Page images
PDF
EPUB

these similes and poetical images must be derived from the classicks, scriptures, and modern poetry, with which the author's mind was previously impregnated, and, however artfully disguised, they may be traced distinctly to their source.

And conversely again, if these similes and poetical images are original, the authenticity of the poems can admit of no contradiction; if, on the contrary, they are derived from imitation, all the attestations and oaths in the Highlands would fail to establish the authenticity of Ossian. The present commentary professes, therefore, not merely to exhibit parallel passages, much less instances of a fortuitous resemblance of ideas, but to produce the precise originals from which the similes and images are indisputably derived.

The arrangement of the three first editions is preserved, as the order in which the poems were written leads occasionally to some curious detections. But the text of the cor

rected edition of 1773 is adopted throughout, and the additions are carefully marked and distinguished by Italics, though the alterations are too numerous and minute to be noted. Not only Macpherson's historical dissertations, but many of his notes, are rejected, as full of falsehood ; and Blair's critical dissertation is also omitted, as it can do no honour now to his memory.

In the course of my enquiries, I have discovered above four thousand of Macpherson's verses, written between the age of seventeen and twenty-two, while he sacrificed, or served his apprenticeship in secret to the muses. His earliest poem is in blank verse, and entitled Death ; the second is a heroic poem, which may be stiled the Hunter ; both written at the age of eighteen, and discovered in the Highlands in his own hand-writing. The Highlander, his next heroic poem, was published in 1758. Other verses, marked with his initials, were occasionally inserted in the Scots and Edinburgh Magazines; and in a Collection of Original Poetry, by Blacklock and other Scots gentlemen, (Edinburgh 1760,) a series of anonymous poems must be appropriated to Macpherson. These poems, of which some are highly descriptive, and others again sentimental, are authenticated by the repetition of the same expressions and imagery in Ossian ; but at present, the chief value of Macpherson's verses consists in the evidence which they afford, that his first, and most predominating ambition was to become a heroic poet.

From this early bias, the fabrication of the poems, ascribed to Ossian, may be distinctly explained. In the correspondence just published by the Highland Society, Dr Adam Ferguson tells us“, that he had in

* Report of the Committee of the Highland Society, on the authenticity of Ossian. Appendix, p. 63. In writing this preface I had not seen the report itself, but I rested with Mr Mackenzie upon the evidence con

formed his friend, Mr John Home, of certain ancient poems preserved in the Highlands; one of which, containing the arrival or landing of a host, and a subsequent battle, with a single combat of two chiefs, he himself had committed to writing, about the year1740, from the recitation of a journeyman tailor at his father's house. Though not in possession of the copy when Fingal was published, he had no doubt or difficulty in recognizing the same passage in the arrival of Swaran, and the single combat with Cuthullin ; as a proof of which, he quotes two passages from memory ; the first relating to the hosts engaged, when correctly printed, thus,

tained in the Appendix, which had been communicated to me in MS. some years ago, and which I pronounced at first sight a sufficient detection of the whole imposture. See Dissertation on the supposed authenticity of Ossian's Poems.-Hist. Scot. iv. 468-93, 2d edit.

Jommaid colan, iommaid triath

Jommaid sciath is luireach gharibh. “ Many a coat of mail (was there), many a hero, many a shield, many a great breastplate.”

And the second to the chiefs who grappled, and in whose struggle,

Bha clochan agus talamh trom
Amosgladh faoi bhon an coss.

“ There were stones and heavy earth opening beneath the soles of their feet 3.”.

The venerable Dr Ferguson, however, will be surprised to learn, that these passages are not to be found in Fingal, nor indeed in Macpherson's Ossian ; but that the identical words are contained in the Irish ballad of Ossian agus an Clerich, or the combat of Fingal and Magnus ; the only poem con

3 I find the same passage from the ballad of Magnus, recited from memory, as a fragment of Ossian, by Mr Gallie, another witness upwards of fourscore. Mr Mackenzie's Report, p. 39.

« PreviousContinue »