« PreviousContinue »
Celia, from lightning to secure her life,
Forth from her pocket draws th' attracting knife;
Therefore 'tis vain, my fair, this cautious action,
The prose-pieces are generally the best, but too long for our quo tation. Political impartiality is still observed in the selection, and Whig and Tory may here equally find squibs to throw at each other.
SINGLE SERMO N.
Art. 31. The Advantages of Knowlege to the Lower Classes : — preached at Harvey-Lane, Leicester, for the Benefit of a Sunday School. By Robert Hall, A. M. 8vo. IS. Button. 1810. By contrasting the dark ages with the present, and the moral state of Scotland with that of Ireland, the importance of diffusing knowlege among the great mass of the people will be evinced: yet, in the very teeth of these glaring facts, some persons are so infa tuated as to contend for keeping the lower classes in ignorance. To these enemies of society, to these miserable reasoners, we recommend the well-argued and philanthropic discourse of Mr. Hall. Knowlege, he clearly shews, leads to virtue and order. The poor man who can read, and who possesses a taste for reading, can find entertainment at home, without being tempted, for that purpose, to repair to the public house; and as to the objection that knowlege diffused among the vulgar would endanger the state, he remarks that it is not easy to conceive in what manner instructing men in their duties can prompt them to neglect those duties.' The horrid atrocities of the French Revolution he rightly attributes to the degraded condi. tion of a populace without all moral culture; and the long reign of Popery he ascribes to the long reign of ignorance. So far from shunning, Christianity provokes inquiry. It requires all to be taught as well as baptized; and in the Scriptures which reveal the way of Salvation, the rich and the poor have an equal interest. The general diffusion of good religious principles is necessary to the formation of a sound and virtuous populace.
We receive with pleasure Mr. Butler's polite testimonial of satis faction, on having perused our account of his Eschylus, in the last Review but we do not perceive that his letter calls for more than this general acknowlegement of its arrival.
The anonymous communication respecting the Impress is inadmissible. We never receive unknown Volunteers of this description.
Verax's repeated and temperate representations have induced us to alter our intention; and we propose to take notice of his tracts in our next number.
In the Rev. for October, p. 118. 1. 11. from bott. for 'maymal, read, mayoral.
For DECEMBER, 1810.
ÁRT. I. The Poems of Ossian; containing the poetical Works of James Macpherson, Esq. in Prose and Rhime; with Notes and Illustrations. By Malcolm Laing, Esq.
11. 10s. Boards. Longman and Co.
8vo. 2 Vols.
ART. II. Some of Ossian's lesser Poems rendered into Verse, with a preliminary Discourse in answer to Mr. Laing's Critical and Historical Dissertation on the Antiquity of Ossian's Poems. By Archibald Macdonald. 8vo. pp.284. 78. Boards. Cadell and Co. ART. III. Report of the Committee of the Highland Society of Scotland, appointed to inquire into the Nature and Authenticity of the Poems of Ossian, drawn up, according to the Directions of the Committee, by Henry Mackenzie, Esq. With a copious Appendix, containing some of the principal Documents on which the Report is founded. 8vo. PP. 155. and 343. 128. Boards. Edinburgh, Constable and Co.; London, Longman and Co.
ART. IV. Essay on the Authenticity of the Poems of Ossian; in which the Objections of Malcolm Laing, Esq. are particularly considered and refuted. By Patrick Graham, D.D., Minister of Aberfoyle. To which is added, an Essay on the Mythology of Ossian's Poems, by Professor Richardson, of Glasgow College. 8vo. pp. 471. 128. Boards. Edinburgh, Hill, &c.; London, Murray, &c.
ART. V. The Poems of Ossian, in the original Gaelic, with a literal Translation into Latin, by the late Robert Macfarlan, A. M.; together with a Dissertation on the Authenticity of the Poems, by Sir John Sinclair, Bart., and a Translation from the Italian of the Abbé Cesarotti's Dissertation on the Controversy respecting the Authenticity of Ossian, with Notes, and a supplemental Essay, by John M'Arthur, LL.D. Published under the Sanction of the Highland Society of London. 8vo. 3Vols. 21. 28. Boards. Nicol. HALE
ALF acentury has now nearly elapsed, since the first specimen of translations from the Gaelic into English was brought before the public by Mr. Macpherson; and though, during that period, numerous attempts have been made to overthrow the authenticity of the poems attributed to the Celtic Homer, .. VOL. LXIII.
they are still published with success by the booksellers, and read with avidity by those who have a taste for the simple and rude manners of antiquity, or the impassioned language of early poetry. The very circumstances of these compositions having sustained the shock of criticism, and of their being still the subject of keen dispute, shew that they possess an intrinsic value sufficient to interest the public in their fate; and perhaps there never was a more favourable time for examining and determining the merits of such arguments than the present, when the appearance of the works, of which we have given the titles above, has again roused the dormant curiosity of our literati, and enabled us, with much more probability than at any former period, finally to decide the question. We have watched with anxiety, but with caution, the progress of the Ossianic controversy, from the acrimonious remarks made by Johnson, in his Journey to the Western Islands*, to the present Essay of Dr. Graham; and we have occasionally taken notice of the publications which appeared in the early part of this dispute. Of late, however, we have remitted our labours on this subject, under the persuasion that the objections brought forwards by Mr. Laing, in his Dissertation on the supposed Authenticity of Ossian's Poems, would call forth the exertions of some Highland champion, to defend the claims of his favourite bard. In this idea we have not been deceived; and, as it is not likely that any farther arguments or testimonials of importance will be adduced on either side, we propose in the present article to give a comparative historical sketch of all that has been advanced, both by the advocates for the authenticity of Ossian's poems and by their opponents, pointing out how far we think either party has succeeded. In this view we shall be materially aided by the judicious and impartial Report of the Highland Society; in which is brought together a much greater variety of valuable documents than we could have expected, even from the laborious researches of that numerous and respectable body.
Macpherson's Fingal, of which we gave an account in our *xvith volume, was published in 1762, and in the following year it was followed by the epic poem of Temora. Though both these works procured for Macpherson a considerable share of public favour, and were supported by all the abilities and enthusiasm of Dr. Blair, yet, even on their first appearance, persons of talent and critical acuteness openly avowed a disbelief of their authenticity. Many others, though disposed to favour the poems and their editor, expressed scepticism with
* See Rev. Vol. lii. p. 1-58.
respect to the manner in which the originals were said to have been obtained, and the fidelity with which they had been translated. Among these may be ranked David Hume, who, in his letters to Dr. Blair on this subject, written in 1763, and reprinted by the Society in the beginning of their present Report, intimates the suspicions which he and others entertained, and points out the method in which he thinks these doubts are most likely to be removed. From the first of these letters, it appears that, immediately after the publication of the poems, many literary men rejected them with disdain and indignation, as a palpable and most impudent forgery; on the grounds that the manners described in the translations were not such as were likely to prevail at the early period which was assigned as the era of Ossian, and that it was scarcely possible for such long and connected compositions to be preserved by oral tradition alone, during the lapse of fourteen centuries.
Notwithstanding the statement of these difficulties, the editor refused to satisfy the world respecting those points in which his veracity had been called in question; and nothing of importance was published on either side, (if we except the testimonies brought forwards by Dr. Blair, which we shall mention hereafter,) till Dr. Johnson and Mr. Boswell returned from their northern tour. During that journey, they had made several inquiries concerning the traditionary poems said to exist among the Highlanders: but these inquiries were unsuccessful, and tended to confirm the preconceived notions of Johnson; who, always prejudiced against Scotchmen and Scottish literature, had, almost without examination, condemned Macpherson as a literary felon. In a former volume, already cited, we noticed Dr. Johnson's objections to the authenticity of Ossian's poems, which rest almost entirely on the idea that no written poems in the Gaelic language were then extant, and of course that the published translations must be a forgery to this charge Macpherson replied only by menaces and abuse; a conduct which tended materially to injure his cause, and still farther to impugn his veracity.
We have seen that the spirit of scepticism was not confined to the English literati: but none of Mr. Macpherson's countrymen appeared openly as his opponents, till Mr. W. Shaw, author of the Gaelic Dictionary and Grammar, published in 1781 an Enquiry into the authenticity of the Poems ascribed to Ossian. The arguments and assertions adduced in this inquiry were truly formidable, and to many readers appeared perfectly conclusive. Mr. Shaw seemed to have proved that both the fable
* See Rev. Vol. lxv. p. 412.
and the machinery of Macpherson's principal poems were Irish; that none but Irish MSS. had been or could be offered to the inspection of the public; that many of the testimonies adduced by Dr. Blair were either falsehoods or misrepresentations; and that the principal literary characters of Scotland had engaged in a combination to support the cause and credit of their countrymen at the expence of honesty and truth. The answers which were soon made to these bold assertions, and the manner in which they were controverted, we shall notice presently but, for the sake of connection, we now confine ourselves to one side of the question.
Ossian and his editor soon encountered a much more formidable because more respectable antagonist in Mr. Malcolm Laing, who, at the end of his History of Scotland, published in 1800, gave an elaborate dissertation on Ossian's poems; in which he minutely examined the compositions in question, and compared them with other publications of Mr. Macpherson. From the whole investigation, he concluded that the works -published by Macpherson contained several false and incorrect allusions to the history of Britain during its subjugation to the Romans; that the manners of the Highlanders, as described .in those poems, differ exceedingly from those which are represented by historians who treat of the period at which that bard is supposed to have flourished, and in particular that the manners depicted in Ossian are much more refined than those which appeared in the Highlands at a considerably later date; that these compositions betray many palpable imitations of the Greek and Roman classics, of the Scriptures, and of other writings, and therefore could not have been produced by Ossian, who must have been unacquainted with those sources; that all the traditionary poems hitherto discovered in the Highlands refer to the middle ages, comprehending the ninth and tenth centuries; that no Gaelic manuscript hitherto found is older than the 15th century; that the poems attributed to Ossian nearly resemble, in their style and modes of expres sion, the poem of the Highlander, formerly published by Macpherson as his own composition; and that it is more than probable that the Erse MSS. produced by Macpherson were translations by himself (or others) of his own English pieces, rather than original Gaelic songs which he had rendered into English. In addition to these conclusions, Mr. Laing undertook to prove, from Macpherson's own expressions, that he was the author, and not the translator, of the poems which he published. Some of these expressions are indeed, very extraordinary, and might lead even a more impartial seader than Mr. Laing to draw a similar conclusion; or at