Page images
PDF
EPUB

by force. A portion of the same spirit actuates all the other heroes. Valour reigns; but it is a generous valour, void of cruelty, actuated by honour, not by batred. We behold no debasing passions among Fingal's warriors; no spirit of avarice or insult; but a perpetual contention for fame; a desire of being distinguished and remembered for gallant actions; a love of justice; and a zealous attachment to their friends and their country. Such is the strain of sentiment in the works of Ossian.”

There are not wanting examples to prove, that Bonaparte, in his addresses to his army, both before and after any great battle, as well as in his proclamations and instructions to general officers, is a close imitator of the concise and energetic style of Ossian. In confirmation of this observation, we have, among many others, a striking instance in his instructions to General Kleber on quitting Egypt and returning to France.

These instructions are dated Alexandria, Aug. 2d, 1799, and were published at full length, in the year 1800, with many original intercepted letters, from the officers of the French army in Egypt to their friends in Europe; and their authenticity is unquestionable. In one passage Bonaparte says, “ Accustomed to look for the recompense of the toils and difficulties of life in the opinion of posterity, I abandon Egypt with the deepest regret! The honour and interests of my country, duty, and the extraordinary events, which have recently taken place there, have alone determined me to hazard a passage to Europe, through the midst of the enemy's squadrons.— In heart and in spirit, I shall be in the midst of you.—The army I intrust to your care is entirely composed of my own children.”

The original runs thus: " Accoutumé à voir la recompence des peines et des travaur de la vie dans l'opinion de la postérité, j'abandonne l’Egypte avec le plus grand regret. L'intérét de la patrie, sa gloire, l'obéissance, les évènemens extraordinaires qui viennent de s'y passer, me decident seuls à passer au milieu des escadres ennemies, pour me rendre en Europe. Je serai d'esprit et de cæur, avec vous. L'armée, que je vous confie, est toute cumposée de mes enfans.

We find in Plutarch and Strabo, that Alexander the Great of Mace

* Plut. in Vita Alexandri. Strabo, lib. 13.

don, and the Ptolomies of Egypt, as well as the philosophers and statesmeu of their time, held Homer in such high estimation, that they did not hesitate to assist in strictly revising and reviewing his poems, restoring some verses to their former readings, and rejecting others which were deemed spurious. The edition of Homer, prepared by Alexander, is recorded to have been kept in a casket, (such was the inestimable value the hero put upon it,) which was found among the spoils of Darius ; and thence it was named the edition of the casket.

Bonaparte has, in addition to what we have already noticed, recently given a substantial proof of his veneration for the Celtic bard, as well as for whatever relates to Celtic literature, by establishing under his inimediate auspices a Celtic Academy at Paris. Why should not Great Britain follow an example so laudable, by establishing at some one of our Universities a professor of the Celtic language? Why should a language so useful to the antiquary be neglected in the Island, where it is still spoken? Why ought not the Celtic bard to be as much admired in his own as in foreign countries ? Homer had justice done to his genius by his countrymen, independent of auxiliary aid; whereas Ossian's sublime effusions have been left to rulers, philosophers, and poets of other nations to appreciate. His merits have in his native land been even decried by men, who were influenced by sceptical notions, or were ignorant of the language in which his sentiments are conveyed. By the Abbé Cesarotti and other learned foreigners, who are convinced of the intrinsic value and genuineness of Ossian's works, his fame is amply vindicated : and by the patriotic zeal and exertions of Dr. Blair and a few private individuals of this country, the authenticity of his poems is clearly established.

It may not be uninteresting to mention, that there is in the National Library at Paris (forinerly the King's) a curious Celtic manuscript, purporting to be the speech of Clovis, the founder of the French monarchy, to his army on taking the field.* It is said to be bound up with MSS. in the Persian, Arabic, and other languages. Efforts are making to obtain a copy of this MS. from Paris, with a fac simile of a few lives of the original to prove the age of the writing. The composition is said to be in the energetic style of the celebrated speech of Galgacus the

Clovis reigned King of the French in Gaul from 431 to 508.

gu

Scottish chief, pronounced at the head of an army of Caledonians, when about to engage the Romans on the Grampian hills.*

The first sentence of the speech of Galgacus is thus given in Gaelic.

“ Co tric 'sa bheir mi fa 'near abhair a chogai so, agus an teinn anns am bheil sinn, tha mor mhisneach agam gu 'm bi ’n la 'n diu, agus ur aonachd inntinn, nan toiseach saorsai Bhreatain leir."

In Latin by Tacitus:

“Quotiens causas belli et necessitatem nostram intueor, magnus mihi animus est, hodiernum diem consensumque vestrum, initium libertatis totius Britanniæ fore."

The following is a translation of the passage:

“ Whenever I reflect on the causes of this war, and the necessity to which we are reduced, great is my confidence that this day and your unanimity will prove the beginning of universal liberty to Britain.”

In French by Monsieur de la Bleterie:

“ Plus je considere la cause pour laquelle nous combattons, et l'étât où nous sommes reduits, plus je compte sur votre zéle unanime; et ce jour est à mes yeux l'époque d'une revolution, qui doit affranchir toute la Bretagne du joug de ses tyrans."

Note B, referred to p. 298.

The substance of Dr. Blair's Dissertation was originally delivered in 1763, soon after the first publication of Fingal, in the course of his lectures in the University of Edinburgh; and, at the desire of several of the hearers, it was afterwards enlarged and given to the public. In the year 1765, Dr. Blair published a second edition, to which was added an appendix, containing a variety of undoubted testimonies establishing the authenticity of Ossian's poems.

In the Appendix to the Report of the Highland Society of Scotland, lately published, respecting Ossian, there are inserted in chronological order, no fewer than eleven letters addressed to Dr. Blair, between the 4th Feb. 1760, and 2d Oct. 1764; all bearing the most explicit testimony, drawn from internal evidence, of the great antiquity of the poems, and

Tacitus in his life of Agricola has given Galgacus's speech at full length.

none of them insinuating the most remote suspicion, that Mr. Macpherson had either forged or adulterated any one of the poems, which he published and ascribed to Ossian. The following highly respectable persons are the writers of the letters alluded to: viz. 1. Sir John Macpherson, Bart. ; 2. Sir James Macdonald ; 3. Dr. John Macpherson, minister of Sleat; 4. Lachlan Macpherson, of Strathmashie; 5. Dr. John Macpherson, of Sleat; 6. Angus Macneill, minister of Hovemore ; 7. Neil Macleod, minister of Ross ; 8. Mr. Alexander Macaulay; 9. Mr. Donald Macleod, minister of Glenelg; 10. Mr. Donald Macqueen, minister of Thilmuir; 11. Lord Auchinleck.

There is likewise an interesting letter inserted in the Appendix to said Report, page 56, from Dr. Blair to Henry Mackenzie, Esq. the editor, dated the 20th Dec. 1797, in which he gives a particular account of the circumstances relating to the first discovery and publication of the poems of Ossian.

Although the question, that has been so long a subject of controversy, may be fairly presumed to be set at rest, it must, however, be gratifying to the reader, to have pointed out to him the principal authorities and testimonies recently adduced in support of the authenticity of Ossian, that he may, if necessary, refer to them, and thence draw his own conclusions,

Note C, referred to p. 304. The specimens which Mr. Macpherson gave of his talents for poetry prior to his translation of Ossian, are by no means favourable to the arguments of those persons, who, from that circumstance, drew infercnces that his mental powers were equal to fabricate such poems as are ascribed to the Celtic bard.

In 1758, about two years prior to his publication of the frag. ments of ancient poetry translated from the Gaelic, he published his first poetical effusions in a poem called Death, and soon after published a heroic poem, in six cantos, under the popular name of the Highlander. An anonymous writer, in the Edinburgh Magazine, notices this last poem as a “ tissue of fustian and absurdity;" and Mr. Campbell, in his History of Poetry in Scotland, published at Edinburgh in 1798, compares extracts from it with others taken from his translation of Fingal and Temora, and adduces irrefragable proofs, that the author of that poem was not competent to compose such poems as those ascribed to Ossian. VOL. III.

2

Mr. Campbell has besides established beyond a doubt, “ that poems ascribed to Ossian did crist, and were universally known in the Highlands, prior to Mr. Macpherson's first attempts to translate them ; that they are neither wholly, nor, chiefly of his own invention : neither are they literary forgeries ; but that he, with the assistance of others, collected and arranged them in a systematic form, as translated and presented by him to the public.” In 1773, Mr. Macpherson published a translation of the Iliad of Homer, in two volumes quarto; a work, as noticed in the Supplement to the third edition of the Edinburgh Encyclopædia Britannica, “ fraught with vanity and self-consequence, and which met with the most mortifying reception from the public. It was condemned by the critics, ridiculed by the wits, and neglected by the world."

Note D, referred to p. 304.

In illustration of the observations made by the learned author in the text, namely, “ that Mr. Macpherson died quite impenitent, and without any confession respecting the imputation of imposture; and that Mr. Smith, although a minister, does not seem disposed to confess his sin, it may not be improper to notice, that Mr. Macpherson bequeathed a legacy of one thousand pounds to defray the expenses of preparing for the press, and publishing the original poems. That in his lifetime, as far back as the year 1784, he had it in serious contemplation to print the originals, as appears from his letter to the Highland Society of London, inserted in Sir John Sinclair's Dissertation, prefixed to this work, p. Ixxxi: of which a fac simile is given in the Appendix, No. III. And that, in the same year, a sum of about one thousand pounds was actually remitted from the East Indies to Mr. Macpherson ; being the amount of a subscription made by some Scotch gentlemen in that quarter, for the purpose of printing the original poems in Gaelic, as appears also in the said Dissertation prefixed, and Appendix, No. III.

A reference to four letters from the Rev. Mr. Smith to Henry Mackenzie, Esq. lately published in the Appendix to the Report of the Highland Society of Scotland, joined to the other proofs adduced, leaves little or no scope for further controversy respecting the genuineness of Ossian's poems. In Mr. Smith's last letter, dated the 21st June, 1802, he emphatically, and with his usual candour, observes towards the conclusion, “ 'That Fingal fought, and that Ossian sung, cannot be doubted. That the poems of Ossian extended their fame for ages over Britain and

« PreviousContinue »