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I HAVE thus completed the laborious task, of explaining to the public, the grounds of my firm conviction and belief, that James Macpherson was merely the translator of the poems ascribed to Ossian, and that the Gaelic originals herewith printed, contain authentic ancient poetry. Had the printing of this Dissertation been postponed for some months longer, it might certainly have been rendered more perfect; above forty years however having elapsed, since the publication of the originals was first promised, any delay, that could possibly be avoided, seemed to me not only reprehensible, but even hazardous; for it was impossible to foresee, to what accidents the work might, in the interval, be exposed, and whether one delay, might not have justified another, until at last the expectations of the literary world, of seeing the Gaelic originals at all, might have been completely frustrated.
Among the various circumstances connected with the transactions of the year in which this paper is written, which I trust I shall be enabled to recollect with some degree of pleasure, there is none that, on the whole, can be more satisfactory to me, than my having contributed to rescue
the originals of so great a work, from any risk of being irrevocably lost; and having made, what I hope will be considered by the impartial public, a successful exertion to prove, that the ancient poems herewith printed, are not only authentic, but that they merit a much better translation than any that has hitherto appeared.
Nor is that an unimportant circumstance. For if a great genius, such as Ossian, throws a lustre about every thing with which he is connected, if the language in which his ideas are conveyed, the places which he has celebrated, and the very ground on which he has trod, become interesting on his account; if the perusal of his works yields the most delightful sensations, animates to the practice of virtue, inspires the most generous and manly sentiments, and impels the elevated mind to the performance of actions, of a nature the greatest and most noble; and, if such are the effects of the sublime effusions of a poet, that a modern author has declared, "If he knew a hero "who loved Ossian, as Alexander loved Homer, he "could answer for the goodness of his heart;"* is it not a boon to human nature, to have rescued such a poet, and the country where he was pro
* Si je savois un heros, qui aimât Ossian comme Alessandre aimoit Homere, je repondrois par cela même de la bonté de son cœur. See Baour-Lormian, Discours Préliminaire, p. 14.
duced, from the foul and disgraceful charges of imposture and falsehood?
Impelled by these considerations, I was induced to undertake a task, little compatible with other interesting and laborious pursuits, and which necessarily occasioned much trouble and exertion; but these will be most amply recompensed, since they have established, I trust, two important propositions, which I hope can no longer be questioned:
1. THAT THE POEMS OF OSSIAN ARE AUTHENTIC ANCIENT POETRY;
And 2. THAT, IN A REMOTE PERIOD OF OUR HISTORY, THE MOUNTAINS OF SCOTLAND 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 ANCIENT COMPETITOR.
London, 15th July, 1806.
At the end of Vol. III. there is a particular account of the situation of the ancient Selma, which contains additional evidence of the authenticity of the poems, and proves that Ossian was a Scottish bard, and wrote his poems in Scotland. Indeed the Irish never claimed the poems which were translated by Macpherson, but contend that they are a fabrication; ascribing to their Ossian, works of much inferior merit, and composed at a period much later than those of the Caledonian Bard.
The Abbé MELCHIOR CESAROTTI's critical Observations on the first Book of FINGAL, annexed to the fourth Edition of his Translation of OSSIAN'S POEMS, printed at Pisa in 1801. Translated from the Italian,
BY JOHN M'ARTHUR, L. L. D.
[N. B. The English lines refer to the foregoing translation by Mr. Macpherson, and the Italian lines to Cesarotti's, and the notes are numbered as in the original.*]
(1) Line 1. Cuthullin sat by Tura's wall:
Di Tura accanto alla muraglia assiso.
THE poet (Ossian) soon shews himself such as he is in all his works. He boldly enters into his subject, without losing time in circumlocution. Exordium, it is true, tends to clear and fix the idea and unity of an action; yet it is not absolutely necessary. A thousand stories and novels are daily related without any introduction to them.
The Muse was a goddess unknown to Ossian: and therefore he could not implore her assistance. But, supposing he had been acquainted with her, I think he might dispense with this ceremony. Invocation, critics say, gives faith to things, justifies what is
* At the end of the third volume of this work, Mr. M'Arthur has also given a translation from the Italian of the Abbé Cesarotti's Historical and Critical Dissertation, respecting the controversy on the Authenticity of Ossian's Poems; together with copious notes and obser
marvellous, and confers dignity on the poet, by making him appear inspired. As to the first, it may be said, that it rather creates disbelief. "We know, (say the Muses in Hesiod), how to relate many falsehoods which have the semblance of truth."
With regard to the marvellous, if it ill accord with probability and fitness, invocation discredits the Muse instead of justifying the poet. Ossian, whose wonderful imagery is not repugnant to good sense, had no need of auxiliary aids. Moreover, it is better that inspiration should arise out of the style than from any indication of the author. Ossian does not proclaim himself a poet; he leads us to imagine we are listening to an ordinary man who relates a fact, But the divinity that agitates his mind is felt from that very circumstance, with greater force:
Non fumum ex fulgore, sed ex fumo dare lucem
(2) Line 24, &c. Many chiefs of heroes! I said, Many are our hands of war.
O primo, io dissi,
Narrations, by way of dialogue, are very frequent in the works of ancient poets. They impart to their subject great energy, and give it the force of truth, and therefore are well adapted to poetry. But it ought to be observed, that this poetic beauty owes its origin to the mental roughness of primitive ages. To collect the substance of a discourse, and to make it one's own in relating it, is the prerogative only of a reflecting and cultivated mind. Hence we perceive that the narrations of the vulgar are almost always dramatic.