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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 originality, 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 wandering ballads, if any can be found; and the names and some of "the images being recollected, make 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 "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 must 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 six 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
beauties, by which the genuine poetry of the Celtic bard is so happily distinguished.
In discussing this important subject it is intended, in the first place, briefly to consider the following train or deduction of evidence, on the result of which, independently of the Gaelic original being now published, the decision of originality or imposture must in some measure rest. 1. Whether the Celtic tribes in general were not addicted to poetry, and accustomed to preserve in verse, whatever they considered to be peculiarly entitled to remembrance? 2. Whether various Gaelic poems did not exist in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, in remote periods of our history? 3. Whether these poems were not in a great measure said to have been composed by Ossian, a Scottish bard, who celebrated the exploits of Fingal, a Scottish warrior? 4. Whether some manuscripts did not exist in Scotland, in which those poems were contained? 5. Whether a manuscript of these poems did not actually exist at Douay, in Flanders, previous to Macpherson's collection? 6. Whether there were not persons in Scotland, who preserved in their memory a great store of Gaelic poetry, and in particular many poems ascribed to Ossian? 7. Whether the existence of Swaran, and other personages mentioned in these poems, is not authenticated by Danish historians? 8. Whether there is not as much reason to deny the authenticity of Homer, (whose works were in the
same manner collected from oral tradition), as that of Ossian? And lastly, Whether the principal objections, which have been urged to the authenticity of Ossian, have any foundation?
In a separate chapter we propose shortly to discuss the following particulars: 1. To explain the circumstances which prevented the Gaelic version from being sooner laid before the public; 2. To examine, through the medium of a new translation of a part of these poems, whether Macpherson did justice to the splendid beauties of the original, (for if the Gaelic is superior, and the new translation finer poetry, any arguments adduced in favour of Macpherson's pretensions must fall to the ground); and, 3. Briefly to consider the question, how far the Poems of Ossian are entitled to those praises which have been bestowed upon them.