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PLAN OF THE WORK.
It has frequently been asserted, that the poetical works of Ossian, would never appear in the dialect in which they were said to have been originally composed; that the whole was a forgery, written in English, which never existed in any other form than the one in which it had been produced; and which in fact had no foundation in any other language, excepting some wandering ballads, of which hardly six lines could now be recited by any person of veracity.* There cannot be a more satisfactory answer to such groundless assertions, than the work
* The greatest antagonist to the authenticity of Ossian was the celebrated Dr. Samuel Johnson. In his journey to the Western Islands, (edition 1798, p. 205,) he roundly asserts, “that the “poems of Ossian never existed in any other form than that which “ we have seen. That the editor or author never could show the
original, nor can it be shown by any other. That it is too long “ to be remembered, and that the language formerly had nothing “ written. That he (the editor) has doubtless inserted names that
now laid before the public. The Gaelic original is herewith published, and in the opinion of those who are best acquainted with that language, it not only furnishes complete internal evidence of its own originalily, but is in fact greatly superior in point of poetical merit to the English. The general question, therefore, is at length reduced to a very narrow compass; whether the late Mr. Macpherson first composed what are called the Poems of Ossian in
“ circulated in popular stories, and may have translated some wan
dering ballads, if any can be found; and the names and some of “ the images being recollected, inake an inaccurate auditor imagine, by the help of Caledonian bigotry, that he has formerly " heard the whole.”
Nay, he afterwards goes so far as to state, “ that though some “ men of integrity profess to have heard parts of it, they all heard “ them when they were boys, and it never was said that any of " them could recite six lines.”
Ile farther observes, “ that the Scots have something to plead “ for their easy reception of an improbable fiction; they are se“ duced by the fondness for their supposed ancestors. A Scotchman inust be a very sturdy moralist who does not love Scotland
better than truth; he will always love it better than enquiry; “ and if falsehood flatters his vanity, he will not be very diligent to “ detect it.”
Nothing but the grossest prejudices could have induced any person of common sense, or common integrity, to have published a string of such groundless assertions. Though many Gaelic manuscripts have been lost, many fortunately are still in existence; and if Dr. Johnson, in his Tour through the Western Islands, had expressed a wish to that effect, instead of sir lines, he would have found many who would have repeated six hundred lines of Gaelic poetry.
English, and then translated them into Gaelic? or, whether the Gaelic was not in fact the original, and the English a translation from it? and whether that original is not genuine ancient poetry?
In regard to the general question of originality or imposture, every reflecting mind to whom this work is submitted, must at once perceive, how manifestly incongruous the idea is, that Mr. Macpherson should first have composed what he called the Poems of Ossian in English; and though he wished, (as is contended), to have it believed, that he was the real author of them, should take the trouble of translating them into Gaelic, and should leave behind him a Gaelic version for publication. Very strong doubts are entertained, whether he was competent to the task of composing a Gaelic poem at all, though he might be able to fill up chasms, where a poem was defective, or might connect detached pieces together; and it is singular, that among
the productions of his youthful muse, not a single scrap of Gaelic poetry is to be traced. But without dwelling upon that circumstance, it may be sufficient for the present to observe, that from an impartial and critical examination of the original Gaelic and the English version, it will appear, that the Gaelic must necessarily have been anterior; and that the English translation by Macpherson, however much it has been admired, yet in fact conveys but a very imperfect idea indeed, of the singular merit, and peculiar