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the most improbable circumstance; but when applied to a subject in itself so likely to be true, namely, the oral transmission of poems such as Ossian's, among a people secluded from the world, and immoderately attached to the language and manners of their ancestors, it is irresistible.
3. It now remains to shew briefly, that the poems ascribed to Ossian, and translated by Mr. Macpherson, were collected by him from oral tradition, and manuscripts he procured with the assistance of his friends in the Highlands and Isles, and that similar collections were made at different periods prior to Mr. Macpherson's translation.
Lachlan Macpherson, of Strathmashie, in his letter to Doctor Blair, dated 22d October, 1763,* declares in explicit terms, than in the year 1760, he accompanied his friend Mr. James Macpherson during some part of his journey in search of the poems of Ossian through the Highlands. That he assisted in collecting them; and took down from oral tradition, and transcribed from old manuscripts by far the greatest part of those pieces he has published. That since the publication he had carefully compared the translation with the copies of the originals in his hands, and found it amazingly literal, even in such a degree, as to preserve, in some measure, the cadence of the Gaelic versification.
The Rev. Alexander Macaulay, in his letter to Doctor Blair, dated 25th January, 1764,† declares, that he saw the originals which Mr. Macpherson
* See Appendix to the Report of Highland Society, p. 8.
collected in the Highlands. He very energetically remarks, "no man will say, that he could impose his own originals upon us, if we had common sense, and a knowledge of our mother tongue. Those, who entertain any suspicions of Mr. Macpherson's veracity in that respect, do not advert, that, while they are impeaching his honesty, they pay a compliment to his genius that would do honour to any author of the age.'
The Rev. Donald Macleod, minister of Glenelg, in his letter to Doctor Blair, of the 20th March, 1764,* bears evidence, that it was in his house Mr. Macpherson got the descripsion of Cuthullin's horses and car, from Allan Maccaskie, schoolmaster, and Rory Macleod, both of Glenelg, and that the translation falls far short of the spirit of the original.
Doctor Blair, in his letter to Henry Mackenzie, Esq. the reporter of the Committee of the Highland Society of Scotland, bearing date 20th December, 1797,† gives a particular account of the circumstances relating to the first discovery and publication of the poems of Ossian. This letter contains a most interesting statement of the circumstances, which gave rise to Mr. Macpherson's poetical mission to the Highlands, and breathes so much honest zeal and impartiality in the cause of the ancient Highland bards, and the genuineness of the poems ascribed to Ossian, that it is earnestly recommended to our readers to peruse the whole.
It may not, however, be amiss to notice a passage at the conclusion of Doctor Blair's letter, where after
* See Appendix to the Report of Highland Society, p. 28.
some impartial criticisms on Mr. Macpherson's translation, he observes, "That his work, as it stands, exhibits a genuine authentic view of ancient Gaelic poetry, I am as firmly persuaded as I can be of any thing. It will, however, be a great satisfaction to the learned world, if that publication shall be completed, which Mr. Macpherson had begun, of the whole Gaelic originals in their native state on one page, and a literal translation on the opposite page. The idea, which he once entertained, and of which he shewed me a specimen, of printing the Gaelic in Greek characters (to avoid the disputes about Gaelic orthography), I indeed strongly reprobated, as what would carry to the world a strange affected appearance, and prevent the originals from being legible by any, but those who were accustomed to read Greek characters."*
The Rev. Andrew Gallie, in his letter to Charles Macintosh, Esq. a member of the Committee of the Highland Society of Edinburgh, dated March 12, 1799,† declares, that Mr. James Macpherson, the translator of Ossian's poems, was, for some years before he entered on that work, his intimate acquaintance and friend. That when he returned from his tour through the western Highlands and Islands, he came to Mr. Gallie's house in Brae-Badenoch, and on enquiring the success of his journey, he produced
* Dr. Adam Ferguson, the Rev. Dr. Carlisle, and Mr. Home, author of Douglas, also bear testimony to the circumstances of the first discovery and publication of Ossian's poems. See Appendix to the Report of the Highland Society, p. 62, et seq.
+ See Letter inserted in the Report of Highland Society, p. 30.
several volumes small octavo, or rather large duo-
Mr. Gallie declares, he remembers perfectly that many of those volumes were, at the close, said to have been collected by Paul Macmhuirich, Bard Clanraonuil, and about the beginning of the 14th century. As we have, in a former part,* noticed his description of the characters, illuminated capitals, and parchment of these manuscripts, we shall only add what Mr. Gallie says towards the conclusion of his letter, namely, that some years after the publication of Fingal, he happened to pass several days with Mr. Macdonald of Clanronald, in the house of Mr. Butter of Pitlochry, who then resided in the neighbourhood of Fort William. Clanronald told him, that Mr. Macpherson had the Gaelic manuscripts from him, and that he did not know them to exist, till, to gratify Mr. Macpherson, a search was made among his family papers.
Dr. John Smith, of Campbeltown, in his letter to Henry Mackenzie, Esq. dated the 31st January, 1798, declares, that in the original poems and translations which he had published,† he had occasion to introduce several passages of Mr. Macpherson's originals into the notes; for without searching for them, he had got considerable portions of several of those poems, that were then recited in the higher parts of Argyleshire; as were the Poem of Darthula, perhaps the most beautiful in the collection, called in Gaelic by the name of Clann Usnathain (the Children + Gaelic Antiquities:
* See page 437.
of Usnoth); a part of the first book of Temora, known by the title of Bàs Oscair (the Death of Oscar), one of the tenderest pieces in the book; and the description of Cuthullin's car and horses, one of the most improbable. Dr. Smith adds, that, in that part of the country, many will be found, who remember to have heard these often recited, and perhaps some, who can still recite a part of them; although within these last 50 years, the manners of the Highlanders are totally changed, and the songs and tales of their fathers neglected and almost forgotten.
The Rev. Mr. Pope, minister of Rea, in Caithness, in his letter, dated 15th November, 1763, to the Rev. Alexander Nicholson, minister of Thurso,* delares, that, about 24 years prior to the date of his letter, a gentleman living on Lord Reay's estate entered into a project with him of collecting Ossian's poems. That they had actually got a list of poems said to be composed by Ossian; and wrote some of them; but his coadjutor's death put an end to the scheme.
The affidavit of Malcolm Macpherson, residenter in the parish of Portree, Isle of Sky, made before two justices of the peace on the 5th September, 1800,† proves, that he had a brother called Alexander, noted in the country for his knowledge of the poems of Ossian, of which he, the deponent, heard him repeat many. That he was informed by his said brother, and he heard also from others, that when the late Mr. James Macpherson, from Badenoch,
* See Appendix to Report of Highland Society, p. 52.