Page images

u of the peasantry, formerly enlivened by the "songs and tales of the times of old, are now "spent in reading the printed poems of latter "bards, or the methodistical pamphlets indus"triously circulated among them. The cares "of traffic, and various occupations, now dis"tract their attention; and the. ideas of better"ing their own condition, have begun entirely "to supplant the remembrance, of their ances"tors. Are not these sudden changes sufficient "to account for the practice of committing Os"sian's poems to memory suddenly falling into 41 disuse?

"But Mr. Laing asserts, that of the nu'merous attestations of those who had heard, or 'remembered to have known the originals, none, it 'is observable, ever presumed to assert, that they 'possessed in writing, much less that they had ori'ginally famished, a single fragment of the poems 'which Macpherson had translated. We are at 'a loss to determine whether our author has ever read Dr. Blair's appendix to the disser'tation on Ossian; or whether he wilfully misrepresents it. When any one peruses the respectable list of clergymen and gentlemen mentioned in that appendix, and compares the facts they attest with this affirmation of Mr. Laing; what degree of credit will he account

"due "due to the fidelity of our historian? That "they had assisted Mr. Macpherson in collect-' "" ing the poems, that they had furnished him "with particular poems, which they mention; "that they had looked over his manuscripts in "both languages, while he was occupied in the "translation; that they had been accustomed to "hear these poems repeated from their infancy; "that they themselves could repeat several of "them, and that they never entertained the least "suspicion of a forgery, are facts distinctly at"tested by one or more respectable characters, "who allow Dr. Blair to give their names to the "public. Nay more, five clergymen attest, that "they had taken the printed copy of Macpher"son's translation in their hands, while persons, "whose names and places of abode they mention, "repeated, in the original, the poems they had * received from tradition; and that the transla"tion and these agreed exactly, except in a few "variations, which must ever happen in oral "tradition. Mr. Laing did well to express his "contempt of positive evidence, before he made "an assertion so directly contradicted by such a u cloud of witnesses. But we beg leave to refer "our readers to Dr. Blair's appendix for farther *' satisfaction on this head. The collection of "documents at present published by the High"land Society of Scotland, will probably pro; "duce "diice many more attestations; although it is *' not to be expected, that even these will appear "satisfactory to those who account no positive "evidence of any avail, in opposition to their "own theories.


M We cannot help remarking a very charac"teristic trait in Mr. Laing's method of dispu"tation. He passes, in silence, over the nu"merous attestations we have mentioned, and "under this head, only brings forward the tes"timonies of a few English and Irish travellers; "a schoolmaster, who died while a young man; "and the author of a Gaelic Dictionary, whose "gross blunders are laughed at by every Gaelic "scholar. These persons, he tells us, only found "a few trifling poems, and therefore no more "were to be found! Whether such testimonies are H to be preferred to those learned and respectable "men, living on the spot, and conversant with "the language and antiquities, we leave our "readers to judge. As to Dr. Johnson, we all "know the spirit with which he set forward in his inquiries; he knew nothing of the lan"guage or the people; his researches were con"fined to the inns where he put up, or to the "families where he visited, most of whom were *' habituated to English manners and customs. "Were any foreigner, distrustful of the works



*' ascribed to our great bards being genuine, to 4 proceed along the great roads of England, 'and endeavour to procure attestations to the 'authenticity of the Paradise Lost, or Shakes'pears plays, at every inn where he alighted, we are afraid he, as well as Dr. Johnson, would retain his doubts at the end of his journey. That such inquirers as Mr. Laing men1 tions should have found poems, would, cer'tainly have been matter of surprize; but as 'soon as those who were alone competent to 'give information on the subject, were applied 'to, these treasures of antiquity were brought 'to light, and without hesitation attested.

"With regard to manuscripts, it is remarka"ble, that a circumstance which has so little to "do with the controversy; should be appealed "to by Mr. Laing, as something so very deci"sive. We have already shewn that the poems "were familiar in the Highlands of Scotland, "previous to Macpherson's time; that certain "gentlemen assisted him in making the collec"tion; that many were found who could repeat "particular portions of the poems, that had "furnished Macpherson with certain parts of "what he published, and that all these facts "have been attested by respectable persons, who "give their names to the public. After all thiSj

« what "what is it to the question of their authenticity, "-whether any manuscript of them, two centuries *' old, was ever in existence; whether the pride "or vanity of Macpherson made him conceal "such manuscripts; or whether their ap"pearance had induced those who had seen "them, to affix to them an earlier date than a "more minute examination would have justified? "Surely, Macpherson, if he had thought it "necessary, could have been at no loss to get a "few manuscripts forged and smoaked?—a fraud "which has been so often and so easily prac«' Used.

"We are now come to that argument which "Mr. Laing had already expatiated upon in the "third volume of his history, and which he •* reckoned altogether decisive, independent of "any other. From the manners and customs "of the age in which Ossian is said to have lived, "he accounts it impossible, that the poems attri* buted to him could have been then produced. "Mr. Laing's assertion, with regard to the hor"rible barbarity of the Highlanders in the third "century, are indeed, sufficiently positive: but "had he taken the trouble to inquire into the "ancient manners and state of that people, he "would not have been put to the miserable "shift, of quoting what Dr. Johnson in his tour


« PreviousContinue »