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Vasta circa Laram fluentorum
Cum nebuloso-crine instar cursus nimborum*.” (Vol. III. p.159.) With respect to this part of the general question, it seems allowed that Mr. Macpherson's version is far from being literal, and that he has occasionally taken liberties with the original Gaelic which he professed to translate. These variations are very differently appreciated by those who are engaged in the controversy, some thinking that Macpherson's version is generally an improvement on the original ; while others, and particularly Dr. Graham, affirm that, though Macpherson frequently represents with great success the rapid and sententious form of the original, and in general renders the sense of his author with much fidelity, he has often substituted bombast for sublimity, and that in most cases the beauty of the original is not equalled in the translation.
Fifthly. We need not take much time in discussing the objections contained under our fifth head. We think that it must be granted that the manners described in Macpherson's Ossian are too refined for the state of society and civilization in this island in the third century; and though Dr. Graham has laboured this point with great ability, in his second section, and has shewn from Dion Cassius, Tacitus, Ælian, and other writers of classical authority, that the weapons of the Celtic nations were not merely clubs and slings, and that more regard was paid by those barbarions to the fair sex than
* See also a specimen of Mr. M.Farlan's Latin Translation, Re. riew, Vol. Xli, p. 477. December, 1769
to over partial sa authe
has been found common among most savage tribes, yet we fear that the Doctor's arguments will not prove that the refined sen, timents, often expressed in the English poems of Macpherson, are to be attributed to the Caledonian heroes who contended with the Roman legions.
The errors alleged to have been committed by Mr. Macpherson in matters of history, particularly his referring to the " Roman Emperor Caracalla the epithet of fierce-eyed, given by Ossian to one of his heroes, are candidly acknowleged by his principal advocates ; and this point must therefore be conceded to the opponents of Macpherson.
We think, however, that these partial errors by no means invalidate the accuracy or the authenticity of the whole, any more than the interpolations, which have been discovered in the Scriptures, have been allowed to overturn the authenticity of those sacred writings. Besides, such partial faults are counterbalanced by undoubted testimonies of the authenticity of Ossian's poems, in points relating to history and antiquities, with which it is not likely that Mr. Macpherson was acquainted. Thus in the poems as published by Macpherson, when a hero finds death approaching, he calls to his attendants to prepare his deer's horn, which evidently alludes to an antient custom among the Celtic tribes; and that such a custom really existed is rendered extremely probable by the following cir.. cumstance:-on opening two tumuli in Badenoch, about the year 1764, they were found to contain human bones ; and at right angles above these was found a red deer's horn. (See Report, Appendix, p.36.) Again, the existence of Swaran, and some other personages mentioned in the poems of Ossian, is authenticated by passages from Danish historians ; a striking instance of which is adduced by Sir John Sinclair in his Dissertation, p. lxii.
Sixthly. Attempts have been made to prove that Mr. Macpherson was the author and not the translator of the poems which he sent forth under the name of Ossian, by comparing them with poems that were avowedly written and published by him some time before the appearance of his translations from the Gaelic. Much stress having been laid on this argument, we insert a passage from the 4th canto of Macpherson's Highlander, as re-printed by the Committee of the Highland Society of Scotland :
“ And now the war inciting clarions sound,
And neighing coursers paw the trembling ground
Then stop ; and awful, solemn silence reigas
(Appendix to Report, p.158.) That in a loose translation, which that of Macpherson is confessed to have been, a peculiarity of expression and even of sentiment, similar to such as appears in the original writings of the translator, should occasionally be found, is by no means surprising ; and we doubt not that many similarities of this kind may be discovered, on comparing Mr. M.'s translations with his original poems. We can even suppose that time and industry would considerably ameliorate his style, and improve his poetical abilities : but still his juvenile poems are so much inferior to the specimens of translations from Gaelic poetry which he published even before the appearance of Fingal, that we cannot believe them to have been the original compositions of the same author. It is observed by Sir John Sinclair that only two years had elapsed between the publication of Macpherson's Highlander, which was so utterly despised that no person read it, and the appearance of the first specimen of his translations from the Gaelic, which were almost universally admired.
No part of Mr. Laing's Dissertation is more laboured than his alleged detection of Ossian's imitations of certain passages from the Classics and the Scriptures: but Dr. Graham has, we think, fully succeeded in over-turning Mr. Laing's objections on this point :
* From what we know of human nature, (says L:. G.) and of what the human mind can perform, it would seem impossible to exclude from such a work of a modern, cyery idea that belongs to the present times, and every allusion to the peculiar habits, and discoveries, and relations of modern Europe. One should expect, that, in every page, the tones of modern polished society would introduce themselves, and produce a discordant note ; that the ideas of agriculture, of commerce, and, especially the ideas of Christianity, which, in these times, occupy so much space in every mind, would, from time to time, rush in, and give their own colouring, even to the picture of the life of wanderers and hunters. “ Though you expel nature with a fork,” said one who knew mankind well, “she will always return upon you.” The peculiar habits of modern polished life are, to us, a second nature, and we can by no effort entirely divest ourselves of them. To invent, like Psalmanazar, a new language, to combine the letters of the alphabet in an unheared-of form, and to ring a chime of unheard-of inflections on those combinations, were nothing to this. It might be done by Swift's Laputan table. But did Psalmanazar venture to commit himself, by giving us a continued composition in this new language ; a pretended original production of a Formosan, with all its peculiarities of idiom, of local allusion, and habits of thinking and expression ? He was too wise for this.
"If we find in Ossian, clear and unequivocal evidence of allusion to modern ideas, manners, or events ; if we discover the peculiar modes of thinking, or of expression, which belong to modern times; or if we detect palpable imitations of anticnt authors, with whom he could not possibly have been acquainted, this poetry must be modern and Ossian must be abandoned. But, on the other hand, if we discover nothing but what it was natural for Ossian to say and think, in the period and country in which he lived ; if we find the peculiar manners of that state of society, in which he is said to have fou. rished, uniformly and consistently supported, together with a total absence of every thing that is foreign and modern,-justice and truth require, that those poems should be referred to the person and to the age to which they have been ascribed.' (Graham's Essay, p. 139.)
Dr. Graham doeş not deny that a resemblance of expression with that of other authors may occasionally be found in Ossian : but he contends very justly that such a similarity is no proof of imitation, because it may take place in writers who could not possibly have had any communication with each other. This remark he illustrates by various passages, both from the Classics and from the Scriptures, shewing an evident coincidence of thought and expression, naturally arising from the similarity of the objects, and of the circumstances under which they are described,
Seventhly. The allegation, that the Gaelic poems brought forwards by Macpherson as the originals of his translations were in a great measure composed by himself, appears to us the most untenable of all the arguments adduced by the opponents 4 a 4
of the authenticity of Ossian. The supposition is in the highest degree improbable, since we are assured by those who were well acquainted with Mr. Macpherson, that, at the time when he first published his translations from the Gaelic, he was by no means a proficient in that language. Indeed, independently of these testimonies, and the internal and comparative evidence of the inaccuracy of his translations, the idea of his having composed the Gaelic poems is completely disproved by the circumstance of the near resemblance of several poems in his collection to those in the MS. of Mr. Farquharson at Douay, which, it is more than probable, Macpherson had never seen. . We have now gone over the most important points in this
celebrated controversy, and have examined the evidence on both sides, as minutely as we could, consistently with the nature of our work. We have seen the conclusion drawn by the Committee of the Highland Society of Scotland, from the evidence in their possession; and from what has since appeared, and the publication of the original Gaelic poems by the Highland Society of London, we think it must be acknowleged that the poems of Ossian are authentic antient compositions :
“ That in a remote period of our history, the mountains of Scot. land (or the wilds of Ireland ?) produced a bard whose works must render his name immortal, and whose genius has not been surpassed by the efforts of any modern, or even antient competitor;" (See Sir J. Sinclair’s Dissertation, p. clxxxiii.)
And, that the English poems published by Mr. Macpherson, though, strictly speaking, neither genuine nor authentic, are, on the whole, evidently translations from the works of Celtic bards, and not original compositions.
Art. II. Muse Cantabrigienses; seu Carmina quædam Numismale
aureo Cantabrigie ornata, et Procancellarii Permissu Edita. Londini.
8vo. 1os. 6d. Boards. Lunn, &c. 1810. W e have so often, and so lately, expressed our sentiments
respecting modern composition in the learned languages, that we may enter at once on our examination of the present volume, and may waive any preliminary discussion. We understand that the editors of this collection of Cambridge Prize Odes are distinguished young men of that University : but, as they have not chosen to affix their names to the publication, we shall not avail ourrselves of the reports which would frustrate their intended concealment. Their preface is very creditable to them, with respect both to latinity and to metrical