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Poems of Ossian and their reputed collector, however, the case was very different. There were but few, if any, marks of imposture to be detected in these works themselves, and evidence of an external character was difficult to obtain. The dispute in regard to their authenticity was long and bitterly waged, and even at the present day the critics are not all agreed upon that question. The story of Ossian's poems is briefly as follows:
James Macpherson was a Scotchman, a IIighland schoolmaster, and a literary adventurer of rather doubtful reputation In 1759 he made a collection of ancient poems and songs,-not a very extensive one, however,--which he professed to have heard recited in the Gaelic language among the Highlands. This collection he submitted to the notice of Home, the author of the tragedy of Douglas, by whom they were extravagantly praised. The result was that, in 1760, they were printed under the title of Fragments of Ancient Poetry. This work attained an immediate popularity, and vchement controversies in regard to their authenticity soon sprang up. Macpherson, encouraged by the reception of his first imperfect collection, now spent some time among the Gaels of the Highlands searching for further remains of ancient poetry. The result was the discovery, not of fragments, merely, but of two epics called, respectively, Fingal and Temora. when published, were received with the most intense enthusiasm throughout Europe. They were translated into almost every modern language; in Germany they were immensely popular; they were known and admired even in Russia ; they were read with pleasure in France and Italy. But they were, from the very first, denounced by Dr. Johnson - always prejudiced against anything Scotch-as a cheat and a forgery. In the first place, he denied that the poems possessed any real merit in themselves; then he asserted that there never were any Erse manuscripts in existence;. he denied that the inhabitants of the “Highlands or Hebrides ever wrote their
These poems, native language;" he declared that "it was never asserted that any man of integrity could recite six lines of the original Ossian;" and, lastly, he maintained the opinion that the poems of Ossian "never existed in any other
“ form than that which we have seen." Dr. Johnson was supported in the controversy which he thus began by Hume the historian and by antiquaries such as Malcolm Laing and Pinkerton. On the other hand, the genuineness of the poems was stoutly asserted by Gray, Blair, Lord Kames, and the Scotch people in general. A third party, consisting of Irish antiquaries, with Lord Neaves at their head, claimed that the Ossianic poems, instead of being ascribed to a IIighland source, “should be considered generally as Irish compositions relating to Irish personages, real or imaginary, and to Irish events, historical or legendary.”
We have not the space to enter into the particulars of this famous controversy. There seems to be no doubt but that there were Gaelic manuscripts in existence, and that Macpherson had obtained possession of some of these; but just how far his works are ancient and genuine, and how far they are merely spurious compositions of his own, it would be difficult now to determine. Principal Shairp thus gives expression to the latest opinions on this question: “Whatever may be the true theory as to how the epic of Fingal assumed its present shape, I must conclude by stating that the longer I have studied the question, the more I have been convinced that Macpherson was a translator, not an author; that he found, and did not create, his materials; that all the more important part of his Ossian is ancient, and had long existed in the Highlands; and that, at the time he undertook his collection, the Ilighlands were a quarry, out of which many more Ossianic blocks and fragments might have been dug.”
We quote the following extract as an illustration of the style in which Ossian's poems are written
Ossian's Address to the Sun. I feel the sun, O Malvina! leave me to my rest. Perhaps they may come to my dreams. I think I hear a feeble voice! The beam of heaven delights to shine on the grave of Carthon: I feel it warm around.
O thou that rollest above, round as the shield of my fathers ! Whence are thy beams, o sun! thy everlasting light! Thou comest forth in thy awful beauty; the stars hide themselves in the sky; the moon, cold and pale, sinks in the western wave; but thou, thyself, movest alone. Who can be a companion of thy course? The oaks of the mountains fall; the mountains themselves decay with years; the ocean shrinks and grows again; the moon herself is lost in heaven, but thou art forever the same, rejoicing in the brightness of thy course. When the world is dark with tempests, when thunder rolls and lightning flies, thou lookest on thy beauty from the clouds, and laughest at the storm.
But to Ossian thou lookest in vain, for he beholds thy beams no more; whether thy yellow hair flows on the eastern clouds, or thou tremblest at the gates of the west. But thou art, perhaps, like me, for a season; thy years will have an end. Thou shalt sleep in thy clouds careless of the voice of the morning. Exult, then, O Sun, in the strength of thy youth! Age is dark and unlovely; it is like the glimmering light of the moon when it shines through broken clouds, and the mist is on the hills: the blast of the north is on the plain; the traveler shrinks in the midst of his journey.
Addison, Joseph (1672–1719), 187, Burns, Robert, Scotch (1759-1796),
175, 188, 341, 347, 354, 384, 425,
Butler, William Allen, American
Byrd, William (sixteenth century),
542; 102, 175, 202, 320, 350, 416,
182, 395, 397.
21, 284, 307, 493.
1844), 118, 348, 355, 366, 513,
Chatterton, Thomas (1752-1770), 424,
Chaucer, Geoffrey (1328-1400), 81-
552, 561, 362.
1375), 83, 84, 89, 95, 98, 101, 116, Coleridge, Samuel Taylor (1772-
129, 130, 152, 162, 175, 192, 223. 1834), 108, 175, 344, 365, 462, 515,
Collins, William (1721-1756), 175,
Congreve, William (1670-1729), 252.
(1797–1878), 380, 418, 467, 533, Cornwall, Barry. See Procter, Bryan
284, 286, 316, 398.
Cowper,' William (1731–1800), 322, Ford, John (1586–1639), 237.
311, 380, 454, 461, 470, 522, 561,
Garrick, David (1716-1779), 259,
Gay, John (1688-1732), 187, 258, 424,
Geoffrey of Monmouth (died 1151,
34, 37, 55, 223.
1321), 83, 114, 162, 174, 175, 251, 259, 352, 441-449, 562.
Gower, John (1320-1402), 96, 493–
249, 256, 257, 291, 398, 496. Grahame, James (1765-1811), 513.
364, 365, 378, 441.
1835), 120, 202.
Herrick, Robert (1591-1674), 339.
Higgins, John (1544-1605), 192.
195, 326, 337, 355, 372, 439, 479. 347.
Holland, Josiah Gilbert, American
362, 496-502, 576; 61, 95, 101, 188; Holmes, Oliver Wendell, American,
Homer, Greek, 176, 180, 238, 210, 217,
Hood, Thomas (1798-1845), 568.
Howitt, William (1795 —), 141.
IIughes, Thomas (sixteenth century),
1859), 114, 186, 188.
259, 261, 424, 509, 578.
237, 240, 335, 338, 373, 481, 488.
Keats, John (1796-1821), 116, 175,
Keble, John (1792-1866), 321, 539.