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tions of the Committee, it has not been able to obtain any one poem, the same in title and tenor with the poems published by him. We therefore feel that the reader of " Ossian's Poems," until grounds more relative be produced, will often, in the perusal of Mr. Mac pherson's translations, be induced, with some show of justice, to exclaim with him, when he looked over the manuscript copies found in Clanronald's family, "D—H the scoundrel, it is he himself that now speaks, and not Ossian '"*
To this sentiment the Committee has the candour to incline, as it will appear by their summing up. After producing or pointing to a large body of mixed evidence, and taking for granted the existence, at some period, of an abundance of Ossianic poetry, it comes to the question, 'How far that collection of such poetry, published by Mr. James Macpherson, is genuinsJ To answer this query decisively, is, as they confess, difficult. This, however, is the ingenious manner in which they treat it."The committee is possessed of no documents, to show how much of his collection Mr. Macpherson obtained in the form in which he has given it to the world. The poems and fragments of poems which the Committee has been able to procure, contain, as will appear from the article in the Appendix (No. 15) already mentioned, often the substance, and sometimes almost the literal expression (the ipsissima verba) of passages given by Mr. Macpherson, in the poems of which he has published the translations. But the Committee has not been able to obtain any one poem the same in title or tenor with the poems published by him. It is inclined to believe, that he was in use to supply chasms, and to give connexion, by inserting passages j
* Report, p. 44.
which he did not find, and to add what he conceived to be dignity and delicacy to the original composition, by striking out passages, by softening incidents, by refining the language, in short, by changing what he considered as too simple or too rude for a modern ear, and elevating what, in his opinion, was below the standard of good poetry. To what degree, however, he exercised these liberties, it is impossible for the Committee to determine. The advantages he possessed, which the Committee began its inquiries too late to enjoy, of collecting from the oral recitation of a number of persons, now no more, a very great number of the same poems on the same subjects, and then collating those different copies, or editions, if they may be so called, rejecting what was spurious or corrupted in one copy, and adopting from another something more genuine and excellent in its place, afforded him an opportunity of putting together what might fairly enough be called an original whole, of much more beauty, and with much fewer blemishes, than the Committee believe it now possible for any person, or combination of persons, to obtain.' P. 152—3. Some Scotch critics, who should not be ignorant of the strongholds and fastnesses of the advocates for the authenticity of these Poems, appear so convinced of their insufficiency, that they pronounce the question put to rest forever. But we greatly distrust that any literary question, possessing a single inch of debatable ground to stand upon, will be suffered to enjoy much rest in an age like the present. There are as many minds as men, and of wranglers there is no end. Behold another and "another yet," and in our imagination, he
"bears a glass, Which shows us many more.'
The first of these is Mr. Laing, who has recently published the "Poems of Ossian, &c, containing the Poetical Works of James Macpherson, Esq., in Prose and Rhyme: with notes and illustrations. In 2 vols. /&"D $~~8vo. Edinburgh, 1805." In these "notes and illustrations," we foresee, that Ossian is likely to share the fate of Shakspeare: that is, ultimately to be loaded and oppressed by heavy commentators, until his immortal spirit groan beneath vast heaps of perishable matter. The object of Mr. Laing's commentary, after having elsewhere* endeavored to show that the Poems are spurious, and of no historical authority, "is," says he, "not merely to exhibit parallel passages, much less instances of a fortuitous resemblance of ideas, but to produce the precise originals from which the similes and images are indisputably derived."f And these he pretends to find in Holy Writ, and in the classical poets, both of ancient and modern times. Mr. Laing, 'however, is one of those detectors of plagiarisms, and discoverers of coincidences, whose exquisite penetration and acuteness can find any thing anywhere. Dr. Johnson, who was shut against conviction with respect to Ossian, even when he affected to seek the truth in the heart of the Hebrides, may yet be made useful to the Ossianites in canvassing the merits of this redoubted stickler on the side of opposition. 'Among the innumerable practices,' says the Rambler,:}: "by which interest or envy have taught those who live upon literary fame to disturb each other at their airy banquets, one of the most common is the charge of plagiarism. When the excellence of a new composition can no longer be contested, and malice is compelled to give
* In his Critical and Historical Dissertation on th« Antiquity of Ossian's Poems, t Preface, p. v J No. 143.
way to the unanimity of applause, there is yet this one expedient to be tried, by which the author may be degraded, though his work be reverenced; and the excellence which we cannot obscure, may be set at such a distance as not to overpower our fainter lustre. This accusation is dangerous, because, even when it is false, it may be sometimes urged with probability."
How far this just sentence applies to Mr. Laing, it does not become us, nor is it our business, now to declare: but we must say, that nothing can be more disingenuous or groundless than his frequent charges of plagiarism of the following description; because, in the War of Caros, we meet with these words, "It is like the field, when darkness covers the hills around, and the shadow grows slowly on the plain of the sun," wo are to believe, according to Mr. Laing, that the idea was stolen from Virgil's
Majoretque cadunt altii dr montibu* vmbra.
For see, yon sunny hills the shade extend.—Dryden.
As well might we credit that no one ever beheld a natural phenomenon except the Mantuan bard.* The book of nature is open to all, and in her pages there are no new readings. "Many subjects," it is well said by Johnson, 'fall under the consideration of an author, which being limited by nature, can admit only of slight and accidental diversities. All definitions of the same thing must be nearly the same; and descriptions, which are definitions of a more lax and fanciful kind, must always have, in some degree, that resemblance to each other, which they all have to their object."
* This is not so good, because not Eo amusing in its absurdity, as an attempt formerly nvide to prove the ^Eneid Earee, from " Arma v.rumque cano," and "Airm's am fear canam," having tlie same meaning, and nearly the same sound.
It is true, however, if we were fully able to admit that Macpherson could not have obtained these ideas where he professes to have found them, Mr. Laing has produced many instances of such remarkable coincidence as would make it probable that Macpherson frequently translates, not the Gaelic, but the poetical lore of antiquity. Still this is a battery that can only be brought to play on particular points; and then with great uncertainty. The mode of attack used by Mr. Knight, could it have been carried on to any extent, would have proved much more effectual. We shall give the instance alluded to. In his " Analytical Enquiry into the Principles of Taste* 1805," he makes these remarks:
"The untutored, but uncorrupted feelings of all unpolished nations, have regulated their fictions upon the same principles, even when most rudely exhibited. In relating the actions of their gods and deceased heroes, they are licentiously extravagant: for their falsehood could amuse, because it could not be detected; but in describing the common appearances of nature, and all those objects and effects which are exposed to habitual observation, their bards are scrupulously exact; so that an extravagant hyperbole, in a matter of this kind, is sufficient to mark as counterfeit any composition attributed to them. In the early stages of society, men are as acute and accurate in practical observation as they are limited and deficient in speculative science; and in proportion as they are ready to give up their imaginations to delusion, they are jealously tenacious of the evidence of their senses. James Macpherson, in the person of his blind bard, could say, with applause in the eighteenth century, ' Thus have I seen in Cona; but Cona I behold no more: thus have I seen two dark hills removed from their place by the strength of the mountain stream. They turn from side to side, and