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JAMES MACPHERSON.

MR. Macpherson, so celebrated for his share in the production of the reputed poems of Ossian, was born at Kingussie, in the county of Inverness, in the year 1738. He was the son of a respectable, but not affluent, farmer. After receiving the necessary elementary education, he was entered of the King's College, Aberdeen, in the session or term of 1751-52. When he had studied about two years at this university, an act was passed, adding two months to the length of its annual terms. The increased expense attending such a protracted absence from their homes, induced all the poorer stadents to remove to the Marischal College, where the term continued of the usual duration. Of this number was Macpherson.

As a student, Macpherson was not distinguished beyond his fellows, except for a love of poetical idling, in preference to abstruse study. He is blamed for diverting the attention of the younger students from their more serious pursuits, by his humorous and doggrel rhymes.

In 1758, when as yet but in his twentieth year, he published a heroic poem in six cantos, called the Highlander. It presented the indications of a strong but uncultivated genius. The author himself was so

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little pleased with it, that he is said to have endeavoured to withdraw it from circulation ; but great exertion could scarcely have been necessary suppress what no person inquired after. It has never, it is believed, been reprinted.

Macpherson had been destined for the church, but he does not appear to have ever taken orders. For a short time, he taught a school at Ruthven, in Badenoch, whence he removed to be private tutor in the family of Mr. Graham, of Balgowan.

In 1760, he surprised the world with the publication of “ Fragments of Ancient Poetry, collected in the Highlands of Scotland, and translated from the Gaelic or Erse language.” The avidity with which these seemingly long-neglected remains of a rude and remote period were sought after and examined, was only to be equalled by the delight which readers of taste experienced, in discovering in them a vein of poetry which would have done honour to the most polished periods of the national history. Mr. Gray, Mr. Home, Dr. Blair, and many other competent judges, were loud in their praises. As these “ Fragments” were represented to be only specimens of a larger body of poetry, of a similar description, which was dispersed over the Highlands, it was eagerly proposed to Macpherson to undertake a mission, to trace out and preserve every thing else of the kind extant. Macpherson entered willingly into the scheme, and a handsome sum of money being subscribed among his friends and admirers to defray the attendant expenses, he gave up his situation in Mt. Graham of Balgowan's, and set off a relic-hunting through the Highlands.

The success of his researches, as reported by himself, exceeded all anticipation. He discovered one complete Epic poem of six books, called, “ Fingal;" and another as complete of eight books, called, “ Temora," both composed by “ Ossian, the son of Fingal.” A translation of the former he published in 1762, and of the latter in 1763; and so extensive was their sale, that he is said to have cleared by them no less than £1,200.

The authenticity of these poems was at first believed by many in its fullest extent, even by men of high character in the literary world. Dr. Blair, in particular, was so persuaded of the truth of Macpherson's statement, that he wrote an elaborate Dissertation to prove the antiquity, and illustrate the beauties, of the poems. There were others, however, of equal reputation for critical acumen, who could not be persuaded of the possibility of picking up complete Epics in this way, among the traditional literature of a country; and who, besides, from the style of the poems themselves, openly pronounced them to be forgeries. Some few again, who doubted, but were willing to believe, and among these, Mr. David Hume, put the question upon a very simple issue :Shew us the original poems, from which you say these translations have been made ; and tell us how they have been thus wonderfully preserved during so many centuries.

Nothing could have been fairer than this appeal; but Mr. Macpherson, from motives of which all reasonable men could form but one opinion, haughtily refused to give the public any satisfaction on the subject. Dr. Blair, however, who felt his critical character endangered by this silence, exerted himself to procure at second-hand a variety of testimonies in favour of the authenticity of the poems. He published eleven letters from gentlemen and clergymen of respectability in the Highlands, all tending to prove that, in 1763, there were living in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, several persons, who either possessed ancient Gaelic manuscripts ,or could recite long passages from traditionary Gaelic poems, which agreed in their subject, and often in their composition, with those published in English by Macpherson. Still the public were not satisfied. All this was but secondary evidence, in a case where, if the pretext set up by Macpherson were true, the most direct evidence was to be had. Where, it was again asked, are the original poems themselves ?

The question continued in this unsettled state, when in 1764, Mr. Macpherson received an invitation to accompany Governor Johnston to Pensacola, as his secretary. Shortly after his arrival in America, however, he disagreed with his employer, and immediately returned home, paying a visit in his way to several of the West India Islands, and the North American Colonies.

He now resumed his literary pursuits, and produced “ An Introduction to the History of Great Britain and Scotland," a work which, he says," he was induced to proceed in by the sole motive of private amusement ;” and which, he might have added, was calculated only to amuse others. As a piece of history, nothing could be less authentic or instructive ; it was a dream throughout, at variance with the best authorities and with the most obvious probabilities. It has accordingly long ceased to be of the least weight in history, and only deserves remembrance for the elegance of its style, and the fine fancy which pervades it. The description which he gives of the Paradise of the ancient British Nations, breathes all the fire of some of the finest passages of Ossian.; and, as it may serve at once to shew the literary character of the work, and its value as matter of history, may merit quotation.

“ The ancient inhabitants of Britain,” be says, “ to enjoy the felicity of a future state, ascended not into heaven with the Christians, nor dived under the ocean with the poets of Greece and Rome. Their Flath-Innis, a noble Island, lay surrounded with tempest in the western ocean. Their brethren on the eontinent, at an early period, placed the seats of the blessed in Britain ; but the Britons themselves, as we shall have occasion to shew, removed their Fortunate Island very far to the west of their country.” “ The Scottish bards, with their compositions in verse, conveyed to posterity some poetical romances in prose. One of those tales which tradition has brought down to our times, relates to the Paradise of the Celtic nations. The following extract will contribute to illustrate the detached information, which the writers of Greece and Rome have transmitted from antiquity, concerning the Fortunate Islands.

“ In former days, (says the bard,) there lived in Skerr, a magician of high renown. The blast of wind waited for his commands at the gate; he rode the tempest, and the troubled wave offered itself as a pillow for his repose. His eye followed the sun by day, his thoughts travelled from star to star in the season

He thirsted after things unseen. He sighed over the narrow circle which surrounded his

of night.

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