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sitions which he admired in the original, was very back ward to undertake the task of transiating; 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 depriv. ed 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 froin 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 of his, and of those who assisted him in making discoveries, passed through my hands; his undertaking was the object of considerable atten. tion; and returning at last, fraught with the poetical treasures of the north, he set himself to translate under the eye of some who were acquainted with the Gaelic language, and looked into his manuscripts; and, by a large publication, made an appeal to all the natives of the Highlands, and Islands of Scotland, whether he had been faithful to his charge, and done justice to their well-known and favourite poems.
Such a transaction certainly did not afford any fa. vourable Opportunity for carrying on an imposture. Yet in England, it seems, an opinion has prevailed with some, that an imposture has been carried on ; that the poems which have been given to the world are rot 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 1; en called upon and urged to produce some evidence
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 anxi. ously 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, especially, 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 adven. -: tured, as Mr Macpherson has done, in his dissertation ion Temora, to engage in a controversy with the whole
Irish nation concerning these poems, and to insist upon E the honour of them being due to Scotland, if they had
been mere forgeries of his own; which the Scots, in
place of supporting so ridiculous a claim, must have instantly rejected.
But as reasoning alone is apt not to make much impression, where suspicions have been entertained concerning a matter of fact, it was thought proper to have recourse to express testimonies. I have accordingly applied to several persons of credit and honour, both gentlemen of fortune, and clergymen of the established church, who are natives of the Highlands, or Islands of Scotland, and well acquainted with the language of the country, desiring to know their real opinion of the translations published by Mr Macpherson. Their ori. ginal letters to me, in return, are in my possession. I shall give a fair and faithful account of the result of their testimony; and I have full authority to use the names of those gentlemen for what I now advance.
I must begin with affirming, that though among those with whom I have corresponded, some have had it in their power to be more particular and explicit in their testimony than others; there is not, however, one per. son, who insinuates the most remote suspicion that Mr Macpherson has either forged or adulterated any one of the poems he has published. If they make any com. plaints of him, it is on account of his having omitted other poems which they think of equal merit with any which he has published. They all, without exception, concur in holding his translations to be genuine, and 1 proceed upon their authenticity as a fact acknowledged throughout all those northern provinces ; assuring me that any one would be exposed to ridicule among them, who should call it in question. I must observe, that I had no motive to direct my choice of the persons to whom I applied for information preferably to others, except their being pointed out to me as the persons in their different counties who were most likely to give light on this head.
With regard to the manner in which the originals of these poems have been preserved and transinitted, which has been represented as so mysterious and inex
licable, I have received the following plain account:
that until the present century, almost every great family in the Highlands had their own bard, to whose office it belonged to be master of all the poems and songs of the country; that among these poems the works of Ossian are early distinguished from those of later bards, by several peculiarities in his style and manner; that Ossian has been always reputed the Homer of the Highlands, and all his compositions held in singular esteem and veneration ; that the whole country is full of traditionary stories derived froin his poems, concerning Fingal and his race of heroes, of whom there is not a child but has heard, and not a district in which there are not places pointed out famous for being the scene of some of their feats of arms; that it was wont to be the great entertainment of the Highlanders, to pass the winter evenings in discoursing of the times of Fingal, and rehearsing these old poems, of which they have been all along enthusiastically fond ; that when assembled at their festivals, or any of their public oCcasions, wagers were often laid who could repeat most of them, and to have store of them in their memories was both an honourable and a profitable acquisition, as it procured them access into the families of their great men ; that with regard to their antiquity, they are beyond all memory or tradition ; insomuch that there is a word commonly used in the Highlands to this day, when they would express any thing which is of the most remote or unknown antiquity, importing that it belongs to the age of Fingal.
I am farther informed, that after the use of letters was introduced into that part of the country, the bards and others began early to commit several of those poems to writing; that old manuscripts of them, many of which are now destroyed or lost, are known and attested to have been in possession of some great families; and the most valuable of those that remained were collected by Mr Macpherson during his journey through that country ; that though the poems of Ossian, so far as they were handed down by oral tradition, were no doubt liable to be interpolated, and to have their parts disjoined and put out of their natural order, yet by comparing together the different oral editions of them (if we may use that phrase) in different corners of the country, and by comparing these also with the manu. scripts which he obtained, Mr Macpherson had it in his power to ascertain, in a great measure, the genuine original, to restore the parts to their proper order, and to give the whole to the public in that degree of correctness in which it now appears.
I am also acquainted, that if inquiries had been made fifty or threescore years ago, many more particulars concerning these poems might have been learned, and many more living witnesses have been produced for attesting their authenticity; but that the manners of the inhabitants of the Highland countries have of late undergone a great change. Agriculture, trades, and manufactures, begin to take place of hunting, and the shepherd's life. The introduction of the busy and laborious arts has considerably abated that poetical enthusiasm which is better suited to a vacant and indolent state. The fondness of reciting their old poems decays; the custom of teaching them to their children is fallen; to desuetude ; and few are now to be found, except old men, who can rehearse from memory any considerable parts of them.
'For these particulars, concerning the state of the Highlands and the transmission of Ossian's poems, I am indebted to the reverend and very learned and ingenious Mr John Macpherson, minister of Slate, in the island of Sky; and the reverend Mr Donald Macqueen, minister of Kilmuir, in Sky; Mr Donald Macleod, minister of Glenelg, in Inverness-shire; Mr Lewis Grant, minister of Duthel, in Inverness-shire; Mr Angus Macneil, minister of the island of South Uist; Mr Neil Macleod, minister of Ross, in the island of Mull; and Mr Alexander Macaulay, chaplain to the 88th regiment.
The honourable Colonel Hugh Mackay of Bighouse, in the shire of Sutherland ; Donald Campbell of Airds, * Argyleshire, Esq; Æneas Mackintosh of Mackintosh,