edinburgh in , no such word-for-word copy could be found. The same argument, however, applies with much stronger force to such a collection of ancient ballads as Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border , which does not suffer the overwhelming disadvantage of being a translation. It is certain that no literal copy of any one of the ballads collected and printed by Sir Walter Scott could have been found by Yarrow or among the Cheviot hills.
The printed versions, as is well known, were collated by Scott from the recitals of various persons, and bear only part resemblance to the tradition of each. In the same way Macpherson collated the various copies of ancient poems which he managed to procure. Such gaps in the poems as occur, for instance, in "Colna-dona," and the first duan of "Cath-loda," offer testimony to his style of work.
This fact, together with the difficulty translation inevitably introduces, besides the altering of titles and phoneticising of names which Macpherson effected, was quite sufficient to preclude the possibility of any of his transcripts being found complete and exact in the original. The Report of the Highland Society alludes to this circumstance.
It says p. Presuming upon this difficulty, Macpherson's opponents did not scruple to bring against him charges of the basest sort. Not content with doubting his faithfulness as a translator, they asserted that he had stolen much of his work from the masterpieces of ancient and modern literature.
These critics boldly attacked the finest passages of the translations, and, upon the strength of a fancied resemblance to passages elsewhere, declared them plagiarisms.
Malcolm Laing. Of Mr. An instance or two of this ingenious detective faculty of Mr. Laing, taken quite at random, may show the reliance to be placed on his criticism. In the second book of "Fingal" occurs the simile, "Faintly he raised his feeble voice like the gale of the reedy Lego.
The second part, "the gale of reedy Lego," the critic felt certain Macpherson had borrowed from his own lines in "The Highlander"—. Again, in the "War of Caros" occurs the simile, "It is like the field, when darkness covers the hills around, and the shadow grows slowly on the plain of the sun. Such slender proofs, it is evident, will not bear the superstructure their author sought to build upon them.
Closer resemblances, it is true, may be found. Thus Laing and other critics professed to have discovered in Milton the original of the magnificent Address to the Sun at the end of "Carthon. As a matter of fact, one of the correspondents of the Highland Society, writing in April , forwarded a copy of Ossian's Address to the Sun which he had taken down thirty years previously from the recitation of an old man in Glenlyon.
Shop by category
This old man had learnt it in his youth, long before Macpherson was born, from people in the same glen; and his manuscript, when translated, proved almost word for word identical with the passage in "Carthon. Laing to prove their charges of plagiarism. Nothing in literature, perhaps, is easier than to accuse a writer of plagiarism, and to summon by way of proof certain similarities of expression, and even of thought.
Nearly all great authors have, at one time or another, been subjected to this kind of detraction. But never, probably, before did the charges descend to so minute particulars as in the case of Ossian.
Related Celts V Romans Book One: Diarmids First Battle
Copyright 2019 - All Right Reserved