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Their tall oaks meet one another on high. Then they fall together with all their rocks and trees.'
'But had a blind bard, or any other bard, presumed to utter such a rhapsody of bombast in the hall of shells, amid the savage warriors to whom Ossian is supposed to have sung, he would have needed all the influence of royal birth, attributed to that fabulous personage, to restrain the audience from throwing their shells at his head, and hooting him out of their company as an impudent liar. They must have been sufficiently acquainted with the rivulets of Cona or Glen-Coe to know that he had seen nothing of the kind; and have known enough of mountain torrents in general to know that no such effects are ever produced by them, and would, therefore, have indignantly rejected such a barefaced attempt to impose on their credulity.'
The best defence that can be set up in this case will, perhaps, be to repeat, 'It is he himself that now speaks, and not Ossian."
Mr. Laing had scarcely thrown down the gauntlet, when Mr. Archibald M'Donald* appeared
"Ready, aye, ready,\ for the field.
The opinion of the colour of his opposition, whether it be that of truth or error, will depend on the eye that contemplates it. Those who delight to feast with Mr. Laing on the limbs of a mangled poet, will think the latter unanswered; while those^ who continue to in
* " Some of Ossian's leaser Poems, rendered into verse, with a Pieliminary Discourse, in answer to Mr. Laing's Critical and Historical Dissertation on the Antiquity of Ossian's Poems, 8 vo. p 2f4. Liverpool, 1S05."
t Thirlestane's motto. See Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel.
j A professor in the university of Edinburgh, the amiable and learned Dr. Gregory, is on the side of the believers in Ossian. His Judgment is a tower of strength. See the preface, p. vi. to xii. and
I^ot. I^jl n.^ .v>- : '..x>c. ^1 dulgc the animating thought, "that Fingal lived, and that Ossian sung,' will entertain a different sentiment. After successfully combating several old positions,* Mr. M'Donald terminates his discussion of the point at issue with these words:
'He (Mr. Laing) declares, 'if a single poem of Ossian in MS. of an older date than the present century 1700,) be procured and lodged in a public library, I Laing) shall return among the first to our national cieed.'
"This is reducing the point at issue to a narrow compass. Had the proposal been made at the outset, it would have saved both him and me a good deal of trouble: not that in regard to ancient Gaelic manuscripts I could give any more satisfactory account than has been done in the course of this discourse. There the reader will see, that though some of the poems are confessedly procured from oral tradition, yet several gentlemen of veracity attest to have seen, among Macpherson's papers, several MSS. of a much older date than Mr. Laing requires to be convinced. Though not more credulous than my neighbours, I cannot resist facts so well attested; there are no stronger for believing the best-established human transactions.
'I understand the originals are in the press, and expected daily to make their appearance. When they do, the public will not be carried away by conjectures, but be able to judge on solid grounds. Till then, let the discussion be at rest.' P. 193-4.
p. 146. of his Comparative View of the State and Faculties of Mao with those of the Animal World.
i * Such as the silence of Ossian in respect to religion; his omi<*sion of wolves and bears, &c. See also in the Literary Journal, August, 1804, a powerful encounter of many of Mr. Laing's other arguments jn his Dissertation against the authenticity of these poems. His ignorance of the Gaelic, and the consequent futility o/ bis etymological remarks, are there ably exposed.
It is curious to remark, and, in this place, not unworthy of our notice, that whilst the controversy is imminent in the decision, whether these poems are to be ascribed to a Highland bard long since gone "to the halls of his fathers,' or to a Lowland muse of the last century, it is in the serious meditation of some controversialist to step in and place the disputed wreath on the brows of Hibernia. There is no doubt that Ireland was, in ancient times, so much connected with the adjacent coast of Scotland, that they might almost be considered as one country, having a community of manners and of language, as well as the closest political connexion. Their poetical language is nearly, or rather altogether the same. These coinciding circumstances, therefore, independent of all other ground, afford to ingenuity, in the present state of the question, a sufficient basis for the erection of an hypothetical superstructure of a very imposing nature.
In a small volume published at Dusseldorf in 1787, by Edmond, Baron de Harold, an Irishman, of endless titles,* we are presented with what are called, "Poems of Ossian lately disco vered."f
"I am interested,' says the baron in his preface, "in no polemical dispute or party, and give these poems such as they are found in the mouths of the people; and do not pretend to ascertain what was the native country of Ossian. I honour and revere equally a
* " Colonel-commander of the regiment of Komgsfield, gentleman of the bedchamber of his most serene highness the Elector Palatine, member of the German Society of Manheim, of the Koyal Artiiiiarian Society of London, and of the Academy of Dusseldon'" .
+ Li some lines in these poems we find the lyre of Ossian called "the old Hibernian lyre. The idea is not new. See Burke's Observation in Hume's first Letter to Dr. Blair. Also, the collections by Miss Brooke and Mr. Kennedy. Compare the story 'A Conloch with thai of Carthon in Macphersca.
bard of his exalted talents, were he born in Ireland or in Scotland. It is certain that the Scotch and Irish were united at some early period. That they proceed from the same origin is indisputable; nay, I believe that it is proved beyond any possibility of negating it, that the Scotch derive their origin from the Irish. This truth has been brought in question but of late days; and all ancient tradition, and the general consent of the Scotch nation, and of their oldest historians, agree to confirm the certitude of this assertion. If any man still doubts of it, he will find, in Macgcogehan's History of Ireland, an entire conviction, established by elaborate discussion, and most incontrovertible proofs:" pp. v. vi.
We shall not stay to quarrel about 'Sir Archy's great grandmother,"* or to contend that Fingal, the Irish giant,f did not one day go "over from Carrick
* See Macklin's Love A-la-mode.
f'Selma is not at all known in Scotland. When I asked, and particularly those who were possessed of any poetry, songs, of tales, who Fion was 1 (for he is not known by the name of Fingal by any ;) I was answered, that he was an Irishman, if a man; fur they sometimes thought him a giant, and that he lived in Ireland, and sometimes came over to hunt in the Highlands.
"Like a true Scotchman, in order to make his composition more acceptable to his countrymen, Mr. Macpherson changes the name of Fion Mac Cumhal, the Irishman, into Fingal; which, indeed. sounds much better, and sets him up a Scotch king over the ideal kingdom of Morven in the west of Scotland. It had been a better argument for the authenticity, if he h id allowed him to be an Irishman, and made Morven an Irish kingdom, as well as Ireland the scene of his battles, but as he must need make the hero of an epic poem a great character, it was too great honor for any other countiy but Scotland to have given birth to so considerable a personage. All the authentic histories of Ireland gire a full account of Fingal or Fion Mac Cumhal's actions, and any one who will take the trouble to look at Dr. Heating's, or any other h'uaory of that country, will find the matter related as above, whereas, in the Chronicon Scotorum, from which the list of the Scotch kings is taken, and the pretended MSS. they so much boast of to be seen in the Hebrides, there is not one syllable said of such a name ai Fingal."—An Enquiry into the Authenticity of the Poems of O*fergus, and people all Scotland with his own hands," and make these sons of the north "illegitimatey" but we may observe, that from the inclination of the baron's opinion, added to the internal evidence of his poems, there appears at least as much reason to believe their author to have been a native of Ireland as of Scotland. The success with which Macpherson's endeavors had been rewarded, induced the baron to inquire whether any more of this kind of poetry could be obtained. His search, he confesses, would have proved fruitless, had he expected to find complete pieces; "for, certainly," says he," none such exist. But," he adds, "in seeking with assiduity and care, I found, by the help of my friends, several fragments of old traditionary songs, which were very sublime, and particularly remarkable for their simplicity and elegance.' P. iv.
"From these fragments," continues Baron de Harold, 'I have composed the following poems. They are all founded on tradition; but the dress they now appear in is mine. It will appear singular to some, that Ossian, at times, especially in the songs of Comfort, seems rather to be an Hibernian than a Scotchman, and that some of these poems formally contradict passages of great importance in those handed to the public by Mr. Macpherson, especially that very remarkable one of Evir-allen, where the description of her marriage with Ossian is essentially different in all its parts from that given in former poems.' P. v.
man, by \V, Shaw, A. M., F. S. A., author of the Gaelic Dictionary and Orammar. London, 1781.
Mr. Shaw crowns his want of faith in Macpherson's Ossian wita this piece of information. "A gentleman promised to ornament a scalloped shell with silver, if I should bring him one from the Higldands, and to swear that it was the identical shell out of which Fingnl used to drink."—A gentleman!