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(which however was an error into which Mr. Macpherson was apt to fall,) than is to be found in his earlier translations. He had then attained a height which, to any man, but particularly to a man of a sanguine and somewhat confident disposition like Macpherson, is apt to give a degree of carelessness and presumption, that would rather command than conciliate the public suffrage, and, in the security of the world's applause, neglects the best means of obtaining it. He thought, it may be, he had only to produce another work like Fingal, to reap the same advantage and the same honour which that had procured him; and was rather solicitous to obtain these quickly by a hasty publication, than to deserve them by a careful collection of what original materials he had procured, or by a diligent search to supply the defects of those materials.' (Report, page 151.)
Hence it appears that, of the five principal queries circuIated by the Highland Society, only the second and third have been answered satisfactorily; and that, in the opinion of the Committee, the poems published by Mr. Macpherson differ in several respects from the original Gaelic MSS. which they have been able to procure. It seems not to have been the design of the Society to refute the objections urged by Mr. Laing in his Dissertation; or at least they have not attempted to carry such a design into execution.
This task, therefore, was left to some other admirer of Ossian's poems, and it has been performed by two writers, Mr. Archibald Macdonald of Liverpool, and Dr.Graham. The former of these Gentlemen has published Some of Ossian's lesser poems rendered into verse, with a preliminary discourse in answer to Mr. Laing but Dr. Graham's Essay is the latest and by far the most respectable tract on this side of the controversy which we have seen; and to that essay, therefore, we shall chiefly con fine our attention in the subsequent part of this article, referring occasionally to corresponding passages in the Report of the Highland Society. As Dr.Graham's work, also, is professedly intended to refute the objections of Mr. Laing, and is written with considerable ability and address, an examination of his principal arguments will enable us to shew how far those objections, and others of a similar tendency, have been finally subverted or confirmed; and with that view we shall now briefly recapitulate, in what we deem the most natural order, the doubts and scruples that have been advanced since the first appearance of Mr. Macpherson's publication.
1. It has been doubted whether such persons as Fingal the hero and Ossian the bard ever existed, or whether they be not the ideal personages of metrical romance.
2. It has been asserted that no traditionary poems above a century old, or, according to some, none older than the 15th
century, are to be found n MS. in the Highlands of Scot
3. It has been deemed impossible that poems of any considerable length, such as Fingal and Temora, should be so far retained in the memory of reciters, as to be handed down by oral tradition through a lapse of several centuries.
4. It is denied that the poems published by Macpherson correspond in title, length, tenor, or expression, with the Gaelic MS. poems that have been discovered in the Highlands.
5. It is alleged that Macpherson's poems cannot be translations from works of any remote antiquity, because the manners there described are widely different from those which we find related in Greek and Roman authors, contemporaneous to the period to which those compositions are referred; and because Mr. Macpherson's poems contain palpable mistakes respecting the history of that epoch.
6. It is alleged that Mr. Macpherson was the original author of the poems which he ascribed to Ossian, on the grounds that they resemble other poems which he avowed to be his own productions; and that they contain images and allusions evidently borrowed or imitated from the Greek and Roman clas sics, or from the Holy Scriptures.
7. It is affirmed that the Gaelic poems exhibited by Macpherson, or published by Dr. Smith and others, as the originals from which the English translations had been made, are in reality versions from those very English pieces.
Now, first; with respect to the existence of Fingal and Ossian, we have indeed no positive testimony of classical authority, that can be traced back to near the period at which they are supposed to have flourished; nor, considering the rude state in which the British tribes are allowed to have been found by the Romans, and the contempt in which such barba rians were always held by those refined conquerors of the west, could such testimony have been expected. As far, however, as we can depend on the tradition of the countries in which they are said to have lived, and such tradition has often been allowed as sufficient evidence of the existence of other remark
able personages, abundant reason may be found for believing that such persons as Fingal and Ossian really lived. In many parts both of Ireland and the west of Scotland, various moun tains, glens, and rivers, have long retained names which refer to Fingal, or his followers the Fions; and numberless traditions have for ages been current in both countries, concerning those heroes. The chief of the military order of the Fions is not indeed commonly called Fingal: but Fin Mac Coul, (translated by Macpherson, Fingal the son of Comhal,) the Ossian
of Macpherson, is, by the Gael of both countries, usually denominated Oisin, or Oisian. Independently of these epithets and traditions, Fingal in particular has been mentioned by writers of respectability, several centuries ago: thus, John Barbour, who wrote in the latter end of the 14th century, has the following passage in the third book of his poem of the Bruce, as edited by Mr. Pinkerton :
Quhen that the Lord of Lorn saw
Hector Boëce, in the 7th book of his Scottish History (folio edition, published at Paris in 1574,) thus evidently alludes to the Fingal of Gaelic poetry:
"Conjiciunt quidam in hac tempora Fynnanum filium Cali, (Fyn Mac Coul, vulgari vocabuto) virum uti ferunt immani statura (septem enim cubitorum hominem fuisse narrant) Scotici sanguinis, venatoria arte insignem, omnibusque insolita corporis mole formidolosum; Circularibus fabulis, et iis quæ de Arthuro rege passim apud nostrates leguntur, simillimis, magis quam eruditorum testimonio, decantatum. Hujus itoque viri mirabilibus quod ab historica fide haud parum abhorrere cmnibus sunt visa, consulto supersedentes, Eugenii regis gesta deinceps prosequemur.”.
In these two passages, Fingal, or Fin Mac Coul, is represented as a Scottish hero: but he is generally believed to have -been an Irishman by birth, or of Irish extraction. In fact, we view the question, whether the heroes described in Ossian's poems, or the originals of the poems themselves, are to be attributed to Ireland or to Scotland, as of very inferior importance in the present inquiry; because it involves in itself no great difference, and because we consider the antiquity and not the nationality of the poems as the proper object of discussion.
Secondly, That various traditionary Celtic poems on divers subjects, many of them on the exploits of Fingal and his warriors, have commonly been recited in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, is beyond dispute. It is also certain that MSS of Celtic poetry, of a very antique date, have long existed in Ireland, though it is scarcely possible for us to ascertain the exact period at which they were written. With respect to one MS. called the Red Book, which was received by Mr. Macpherson from Macvurich the bard of Clanronald, it seems indubitable
that this book had been long in the possession of Macvurich's predecessors, since it was written by various hands, and in the antient character used for writing both by the Irish and the Scottish Gael. On the whole, we believe that the high antiquity ascribed by some to the Highland MSS. must in a great measure be abandoned *: but this will make little against either the antiquity or the authenticity of the poems in question, if it can be proved that, although not written, they were preserved by oral tradition from a very remote period.
Thirdly. Numerous proofs have been adduced, both in the Report of the Highland Society and by Dr. Graham, that persons are still, or were very lately, living in the Highlands, who could recite long fragments, and even whole poems, in the Gaelic language, relating partly to Fingal and other heroes. mentioned in Macpherson's publication, and partly to similar subjects. The testimony of Sir James Macdonald to Dr. Blair, and that of Dr. Fergusson to Mr. Mackenzie, on this point, is very explicit :
"The few bards that are left among us, (says the former in his letter to Dr. Blair,) repeat only detailed pieces of these poems. I have often heard and understood them, particularly from one man called John Mac-Codrum, who lives upon my estate of North Uist. I have heard him repeat for hours together, poems which seemed to me to be the same with Macpherson's translation; but as I had it not along with me, and could not remember it with sufficient exactness, I cannot positively affirm that what I have heard is precisely the same as the translation."-"The man whom you mention by the name of John Ossian, lives in Harris. I have heard nothing of him since I came last to this country; but was told, when I was here before, that he could repeat more of these poems than any man in these islands.” (Appendix to Report, page 4.)
Dr. Adam Fergusson, in his letter to Mr. Mackenzie, ob,
"About the year 1740, I heard John Fleming, a taylor, who in the manner of the country, worked with his journeymen at my father's house, repeat, in a kind of chiming measure, heroic strains relating to an arrival or landing of an host and a subsequent battle, with a single combat of two chiefs. This I took down in writing, and kept for some time; but was not in possession of when Mr. Macpherson's
* We are aware that some MSS. of Celtic poetry are described in the Report of the Highland Society of Scotland, and other works on the Ossianic controversy, as being written so long ago as the 8th or 9th century: but it is generally believed that these are Irish and not Scottish MSS. Dr. M'Arthur has given a very full descriptive catalogue of Gaelic MSS., at the conclusion of the third volume of the Gaelic poems of Ossian, and to this paper we must refer our readers. publication
publication appeared. I had no doubt, however, in recognizing the same passages in the arrival of Swaran, and the single combat with Cuchullin, in Macpherson's translation of Fingal." (Id. p. 63.)
It appears also from a notè extracted from the journal of Lord Webb Seymour, relative to a late tour in the Highlands," (Society's Report, p. 55.) that these recitations may still occasionally be heard; and Dr. Graham, speaking of Mr. Stone's poem of the Death of Fraoch, which we shall presently notice, has the following remark:
With regard to this poem, I have to mention, as an additional proof of the actual transmission of very ancient Gaelic poetry, by oral tradition, through a long period of time, that there is an old woman now alive, and residing at Kirktown of Aberfoyle, Sarah Maclachlane, a native of Ardgour, who lately repeated to me this long poem, as given by Mr. Mackenzie, verse for verse, with the exception of the transposition of a few stanzas; but with the omission of none. She can repeat no other ancient Gaelic poem ; but is well acquainted with the historical tradition of the burning of Taura, the palace of Fingal, with all the wives of the Fingalians, a story which forms the subject of one of the poems given in Dr. Smith's Collection, entitled Losga Taura.' (Grahain's Essay, p. 209.)
These instances are sufficient to prove that poems, similar to those which were published by Mr. Macpherson, have been transmitted from generation to generation, though perhaps not in a pure and unmutilated state. Indeed, such proofs were scarcely necessary, when we consider the examples of tenacious memory furnished by history, and advert to the peculiar advantages in this respect which attended the institutions of the Druids and the Bards; who, at a time when writing was either not known or not employed in this country, transmitted their religious precepts and historical annals to their descendants in the way of song.
It is only within the last sixty years that any attempts were made in the Highlands of Scotland to collect, and reduce to a form fit for publication, these traditionary Celtic poems: but, within that interval, have appeared several collections, to which we shall here briefly advert.
The first of these is the poem just mentioned, of which a translation was published by Mr. Jerome Stone, formerly a school-master at Dunkeld, in the Scots Magazine for 1756. The original is intitled Bas Fhraoich, the death of Fraoch, and is printed in the Appendix to the Society's Report, No. VII. According to Dr. Graham, and other able judges of Gaelic poetry, this composition bears strong marks of originality.
The second collection of Gaelic poems in the order of time is that of Macpherson: but these we shall consider last, as