Page images
PDF
EPUB

collected in the Highlands. He very energetically remarks, “no man will say, that he could impose his own originals upon us, if we had common sense, and a knowledge of our mother tongue. Those, who entertain any suspicions of Mr. Macpherson's veracity in that respect, do not advert, that, while they are impeaching his honesty, they pay a compliment to his genius that would do honour to any author of the age.”

The Rev. Donald Macleod, minister of Glenelg, in his letter to Doctor Blair, of the 20th March, 1764, * bears evidence, that it was in his house Mr. Macpherson got the descripsion of Cuthullin's horses and car, from Allan Maccaskie, schoolmaster, and Rory Macleod, both of Glenelg, and that the translation falls far short of the spirit of the original.

Doctor Blair, in his letter to Henry Mackenzie, Esq. the reporter of the Committee of the Highland Society of Scotland, bearing date 20th December, 1797,gives a particular account of the circumstances relating to the first discovery and publication of the poems of Ossian. This letter contains a most interesting statement of the circumstances, which gave rise to Mr. Macpherson's poetical mission to the Highlands, and breathes so much honest zeal and impartiality in the cause of the ancient Highland bards, and the genuineness of the poems ascribed to Ossian, that it is earnestly recommended to our readers to peruse the whole.

It may not, however, be amiss to notice a passage at the conclusion of Doctor Blair's letter, where after

* See Appendix to the Report of Highland Society, p. 28.
+ Ibid. p. 56.

OF OSSIAN'S POEMS

some impartial criticisms on Mr. Macpherson's translation, he observes, “ That his work, as it stands, exhibits a genuine authentic view of ancient Gaelic poetry, I am as firmly persuaded as I can be of any thing. It will, however, be a great satisfaction to the learned world, if that publication shall be completed, which Mr. Macpherson had begun, of the whole Gaelic originals in their native state on one page, and a literal translation on the opposite page. The idea, which he once entertained, and of which he shewed me a specimen, of printing the Gaelic in Greek characters (to avoid the disputes about Gaelic orthography), I indeed strongly reprobated, as what would carry to the world a strange affected appearance, and prevent the originals from being legible by any, but those who were accustomed to read Greek characters.”'*

The Rev. Andrew Gallie, in his letter to Charles Macintosh, Esq. a member of the Committee of the Highland Society of Edinburgh, dated March 12, 1799,† declares, that Mr. James Macpherson, the translator of Ossian's poems, was, for some years before he entered on that work, his intimate acquaintance and friend. That when he returned from his tour through the western Highlands and Islands, he came to Mr. Gallie's house in Brae-Badenoch, and on enquiring the success of his journey, he produced

* Dr. Adam Ferguson, the Rev. Dr. Carlisle, and Mr. Home, author of Douglas, also bear testimony to the circumstances of the first discovery and publication of Ossian's poems. See Appendix to the Report of the Highland Society, p. 62, et seq.

+ See Letter inserted in the Report of Highland Society, p. 30.

several volumes small octavo, or rather large duodecimo, in the Gaelic language and characters, being the poems of Ossian and other ancient bards.

Mr. Gallie declares, he remembers perfectly that many of those volumes were, at the close, said to have been collected by Paul Macmhuirich, Bard Clanraonuil, and about the beginning of the 14th century. As we have, in a former part,* noticed his description of the characters, illuminated capitals, and parchment of these manuscripts, we shall only add what Mr. Galliesays towards the conclusion of his letter, namely, that some years after the publication of Fingal, he happened to pass several days with Mr. Macdonald of Clanronald, in the house of Mr. Butter of Pitlochry, who then resided in the neighbourhood of Fort William. Clanronald told him, that Mr. Macpherson had the Gaelic manuscripts from him, and that he did not know them to exist, till, to gratify Mr. Macpherson, a search was made among his family papers,

Dr. John Smith, of Campbeltown, in his letter to Henry Mackenzie, Esq. dated the 31st January, 1798, declares, that in the original poems and translations which he had published, t he had occasion to introduce several passages of Mr. Macpherson's ori. ginals into the notes; for without searching for them, he had got considerable portions of several of those poems, that were then recited in the higher parts of Argyleshire; as were the Poem of Darthula, perhaps the most beautiful in the collection, called in Gaelic by the name of Clann Usnathain (the Children

* See page 437. + Gaelic Antiquities.

of Usnoth); a part of the first book of Temora, known by the title of Bds Oscair (the Death of Oscar), one of the tenderest pieces in the book ; and the description of Cuthullin's car and horses, one of the most improbable. Dr. Smith adds, that, in that part of the country, many will be found, who remember to have heard these often recited, and perhaps some, who can still recite a part of them; although within these last 50 years, the manners of the Highlanders are totally changed, and the songs and tales of their fathers neglected and almost forgotten.

The Rev. Mr. Pope, minister of Rea, in Caithness, in his letter, dated 15th November, 1763, to the Rev. Alexander Nicholson, minister of Thurso,* delares, that, about 24 years prior to the date of his letter, a gentleman living on Lord Reay's estate entered into a project with him of collecting Ossian's poems. That they had actually got a list of poems said to be composed by Ossian ; and wrote some of them ; but his coadjutor's death put an end to the scheme.

The affidavit of Malcolm Macpherson, residenter in the parish of Portree, Isle of Sky, made before two justices of the peace on the 5th September, 1800,7 proves, that he had a brother called Alexander, noted in the country for his knowledge of the poems of Ossian, of which he, the deponent, heard him repeat many. That he was informed by his said brother, and he heard also from others, that when the late Mr. James Macpherson, from Badenoch.

* See Appendix to Report of Highland Society, p. 52.

Ibid. p. 92.

In

was in the Highlands, collecting the poems of Ossian, he employed himself four days and four nights at Portree, in taking down a variety of them from the recitation of the declarant's said brother. That his said brother had a Gaelic manuscript in quarto, and about an inch and quarter in thickness, regarding the Fingalians, which he gave to Mr. Macpherson, who carried it with him; since which time the declarant never heard of it.

The affidavit of Ewan Macpherson, late schoolmaster at Badenoch, made before two justices of the peace, 11th September, 1800,* gives evidence to his having accompanied Mr. Macpherson, about the year 1760, on part of his tour through the Highlands, in search of the poems of Ossian, and that, during three or four weeks, he was employed in taking down the poems of Ossian from the recitations of several individuals at different places, which he gave to Mr. Macpherson, who was seldom present when they were taken down. That on this excursion, Mr. Macpherson got from Macmhuirich, the representative of the celebrated bards of that name, a book of the size of a New Testament, and of the nature of a common-place book, which contained some genealogical accounts of families, together with some of the poems of Ossian. And that Mr. Macpherson obtained at the same time an order from Clanronald, sen. on a Lieut. Donald Macdonald, at Edinburgh, for a Gaelic folio manuscript belonging to the family which was called Leabhar Derg (red book), and contained, as the declarant heard Clanronald say,

• See Appendix to Report of the Highland Society, p. 94.

« PreviousContinue »