Page images
PDF
EPUB

annuated, or any how rendered incapable of earning their bread in any other way, were sure of finding kind patrons among the better sort of people, or of being favourably received every where, if intimately acquainted with these works, it was hardly possible that they could either have perished totally, or have been greatly adulterated, I mean, adulterated to such a degree, as would have very much defaced their original beauty, or have entirely destroyed their real excellence.

“ Again, should we suppose with Mr. Macpherson, that Ossian lived down to the beginning of the fourth century, it seems plain enough that the compositions of that poet might have been transmitte one generation to another, until letters began to flourish in some degree in the Highlands and Isles. It is certain, beyond any possibility of contradiction, that we have several Gaelic songs preserved among us here, which are more than three hundred years old; and any one who can pretend to be tolerably well versed in the history of Scotland, must know that our ancestors, in the western parts of this kingdom, had the use of letters from the latter end of the sixth age AT LEAST. To attempt a proof of that assertion here, however easy. it would be to give a convincing one, would unavoidably engage me in a discussion too long to be comprehended within the compass of a letter. But most certain it is, that we had men of some learning among us, from after the period just mentioned, at Icolmkill, and in other western isles, when almost every other part of Europe was overspread with ignorance and barbarity. If so,

W

d

.

it must be allowed that we had men capable enough of writing manuscripts. In these manuscripts, the works of Ossian might have been easily preserved; and copies drawn after these originals might, with the same ease, have transmitted his genuine compositions uncorrupted, or nearly so, from one age to another, until we come down to the present generation.”

Mr. Angus Macneill, Minister of Hovemore in South Uist, in his letter to Doctor Blair of the 23d December, 1763, * confirms the declarations of some of his parishioners who had seen and read a considerable part of ancient manuscripts, which treated of the wars of Fingal and Comhal, his father, and he declares that Mr. Macdonald, of Demisdale, rehearsed from memory before him some passages of Fingal, that agreed exactly with Mr. Macpherson's translation, namely, the terms of peace proposed by Morla in Swaran's name to Cuthullin. Fing. Book II. and several other striking descriptions and passages in Book IV. and V. Mr. Macneill corroborates that part of the testimony of Doctor Macpherson, relative to the bard Macmurrich, who, with his predecessors, for nineteen generations back, had been the bards and historians of the family of Clanronald. Neil Macmurrich, the bard alluded to, repeated before him the whole of the poem of Darthula, or Clan Usnoch, with few variations from the translation, which he (Macmurrich) declared that he saw and read, together with many others, in a manuscript book of poems collected by a branch of the Clanro

* Report of the Highland Society, Appendix, p. 18.

nald family, but which had been carried over to Ireland sometime before, by a worthless person, in a clandestine manner, and was thought to be irrecoverably lost. Neil Macmurrich declared also to the Rev. Angus Macneill, that the original of the poem of Berrathon was contained in a manuscript which Mr. Macneill saw him deliver, with three or four more, to Mr. Macpherson when he was in that country, and for which Mr. Macpherson gave him a missive, or letter, obliging himself to restore it, which shows that in the opinion of both, the manuscript contained something of great importance.*

Mr. Neil Macleod, Minister of Ross, in Mull, by his letter of the 22d January, 1764,7 bears testimony to the declaration of Mr. Campbell, of Octomore, an aged gentleman, then living in his neighbourhood, who assured him, that in his younger days he heard Fingal repeated very frequently in the original, just as Mr. Macpherson has translated it. Mr. Macleod himself declared, that he had frequently heard repeated in the Isle of Sky, when a boy, Morla's proposal of peace to Cuthullin, with Cuthullin's answer and Morla’s reply; also the whole episode of Borbar and Faineasоllis in Fingal, Book III.; likewise Fingal's orders for raising his standards, his orders to his chiefs before the battle &c. in Book IV. and the whole poem of Darthula, with many others. *

* It is much to be regretted that the originals of the beautiful poems of Darthula and Berrathon were not found among the papers of the late Mr. Macpherson, consequently have not been published. It seems probable, that Mr. Macpherson did not keep copies of them after he had prepared bis translations; but restored the originals, in pursuance of his obligation to that effect, to Macmurrich, from whom he appears to have borrowed them.

+ See Appendix to Report of the Highland Society, p. 21.

The Rev. Alexander Macaulay, in his letter to Dr. Blair dated 25th January, 1764,7 gives the testimony of Lieutenant Duncan Macnicol, of the late 88th Regiment, who declares, that on examining several old people in Glenorchy respecting Ossian's poems, he found the originals of the episode of Faineasоllis, Fingal, Book III. ; also the greatest part of the fourth and fifth books of the poem of Fingal. The battle of Lora, Darthulla, and the greatest part of Temora and Carric-Thura.

Lieut. Macnicol declared, that, at that very time, there were many people in Glenorchy, who could neither read nor write, that could repeat as many of the poems composed by Ossian, at least pretty much in the same strain, as would, if gathered together, make a larger volume than that which Mr. Macpherson had given to the public: and he concludes with observing, that he heard most of these poems repeated ever since he could remember any thing,

* The original of the beautiful episode of Faineasоllis, sometimes called “the Maid of Craca," was not found in the copy of Ossian transcribed by Mr. Macpherson for the press. But this episode having been accidentally discovered, since the preceding part of this work was printed, among detached copies of Ossian's poems, which Mr. Macpherson had collected on his tour, we have given it verbatim and a literal translation, at the end of these observations. The Gaelic reader will thereby have an opportunity of comparing this edition of the episode with Mr. Macpherson's free translation of it, as well as with one given by the Rev. Dr. Smith in his original of the poem of Cathula, Gaelio Antiquities, p. 176.

+ See Appendix to Report of the Highland Society, p. 23.

and at a period of life when Mr. Macpherson could neither read nor write.

The Rev. Donald Macleod, minister of Glenelg, in his letter to Doctor Blair, dated 20th March, 1764,* goes fully into the evidence on the genuineness of Macpherson's translation of Ossian. He declares, that it was in his house Mr. Macpherson got the description of Cuthullin's horses and car from Allan Maccaskie, schoolmaster, and Rory Macleod, both living at that time in Glenelg. That Macpherson had not taken in the whole of the description; and his translation of it (spirited as it appears as far as it goes) falls so far short of the original in the picture it exhibits of Cuthullin's horses and car, their harness and trappings, &c. that in none of his translations is the inequality of Macpherson's genius to that of Ossian so very conspicuous. Mr. Macleod then gives evidence to several parts of Fingal, in Books II. III. and IV. and remarks that Macpherson's translation of the description of the sun-beam, Fingal's standard, does not come up to the beauty and spirit of the original. Along with that of the sun-beam, there is in the original a particular description of the standards of the seven principal chiefs of Fingal, which, in Mr. Macleod's opinion, are all so inimitably beautiful, that he could not imagine how Mr. Macpherson has omitted them in his translation. Dermod, or Dermid, who had led the right-hand of the army to that battle (as it is expressed in the original) had a standard, which,

• Appendix to Report of the Highland Society, p. 28.

« PreviousContinue »