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genuine aierit. But has he the spirit, the fire, the inspiration of a poet i Does he utter the voice of nature? Does he elevate by his sentiments? Does he interest by his descriptions > Does he paint to the heart as well as to the fancy? Does he make his readers glow, and tremble, and weep? These are the great characteristics of true poetry. Where these are found, he must be a minute critic indeed, who can dwell upon slight defects. A few beauties of this high kind, transcend whole volumes of faultless mediocrity. Uncouth and abrupt Ossian may sometimes appear, by reason of his conciseness. But he is sublime, he is pathetic, in an eminent degree. If he has not the extensive knowledge, the regular dignity of narration, the fullness and accuracy of description, which we find in Homer and Virgil, yet in strength of imagination, in grandeur of sentiment, in native majesty of passion, he is fully their equal. If he flows not always like a clear stream, yet he breaks forth often like a torrent of fire. Of art too, he is far from being destitute; and his imagination is remaikable for delicacy as well as strength. Seldom or never is he either trifling or tedious; and if he be thought too melancholy, yet he is always moral. Though his merit were in other respects much less than it is, this alone ought to entitle him to high regard, that his writings are remarkably favourable to virtue. They awake the tenderest sympathies, and inspire the roost generous emotions. No reader can rise from him, without being warmed with humanity, virtue, and honour.
Though unacquainted with the original language, there is no one but must judge the translation to deserve the highest praise, on account of its beauty and elegance.
Of its faithfulness and accuracy, I have been assured hy persons skilled in the Gaelic tongue, who, from their youth, were acquainted with many of these poems of Ossian. To transfuse such spirited and fervid ideas from one language into another; to translate literally, and vet with such aglow of poetry i to keep alive so much passion, and support so much dignity throughout, is one of the most difficult works of genius, and proves the translator to have been animated with no small portion of Ossian's spirit.
The measured prose which he has employed, possesses considerable advantages above any sort of versification he could have chosen. Whilst it pleases and fill* the ear with a variety of harmonious cadences, being, at the same time, freer from constraint in the choice and arrangement of words, it allows the spirit of the original to be exhibited with more justness, force, and simplicity. Elegant, however, and masterly as Mr Macpherson's translation is, we must never forget, whilst we read it, that we are putting the merit of the original to a severe test. For, we are examining a poet stripped of his native dress: divested of the harmony of his own numbers. We know how much grace and energy the works of the Greek and Latin poets receive from the charm of versification in their original languages. If, then, destitute of this advantage, exhibited in a literal version, Ossian still has power to please as a poet; and not to please only, but often to command, to transport, to melt the heart; we may very safely infer", that his productions are the offspring of true and uncommon genius; and we may boldly assign him a place among those whose works are to last for ages.
The substance of the preceding.dissertation was originally delivered, soon after the first publication of Fingal, in the course of my lectures in the University of Edinburgh ; and, at the desire of several of the hearers, was afterwards enlarged, and given to the public.
As the degree of antiquity belonging to the Poems of Ossian, appeared to be a point which might bear dispute, I endeavoured from internal evidence, to show that these poems must be" referred t» a very remote period ; without pretending to ascertain precisely the date of their composition. I had not the least suspicion, when this dissertation was first published, that there was any occasion for supporting their authenticity, as genuine productions of the Highlands of Scotland, as translations from the Gaelic language; not forgeries of a supposed translator. In Scotland their authenticity was never called in question. I myself had particular reasons to be fully satisfied concerning it. My knowledge of Mr Macpherson's personal honour and integrity, gave me full assurance of his being incapable of putting such a gross imposition, first upon his friends, and then upon the public; and if this had not been sufficient, I knew, besides, that the manner in which these poems were brought to light, was entirely inconsistent with any fraud. An accidental conversation- with a gentleman distinguished in the literary world, gave occasion to Mr Macpherson's translating literally one or two small pieces of the old Gaelic poetry. These being shewn to me and some Others, rendered us very desirous of becoming more acquainted with that poetry. Mr Macphcrson, afraid of not doing justice to compositions which he admired in the original, was very backward to undertake the task of translating; and the publication of ' The Fragments of Ancient Poems,' was, with no small importunity extorted from him. The high reputation which these presently acquired, made it, he thought, unjust that the world should be deprived of the possession of more, if more of the same kind could be recovered: and Mr Macpherson was warmly urged by several gentlemen of rank and taste, to disengage himself from other-occupations, and to undertake a journey through the Highlands and Islands, on purpose to make a collection of those curious remains of ancient genius. He complied with their desire, and spent several months in visiting those remote parts of the country; during which time he corresponded frequently with his friends in Edinburgh, informed them of his progress, of the applications which he made in different quarters, and of the success which he met with; several letters o? his, and of those who assisted hifti in making discoveries, passed through my hands; his undertaking was the object of considerable attention; and reluming at last, fraught with the poetical treasures of the north, he set himself to translate under the eve of some who were acquainted with the Gaelic language, a;:d looked into his manuscripts; ancfj by a large publication, made an appeal to all the natives of the Highlands, anrr Islands of Scotland, whether he.had been faithful to his charge, and done justice to their will-known and favourite poems.
Such a transaction certainly did not afford any favourable opportunity for carrying on an imposture. Yet i-.i England, it seems, an opinion has prevailed with some, that an imposturerhas been carried on; that the poems which have oeen given to the world are r.ot translations of the works of any old Gaelic bard, but modern compositions, formed, as it is said, upon a higher plan of poetry and sentiment than could belong to an age and a country reputed barbarous: and I have been called upon and urged to produce some evidence for satisfying the world that they are not the composi- . tions of Mr Macpherson himself, under the borrowed name of Ossian,
If the question had been concerning manuscripts brought from some distant or unknown region, with which we had no intercourse; or concerning translations from an Asiatic or American language which scarce any body understood, suspicions might naturally have arisen, and an author's assertions have been anxiously and scrupulously weighed. But in the case of a literal translation, professed to be given of old traditionary poems of our own country; of poems asserted to be known in the original to many thousand inhabitants of Great Britain, and illustrated too by many of their current tales and stories concerning them, such extreme scepticism is altogether out of place. For who would have been either so hardy or so stupid, as to attempt a forgery which could not have failed of being immediately detected? Either the author must have had the influence to engage, as confederates in the fraud, all the natives of the Highlands and Islands, dispersed as they are throughout every corner of the British dominions; or, we should, long ere this time, have heard their united voice exclaiming, " These are "not our poems, nor what we were ever accustomed "to hear from our bards or our fathers." Such remonstrances would, at least, have reached those who dwell in a part of the country which is adjacent to the Highlands; and must have come loud to the ears of such, i specially, as were known to be the promoters of Mr Macpherson's undertaking. The silence of a whole country in this case, and of a country whose inhabitants are well known to be attached in a remarkable degree to all their own antiquities, is of as much weight as a thousand positive testimonies. And, surely, no person of common understanding would have adventured, as Mr Macpherson has done, in his dissertation on Temora, to engage in a controversy with the whole Irish nation concerning these poems, and to insist upon the honour of them being due to Scotland, if they had heen mere forgeries of his own; which the Scots, in