Lives of
Scottish Poets
edited by
DAVID HILL RADCLIFFE

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in the Humanities


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Part I. (Volume I.)
Front-matter
James the First
Thomas the Rhymer
John Barbour
Andrew Wyntoun
Gavin Douglas
Allan Ramsay
William Meston
John Home
James Beattie
Robert Burns

Part II. (Volume I.)
Front-matter
James the Fifth
William Dunbar
Sir James Inglis
Henry the Minstrel
Sir David Lyndsay
Alexander Barclay
Alexander Montgomerie
William Alexander
William Drummond
James Thomson
John Oswald

Part III. (Volume II.)
Front-matter
James the Sixth
Sir Richard Maitland
Arthur Johnston
Hamilton of Bangour
Hamilton of Gilbertfield
Samuel Colvil
Alexander Ross
John Armstrong
John Ogilvie
James Macpherson
Charles Salmon

Part IV. (Volume II.)
Front-matter
Alexander Hume
John Bellenden
Mark Alexander Boyd
Ninian Paterson
William Wilkie
Robert Fergusson
William Julius Mickle
Alexander Geddes
James Grahame

Part V. (Volume III.)
Front-matter
Robert Henryson
Alexander Scott
Walter Kennedy
John Ogilby
Alexander Pennecuik
Alexander Cunningham
David Mallet
William Falconer
Francis Garden
Robert Blair
James Moor
James Graeme
Caleb Whitefoord
James Grainger
Hector Macneill
John Wilson

Part VI. (Volume III.)
Front-matter
Robert Kerr
Richard Lord Maitland
Thomas Hamilton
Charles Hamilton
Michael Bruce
Thomas Blacklock
John Logan
Andrew Macdonald
James Mercer

Appendix. (Volume III.)
James I
Allan Ramsay
John Home
Robert Burns
William Drummond
Robert Fergusson
Alexander Scott
John Wilson
Index
Corrections

Part  III:
JAMES MACPHERSON
148LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
JAMES MACPHERSON.

1

Mr. Macpherson, [note] so celebrated for his share in the production of the reputed poems of Ossian, [note] 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 students to remove to the Marischal College, where the term continued of the usual duration. Of this number was Macpherson.

2

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.

3

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
POETS — JAMES MACPHERSON.149
little pleased with it, that he is said to have endeavoured to withdraw it from circulation; but great exertion could scarcely have been necessary to suppress what no person inquired after. It has never, it is believed, been reprinted.

4

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.

5

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, [note] Mr. Home, Dr. Blair, [note] 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 Mr. Graham of Balgowan's, and set off a relic-hunting through the highlands.

150LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
6

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.

7

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, [note] 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 penis themselves, openly pronounced them to be forgeries. Some few again, who doubted, but were willing to believe, and among these, Mr. David Hume, [note] 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.

8

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 pro-
POETS — JAMES MACPHERSON.151
cure 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 he had. Where, it was again asked, are the original poems themselves?

9

The question continued in this unsettled state, when in 1764, Mr. Macpherson received an invitation to accompany Governor Johnston [note] 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.

10

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
152LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
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.

11

“The ancient inhabitants of Britain,” he 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 continent, 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.

12

“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 of night. He thirsted after things unseen. He sighed over the narrow circle which surrounded his
POETS — JAMES MACPHERSON.153
days. He often sat in silence beneath the sound of his groves, and he blamed the careless billows that roiled between him and the green isle of the west.

13

“One day, as the magician of Skerr sat thoughtful upon a rock, a storm arose from the sea: a cloud under whose squally skirts the foaming waters complained, rushed suddenly into the bay, and from its dark womb, at once issued forth a boat, with its white sails bent to the wind, and hung round with an hundred moving oars. But it was destitute of mariners; itself seeming to live and move. An unusual terror seized the aged magician. He heard a voice, though he saw no human form. ‘Arise, behold the boat of the heroes,—arise, and see the green isle of those who have passed away.’

14

“He felt strange force on his limbs, he saw no person, but he moved to the boat. The wind immediately changed. In the bosom of the cloud he sailed away, seven days gleamed faintly round him, seven nights added their gloom to his darkness. His ears were stunned with shrill voices. The dull murmur of winds passed him on either side. He slept not, but his eyes were not heavy; he ate not, but he was not hungry. On the eighth day, the waves swelled into mountains, the boat was rocked violently from side to side. The darkness thickened around him, when a thousand voices at once cried out, “The Isle,” “The Isle!” The billows opened wide before him, the calm land of the departed rushed in light on his eyes.

15

“It was not a light that dazzled, but a pure, placid, and distinguishing light, which called forth every object to view in their must perfect form. The isle spread large before him, like a pleasing dream of the
154LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
soul; where distance fades not on the sight; where nearness fatigues not the eye. It had its gently sloping hills of green, nor did they wholly want their clouds: but the clouds were bright and transparent, and each involved in its bosom the source of a stream, a beauteous stream, which, wandering down the steep, was like the faint notes of the half-touched harp to the distant ear. The vallies were open and free to the ocean; trees loaded with leaves, which scarcely waved to the light breeze, were scattered on the green declivities and rising grounds. The rude winds walked not on the mountain, no storm took its course through the sky. All was calm and bright; the pure sun of autumn shone from his blue sky on the fields. He hastened not to the west for repose, nor was he seen to rise from the east. He sits in his height, and looks obliquely on the Noble Isle. In each valley is its slow moving stream. The pure waters swell over the banks, yet abstain from the fields. The showers disturb them not, nor are they lessened by the heat of the son. On the rising hills are the halls of the departed—the high-roofed dwellings of the heroes of old.”

16

Thus far, says Mr. Macpherson, is the tale worth of translation. Incoherent fables succeed the description, and the employments of the blessed in their Fortunate Island, differs in no respect from the amusements of the most uncultivated inhabitants of a mountainous country. The bodies with which the bard clothes his departed heroes, have more grace, and are more active, than those they left behind them in this world; and he describes, with peculiar elegance, the beauty of the women. After a very
POETS — JAMES MACPHERSON.155
transient vision of the noble isle, the magician of Skerr returned home in the same miraculous manner in which he had been carried across the ocean. But though, in his mind, he comprehended his absence in sixteen days, he found every thing changed at his return. No trace of his habitation remained; he knew not the face of any man. He was even forced, says the tale, to make inquiry concerning himself; and tradition had scarcely carried down his name to the generation, who then possessed the island of Skerr. Two complete centuries had passed away since his departure; so imperceptible was the flight of time in the felicity of the Celtic Paradise.

17

The departed, according to the tale, retained, in the midst of their happiness, a warm affection for their country and living friends. They sometimes visited the first; and by the latter, as the bard expresses it, they were transiently seen in the hour of peril, and especially on the near approach of death. It was then, that at mid-night, the death-devoted, to use the words of the tale, were suddenly awakened by a strange knocking at their gates; it was then that they heard the indistinct voice of their departed friends, calling them away to the noble Isle. “A sudden joy,” continues the author of the tale, “rushed in upon their minds, and that pleasing melancholy which looks forward to happiness, in a distant land.” It is worthy of being remarked, that though those who died a natural death, were not excluded from the Celtic Paradise, the more pleasant diversions of the Flath-Innis or the noble Isle, rendered the Celtic Nations careless about a transitory life, which must terminate in happiness. They threw away with indifference, the
156LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
burden, when it galled them, and became in some measure independent of fortune in her worst extreme. They met death in the field with elevation and joy of mind; they sought after him with eagerness, when oppressed with disease, or worn out with age. To the same cause, and not to a want of docility of disposition and temper, we ought to ascribe their small progress in the arts of civil life, before the Phænicians and Greeks, with their commerce, and the Romans with their arms, introduced a taste for luxury into the regions of the west and north.

18

In 1773, Mr. Macpherson produced a translation of the Iliad of Homer, [note] into the same sort of poetic prose as his poems of Ossian. Men of taste, as appears from his preface, had long solicited him to undertake the work; and there were not wanting individuals, who, now that it was completed, pronounced it to be one of the first productions of the age. “The pomp and magnificence of his diction,” we were told, “conveyed without diminution the dignity of his author, and the smoothness of his periods placed the power and elegance of the English language in a more favorable point of view than it had hitherto appeared in.” It is certain, however, that such was not the opinion either of the mass of good judges, or of the public at large; from the former of whom it met only with ridicule, for the bad taste in which it was conceived; and from the latter, with the neglect which is due to presumptuous competition.

19

The dispute, as to the authenticity of Macpherson's Poems of Ossian, which had, in the mean time, been suffered to die away, while the poems themselves continued to rise in popularity, was now revived with greater
POETS — JAMES MACPHERSON.157
acrimony than ever by Dr. Johnson.
[note] In the course of the tour which Dr. Johnson made, in company with Mr. Boswell, to the Hebrides, he made various inquiries concerning the traditionary poems said to exist among the Highlanders; but the information he obtained only tended to confirm the pre-conceived notions of Johnson, who, always prejudiced against Scotsmen and Scottish literature, had condemned Macpherson almost without examination, as a literary impostor. In his Narrative of the Tour, speaking of these poems, he says, “I believe they never existed in any other form than that which we have seen. The editor or author never could shew the original; nor can it be shewn by any other. To revenge reasonable incredulity, by refusing evidence, is a degree of insolence with which the world is not yet acquainted, and stubborn audacity is the last refuge of guilt. It would be easy to shew it, if he had it; but whence could it be had? It is too long to be remembered, and the language had formerly nothing written. He has doubtless inserted names that circulate in popular stories, and may have translated some wandering ballads, if any can be found; and the names and some of the images being recollected, make an inaccurate auditor imagine, by the help of Caledonian bigotry, that he has formerly heard the whole.” Again: “I have yet supposed no imposture but in the publisher; yet I am far from certain that some translations have not been lately made, that may now be obtruded as parts of the original work. Credulity, on one part, is a strong temptation to deceit on the other, especially to deceit of which no personal injury is the consequence, and which flatters the author with his own ingenuity. The
158LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
Scots have something to plead for their easy reception of an improbable fiction: they are seduced by their fondness for their supposed ancestors. A Scotchman most be a sturdy moralist, who does not love Scotland better than truth: he will always love it better than inquiry; and if falsehood flatters his vanity, will not be very diligent to detect it. Neither ought the English to be much influenced by Scotch authority; for of the past and present state of the whole Erse nation, the Lowlanders are at least as ignorant as ourselves. To be ignorant is painful, but it is dangerous to quiet our uneasiness by the delusive opiate of hasty persuasion.” These observations, which, it must be allowed, Macpherson had amply provoked, by his contempt of the “reasonable incredulity” entertained by the public, and which, with all their severity, mingled no small degree of truth, gave so much offence to Macpherson, that he wrote a letter to Dr. Johnson, threatening him with personal chastisement. This absurd proceeding produced from Dr. Johnson the following severe answer:

20

“Mr. James Macpherson,
“I received your foolish and impudent letter. Any violence offered to me l shall do my best to repel; and what I cannot do for myself, the law shall do for me. I hope I shall never be deterred from detecting what I think a cheat, by the menaces of a ruffian.

21

“What would you have me retract? I thought your book an imposture; I think it an imposture still. For this opinion I have given my reasons to the public, which I here dare you to refute. Your rage I defy. Your abilities, since your Homer, [note] are not so formida-
POETS — JAMES MACPHERSON.159
ble; and what I hear of your morals, inclines me to pay regard, not to what you shall say, but to what you shall prove. You may print this if you will.

S. J.”

22

Macpherson was recalled to reason by this manly defiance. He made no attempt to carry his threats into execution; nor does he appear to have taken any further notice of Johnson, if we except some embellishments, which he is said to have furnished to the answer to the Tour to the Hebrides, [note] which appeared in 1779 from the pen of Mr. Macnicol. [note] It appears that the manuscript of this answer was sent to Macpherson at London for publication; and Macnicol used to say, that most of the scurrilous passages, in which the answer abounds, were interpolated after it went into Macpherson's hands.

23

Mr. Macpherson now directed his attention to the composition of a “History of Great Britain, from the Restoration to the Accession of the House of Hanover,” which he produced in 1775, in two vols. 4to. In the course of this work, he found it necessary to give quite a new complexion to many important transactions of this period, and to the characters of most of the eminent men concerned in them; but aware how much the apocryphal character of his pen must have indisposed the public to credit any more of his discoveries, he took the prudent step of publishing, at the same time, the proofs upon which he had proceeded, in two quarto volumes, under the title of “Original Papers, containing the Secret History of Great Britain, from the Restoration to the Accession of the House of Hanover, to which are prefixed, Extracts from the Life of James II., as written by himself.” These papers were chiefly collected by Mr. Carte. [note]

24

This history had one great fault, if it may so be called, with which no person expected to have been able to reproach the author of “the Introduction”—it was too true. It deprived the history of our glorious revolution of much of that lustre and beauty in which it had stood hitherto arrayed; and proved, that in that, as in all great turns of national affairs, much of base selfishness and intrigue were combined with genuine patriotism and benevolence.

25

The Whigs, whose credit as a party is so mixed sip with the events of the revolution, were much irritated at the light thus thrown on its sacred history, and observed no bounds in their censure of the author. The volumes of “Original Papers,” however, formed such a panoply of evidence, as all their vituperation could not demolish; nor were the world unamused to observe, that the same individual who had before professed such disdain of original documents now triumphed on the strength of them. Were they to blame for again concluding, that had it been in the power of Mr. Macpherson to produce the original poems from which he had professed to make his translations, he would have done so?

26

The political tact displayed in this history appears to have recommended Mr. Macpherson to the notice of Government, by whom he was employed to combat the arguments of the revolted Americans for Independence. He wrote a pamphlet for this purpose, which was published in 1776, and circulated with much industry, intituled, “The Rights of Great Britain asserted against the claims of the Colonies, being an answer to the Declaration of the General Congress.” Under the same auspices he also composed “A short History of the Opposition during the last Session of Parliament, 1779,” which attracted a good deal of notice, and was, on account of the splendid elegance of its style, very generally ascribed to Mr. Gibbon. [note]

27

As a reward for these services, Mr. Macpherson was appointed agent for the Nabob of Arcot, [note] and in this capacity exerted his talents in several appeals to the public, in behalf of that unfortunate prince.—Among other productions, he wrote the “Letters from Mohammed Ali Chan, Nabob of Arcot, to the Court of Directors; to which is annexed, a state of Facts relative to Tanjore, with an appendix of Original Papers,” published in 1777; and he is generally supposed to have been the author of a fragment of a work which appeared in 1779, under the title of “The History and Management of the East India Company, from its origin in 1660, to the present times: vol. 1, containing the affairs of the Carnatic; in which the rights of the Nabob are explained, and the injustice of the Company proved.”

28

In 1780, Mr. Macpherson who was now, by his own genius and industry, in very opulent circumstances, and had acquired a name of considerable weight in the political world, was brought into Parliament for the borough of Camelford. He was reelected for the same place in 1784 and 1790; but it does not appear that, during the whole of his Parliamentary career, he ever was a speaker.

29

It had always been the secret wish of Macpherson's heart, to return and enjoy the otium cum dignitate on his native soil, and in 1789 an opportunity occurred
162LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
of gratifying this national and peculiarly Scottish feeling, in its fullest extent. The estate of Retz, situated in the parish in which he was born, was for sale: he became the purchaser; changed the name from Retz to Belville, and having erected upon it a splendid mansion, commanding a very romantic and picturesque view, retired thither to spend the remainder of his days.

30

Mr. Macpherson was now unhappily, however, in a very declining state of health, and did not long enjoy the pleasure of this dignified retirement. He died at Belville, on the 17th February, 1796. Mrs. Grant, [note] in her Letters from the Mountains, gives the following interesting particulars of his death. “Finding some inward symptoms of his approaching dissolution, he sent for a consultation, the result of which arrived the day after his confinement. He was perfectly sensible and collected, yet refused to take any thing prescribed to him to the last; and that on this principle, that his time was come, and it did not avail. He felt the approaches of death, and hoped no relief from medicine, though his life was not such as one should like to look back on, at that awful period: indeed, whose is? It pleased the Almighty to render his last scene most affecting and exemplary. From the minute he was confined, till a very little before he expired, he never ceased imploring the divine mercy, in the most earnest and pathetic manner:—people about him were overawed and melted by the fervour and bitterness of his penitence: he frequently and earnestly entreated the prayers of good serious people, of the lower class, who were admitted. He was a very good natured man, and now that he had got all his
POETS — JAMES MACPHERSON.163
schemes of interest and ambition fulfilled, he seemed to reflect and grow domestic; and shewed, of late, a great inclination to be an indulgent landlord, and very liberal to the poor, of which I could relate various instances, more tender and interesting than flashy or ostentatious. His heart and temper were originally good: his religious principles were, I fear, unfixed and fluctuating; but the primary cause that so much genius, taste, benevolence, and prosperity, did not produce or diffuse more happiness, was his living a stranger to the comforts of domestic life, from which unhappy connexions excluded him.”

31

By his will, dated in June, 1793, after distributing among his relatives and friends property to a large amount, he bequeathed £1000 to Mr. John Mackenzie, of Fig-tree-court in the Temple, to defray the expense of printing and publishing Ossian in the original; directed £300 to be laid out in erecting a monument to his memory, in some conspicuous situation at Belville; and ordered that his body should be carried from Scotland, and interred in Westminster Abbey. His remains were, accordingly, brought from the place where he died, and interred in Poet's-corner.

32

Immediately after Macpherson's decease, the Highland Society of Scotland, with the view of bringing to a termination, if possible, the still undecided controversy, as to the authenticity of the poems ascribed by him to Ossian, appointed a Committee of their number, to institute a regular inquiry into the subject.

33

In the time of nominating this committee, the society were peculiarly fortunate. Dr. Blair, [note] Professor
164LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
Ferguson, [note] Dr. Carlyle, [note] and Mr. John Home, the principal advisers and promoters of the original publication of Macpherson, and many other gentlemen of respectability who had been intimately acquainted with Macpherson, and had either assisted him in his researches, or witnessed the prosecution of his undertaking, were then living; and the immediate descendant of the last of the Caledonian bards remained to give his testimony as to the manner in which Macpherson had become possessed of an antient Gaelic manuscript, which was said to have supplied him with great part of his materials.

34

While the committee were proceeding with their labours, a powerful antagonist of the antiquity of the poems started up in the person of Mr. Malcolm Laing, [note] who, at the end of his History of Scotland, published in 1800, gave an elaborate dissertation on their merits. He contended, that the works published by Macpherson contained several false and incorrect allusions to the History of Britain during its subjection to the Romans; that the manners of the Highlanders, as described in these poems, differ exceedingly from those which are represented by historians who treat of the same period, and in particular, that the manners depicted in Ossian are much more refined than those which appeared in the Highlands at a period considerably later; that these compositions betray many palpable imitations of the Greek and Roman classics, of the Scriptures, and of other writings, and, therefore, could not have been produced by Ossian, who must have been unacquainted with these sources; that all the traditionary poems hitherto discovered in the Highlands refer to the middle ages,
POETS — JAMES MACPHERSON.165
comprehending the ninth and tenth centuries; that no Gaelic manuscript, as yet found, is older than the fifteenth century; that the poems ascribed to Ossian nearly resemble, in their style and modes of expression,
the Highlander, formerly published by Macpherson as his own composition, and that it is more than probable, that the Erse manuscripts produced by Macpherson were translations of his own pieces from the English, &c.

35

The objections of Mr. Laing met with two zealous respondents in Mr. Archibald M'Donald [note] of Liverpool and the Rev. Dr. Graham of Aberfoyle, [note] the former of whom published “some of Ossian's lesser poems rendered into verse, with a Preliminary Discourse, in answer to Mr. Laing's Critical and Historical Dissertation on the Antiquity of Ossian's Poems;” and the latter “An Essay on the Authenticity of the Poems of Ossian, in which the objections of Malcolm Laing, Esq. are particularly considered and refuted; to which is added, An Essay on the Mythology of Ossian's Poems, by Professor Richardson of Glasgow College.”

36

The public judgement, however, still remained suspended until, in 1810, the Report of the Committee of the Highland Society made its appearance. It was drawn up by Mr. Mackenzie, [note] the chairman of the committee, and was well calculated to reconcile even the most opposing opinions on the subject. After detailing the course of inquiry which the committee had pursued, and referring to a copious appendix of documents, they thus state what they conceive and what posterity will probably agree with them in considering to have been the real state of the case.

166LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
37

“The committee can, with confidence, state its opinion that such poetry did exist; that it was common, general, and in great abundance; that it was of a most impressive and striking sort; in a high degree eloquent, tender, and sublime. The committee is possessed of no documents to shew how much of his collection Mr. M. obtained in the form of what he has given to the world. The poems and fragments which the committee has been able to preserve, contain often the substance, and sometimes almost the literal expression, the ipsissima verba, of passages given by Mr. Macpherson in the poems of which he has published translations, but the committee has not been able to obtain any one poem, the same in title and tenor with the poems published by him. It is inclined to believe that he was in use to supply chasms, and to give connection by inserting passages which he did not find, and to add what he conceived to be dignity and delicacy to the original composition, by striking out passages, by softening incidents, by refining the language; in short, by changing what he considered as too simple or too rude for a modern ear, and elevating what in his opinion was below the standard of good poetry. To what degree, however, he exercised those liberties, it is impossible for the committee to determine. The advantages he possessed, which the committee began its inquiries too late to enjoy, of collating from the oral recitation of a number of persons, now no more, a very great number of the same poems on the same subjects, and collating those different copies or editions, if they may be so called, rejecting what was spurious or corrupted in one copy, and adopting from another, something more genuine
POETS — JAMES MACPHERSON.167
and excellent in its place, afforded him an opportunity of putting together what might fairly enough be called an original whole; of much more beauty and with much fewer blemishes than the committee believes it now possible for any person or combination of persons to obtain.”

38

It will be observed, that the committee say, that they have “not been able to obtain any one poem the same in title and tenor with the poems published;” and this, notwithstanding the originals left by Mr. Macpherson for publication. The fact is, that the latter had no character of authenticity, and that they fully justified the suspicion so long entertained by the public, that Mr. Macpherson was all but the sole author of the poems which he ascribed to Ossian. Agreeably to the will of Mr. Macpherson, these pretended originals were published in a very splendid form, accompanied by two dissertations, one by Sir John Sinclair, [note] and the other by Dr. Macarthur, [note] besides a translation by the latter of an Italian dissertation on the Ossianic Controversy, written by the Abbé Cesarotti, [note] who had translated the poems of Ossian into Italian; but both Editors appear to have fallen into a mistake as to the object which was to be served by the publication. They have laboured hard to keep up the old fiction that Macpherson was a mere translator; whereas Macpherson's own design in directing this publication, was doubtless to put an end to this fiction; and to inform posterity to whom their gratitude is truly due for the poems of Ossian.

39

Macpherson's character, it is true, loses something in point of moral rectitude and sincerity by this re-
168LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
sult; but it gains in originality of genius, what will an age hence make his obstinacy of pretence as a translator forgotten.

J. E.