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bard, it appears, were recited in fragments irregularly, and were blended by the vulgar with popular fables and other pieces on similar subjects, composed by posterior bards and senachies, of a genius and style different from that of Ossian, as might be naturally expected in poems which pass through the mouths of the vulgar, and are successively transmitted by memory; and it is probable, that here and there various collections and compilations of them might be made, most of them indigested, without selection or judgment, by inexperienced and ignorant persons. It is therefore reasonable to think, that Macpherson and Smith, having collected together the greatest number they could of such manuscripts, consulted the oldest and best informed people of those countries, and having compared the pieces with each other, were enabled to select from the various readings such as were most suitable to and consistent with the general character of Ossian; they would consequently put together the various fragments in the most rational order, and according to the natural connection of the subjects; thence had it in their power to compile and publish a genuine translation, worthy of the name of that author. Smith candidly confessed both for himself and for his colleague, that such had been their conduct. “ After the materials were collected,” says he, “ the next labour was to compare the different editions ; to strike off several parts that were manifestly spurious; to bring together some episodes that appeared to have a relation to one another, though repeated separately; and to restore to their proper places

some incidents that seemed to have run from one poem into another.*-I am very confident, that the poems so arranged are different from all other editions; they have taken a certain air of regularity and of art, in comparison with the disunited and irregular manner of the original.” In another place Mr. Smith, speaking of Macpherson, remarks, “ that it must be confessed we have not the whole of the poems of Ossian, or even of the collection translated by Mr. Macpherson ; yet still we have many of them, and of almost all a part. The building is not entire, but we have still the grand ruins of it.” |

In short, although Macpherson had not explicitly imparted to the public the particular quality of his compilation, he gave, however, in various parts of his annotations, sufficient hints that this was the method he adopted. In this place it is proper to observe, that the very system of Macpherson's work may perhaps demonstrate his shyness in showing freely the original. He had in his possession several manuscripts of Ossian, and he had among them the genuine poems of Ossian, which were not to be found in

any

other edition though dispersed in all. But the true Ossian, as published in English, was only to be found in the compilation made by himself, and transcribed by his own hand. Whatever manuscripts therefore he might have offered to the public, the incredulous and malicious, on comparing the translation with the text, and finding theni strictly uniform, would have said, that Macpherson had counterfeited the original, with a view to deceive the unwary. For this reason, satisfied with having laid the matter of fact before those few, who were acquainted with the state of the different editions of Ossian, he scorned perhaps to expose himself to the risk of bearing the blame and slander, for that which ought to have rather excited the public estimation and gratitude.

* See Note T, at the end of the Dissertation. + See Note U, at the end of the Dissertation.

But, whatever may be thought concerning the subject, the opinion of Mr. Hill, on the three questions above discussed, appears rational, and perhaps more satisfactory than any other to the minds of impartial critics; and ought even to have been approved and cherished by Macpherson himself. Perhaps we must think differently of what is given in the latter part of his discourse, on two other questions, which he proposes as supplementary to the preceding ones. 1. He asks, was Ossian Irish or Scotch? 2. What true idea had their countrymen of the Fingalians, and in what light ought we to consider them? On the first question, he decides, that Fingal and his family were Irish heroes, and that Ossian's poems are originally from Ireland. He assigns the following reasons. One of the principal characters in the poems is St. Patrick, the apostle of Ireland; the same poems are found among those of the Scotch particularly on the coast opposite to Ireland. In an account of the Irish customs, written by one Good, a schoolmaster at Limerick, in 15.56, of which William Camden gives the following extract: The Irish,”says the author, “ think, that the souls of the deceased are in communion with famous men of those places, of whom they retain many stories and sonnets; as of the giants, Fin-mac-huile, Oscar-macoshin, and Oshin-mac-owin. And they say, through illusion, that they often see them.” With respect to Gaelic manuscripts, Hill confesses, that he had not been able to consult a sufficient number to determine, whether the most ancient and primitive manuscripts were Caledonian or Irish; but, from what came under his notice, he seems inclined to believe them Irish. As to the second question he says, that the Fingalians were considered by their countrymen as a race of giants, and are represented as such in their mythological songs. This, he remarks, has nothing in it to surprize us, “ for such were all the heroes deified by the northern nations; such were Odin, Thor, and the other Teutonic gods; such also were Hercules, Bacchus, and the other heroes, or demi-gods, of ancient Greece.” This last observation is a consequence of the preceding one, since neither Fingal, nor any of his family, appears to have been of a gigantic form in any of Ossian's poems translated by Mr. Macpherson, and they are only found to be so in the Irish editions. *

It is not my province to decide on the two last opinions of this critic, but it is certain, that Macpherson could not be satisfied with them; he, who had

previously combated these objections, first in his preface to the poem of Fingal, and afterwards more forcibly in the preliminary discourse to the poem of Temora, by adducing arguments which appear to be decisive. We shall leave the learned of both nations to decide on the validity of the proofs, which Macpherson adduces on the anteriority of the origin of the Caledonian Celts over the Irish Celts, and on the purity of the Celtic mother tongue, which is much better preserved in the Highlands of Scotland, than in Ireland. But if the poems or songs, which are prevalent in the former country concerning the family and the heroes of Fion Mac Comnal (Fingal son of Comnal) be such as are represented by Macpherson, the pretensions of the Irish are utterly vain and nugatory. There is no alternative: it must be one of the two; either Ossian's poems, as published by Macpherson and Smith, are not genuine, or Fingal and his family do not belong to Ireland ; and what is more important, the traditional songs of the Irish nation are the works of posterior senachies, or rhapsodists, who were willing to claim the Caledonian heroes; and they contain nothing but crazy tales, and foolish

* See Note W', at the end of the Dissertation.

romances.

Macpherson gives an analysis of the principal Irish songs alluded to, several of which contain nearly the same facts that are to be found in the real Ossian's poems, and by quoting often the original words, he proves the former to be full of contradictions, anachronisms, allusions to modern times, and extravagant and ridiculous tales. In spite of the general pretension of the Irish nation, many of them call Fingal and his race Fion d'Albion, the proper name of the Highlands of Scotland.* Fingal, according to the

• See Note X, also Supplemental Observations on the authenticity of Ossian's poems at the end of Notes to this Dissertation, under the Head of the ancient Name and Inhabitants of Great Britain.

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