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tion you conveniently can, with regard to the traditionary belief, in the country in which you live, concerning the history of Fingal and his followers, and that of Ossian and his poems; particularly those stories and poems published by Mr. Macpherson, and the heroes mentioned in them. Transmit any such account, and any proverbial or traditionary expression in the original Gaelic, relating to the subject, to the Committee.
6. In all the above inquiries, or any that may occur to
in elucidation of this subject, he is requested by the Committee to make the inquiry, and to take down the answers, with as much impartiality and precision as possible, in the same manner as if it were a legal question, and the proof to be investigated with a legal strictness.-See the 'Report.'
It is presumed as undisputed, that a tradi. tionary history of a great hero or chief, called Fion, Fion na Gael, or, as it is modernized, Fingal, exists, and has immemorially existed, in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and that certain poems or ballads containing the exploits of him and his associate heroes, were the favourite lore of the natives of those districts. The general belief of the existence of such heroic personages, and the great poet Ossian, the son of Fingal, by whom their exploits were sung, is as universal in the Highiands, as the belief of any ancient fact whatsoever. It is recorded in proverbs, which pass through all ranks and conditions of men, Ossian dall, blind Ossian. * is a person as well known as strong Samson, or wise Solomon. The very boys in their sports cry out for fair play, Cothram na feine,
• Τυφλος γ' 'Ομηρος.-Lascaris Const.
the equal combat of the Fingalians. Ossian, an deigh nam fiann, Ossian, the last of his race, is proverbial, to signify a man who has had the misfortune to survive his kindred ;
and servants, returning from a fair or wedding, were in use to describe the beauty of young women they had seen there, by the words, Tha i cho boidheach reh Agandecca, nighean ant sneachda, She is as beautiful as Agandecca, the daughter of the Snow.
All this will be readily conceded, and Mr. Macpherson's being at one period an indiffer. ent proficient in the Gaelic language,' may seem an argument of some weight against his having himself composed these Ossianic Poems.
Of his inaccuracy in the Gaelic, a ludicrous instance is related in the declaration of Mr. Evan Macpherson, at Knock, in Sleat, Sep. 11, 1800. He declares that he, ‘Colonel Macleod, of Talisker, and the late Mr. Maclean of Coll, em. barked with Mr. Macpherson for Uist on the same pursuit : that they landed at Lochmaddy, and proceeded across the Muir to Benbecula, the seat of the younger Clanronald ; that on their way thither they fell in with a man whom they afterward ascertained to have been Mac Codrum, the poet : that Mr. Macpherson asked him the question, A bheil dad agad air an Fheinn ? by which he meant to inquire, whether or not he knew any of the poems of Os. sian relative to the Fingalians : but that the term in which the question was asked, strictly imported whether or not the Fingalians owed him any thing; and that Mac Codrum, being a man of humour, took advantage of the incorrectness or inelegance of the Gaelic in which the question was put, and answered, that really if
• Report, p. 15.
they had owed him any thing, the bonds and obligations were lost, and he believed any attempt to recover them at that time of day would be unavailing. Which sally of Mac Codrum's wit seemed to have hurt Mr. Macpherson, who cut short the conversation, and proceeded on towards Benbecula. And the declarant being asked whether or not the late Mr. James Macpherson was capable of composing such poems as those of Ossian, declares most explicitly and positively that he is certain Mr. Macpherson was as unequal to such compositions as the declarant himself, who could no more make them than take wings and fly.' P. 96.
We would here observe, that the sufficiency of a man's knowledge of such a language as the Gaelic, for all the purposes of composition, is not to be questioned, because he does not speak* it accurately or elegantly, much less is it to be quibbled into suspicion by the pleasantry of a double entendre. But we hold it prudent, and it shall be our endeavour in this place, to give no decided opinion on the main subject of dispute. For us the contention shall still re. main sub judice.
To the Queries circulated through such parts of the Highlands as the Committee imagined most likely to afford information in reply to them, they received many answers, most of which were conceived in nearly similar terms; that the persons themselves had never doubted of the existence of such poems as Mr. Macpherson had translated ; that they had heard many
. We doubt not that Mr. Professor Porson could, if he pleased, forge a short poem in Greek, and ascribing it for instance to Theocritus, maintain its authenticity with considerable force and probability; and yet were it possible for him to speak to the simplest shepherd of ancient Greece he would quickly afford as good reason, as Mr.M. to be suspected of being an indifferent proficient in the language
of them repeated in their youth: that listening to them was the favourite amusement of Highlanders, in the hours of leisure and idleness; but that since the Rebellion in 1745, the manners of the people had undergone a change so unfavourable to the recitation of these poems, that it was now an amusement scarcely known, and that very few persons remained alive who were able to recite them. That many of the poems which they had formerly heard were similar in subject and story, as well as in the names of the heroes mentioned in them, to those translated by Mr. Macpherson : that his translation seemed, to such as had read it, a very able one ; but that it did not by any means come up to the force or energy of the original to such as had read it; for his book was by no means universally possessed, or read among the Highlanders, even accustomed to reading, who conceived that his translation could add but little to their amusement, and not at all to their conviction, in a matter which they had never doubted. A few of the Committee's correspondents sent them such ancient poems as they possessed in writing, from having formerly taken them down from the oral recitation of the old Highlanders who were in use to recite them, or as they now took them down from some person, whom a very advanced period of life, or a particular connexion with some reciter of the old school, enabled still to retain them in his memory;* but those, the Committee's corres
# The Rev. Mr. Smith, who has published translations of many Gaelic poems, accompanied by the originals, assures us, that near himself in the parish of Klimnver, lived a person named M.Pheal, whom he has heard, for weeks together, from five till ten o'clock at night, rehearse ancient poems, and many of them Ossian's. Two others, called M Dugal and M'Neil, could entertain their hearers in the same manner for a whole
pondents said, were generally less perfect, and more corrupted, than the poems which they had formerly heard, or which might have been obtained at an earlier period.+.
Several Collections came to them by presents, as well as by purchase, and in these are numerous shreds and patches,' that bear a strong resemblance to the materials of which •Ossian's Poems' are composed. These are of various degrees of consequence. One of them we are the more tempted to give, for the same reason as the Committee was the more solicitous to procure it, because it was one which some of the opposers of the authenticity of Ossian had quoted as evidently spurious, betraying the most convincing marks of its being a close imitation of the address to the Sun in Milton.
• I got,' says Mr Mac Diarmid, # the copy of these poems' (Ossian's address to the Sun in Carthon, and a similar address in Carrickthu. ra) about thirty years ago, from an old man in Glenlyon. I took it, and several other fragments, now, I fear, irrecoverably lost, from the man's mouth. He had learnt them in his youth from people in the same glen, which must have been long before Macpherson was born.'
Lileral translation of Ossian's Address to
the Sun in Carthon.
O! thou who travellest above, round as the full-orbed hard shield of the mighty! whence is thy brightness without frown, thy light that is lasting, O sun? Thou comest forth in thy powerful beauty, and the stars hide their course;
winter season. It was from persons of this description, undoubtedly, that Macpherson recovered a great part of the works of Ossian. A. Macdonald's Prelim. Disc. p. 76. See Report.
# Date, April 9, 1801, p. 71.