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least to believe that Mr. Macpherson, finding how well his publication had been received, became jealous of the honours paid to his original, and desirous of arrogating to himself more merit than, as a translator, he seemed intitled to demand. To pass over the more indirect passages in which, according to Mr. Laing, Macpherson avows the deceit of which he is accused, we shall select only what appears in the preface to Macpherson's edition of. Óssian, in 1773, on which great stress is laid by Mr. Laing. In that gentleman's opinion,
In a con
"This preface avows the deceit in the most unequivocal terms. Without increasing his genius, says Macpherson, )the author may have improved his language, in the eleven years that the poems have been in the hands of the public. Errors in diction might have been committed at twenty-four, which the experience of a riper age may remove, and some exuberances in imagery may be restrained with advantage, by a degree of judgment acquired in the progress of time. venient indifference for a literary reputation, the author hears praise without being elevated, and ribaldry without being depressed. The taste which defines genius by the points of the compass, however ludicrous in itself, is often a serious matter in the sale of a work. When rivers define the limits of abilities, as well as of countries, a writer may measure his success by the latitude under which he was born. It was to avoid a part of this inconvenience, that the author is said by some, who speak without any authority, to have ascribed his own productions to another name; if this was the case, he was but young in the art of deception, as the translator, when he placed his author in antiquity, should have been born on this side the Tweed :— but the truth is, that to judge aright requires almost as much genius as to write well, and good critics are almost as rare as good poets. The novelty of cadence, in what is called a prose version, though not destitute of harmony, will not, to common readers, supply the absence of the frequent returns of rhyme. This was the opinion of the writer himself, whose first intention was to publish in verse; and as the making of poetry may be learned by industry, he had served his apprenticeship, though in secret, to the muses,
"Again, "the writer (proceeds Macpherson,) has now resigned the poems to their fate. Genuine poetry, like gold, loses little when properly transfused;" and with an implied inference to himself, he says that the "translator who cannot equal his original, is incapable of expressing its beauties." (Laing's Dissert. viii. 2.)
From this remarkable passage, Mr. Laing inferred that Macpherson was conscious of his own ability to compose a poem equal to his translation of Ossian; and that, from con, siderations of prudence, he had been led to impose on the world, as a translation, that which was in reality his own original production.
A second edition of Mr. Laing's History and Dissertation appeared in 1804; and, in pursuance of his attack on the Z 3
authenticity of Ossian, the same gentleman, in the following year, produced a new edition of the poems of Ossian, containing the Poetical Works of James Macpherson, Esq. in prose and rhyme, with notes and illustrations. After Mr. L.'s dissertation, the substance of which seems to form the principal contents of his notes and illustrations to his edition of Macpherson's poems, these notes and illustrations were surely unnecessary; and by attaching them to works, the merit of which it is their chief business to depreciate, Mr. L. may in some measure be regarded as obliging the public to purchase a mass of rubbish, for the sake of perusing his valuable and sterling matter.
We have now enumerated the most important objections that have been stated at various times against the authenticity of Ossian's poems; from which objections has even arisen a doubt whether ever "Fingal fought or Ossian sung:"-a question which we shall examine in the sequel.
It was not to be expected that the admirers of Ossian, and the friends of his translator, should regard these hostilities. with that silent contempt and pertinacious forbearance which Macpherson himself seems to have gloried in displaying. At a very early period of the dispute, the respectable Professor, who had at first attempted to prove the authenticity and point out the beauties of the poems, stood up in defence of his adopted child; and, in deference to the advice of his friend Hume, he collected and published numerous testimonies in favour of its legitimacy. These testimonies consist chiefly of eleven letters from gentlemen and clergymen of respectability in the Highlands, and are now reprinted by the Committee of the Highland Society, at the head of the appendix to their Report they tend to prove that, at the time in which they were written, viz. 1763, there were living in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, several persons who either possessed antient Gaelic MSS. or could recite long passages from traditionary Gaelic poems, which agreed in their subject, and often in their composition, with those that had been published in English by Macpherson. These testimonies, though satisfactory as far as they go, are by no means complete; and much more was wanting to satisfy the doubts and remove the scruples of the English literati.
In consequence of the serious attack made by Mr. William Shaw on the authenticity of the poems, and on the literary and moral character of Mr. Macpherson and his advocates, but particularly to vindicate his own reputation against the attacks of that author, Mr. John Clarke, member of the society of Scottish Antiquaries, and translator of the Caledonian Bards, published in 1781 an Answer to Mr. Shaw's Enquiry into the
Authenticity of the Poems ascribed to Ossian. In this answer, of which we gave a very particular account in our Ixvith vol. p. 47., Mr. Clark not only repelled the allegations of Mr. Shaw against himself, and exposed Mr.S.'s ignorance of the Gaelic language and antiquities, but affirmed, on what appeared to be the fullest evidence, that the accusations of Mr. Shaw had been dictated by private pique and resentment, and were in numerous instances false and malicious; that Mr. S. had really been shewn an antient Gaelic manuscript, referring to Osear the son of Ossian, which, however, he appeared scarcely to understand; and that he had never applied to Mr. Macpherson for a sight of the MSS. in Mr.M.'s possession, as he had asserted.
For the purpose of throwing the fullest light on this farfamed controversy, and procuring the most complete evidence which the nature of existing circumstances would allow, the Highland Society of Scotland, some time previous to the year 1797, appointed a committee of their body to inquire into the nature and authenticity of the poems of Ossian. In the time of nominating this committee, the Society were peculiarly fortunate: Dr. Blair, Professor Fergusson, Dr. Carlyle, and Mr. John Home, the principal advisers and promoters of the original publication of Macpherson, and many other gentlemen of respectability, who had been intimately acquainted with Mr. Macpherson, and had either assisted him in his researches or witnessed the prosecution of his undertaking, were then living; and the immediate descendant of the last of the Cale donian bards remained, to give his testimony as to the manner in which Macpherson had become possessed of an antient Gaelic. MS., which was said to have supplied him with a great part of his materials.
Proceeding on a similar plan to that which was suggested. by Mr. Hume in his letter to Dr. Blair, already mentioned, the Committee drew up and circulated the following queries:
"I. Have you ever heard repeated or sung, any of the poems ascribed to Ossian translated and published by Mr. Macpherson ? By whom have you heard them so repeated, and at what time or times? Did you ever commit any of them to writing, or can you remember them so well as now to set them down? In either of these cases, be so good as to send the Gaelic original to the Committee.
II. The same answer is requested concerning any other antient poems of the same kind, and relating to the same traditionary persons or stories with those in Mr. Macpherson's collection.
"III. Are any of the persons from whom you heard any such poems now alive? Or are there in your part of the country any persons who can remember and repeat or recite such poems? If there are, be so good as to examine them as to the manner of their getting or learning such compositions; and set down, as accurately
as possible, such as they can now repeat or recite; and transmit sach their account, and such compositions as they repeat, to the Committee.
"IV. If there are, in your neighbourhood, any persons from whom Mr. Macpherson received any poems, enquire particularly what the poems were which he so received, the manner in which he received them, and how he wrote them down; shew those persons,
if you have an opportunity, his translation of such poems, and desire them to say if the translation be exact and literal, or, if it differs, in what it differs from the poems, as they repeated them to Mr. Macpherson, and can now recollect them.
"V. Be so good (as) to procure every information you conveniently can with regard to the traditionary belief in the country in which you live, concerning the history of Fingal and his followers, and that of Ossian and his poems; particularly concerning those stories and poems published by Mr. Macpherson, and the heroes mentioned in them. Transmit any such account, and any proverbial or traditionary expression in the original Gaelic relating to the subject, to the Committee.
VI. In all the above inquiries, or any that may occur to in elucidation of this subject, he is requested by the Committee to make the inquiry and to take down the answers with as much impartiality and precision as possible, in the same manner as if it were a legal question, and the proof to be investigated with a legal strictness." (Report, page 2.)
The Report itself, which occupies about one third of the volume published by the society, is drawn up by Mr. Henry Mackenzie, chairman of the Committee, with all that candour and impartiality, though not with all that purity of taste and elegance of composition, which we should have expected from the author of the Man of Feeling.-Though Mr. M. has been extremely cautious in giving the decided opinion of the Committee respecting the success of their inquiries, and has in general left the reader to form his own judgment from the matter before him, particularly from the voluminous Appendix, he has summed up the evidence in a manner which is very favourable to the general question of authenticity:
On the whole, the Committee beg leave to report, that there are two questions to which it has directed its enquiries, on the subject which the society was pleased to refer to it, and on which it now submits the best evidence it has been able to produce.
1st. What poetry, of what kind, and of what degree of excellence existed antiently in the Highlands of Scotland, which was generally known by the denomination of Ossianic, a term derived from the universal belief that its father and principal composer was Ossian the son of Fingal ?
2nd. How far that collection of such poetry, published by Mr. James Macpherson, is genuine?
As to the first of these questions, the Committee can with confidence state its opinion, that such poetry did exist, that it was common, general, and in great abundance; that it was of a most impressive and striking sort, in a high degree eloquent, tender, and sublime.
The second question it is much more difficult to answer deci sively. The Committee is possessed of no documents, to shew how much of his collection Mr. Macpherson obtained in the form in which he has given it to the world. The poems and fragments of poems which the Committee has been able to procure, contain, as will appear from the article in the appendix, No. 15, often the substance, and sometimes almost the literal expression (the ipsissima verba) of passages given by Mr. Macpherson, in the poems of which he has published the translations. But the Committee has not been able to obtain one poem the same in title and tenor with the pocms published by him. It is inclined to believe that he was in use to supply chasms, and to give connection, by inserting passages which he did not find, and to add what he conceived to be dignity and delicacy to the original composition, by striking out passages, by softening incidents, by refining the language, in short by changing what he considered as too simple or too rude for a modern ear, and elevating what in his opinion was below the standard of good poetry. To what degree, however, he exercised these liberties, it is impossible for the Committee to determine. The advantages he possessed, which the Committee began its inquiries too late to enjoy, of col lecting from the oral recitation of a number of persons now no more, a very great number of the same poems, on the same subjects, and then collecting those different copies or editions, if they may be so called, rejecting what was spurious or corrupted in one copy, and adopting from another something more genuine and excellent in its place, afforded him an opportunity of putting together what might fairly enough be called an original whole, of much more beauty, and with much fewer blemishes, than the Committee believe it now possible for any person or combination of persons to obtain.
The Committee thinks it discovers some difference between the style both of the original (one book of which is given by Macpher son) and translation of Temora, and that of the translation of Fingal, and of the small portion of the original of that poem, which it received from his executors: there is more the appearance of simpli city and originality in the latter than in the former. Perhaps when he published Fingal, Mr. Macpherson, unknown as an author, and obscure as a man, was more diffident, more cautious, and more attentive, than when at a subsequent period he published Temora, flushed with the applause of the world, and distinguished as a man of talents, and an author of high and rising reputation. Whoever will examine the original prefixed to some of the editions of the 7th book of Temora, and compare it with the translation, will, in the opinion of the Committee, discover some imperfections, some mo dernisms (if the expression may be allowed) in the Gaelic, which do not occur in the specimen of Fingal, given in the appendix to this Report; and in the English, more of a loose and inflated expression