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being more immediately the object of discussion, and as they are really the last in the order of publication.
Previously to the year 1780, Mr. Duncan Kennedy, formerly a school-master in Argyleshire, and afterward practising as an accountant in Glasgow, began to collect and transcribe from oral recitation, among the natives in the western Highlands, several fragments of Gaelic poetry; and his collection, consisting of three thin manuscript volumes in folio, was purchased by the Highland Society of Scotland, in whose possession they still remain. It is, however, very uncertain what part of these MSS. is genuine antient Gaelic poetry, and what is to be ascribed to the collector as his own compositions; since he has avowed himself the author of two of the poems, and has hinted that various passages in others of them were either com→ posed or altered by him. Whether or not we are to set these confessions to the account of Mr. Kennedy's vanity, it is impossible for us to determine: but it is generally allowed that at least a considerable part of the MSS. is of an antient date.
The next collection with which we are acquainted is that of Dr. John Smith, minister of Campbeltown; who, in the year 1780, published Dissertations on Gaelic Antiquities, to which are subjoined a Collection of ancient Poems translated from the Gaelic of Ossian, Ullin, Orran, and others; and in 1787; Dr. Smith published the original Gaelic poems from which he professed to have translated that collection †. Of these compositions, too, much has been ascribed to Dr. Smith as an author; and, as the Doctor declined giving a categorical answer to the questions of Dr. Graham on this delicate point, we may perhaps construe his silence into a tacit confession that he had at least a share in the formation of the poems. It appears evident, however, from Dr. Graham's literal translations of passages in Smith's Gaelic poems, compared with the English versions published by the latter gentleman, that these poems were originally composed in Gaelic, which is at least a strong presumption in favour of their antiquity: for whatever the opposers of Macpherson may allege respecting the poetical abilities of this gentleman, and other later collectors of Gaelic poems, is is improbable that, in the present state of Gaelicliterature, (when the language is confessedly declining in use,) and in the present altered state of manners and society in the Highlands, (which is by no means favourable to poetic genius,) persons should still be found capable of composing, in that language, poems equal in beauty and sublimity to what we
See Rev. Vol. lxiii.
+ See Rev. Vol. Ixxviii.
might expect from a much more antient, and, as far as ge nuine poetry is concerned, a more enlightened period.
Some years after Dr. Smith had published his translations, but a year previous to the appearance of his originals, a large collection of Gaelic poetry, antient and modern, was printed by Mr. John Gillies, a bookseller at Perth. Of this work we know nothing but, in the opinion of Mr. Mackenzie, it has considerable merit; though it is evident, from the manner in which it is arranged, that it was not prepared for the press with sufficient accuracy and attention. (Report, p. 58.)
About the year 1780, Mr. T. F. Hill, during a tour through the Highlands, collected a considerable number of Gaelic songs, many of which related to Fingal and his heroes. Of these poems an account is given by Dr. Donald Smith, in the Appendix to the Society's Report, No. 9.: from which it appears that, as published by Mr. Hill, they abound in errors, arrising partly from the collector's ignorance of the Gaelic language, and partly from the incapacity of his transcribers, and are therefore of little value.
The circumstances attending Mr. Macpherson's journey in search of original Gaelic poems are well known to the public; and it is not doubted that he obtained possession of several manuscripts, and wrote down, either himself, or by means of amanuenses, several traditionary fragments, as recited by the Highlanders. The testimonies of the Reverend Mr. Gallie, formerly missionary in Badenoch, and of Captain Morrison of Greenock, Mr. Macpherson's principal assistants in the work of transcription, are given in the Society's Report, and are, we think, satisfactory. Some time after the publication of his English poems, Mr. Macpherson circulated, by the means of his bookseller, proposals for printing by subscription the whole of his Gaelic originals: but, as few or no subscribers were obtained, the scheme was for the time abandoned. We learn, however, from the account given of Mr. Macpherson in the supplement to the third edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, that he always preserved his intention of presenting these originals to the world; and for that purpose he bequeathed, by his will, 1000l. to John Mackenzie, Esq. of the Temple, London, to defray the expence of the publication.
These originals have at length appeared, under the sanction of the Highland Society of London, accompanied by two dissertations on their authenticity, one by Sir John Sinclair, and the other by Dr. M'Arthur; besides a translation (by the latter gentleman) of an Italian dissertation on the Ossianic controversy, written by the Abbé Cesarotti. This is a very splendid publication, and may be regarded as a national work of some importance. It
is composed chiefly of the original Gaelic poems collected by Mr. Macpherson, with a literal Latin version executed by the late Robert Macfarlan, A. M., containing also much preliminary and supplementary matter, tending to authenticate or elucidate the poems.
Besides the collections of Gaelic poetry which we have enumerated, we are enabled by Sir John Sinclair's dessertation to mention another, which existed at the commencement of the French Revolution in the Scotch college at Douay, and was then in the possession of the Rev. John Farquharson. This collection formed a large folio MS. about three inches thick, and contained several poems relating to the personages mentioned in Macpherson's Ossian, and attributed to this Celtic, bard. It is fully ascertained by the testimony of Mr.Farquharson, and several gentlemen who studied at Douay under his tuition, that this MS. existed before the appearance of Macpherson's English poems; and, on comparing these with several of the Gaelic poems in his MS., Mr. Farquharson found that they resembled each other so far as to prove that those of Macpherson were translated from editions of the same pieces, though the English version was often inaccurate, and far inferior to the originals. (See Sir J. Sinclair's Dissertation, p. xlv-lv.
Fourthly. The doubts which had been entertained by Mr. Laing and others respecting the fidelity of Macpherson's translations, or their identity in point of subject and expression with the original Gaelic, from which they are said to be rendered, have now been fully canvassed; and we are empowered to decide with some correctness on this material point in the dispute. Of many passages in Macpherson's English versions, corresponding passages in Gaelic, and literal translations from those supposed originals, have been given, both by the Highland Society and by Dr. Graham. A few of these we shall here extract, for the purpose of enabling our readers to judge of the fidelity of Macpherson's translations.
The ensuing passages form part of the fourth book of Macpherson's Fingal; and we shall contrast the literal translation of the Gaelic, as given by Dr. Smith, with the English version published by Macpherson.
"We set the sun-beam to the pole,
The standard of Fingal of stoutest might,
Full-studded with stones in gold;
With us it was held in high respect.
In the battle of the son of Cumhal of Feasts,
REY. DEC. 1810.
"We reared the sun-beam of battle; the standard of the king, Each hero's soul exulted with joy, as, waving, it flew in the wind. It was studded with gold above, as the blue wide shell of the mighty sky. Each hero had his standard too; and each his gloomy men."
The seven chiefs bred at the lake of Lan,
Though numerous with them their hosts,
I will match, and be victorious on the extended heath.
Let me to the King of Inistore,
At the head of the twelve chiefs of his council,
Leave to me the subduing of them.
Then spoke Connal next,
Let me be match for the King of Inniscon,
And for the sixteen heads fostered along with him;
Or I myself will fall in their stead.
The chief of Mugan, though great his boasting,
Said brown-hair'd Dermid, without fage,
Or I will fall myself in his place.
It was the service chosen by myself;
Though I am without strength this night,
His head to sever from his body.
Be ye blest, be ye victorious,
Said Fingal of the ruddy cheeks,
Manus, son of Gora, of the hosts,
Shall be subdued by me, though great his rage."
Mine, said Gaul, be the seven chiefs that came from Lans's lake. Let Inistore's dark king, said Oscar, come to the sword of Ossian's son. To mine the king of Iniscon, said Connal, heart of steel. Or Madan's chief, or I, said the brown-haired Dermid, shall sleep on elay cold earth. My choice, though now so weak and dark, was Terman's battling king, I promised with my hand to win the hero's dark-brown shield. Blest and victorious be my chiefs, said Fingal of the mildest look; Swaran, king of roaring waves, thou art the choice of Fingal." (See Report, pages 81 and 83.)
The literal version in the above extracts is from a Gaelic poem intitled, Cath Fhinn agus Mhanois. The succeeding collateral passages are translated from the 7th book of Temora, and are taken from Dr. Graham's Essay:
"From the pool of wood-skirted Lego,
At times, ascend the blue-sided mists of the waves :
When closed are the gates of night,
Like a gray shield before the bursting of the clouds,
With this invest the ghosts of old
Their close-gathered forms, amidst the winds.
As they pass (leap) from blast to blast,
On the dusky countenance of the stormy night,
On the skirt of the gale, to the dwelling of the brave,
A blue mansion to the shades of the deceased,
Till the season that the death-song rises on the strings.
It is Connar, king of Erin,
Pouring thick the mist of ghoste,
On Fillan, at streamy Lubar.
Sad, sitting in grief,
Descended the ghost in the midst of the vale (meadow);
But the noble form quickly returned into itself;
It returned slowly, with downcast look,
With locks of mist, like the course of storms."
"From the wood skirted waters of Lego, ascend, at times, graybosomed mists, when the gates of the west are closed on the sun's eagle eye. Wide over Lara's stream is poured the vapour, dark and deep. The moon, like a dim shield, is swimming through its folds. With this clothe the spirits of old their sudden gestures on the wind, when they stride from blast to blast, along the dusky night, often blended with the gale, to some warrior's grave, they roll the mist a gray dwelling to his ghost, until the songs arise. A sound came from the desart; it was Connar, king of Inisfail. He poured the mist on Fillan, at blue winding Lubar. Dark and mournful sat the ghost, in his gray ridge of smoke. The blast, at times, rolled him together; but the form returned again, it returned with bending eyes, and dark winding locks of mist." (See Graham's Essay, p. 299.
That the learned reader may the better estimate the comparative merit of the above translations, we subjoin a Latin version, by Mr. Macfarlan, of the same passage in the original, from the splendid publication of the Highland Society of London:
"E Lacu nemorosa silva Lega
Nonnunquam surgit nebula (xvaronλsugos) latere-caruke undarum,
Acquilino oculo solis cælorum.