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For JUNE, 1808.
Art. I. The Poems of Ossian, in the original Gaélic, with a literal Trans
lation into Latin, by the late Robert Macfarlan, A. M.; together with
WE lately took occasion, in criticising the essay of Dr. Graham of Aberfoyle, to state our sentiments, respecting the authenticity of Ossian's Poemsi Preserving ourselves unbiassed by the national or party prejudice, with which the disputants on each side have been not a little perverted, we wished to judge the question purely by its own merits, and by the mass of evidence both external and internal which is now before the public. The result was on the whole favourable both to the authenticity and antiquity of these compositions, or at least of a very considerable part of them; and we considered the data of which we are in possession, as sufficient to establish the curious fact, “ that there existed in the highlands of Scotland, during a very remote and barbarous age, original poenis of singular pathos, sublimity and delicacy of sentiment.”
In the work now before us, the originals of Ossian, as left by Macpherson, are laid before the public, accompanied with à literal Latin version, and various critical and illustrative dissertations by different hands. These documents have been long and ardently desired by the admirers of Ossian, but various unforeseen accidents have from time to time prevented their publication. This wish has at length been atchieved through the zeal of the Highland Society; and more particularly of their indefatigable coadjutor, Sir John Sinclair. This gentleman has not only made the most strenuous exerVOL. IV.
tions to forward the publication, but has undertaken the task of adorning it with a critical dissertation and introduction of his own, in which he examines in succession the various disputed points connected with this controversy. Our readers need not be informed that Sir John has various weighty claims to be enrolled in the literary corps. The Statistical Account of Scotland, in upwards of twenty large volumes, was planned by him, and brought to a conclusion in consequence chiefly of his persevering efforts, and unwearied demands upon the Scotish clergy. In this work the baronet's own literary labours did not appear, but he has since come before the public as the professed author and compiler of a ponderous • Code of Health and Longevity;" and in the work now before us he assumes the office of the critic, antiquarian and philologist. Sir John has been so much accustomed to write interrogatories, that he cannot refrain from putting questions even when he proposes to answer them himself. Thus, in the following passage of his introduction, the various heads to which his inquiries have been directed, are all stated in the form of interrogation.
“ In discussing this important subject, it is intended, in the first place briefly to consider the following train or deduction of evidence, on the result of which independently of the Gaelic original being now published the de. cision of originality or imposture must in some measure rest. 1. Whether the Celtic tribes in general were not addicted to poetry, and accustomed to preserve in verse whatever they considered to be peculiarly entitled to remembrance ? 2. Whether various Gaelic poems did not exist in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, in remote periods of our history? 3. Whether these poems were not in a great measure said to have been com. posed by Ossian, a Scottish bard, who celebrated the exploits of Fingal, a Scottish warrior ? 4. Whether some manuscripts did not exist in Scotland, in which those poems were contained ? 5. Whether a manuscript of these poems did not actually exist at Douay in Flanders, previous to Macpherson's collection ? 6. Whether there were not persons in Scotland who preserved in their memory a great store of Gaelic poetry, and in particular many poems ascribed to Ossian ? 7. Whether the existence of Swaran and other personages mentioned in these poems is not authenticated by Danish historians ? 8. Whether there is not as much reason to deny the authenticity of Homer (whose works were in the same manner collected fr omt oipea- I dition) as that of Ossian ? and lastly, Whether the principal objections which have been urged to (against) the authenticity of Ossian have any foundation ?
Some of these interrogatories may excite a smile in our readers, particularly the 81h, where the father of the epic muse is brought to the level of the Gaelic bard, and the last, which ought in fact to have superseded all the rest, or to have been entirely omitted, as being the genus of which the other queries are but species. We shall not follow the worthy
baronet through the answers which this catechising of himself produces, but be satisfied with touching on some points which we hardly noticed in the former article, or which are now for the first time exhibited to the public. Of this latter sort is the information respecting the Gaelic manuscript of Ossian, lately existing at the college of Douay, the particulars respecting which have been brought to light by the investigating spirit of Sir John Sinclair, who has given us at full length, and with his characteristic minuteness, the origin, progress, and final result of this discovery.
Having chanced to hear that bishop Cameron, a Roman Catholic clergyman, residing at Edinburgh, could furnish some interesting information respecting the authenticity of Ossian, Sir John immediately set about his ordinary expedient of a string of queries, which in due time produced an answer from the bishop, partly furnishing the desired information, and partly referring his correspondent to some Catholic brethren who knew more about the matter than he did. These were of course served with a process of percontation in their turn, which by degrees drew forth all they knew on the subject. The amount of their communications is, that Mr. John Farquharson, of the family of Inverev, in the north of Scotland, was educated at the university of Douay, where he acquired a taste for classical and polite literature. When he left the university, and returned to Scotland, he resided for about thirty years in the Highland district of Strathglass, where he became a proficient in the Gaelic language, in the study of which he was greatly assisted by Mrs. Fraser, of Kilbokie, a great adept in this kind of learning. By degrees he contracted a partiality for Erse poetry, of which he made a very large collection in manuscript, and brought it with him to Douay, whither he afterwards returned. This MS. is described by the Reverend James Macgillivray, who saw it at Douay, as a large folio about three inches thick, entirely in Mr. Farquharson's own handwriting. It was left by Mr. Farquharson at Douay in 1773, where its value seems to have been altogether unknown, for it got into the hands of the students, who treated it no better than the caliph Omar did the treasures of the Alexandrian library, as they were accustomed to light their fires with its leaves. What might have survived the depredations of these Vandals, has probably for ever perished in the wreck of the French revolution.
Mr. M‘Gillivray adds, that Macpherson's translation of Ossian first came into Mr. Farquharson's hands in the year 1766 or 1767; and that he remembers having seen him a hundred times turning over his folio, and comparing it with the translation. “I can positively say," subjoins he," that I saw
him in this manner go through the whole poems of Fingal and
Temora.” He believes also that all the other poems translated by Macpherson were in this collection, with many more of equal merit; nor does he remember ever having heard Mr. Farquharson tax Macpherson with deviating essentially from the sense of his original; though he frequently complained that the translation did not come up to the strength of the Gaelic. This difference, however, he seemed to ascribe rather to the nature of the two languages, than to any inaccuracy or infidelity in the translator.
- When Mr. Farquharson first received Macpherson's translation,” says Mr. M'Gillivray, “ I was studying poetry and rhetoric, and thought that nothing could equal the beauties of the ancient poets whom I was then reading; I used with indignation to hear Mr. Farquharson say, that there were Erse poems equal in merit to the pieces of the ancients, whom I so much admired; but when I saw the translation, I began to think my indignation unjust, and consequently paid more at. tention to the comparison which he made of it with his own collection, than I would otherwise have done."
Here we have that kind of evidence in favour of Ossian, which the lawyers think of peculiar weight, the evidence of a person naturally averse to believe the truth of that to whích he testifies. But though we do not go the length of Dr. Johnson, and maintain that “a Scotsman must be a sturdy moralist who does not prefer Scotland to truth ;" still we think a little scepticism pardonable in admitting the testimony of a Scotch Highlander in favour of Ossian. The love of country, like the love of self, will frequently blind the reason, and falsify evidence, where there is no intention of deceiving. Hence, without throwing any impeachment upon the veracity of Mr. M'Gillivray, we may still be allowed to doubt whether his memory could have been accurate as to every particular of the information which he has communicated. Thus we think it very improbable that the whole poems of Macpherson's collection should have been found in Mr. Farquharson's manuscript; and we cannot bring ourselves to believe that the whole of the Fingal and Temora ever existed in any authentic manuscript, whether ancient or modern. At the same time we think the authenticity of Ossian, and the fidelity of Macpherson's translation, are considerably corroborated by the circumstances respecting Mr. Farquharson's MS. now first communicated to the public; and we sympathise in the selfgratulations of Sir John Sinclair on the subject of this “ new evidence, which it has fortunately been in his power to bring forward, regarding the authenticity of Ossian's poems."
Our former article scarcely entered into the questions of
the age and native country of Ossian, on which some addi. tional light is thrown by the investigations of Sir John Sinclair. Scotish tradition is uniform in placing the Fingalians in the very remotest ages of the national history ; and the pure paganism, and simple and characteristic manners appro. priate to the hunting state, every where exhibited in the poems, are favourable to this supposition. The Scotish historians, Boece and Leslie, inake Fingal the contemporary of king Eugenius II. who is supposed to have reigned during some part of the third century. Little credit however can be due to their testimony on such a point; but it is worth noticing that it is corroborated by a Danish historian, Suhm, who is allowed to be of great authority in his own country. We have in the dissertation an extract from this writer, furnished by the Rev. Mr. Rosing, pastor of the Danish church in London, to Sir John Sinclair, in which the age of Swaran, the king of Lochlin that encountered Cuchullin, is fixed about the middle of the third century. “ Swaran, ” says this extract, “ was the son of Starno; he had carried on many wars in Ireland, where he had vanquished most of the heroes that opposed him, except Cuchillin, who, assisted by the Gaelic or Caledonian king, Fingal, in the present Scotland, not only defeated him, but even took him prisoner, but had the generosity to send him back again to his country; and these exploits can never be effaced from men's memory, as they are celebrated in the most inimitable manner by the Scotch poet Ossian, and Swaran has thereby obtained an honour which has been denied to so many heroes greater than he.” This collateral testimony, it must be allowed, is of some importance in the controversy: and here again we participate in the self-complacency of Sir John, who remarks that " it is very satisfactory to have been the means of bringing forward a new and at the same time so convincing a proof of the authenticity of these ancient poems.”
With respect to the rival claims of Scotland and Ireland to the honour of having given birth to Ossian and the race of the Fingalians, we have formerly stated our opinion that Scotland was the native country of these heroes, and the place of their ordinary residence, though they frequently visited Ireland for the purposes either of warfare or the chace. The testimony of Scotish tradition and of the old Scotish writers is uniform, in claiming the Fingalians for their countrymen ; except perhaps Gavin Douglas, who has this couplet in his “ Palice of Honour-"
6 Great Gow Macmorne and Fun Mac Cowl and how
They suld be Goddes in Ireland as they say.” this to common apprehersion seems to convey the insinuation