An ancient stand-up dog-fight, from a sculptured cross in Scotland, at Dupplin.
The first question for enquiry is, who and what were the heroes of Ossian?
According to Professor O'Curry's Lectures, 1 the following dates rest upon ancient authority--
Finn's pedigree begins. Finn son of Cumhall, son
Finn slain, in the reign of Cairbré Lifeachair.
Battle of Gabhra. Death of Oscar and Cairbré (p.
In a matter of such antiquity it is of small importance that Oisin, who had a grown up son in 284, must have been about 180 years old in 432, and more than 200 before St. Patrick could have built the monasteries in which the poor old blind Irish bard was so grieved, starved, and tormented by jangling bells, droning psalms, and howling clerics; it is proved that the names of the old Fenian heroes were known when very ancient manuscripts were written, and that is enough. So, taking the third century as a starting point, let us take a rapid voyage of discovery down the stream of time, carrying with us the published Gaelic Ossian, and noticing anything old that bears upon Gaelic traditions at its proper place. If Scotchmen and Irishmen will not pull in the same boat, let there be no bumping, or jostling, or fouling, but a fair race for what may be left of the poems when the voyage ends; if any one is bored by such races he need not follow the boats, he may skip over a short cut to the winning-post, but if he does he must not give an opinion about the line of country which he is too lazy to travel.
First, then, let it be granted that FINN lived in Ireland at the end of the third century, an that the first book of Temora is founded upon an event which took place in Ireland before the book of Leinster was written, if not in 284; but it must be granted, on the Irish side, that Hector Boyce made Finn a Scot and a
giant in 1526, when the Scotch historian published his work. 1
The passage is partly quoted in the Highland Society's Report on Ossian, and p. 170, Hist. of Scotch Poetry, and part of it is as follows:--"Conjiciunt quidam in haec tempora. Finanum filium Cli (Fyn MakCoul vulgari vocabulo) virum uti ferunt immani statura septenum enim cubitorum hominem fuisse narrant."
So, in the sixteenth century, Fyn was the son of heaven, and the historian then ranked him with King Arthur; and tales and other compositions concerning Fyn with the Arthurian fables. It must also be granted that numerous Celtic worthies bore Ossianic names,. besides the Irish heroes. Engenius I., son of Fin-Cormach-us, was a king of Scotland slain in battle with the Romans, A.D. 357. Ferg-us (Wrath-us) was the name of a Scotch king who was lost in the Irish sea, B.C. 330, and many historical personages have borne that name: besides the Irish bard Fergus, the son of Finn MacCumhal of A.D. 280. Cumhal, again, is like many Celtic names; it sounds like Coil-us, who was a king of the Britons, and if he be the hero of the English ballad, his was a rough age:--
"Old King Cole, unsophisticated soul,
Neither read nor write could he,
To read and to write he thought useless quite,
For he kept a secretarie."
Congall-us was a Scotch king in 501 or thereabouts. There were many Scotch kings called Donald, if we can
believe Scotch history, and the men who wrote these names were generally of the race which now says "garsong, ung ver du vang, et ung morceau du pang." The sound of the French and Gaelic nasal o and u are identical, and a man who would write garsong because he seemed to hear that sound, would also write MacDonald, as it is now pronounced in Gaelic, Macongil, and one sound of MacCumhal would be Maccungil and another Macooil. Now, if this erroneous ng, which expresses the Saxon value of the French and Gaelic nasal o and u, and the word Mac be struck out, there remains a nasal o-il or u-il, and so, instead of Cumhal, Coil-us, Cole, Cowl, Cool, Congall-us, Donald-us, and Dugald-us, we come very nearly to Hoel, whose son would be ap Hoel, O'Hoel, or Mac-Hoel, and thus Fionn may be made the son of the mythical Welsh Howel, or of some great man who bore the same name before the flood. By a like easy process, Fionn becomes a Macdougald, and as Campbell is not an ancient Gaelic name, I may point out that Camul was the "Celtic Mars," and that Camel-ot, Camel-odunum, and other such names, all savour of Cumhal, though that word now means handmaid, or subjection, according to dictionaries.
Fenian names also appear in the Milesian story (p. 447 of O'Curry's Lectures.) Beginning with Japhet and Magog, the race is traced through Scythia, Egypt, Scythia again, Greece, and Spain, whence a colony came to Erinn in the year of the world 3500, at which time Ireland was governed by the three sons of Cermna Milbheoil (honey-mouth), Ethur, Cethur, and Fether; "mythologically known as MacCuill, MacCeacht, and MacGréiné; "who were Tuatha dé Danann, and reigned at Tara. Scota, the mother of the Milesian leaders,
was shortly afterwards slain in a battle, and one of her sons was Eber Finn. So Finn was a mythological Milesian long before the Finn of the third century, and MacCuil Finn's patronymic was also that of the mythological head of the race which the Milesians found in Ireland.
Finn is also one of the commonest names in Scandinavia, and so is Köl, so we get Finnr Kölsen, the equivalent of Fin MacCowl. Oscar is also common, and is interpreted to mean As-gair the spear of the gods, and Oske is one of Odin's numerous names.
In the twelfth century Geoffrey of Monmouth names Coillas, and Coel, and Conan, as British heroes, and according to the chronicle Conan was made king of Armorica. Sir Gawain is probably the same personage as Gow or Gol, the son of Morna, so they may be Welshmen or Bretons. Phinn, MacPhunn, Fin-lay, and scores of other names common in England, Scotland, and Ireland, also resemble the Ossianic names. But the Finns or Lapps inhabit Finmark at this day, and have all along been magical people in the north, so the Celtic heroes may be Lapps. In the story of Gunnhillda (Njal Saga, vol. ii., 378), we learn how, in the tenth century, a beautiful maiden was sent to Finnark to learn magic from the Finns, and "some believed that MATTUL the FINNISH king himself was her master in magic," but Gunnhillda's story is mixed up with that of the whole of the west of Europe, in that she was a Viking's bride, and mother of Scandinavian kings, so her master in magic may be MacCoul himself in disguise.
Feinne may be Phnician or Egyptian, if there be any truth in the old legend about Pharaoh's daughter.
In like manner "Art" is the Gaelic now commonly
used for the Christian name "Art-hur," or Art is not to be appropriated to any one Irish king, though there may have been an early Cormac Mae Art, for there was an early British Arthur, of whose deeds romance is full. So Bran and Conan were early Welsh kings, though Brian and Conan may have flourished in Ireland. Brenn-us sacked Rome about 930 B.C., if Bran was Fionn's magic black hound, A.D. 280; and generally it must be granted on all sides that the early history of Great Britain and Ireland must be Celtic history, and that the best place to get at it is Ireland, where the Celts were not much disturbed till a comparatively late period. But Irish, Scotch, Welsh, Manx, and Cornish, and Clyde Celtic history, and all the early romance of Europe, is so tangled and twisted together, that it will be no easy matter to unravel the skein. Without some knowledge of Gaelic it is hopeless to begin upon this dark history. Let me give one example. There is a Lord Mayor in London, and in every town in England. Monsieur le Maire is a French official in every village in France; the mayors of the palace played their part in French history; the Maormors were anciently Scotch great men; but very few know that maor, pronounced nearly like the French word, is still the Highland constable and ground officer, and civil officer, though Inverness has a provost.
But I have now to do with the heroes of "Ossian's poems."
In Professor O'Curry's book, a vast amount of curious information is given relative to Irish writings. It appears that many hundreds of these are preserved in various libraries and collections at home and abroad. They contain histories, genealogies, codes of law, historical tales, and tales of all kinds; romances, legends,
and poems of various sorts, and "numerous Ossianic poems relating to the Fenian heroes, some of them of great antiquity." The earliest writing is Latin, and attributed to the time of St. Patrick, about 480; others are attributed to St. Colum Cillé and the sixth century, others to the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, and following centuries, and these are generally assumed to be Irish, not Scotch, because of their language and the character in which they are written. Most of them probably were written in Ireland, but such documents must be judged by their contents. I received a letter this year from a Scotch highlander in Glasgow, part of which was written in the old hand. A song composed by Duncan Macintyre, the Breadalbane bard, was written in the old character in 1768. It was commonly, though not always, used before that time; inscriptions on the cross at Inverary and other old stones in Scotland are in old letters and in obsolete language. St. Colum Cillé founded Iona; and if St Patrick's churchmen used old letters, the saint is accused of having been born in Scotland. Those who only understand modern Irish or Scotch Gaelic cannot, without study, read or understand the old written language, which is and always has called itself Gaelic. So Scotchmen and Irishmen would do well to make peace, and help each other to use these old records, and call their language Gaelic, instead of Irish or Earse, which words are only used in speaking English, and produce discord.
Now these ancient Irish documents and those which are preserved in Scotland, like Scotch and Irish traditions, are pervaded by the variously spelt names of Fionn or Finn and his worthies. There is hardly a grown highlander who is not familiar with their names-they are household words at the firesides,
of Irish peasants; and the characters and relationships of these mythical warriors are almost invariably the same. They are the heroes of Ossian.
Professor O'Curry, who probably knows more about Irish lore than any man now living, and has spent great part of his life in reading and transcribing old manuscripts, holds that the "Fenians," who answer to the "Fingalians" of English readers, were historical Irish personages who flourished in the third century, but he shews, p. 10, that Fer Féne was written in the book of Ballymote in 1391, in a poem composed in 1021, and be translates it "Féne men, these were farmers." Still, Finn's genealogy is traced to 110 B.C., and it rests upon ancient authority that Diarmaid O'Duibhne ran away with Grainne, the bride of Finn, and daughter of Cormac Mae Art, and that Finn's son Oisin was a warrior poet.
Poems attributed to Finn Mac Cumhail, his sons Oisin and Fergus Finnbheoil, and his kinsman Caelté, do exist in Gaelic MSS. seven hundred years old. Five of these poems are attributed to Finn himself, and exist in the book of Leinster, which is said to have been compiled from older books in the latter part of the twelfth century; and in the book of Leacan, compiled 1416. Two poems attributed to Oisin are in the book of Leinster. One consists of seven quatrains, and records the deaths of Oscar the son of Oisin, and Cairbré Lifeachair, monarch of Eirinn, who fell by each other's hands at the battle of Gabhra, "fought A.D. 284." The second is longer, and records early races on the Curragh of Kildare, wherein Oisin, Caelté, and Finn were gentlemen riders, and magical personages acted the part of modern sharpers, and tempted the heroes into unhallowed dens near Killarney, where they spent a wild night after the
races. Another Gaelic poem of undoubted antiquity is attributed to Fergus, and tells how Oisin his brother was enticed into a fairy cave, and discovered himself to Finn by letting chips cut from his spear-shaft float down a stream; as Diarmaid betrayed his retreat to Fionn in the tradition (page 43, vol. iii.) Another is a love story, which Caelté is supposed to have recited to St. Patrick.
Professor O'Curry nowhere says that the "poems of Ossian," as published in 1760 and 1807, or anything like them from which they could have been translated, exist in ancient Irish manuscript, and gives no support to the argument of his countryman; but be also says, "Of MacPherson's translations, in no single instance has a genuine Scottish original been found, and that none will ever be found I am very certain." If he means that the Gaelic of 1807 never can be found in an ancient manuscript, he is certainly right, for the language must have obeyed the common law of change incident to all languages; but he has pointed out some of the incidents on which the first book of Temora is founded, in one of the two ancient poems which were attributed to Oisin in the tenth century; and it is beyond question that endless stories and poems about Fionn and his people have been for centuries, and still are traditionally preserved in Scotland, as well as in Ireland. According to Irish authorities, then, Gaelic poems are preserved in ancient manuscript, and some relate to the Ossianic heroes, but they were Irishmen, who lived, and loved, and fought in the third century, and not Scotchmen; but according to other Irish authorities, these men flourished much later. Scotch and British Fenians are mentioned, and Scotch Oscars appear in Irish poems, even Danish Oscars are named in Irish books;
and the feats attributed to the ancient heroes who bore these Ossianic names, and whose chief was FINN, are often the exploits of giants and demigods.
According to MacPherson and "Ossian's poems," FINGAL was king of Morven, and lived about the same time; according to tradition, which scorns dates (see No. LXXXII), FIONN was the son of a Scotch king who came from Ireland, and of a Scandinavian princess, and drove the Scandinavians from Scotland, having first passed through many adventures in Ireland. Assuming that he lived in the third century, he may have been a leader of Celts in their early fights with the Northmen, Danes, or Anglo-Saxons, who followed the Romans; before any authentic account of their raids was compiled, and before men thought of distinguishing between Ireland and Scotland. But no tradition now current, and no ancient manuscript of which I have heard, makes any mention of the kingdom of Morven or its king Fingal. I believe that the kingdom is an invention of the compounder of Ossian's poems, whoever he may have been.
The name Fionnaghal is, however, no modern invention; Barbour knew it as "Fyngal" about the days of Bruce. It occurs in a Gaelic song printed by Gillies, 1786, and composed by lain Lom, a bard who sang about the time of Montrose, and died 1710 at a great age. It is in an elegy on Glengarry composed in the seventeenth century, in which the poet MacMathain or Mathieson, Seaforth's bard, calls the MacDonalds Sliochd righ Fionnaghail, the race of King Fingal (Beauties of Gaelic Poetry, Mackenzie); and the name also occurs in a traditional story now current in Islay. Righ Fionnaghal according to this was a MacDonald, and "king of the Isles," and lived in the island in Loch
[paragraph continues] Fionn-lagan in Islay, where are the ruins of the habitation of the lords of the Isles. A family of Mac-in-tyres (sons of the carpenter) claim to be descended from an illegitimate son of this King Fingal; and Flora Macintyre, one of my peasant contributors claims to be one of them. The story goes, that the king and his son were at sea in a boat, when the peg in the bottom came out and was lost, and the water rushed in. The young man, who had never gained the notice of his father, thrust his thumb into the hole and chopped it off with an axe. "Mo laochan air saor na h-òrdaig!" "My fine lad, the thumb carpenter," said the king; and from this MacDonald, son of Fingal, came the family of the Thumb Carpenters, who are still called Macintyres in Islay; or in Gaelic, "Mac an t-saoir na h-òrdaig." MacDonald is often so pronounced as to make the name resemble MacCumhal. This story is well known about Arisaig.
As for the poet, to whom nearly all the old poetry in the Highlands is now attributed, his date and origin are as uncertain as his father's. If he was Fionn's son he could not have survived to converse with St. Patrick, and he could not have lived with a fairy lady in the land of youth; he is in Gaelic popular tradition and old Gaelic lore the counterpart of Thomas the Rymour, who was a living man in 1280, and yet went to fairy land, and has the credit of being a prophet, a magician, and a poet--the author of Sir Tristrem. That ancient Scotch poem "Sir Tristrem," and the oldest Scotch poems known, treat mainly of Celtic worthies and their adventures, and include the incident of the good knight who slays a dragon, and the false servant who claims the honour and the princess, which is in the Gaelic "Sea-maiden;" and in a tale told
to me by an Irish fiddler; in German, Norse, and other popular tales.
There is a popular saying still current in Islay, which joins true Thomas to a common Celtic British legend. He is supposed to be still living, enchanted in Dumbuck (Dun-a-bhuic, the buck's hill), near Dumbarton (Dunbreaton, Mount Breaton); and he appears occasionally in search of horses of a peculiar kind and colour. He pays for them when they are brought to the hill; and the vendor sees enchanted steeds and armed men within the rock. It is said--
Nuair a thig Tomas an riom 1 's a chuid each,
Bidh latha nan creach an Cluaidh.
When Thomas of power and his horses shall come,
The day of plunderings will be in Clyde.
The date of Fionn and his family may be the third century; but unless there were many who bore the same names, or the names were titles, the exploits of a series of men, and the fabulous deeds of mythological characters, must have gathered about the names of this single family. I am still inclined to believe that these heroes of popular romance were ancient Celtic gods.
Be that as it may, I will endeavour to shew that their names have been current for a very long time, and that Ireland has not an exclusive right to them.
According to a Scottish legend given by Fordun, etc.,
reign of King Donald, consequently sculptured stones, even with Christian symbols, may be of very ancient, date in Scotland.
Click to enlarge
Figure dressed in the Belted Plaid, copied from an ancient sculptured stone found at St. Andrews, supposed to represent a Pictish hunting party. Date unknown, No Christian symbols.
Fergus was succeeded by Domangart, Comgal, and
[paragraph continues] CONAL, by whom the Island of Iona was bestowed upon St. Columba. The saint is supposed to have been born in Donegal, A.D. 521.
St. Columba landed at Iona, and shortly afterwards
The only Gaelic traditional reference to a people with Pt name like that of "the Picts " is an occasional, but very rare, mention of PIOCATCH, as a kind of men. The word, pronounced Pyuchk-aich, is common all over the west, but it means a cole-fish at a particular stage of its growth. Other sizes of the same fish are called CUDAINN, which, as "cuddy," is immortalized by Johnson as caught by Boswell. A larger size is CEIT-EAN-ACH, derived from Ce, the world, tein, fire = ceit-ean (part of April), the spring, directly after which came the festival of Beal-tainn and its symbolical fires. So "Ceit-ean-ach" means a "spring-fish," and something very like the fish meant is sculptured on a Pictish stone in Scotland (see vol. iii., page 356, left hand, upper corner), and these stones date from Pagan times, and probably have to do with Pagan observances.
The same fish, when grown very large, is called "UGSA," pr. oox-e, which is the Norse for a bull, and the whole tribe is called GLAS-IASG, grey or green fish. As every clan has some fish, beast, bird, and plant for a badge, perhaps the PICTS adopted this fish, or fish in general, as their badge, and thus the modern name of the fish may be the ancient name of a tribe. At all events, there are plenty of Lowland traditions about Picts as a different race, but there are scarcely any in
the Highlands. The Irish call them "cruithnich," for which word all manner of meanings have been found, including "cruinn-ich," Round-ites. Some Irish writers hold that the Picts migrated from Ireland to Scotland before the Scots.
There is also good reason for the continual reference to the island with fire about it, and the Scandinavians, for the churchmen of Iona or men of their class visited and settled in Iceland before the Norsemen.
|880 to 900|
700 to 800: A manuscript, supposed (for reasons given in the Appendix to the Report of the Highland Society on the poems of Ossian) to be of the eighth century, is believed to be somewhere in Edinburgh. It contains a version of "The Tain"--a poem relative to which the Ossianic Society of Dublin have lately published a volume of very curious matter, and which is also mentioned by Professor O'Curry. Whatever may be the real date of this ancient MS. it throws the date of Osin, or Ossin, or Ossian, and Finn, and of incidents in surviving traditions, both prose and poetry, very far back;
but, so far as I am informed, it does not contain any of the Gaelic poems published in 1807. 1 So we may pass on.
An ancient Gaelic MS. has been lately discovered in,
|900 to 1000:|
The following sentence appears in the Saturday Review of December 8, 1860, as Gaelic taken from this MS.:--
FORCHUBUS CAICHDUINI IMBIA ARRATH INLEBRÁN COLLI ARATARDDA BENDACHT FORANMAIN INTRUAGAIN RODSICRIBAL
The translation given is--
Be it on the conscience of every one in whom shall be the grace of the booklet with splendour that he gave a blessing on the soul of the misellus who wrote it.
In this form I can make nothing whatever of the Gaelic, and not much of the English. There is not one word, except bendacht, which even looks like modern Gaelic, but the following sentence conveys as little meaning at first--
IAMY OURO BED IENTHUM BLESER VANTTO COMND.
The Gaelic, otherwise divided, looks better; the reader may puzzle out the other language for himself. Taking this to be phonetic spelling, it is not unlike modern Gaelic with one Latinised word, and would seem to be a formal gift of a wood on a hilltop, and a blessing on somebody mentioned before.
im bi a
"To the Forchi (? the Farquhars). To every man to whom it may be said. The half of the wood on the high place to them. A blessing on the little soul of the poor little fellow before written."
It is difficult to know where a word begins or ends in old writings, and perhaps this arrangement of the letters may be as good as the other. I know nothing further of this manuscript, and very little of old manuscripts of any kind, so this is a mere guess at a puzzle.
|1000 to 1100.|
live there now will point it out, and the narrative there appears probable, for it accords with the locality. It is told that Gunnar stood on a height, and thence shot a number of men with arrows, and the nearest peasant mounted the only block of lava in the place that seemed to suit the description, and posed as Gunnar. Close to the spot, he pointed out a number of human bones, skulls, and teeth, which had been laid bare by a strong wind which had lately driven the black sand away from a small rising ground. Unless these were the bones of the men slain there by Gunnar, eight hundred years ago, it is not easy to make out how they came there, amongst the bare lava and sand near "the springs." They bear every mark of great age, there is no burying ground near, and it was no one's interest to play a trick upon travellers. Though I cannot believe that Odin appeared at Brian's battle, or his corse-choosers before it, or that ravens, and swords, and showers of blood, fell upon and attacked the pagan Norseman, I can readily believe that such stories were told, and believed, and written down in Iceland as true, and that the smaller incidents of Brian's battle were truly recorded nevertheless. It appears that king Brian's army had banners, and in a traditional Gaelic ballad, at least as old as 1784, and now current, is a description of the banners of the Feinne. The Celts had swords, and spears, and shields, and mail, like the traditional Feinne. Kerthialfad is mentioned as a leader of the Celtic army, and in the song of the Muilearteach, page 136, vol. iii., occurs the name Cearbhal as a leader in some great battle between Celts and Lochlanners, in which the Celts won, and where they displayed banners, one of which was the banner of Fionn, which is described in another
poem. They used spears, and shields, and swords, and elsewhere it appears that they wore mail. A magic raven was the standard on the Norse side, and according to the Saga, ravens attacked Brodir's men; a raven plays his part in the Lay of Osgar. One of the Saga heroes, on the Celtic side, was Ospak; one of the traditional heroes was Osgar, and they performed similar feats. "Ospak had gone through all the battle on his wing, he had been sore wounded, and lost both his sons, before king Sigtrygg fled before him." Osgar, according to the Gaelic poem, broke his way through the battle to the king of Lochlann, whose name is not given, and slew him, and an Orkney Earl was really slain, if the king was not. Osgar, like Ospak, was sore wounded, if sickles or herons could go through his waist after the battle. "Ospak was a heathen Viking," but he would not fight against the good Celtic king Brian. Osgar was a heathen Celt, and according to part of his traditional history, he went to Lochlann as a boy, carried there by a scaly monster, who ate men, and came in a ship; a Viking might be remembered as such a being. If the man on the apple gray horse be meant for Odin by the Norse Saga writer, it is quite fair that a Celtic bard should bring down his Olympus, and Fionn at the head, and so this lay of the Muilearteach may mean Brian's battle, and be a tolerably true ballad account of that fight. It may also mean something much older, or more modern, but points of resemblance between a saga and a ballad are worth remark. Miss Brooke, in 1789, attributed the Lay of Magnus to the twelfth or thirteenth century, and assumed that the Norse invader meant, was the Magnus who worked so much ill in Ireland about the latter end of the eleventh century. This tells for the
antiquity of traditional Gaelic poetry, and for the groundwork of "Fingal," but not for the Gaelic of 1807.
In a charter of lands in Morayshire, the words
A MS. in the Advocates' Library contains, amongst
About this time the halls of barons, and even the
and in the romances of the period they are constantly mentioned.
The Northmen were accompanied by their skalds in their warlike expeditions, and the accounts which these men wrote were in verse and prose. The verse is quite different in spirit and metre from Gaelic verse; but "sgeulachd," pr. skale-ach (tales), are often partly verse well.
In the history of the Norwegian expedition against Scotland, A. D. 1263, 1 is an account of the expedition of Haco, represented as the most formidable that ever left the ports of Norway. The prize disputed with Alexander, son of William, king of Scotland, was the possession of the Hebrides.
In the manuscript, as described by the translator, are pictures, some of which represent a man killing a boar, and another fighting with a mermaid, both of which subjects form the groundwork of stories now told in the Highlands. Most of the figures are in armour. Their helmets are sometimes conical; so are the helmets sculptured on many of the Hebridian tombstones. The whole course of the expedition is minutely described. They sailed as far south as Loch Long, drew their boats over the isthmus now called Tarbert or draw-boat, harried the islands in Loch Lomond, and fought a great battle with the Scotch near the Kumrey (Cumbraes), after which Haco sailed by Botar; (Bute, Gaelic Bòt); (Hersey) Arran Ar fhinn, Fionn's land, according to some), Sa-tir-is-mula (the Mull of Kintyre, maol-cheann-tire, bluff of Land's end); Gudey (Gigha Giugha); Il (Islay, Ile), where he levied a contribution
of cattle, meal, and cheese; Myl (Mull, Mul-e); Rauney (Rona, Rona, seal isle); Skidi (Skye, Eilan sgiathnach, the winged island), and thence by Harf (Cape Wrath), to Orkney, where the king sickened and died.
In this early account by an eye witness of a Norwegian expedition, mention is made of "Kiarnakr
Click to enlarge
From grave-stones at Kilberry and Skipnish, in Argyleshire. Two are life size, and such stones are common.
son makamals," a Scot who harried the Isle of Skye, and whose men "had even taken small children, and raising them on the points of their spears, shook them till they fell down to their hands," and in the story abstracted, vol. iii., p. 1841, and got in Islay, Fionn MacChumhail goes from Islay to Skye to fight the Scandinavians. There is no mention of burnings and murders,
but as such proceedings were then common amongst Vikings, according to Norwegian accounts, probably both sides were equally cruel. The translator suggests in a note, that as Makamal is elsewhere written Niachamal, it may be a mistake for "Nial Camal," a lord of Lochaw. The name was probably written from ear, and the name of the lords of Lochawe is not pronounced Kamal now-a-days in Gaelic. It seems possible that the name may be Ceathearnach (warrior), Mac (son of) Cumhail; but it might be a corruption of several other Gaelic names, as now pronounced, including the big Macaulay, of whose deeds there are so many traditions current in the Long Islands. Be that as it may, petty rulers throughout these islands were then styled kings, as they are in Gaelic stories. Ships were generally small enough to be drawn overland, as described in Barbour's Bruce, and in traditions; and there are many other traits which appear in popular tales still repeated in the places mentioned. This seems to give a vague reference to something like an Ossianic name. I have several Gaelic stories which clearly describe a Scandinavian descent upon the country about the Clyde, in which Fionn is made to play a part. So this tells for the antiquity of these traditions; and shows how old records may have been destroyed, for there were religious houses on the islands in Loch Lomond.
The ferd battale the nobill king
Tuk till himself in governing,
And had intill his company
The men of Argile and of Kintyr
And of Carrik all halely
And of the Ilis quharof was Syr p. 47
Angus of Ile and But all tha;
He of the plane land had alsua
Of armit men ane mekill rout
His battale stalwart was and stout.
It is strange to trace an ante-celtic feeling in the bard who wrote this passage, and it is equally strange to find so little about Bruce in Highland tradition now.
Barbour, Archdeacon of Aberdeen, compiled his
"The Lord of Lorne," enraged at his men who durst not follow the "Brus," sets them an "ensampill,"
He said methink Marthokis sone,
Richt as Glomakmorn was wone
To haf fra Fingal his memyhe,
Richt sa all his fra us has he.
The lowland poet here remarks that he might "mar manerlik" have "liknit" him to Gaudifer de Larys, and narrates an exploit performed. by that hero of romance, which he knew, and thought a better illustration of Bruce's valour; so he probably gave the words of the Lord of Lorne as he had heard them, honestly, though he did not see their force. The passage refers to the strife which, according to tradition, was constantly going on between Goll Macmorna and Fionn; and the Lord of Lorne (MacCowl) spoke according to his lights, to men who understood what he meant.
[paragraph continues] Irish history claims a real existence for Fionn and Goll, and modern lowland stories have added supernatural incidents to the real history of the Bruce and Wallace:
With respect to the various readings; "hym all" makes no sense, Fingal does not accord with tradition, but fynn all would remove all difficulties, and mayhap the scribe wrote hym for fynn, not knowing what was meant. Spelling and writing were not fettered by rules in the olden time, and the letter y might well express the existing vowel sound of Fionn.
MacDougald of Dunolly (Maccowle as anciently written) now owns a brooch which was won in fight with the Bruce in Lorne, near Morven, the supposed kingdom of Fingal. It is clear that Barbour then expected lowland readers to understand this allusion to two Ossianic heroes.--(Highland Society's Report, p. 21. Hist. of Scotch Poetry, 275. Barbour's Brus.)
The Book of Leacain, above referred to, was written.
Sir Colin of Glenurchy, ancestor of the Breadalbane
Here then is a foundation for some passages in the tale of Conall Gulban, got in Cowal. Highland worthies went to the East and fought the Paynim. Amongst the movables at Taymouth, and the jewels of the house, mention is made "of ane stone of the quantitye of half a hen's eg set in silver, being flatte at the ane end and round at the other end lyke a peir, whilk Sir Coline Campbell, first laird of Glenurchy, woir when he fought in battle at the Rhodes against the Turks, he being one of the knychtis of Rhodes." This amulet appears to have been subsequently used as a charm for more homely purposes, and one like its description is still at Taymouth. 2 I have seen many such amulets in the Highlands, and they are still used as charms,--so here is foundation for the amulet in Conall Gulban.
Printing invented by Koster.
Guttenburg's bible completed.
About this time Blind Harry composed "Wallace;"
[paragraph continues] It seems that there were Celtic bards then wandering about as well as the lowland minstrels, who were all classed with sturdy beggars by an Act of 1457.
Holland, in a stanza (quoted page 181, Hist. of Scotch Poetry), abuses a bard out of Ireland, and mimics his language. It is bad Gaelic, written by ear by one who did not understand more than its general meaning. "Banachadee" is clearly Beannachadh Dhia, God's blessing, which is a common Highland salutation on entering a house; and equivalent to the Irish salutation "God save all here." Other two lines mean--Said--Black Knee give us a drink--come, me drink. Sow of Mary's son, ach! great son! me dry lake. The last lines quoted are--
O'Deremyne, O'Donall, O'Dochardy droch,
Thir are his Ireland kingis of the Irischerye;
O'Krewlyn, O'Conocher, O'Gregre, Makgrane,
The Schenachy, the Clarschach,
The Benschene, the ballach, The Crekery, the Corach,
Scho kennis them ilk ane.
This is a list of names and certain words which mean "The reciter of old tales," "The singing woman" (or the fairy woman); "The boy;" "The spoiling;" "The battle;" and these I take to be a list of current songs or poems which such hungry, thirsting, black-kneed, and therefore barelegged, wandering minstrels recited, together with the genealogies; of kings and nobles. So here is a glimpse of Celtic dress and poetry, and it confirms the accounts given of bardic recitations.
William Dunbar, who flourished in the reign of James the Fourth, and was a churchman who satirized
the church in the "Interlude of the Droichis" (Evergreen, p. 259), says--
My fair grandsyr hecht Fyn Makowll,
That dang the diel and gart him yowll.
My fader meikle Gow Max Macmorn,
Out of his moderis wame was shorne.
And hence it is evident that tales about the Feinne were then commonly known to those for whom the poet composed, that is to say, the lowlanders of Scotland.
In one of his satires, "The Daunce," Dunbar introduced the seven deadly sins performing a mummery in the dress of the period, before Mahoun and his infernal court, together with troops of those at whom the satires were aimed--nuns, loose livers, and above all, shaven priests and celts.
The fiend of the Lowland bard concludes his entertainment thus:--
"Than cry'd Mahoun for a Heleand padyane,
Sy ran a feynd to fetch Makfadyne,
Far northwart in a nuke:
Be he the correnoch had done schout,
Erische men so gadderit him about,
In hell grit rume they tuke;
Thae tarmegantis with tag and tatter,
Full loud in Ersche begouth to clatter,
And roup lyk revin and ruke,
The devill sa devit was with thair yell,
That in the deepest pit of hell,
He smorit them with smuke."
From this curious composition a great deal is to be learned about the manners and customs of these rough times, and we get another distant glimpse of Highland ways long ago. There was a fierce war of words between Highland and Lowland nationalities then, as there was between Celt and Saxon in the days of MacPherson, Johnson, and Boswell, and as there is in our own day when Bon Gaultier writes his famous Celtic ballad--
"Fhairshon swore a feud
Against the clan MacTavish."
[paragraph continues] It also appears that lowland bards, then as now, did not know much about the Gaelic language, and made no distinction between Irish and Erische; but they knew the customs of the race. MakFadyane shouted a lament for the dead, so that was a "Highland pageant," and all the Ersche gathered about him and began to "clatter," so the custom of crying the coronach, like that of keening in Ireland, was a Highland custom in the fifteenth century. This custom is clearly referred to in the traditional poem on the death of Osgur, and funeral processions are still followed by the bagpipes, and martial music accompanies a soldier to his last home. It also appears that these "Ersche" were a fierce race of termagants, dressed in "tag and tatter," some fluttering outlandish costume, wholly different from the fine lowland bonnet and flowing gown of " Pride," who leads the procession in the infernal mummery which Dunbar imagined and described. From the former quotation it appeared that they were bare-kneed "black-knees," and it seems that the poet hated the whole race and their language, and satirized
them, with other objects of his aversion, with all his might.
It may be new to most English readers to learn that MacMhurich, Clanranald's bard, long afterwards composed a Gaelic satire on national music. In this the "coronach of women" (no longer that of men, be it observed), and "Pìob gleadhair," the pipe of clamour,
Highland sculptors also made stone satires upon the pipes: Above the door of ''Dundarav,'' a ruined castle near Inverary, there used to be a figure playing a tune upon his nose, which suggested the above design of the Spirit of the Pipes. Lowland view.
are called the two ear sweethearts of the black fiend--a noise fit to arouse the imps; and other epithets are used fully as bitter and coarse as anything in Dunbar's "Daunce."
Dancing to pipe music is a Scotch custom at least as old as the days of James the Fourth. It is a custom which still prevails in Italy, Spain, Ireland, and Scotland.
Dunbar in his Testament of Kennedy throws some light upon the manners and customs of Carrick, a Celtic district of Ayrshire. He makes a brother churchman, with whom he held poetic jousts, desire that no priests may sing over his grave.
"Bot a bag-pyp to play a spring,
Et unum alewisp ante me;
Insteid of torchis, for to bring
Quatuor lagenas cervisiæ,
Click to enlarge
August 1829. Dancing to pipe music. Highland dress with belted plaid.
"Within the graif to set sic thing,
In modum crucis juxta me,
To fle the feyndis than hardely sing
De terra plasmasti me."
So the poet knew the sound of the bag-pyp, and thought it an instrument fit to fle the feyndis, as many
lowlanders do still, but it was the music which a beer-drinking churchman would delight to bear "playing a spring."
It seems that beer, not whisky, was old Scotch drink.
Click to enlarge
Caxton's press set up at Westminster.
First book printed in England.
About this time, the beginning of the sixteenth
"I saw Raf Coilyear with his thrawin brow,
Craibit Johne the Reif and auld Cowkellpis sow,
And how the wran came out of Ailysay,
And Peirs Plewman that made his workmen few
Greit Gowmacmorne and Fyn MaCoul, and how
They suld be goddis in Ireland as they say.
Their saw I Maitland upon auld Beird Grey,
Robene Hude and Gilbert with the quhite hand,
How Hay of Nauchtan flew in Madin land."
The verse is quoted in the Report on Ossian, and p. 170, Hist. of Scottish Poetry. It is part of "the Palis of Honour," an allegorical composition, in which the poet introduces every famous personage of ancient or modern times, sacred or profane, of whom he knew anything; all the classical poets--Brutus of Albyon, Friar Bacon, Chaucer, and a mob of poets and their heroes. So here are two of the heroes of Ossian in good company at this court of honour, but even then their history was known to the author only by hearsay.
There is consequently a good deal to be found about Fionn in old times in the Lowlands, but nothing, so far, of the poems which are referred to. It so happens that some older than that period have been preserved. While polished bards, Highland and Lowland, were exercising their wit on such compositions as are found in old manuscripts, the "savage" Celtic people were repeating their own old ballads, and these were simple and free from the smallest tinge of coarseness. So far as I know anything of old Gaelic poetry, there is nothing to be likened to the satires above referred to.
Dean MacGregor's MS. was written at Lismore; in
|1512 to 1529|
wrote; and it seems highly improbable that a long and well-known traditional poem should have escaped the Dean's notice, while a short one on the same subject was written down. Lorne is close to Morven, but there is no mention of Fingal or his kingdom. It is thus proved that Fionn and his heroes are not simply creatures of MacPherson's brain, or worthies who belong exclusively to Irish romance; and it seems probable that some one has added a "gal " to Fionn, and given him a kingdom, in the same way that the Gaelic name Temair has been expanded to Temora and contracted to Tara since 1391.
It is proved that "Earse" was a written language three centuries ago, and has altered but little since, and that Johnson and his followers erred in many things. It is proved that old materials existed in Scotland from which some one might have concocted at least one book of Temora without stealing from Ireland. And the out-and-out supporters of the antiquity of the Gaelic of 1807 are bound to produce something like Temora as it now stands in some manuscript, equally old, though it has been ingeniously suggested that the great traditional poems were then so notorious and so well preserved that no one would take the trouble to write them down or multiply copies. The Gaelic, then, of the poems of Temora, as published, was probably put together by some Gaelic bard who lived between 1530 and 1763, when the Gaelic of the 7th book of Temora was printed, though Oisein lived and sung long before the twelfth century. It remains to be seen whether the probable date of the published poems of 1807 cannot be more accurately determined.
Dean MacGregor's MS. was partly written in
[paragraph continues] Argyleshire, and some of the Gaelic poetry contained in it is attributed to Duncan MacCallein an dygriddir (Duncan, son of Colin the good knight), who fell at Flodden, and some to two ancestresses of the family of Argyll.
The following is a translation of six lines, which Mr. MacLauchlan was good enough to copy and spell for me from the Lismore MSS., and which are there attributed to "Ysboll ne Vc. Kellan" (Isabel, daughter of Colin's son):--
Woe worth! whose ailment's love,
I utter it.
Tis hard from a partner to part;
Sad is the case
in which I am.
That love which is given unknown,
Since it's my wonted
Garden for lays (light-ray in rhyming)
Unless I plant passion betimes,
my flower will be
blighted and thin.
That man to whom love is given,
and must not be told
from on high (out aloud)
For him was I put into pain.
Heigh ho! for me ("gymi")
Tis a hundred woes.
The rhythm indicates the division, and so do the assonances.
Mairg dha 'n galar an GRADH
G bith fath p. 60
fa'n abrain E
Deacair sgarachdain r' a PHÀIRT
truagh an cás
s a bheileam FHEIN.
Several lines contain words whose sound, now-a-days, would admit of a double or treble meaning, and some of these might be distorted by one who was led to expect something wrong, but there is no coarseness in this quaint little ditty; and if this be all her poetical sin, the poor lady's character has been sadly maligned.
This class is amorous, moral and satirical, not Ossianic poetry; but if the nobility of those days who spoke Gaelic, composed in Gaelic, and wrote poems similar in spirit to those which were current at court, there were Ossianic poems of a different stamp then current amongst the people. If it can be shewn that nobles continued to use the language at a later date, it becomes not only possible but probable that some species of Gaelic poetry, different from popular ballads, but founded on Celtic traditions, might have sprung up in Scotland before the times when Shakspeare and Milton flourished in England, or even later, and yet before MacPherson's time. If it can be shewn what were the manners and customs of the district in which lords and ladies wrote Gaelic poetry about these times, the kind that would be apt to please may be surmised. From the genealogy of the Argylls, from which I have quoted in the text, I copy the following passage relative to Lady MacLean, sister of Dean MacGregor's poetess:--"She, according to common report, was exposed by her husband, the laird of MacLean, upon a bare rock in the sea, called
[paragraph continues] Lersker, near the Island of Lismore, in view of the castle of Duart, that she might perish by the return of the tide, but people from on board a boat providentially passing that way, upon hearing the cries and shouts of the lady in distress, took her on board, and restored her to her friends, although, at the same time, these very men who were employed to expose the lady to the mercy of the sea returned to Duart Castle, where John Gorm, the first of the family of Lochnell, a boy of three or four years of age, was with his aunt, the Lady MacLean, whom they had left upon the naked rock. And as soon as they had entered the castle of Duart they kindled a great fire on the middle of the hall floor, and formed themselves into a circle around the fire, and caused strip the boy John Gorm naked, and placed him between them and the fire, when the boy, by reason of the heat, was forced to run round the fire, while each of them, as he passed within the circle, rubbed his naked skin with an hot roasted apple, which occasioned blue spots on the boy's skin ever after, for which be was called John Gorm, or blue John. His nurse, though she ran into the hall in a furious manner, could not enter into the circle to preserve the child's life, until by means of one M'Gilvra of Glencannell, who had more humanity than the rest, and who, as they stood in a circle with their feet close, opened his legs a little (for he durst do no more for fear of suspicion), she rushed through the man's legs, and, entering the circle, snatched up the boy, and carried him off straight to the shore, which is hard by the walls of the castle, where, finding a boat at hand, they made their escape, and Providence so ordered matters that John Gorm and his nurse were out of danger before their enemy had full room to reflect upon their flight,
for which cause the laird of MacLean was killed at Edinburgh by John Campbell, the first of the family of Calder, brother to Lady MacLean, and uncle to John Gorm, the first of the family of Lochnell, who, as soon as he saw the laird of MacLean, he thrust the sword, sheath and all, through his body. These things gave rise to a song composed in these days (take up MacLean and prick him in a blanket)."
The main incidents of this story were all told to me by an old woman in September 1861. She speaks hardly any English, and is very old, and, like many of her class, speaks oracular predictions now and then. It is to be hoped that she knows the future as well as she remembers the past.
"Earl Archibald was slain at Flodden." So says the Argyll genealogy, whence this story is taken, of the days when Dean MacGregor wrote, and Henry VIII. reigned, and Lady Casselis composed amorous Gaelic poetry, if she be the lady meant by the family history. There was a lady called "Magrate nan oran" (or something which looks like it), "for her inclination to rhyming," who was a younger daughter of "the, last Lord Lorn of the name of Stewart," and married Colin Earl of Argyll, Glenurchy's pupil, about 1460. But whoever the composer of these songs may have been, the fact remains, that before the times of Shakspeare, lords and ladies composed Gaelic poetry, and Dean MacGregor wrote some down as theirs; and they were people of a class likely to be affected by the court literature of their day and country, some of which was rude enough.
Now "Ossian's poems" are distinguished by a peculiar vein of sentimental grandeur and melancholy, and the popular manners and customs of the east and west
in these days do not accord with such a spirit. Short, stirring, wild martial songs, like the current Ossianic poems, or political, or controversial, or amorous ballads, might suit the taste of the grim soldiers who roasted a boy, but a long epic would surely set them fast asleep; so unless the gentry or clergy wrote "Ossian," we must abandon the sixteenth century, and, as the builder of Taymouth said, "birz yont." But it must not be forgotten that, amidst all the ribaldry of ballads of that time, there is much beauty of feeling and sentiment in the lowland Scotch poetry of the clergy; and Shakspeare wrote as he did, although the amusement of roasting men had been pushed to the extreme about his time in England.
Sir David Lindsay composed satires against the,
"Heir is ane relict lang and braid,
Of Fyn MacCoull the richt chaft blaid,
With teith and al togidder;
Of Collins cow heir is ane horne
For eating of Mak connals corne,
Was slane into Balquihidder."
In one of his interludes he says--
"But dowt my deid yone man hes sworne,
I trow yone be grit Gow Makmorne."
In another composition the poet says--
"Stewart of Lorne will carpe richt curiouslie."
And hence it appears that he knew something of west country traditions, and mayhap alluded to the Stewarts, of whose works some are preserved. Fyn MacCoull and Gol MacMorne were clearly known to the poet and his audience, if "Fingal" was not mentioned by this author. Colin and MakConnal and their cow might be a reference to some well known story about a feud; but a horn that was a "relic" must have been that of a famous cow, and there are plenty of such animals in the old stories mentioned by Professor O'Curry, in one of which ("The tain" above mentioned) MacCumhal plays a part. But, however he got there, Fyn went to court about 1535, and was presented by Sir David Lindsay in a dress of motley for the second time. (Hist. of Scotch Poetry, 376, 425).
The first book was printed in Ireland--the liturgy by
In Lemoine's history of printing, it is stated that an
George Bannatyne collected Scotch poetry, and his 1568. manuscript is the chief source whence a knowledge of old Scotch poetry has been gleaned. MacGregor's far earlier Gaelic collection has been well known for a century, but such has been the neglect of everything genuine and Gaelic, that till now its contents have hardly been thought worth attention.
From Bannatyne, Ramsay drew his materials for the Evergreen, published 1724; and he "altered, added to," and "retrenched" his originals "with extreme licentiousness." (Hist. of Scotch Poetry, 416.)
It seems hard then to blame MacPherson as if he were the only man of his time who mangled old poetry to make new, and never to look at old authorities to see what was the truth. The fault has been as much on
the Gaelic side as the other; but that fault is about to be amended.
|1579 to 1582.|
So here is another Fyn mixed up with Druids and Culdees, Paganism and Christianity, and located in that stronghold of the Fairies, Man.
No. 161 is the "Pigmies' Ile," in which the Dean had found "in a small kirk" the small round heads of small
men. So here were the fairies themselves. The houses of a small race still exist in the Islands.
Martin also mentions these small bones (page 19) as these of "Lusbirdean," and I have many Lewes stories about pigmies.
Dean Monro gives very little about the manners and customs of the people of the islands, but he tells that they used to catch seals with certain "great doggis" in Loch Gruinart in Islay, which must have been a curious scene.
About this time the Black Book of Taymouth was
New Testament printed in Irish, and dedicated to
In this year a manuscript was finished by Ewan MacPhail, at Dunstaffnage, in Lorne; it contains a prose tale "concerning a King of Lochlin, and the Heroes of Fingal;" and a poem which seems, from the lines quoted, to be part of No. LXXIX., which is still traditionally preserved, and was written down by Dean MacGregor in 1530. I have seen this Dunstaffnage MS. and can hardly read a word of the old writing.
Sir Duncan of Glenurchay died; and in that year
About this time, a correspondence took place which
are--Sir Colin Campbell of Glenurchy, Juliane Campbell, his wife, daughter of Hew Lord Loudon, the Marquis, and Earl of Argyle, who were both subsequently beheaded, and Margaret Douglas, Argyle's wife. It is a curious measure of the fee of the writer of the Argyle genealogy, that he omitted all mention of this death on the scaffold, with which, as Mr. Innes remarks, these "were subsequently honoured."
The spelling of the letters is obsolete; they give a curious picture of the times, and they are well worth perusal, but the reason of the correspondence is what concerns me. Argyle and his wife Margaret Douglas are anxious that their son Lorne should have a thorough knowledge of what they called "Erise," which Irish and Scotch Gael call Gaelic; and they send the young chief of the Clan Campbell to his relative to Balloch, now Taymouth, where his foster father, writing of his tutor, considers it--"requisit he be ane discreite man that is ane scollar, and that can speik both Inglis and Erise, quharof I think thair may be had in Argyll."
Accordingly, Lorne and Maister Jhone Makleine set off with "Duncan Archibald, and tuey horse with him, on to Mr. Johen, and on for my cariage;" soon after the "thretie day of September" when "Archibald Campbell of Lorne" wrote to his "louing foster-father" from "Inderaray," and Mr. Johen having misbehaved himself, some one else wss procured to superintend his studies. His mother, Margaret Douglas, writes 14th December 1637--"I heair my sone begines to wearye of the Irishe langwadge. I entreat yow to cause holde hime to the speakeing of itt, for since he has bestowed so long tyme and paines in the getting of itt, I sould be sory he lost it now with leasines in not speaking of it."
On the 14th Junii 1639, Margaret Douglas wrote to "Glenurchy" to Balloch for her son, and he came by the house in Glenurchy to Inverary with a sufficient company, if his mother's letter was attended to. It does not appear from his accounts that he wore the Highland dress; his tutor did.
"Item, given to Mr. Johnne MLen, pedagogue to my Lord Lorne's sone, in September 1633, ane hewit plaid, pryce xii. lib." Item, the 18th of Junii, to be coat and brekis to him (my Lorde's sone), x. quarteris of fyne skarlet, xviii. lib. the ell, xlv. lib. Item, ane pair of silk stockings, "and there are 'French bever hats, orange ribband points, and a Spanish pistolet' for the young lord."
Now, from all this gossip about historical personages of Western Argyle, it would seem that Gaelic was still the language of the Highlands, the language which one who was to command its people ought to know, but that some of the nobility now had to learn it, and wore "brekis."
This then would seem to be a time, for collecting all that could be got together, and modelling it into some connected shape, a period when Gaelic was a studied language, and when noblemen who spoke it delighted in the romance of Alexander, and all this took place in the immediate vicinity of "the woody Morven" where "Fingal" was supposed to reign, and in the district where discreet persons could be found acquainted with Gaelic and English.
There is no trace of the Ossian of 1807 to be found amongst any known writings of this time; but if the Bannatyne MSS. and some others had been destroyed, most early Scotch poetry would have been lost. Tradition has not preserved. the "Palice of
[paragraph continues] Honour," or "The Daunce," though it has retained far older ballads.
One man, quoth he, oft-times hath stood,
And put to flight a multitude;
Like Sampson, Wallace, and Sir Bewis,
And Finmacowl, beside the Lewis,
Who in a bucking time of year,
Did rout, and chase a herd of deer,
Till he behind, and they before,
Did run a hundred miles and more,
Which, questionless, prejudg'd his toes,
For Red-shanks then did wear no shoes,
For to this day they wear but calf ones,
Or if older, leather half-ones.
He chased them so furiouslie,
That they were forced to take the sea,
And swam from Cowel into Arran,
In which soil, though it be but barren,
As learned antiquaries say,
Their offspring lives unto this day.
I may add, that at this day men still point out Dun Finn, in Arran, and explain "Ar-ainn" to mean Ar-fhinn, Fin's land; and that Cowal, which sounds like MacCowl, is still brimful of Fenian traditions. On West Loch Tarbet are places called "Leaba Dhiarmaid," the bed of Diarmaid; "Dùn 'a choin duibh," the fort of the Black Dog, which is a curious old fort in a wood, and is said to be the place where Bran killed the black dog, as is told in the well-known ballad. Near that is "Tor an tuirc," the boar's heap, where, according to tradition the boar was killed by Diarmaid; and all these places are below "Sliabhghaoil," to which "Diarmaid," or, according to others, "an old hunter," addressed these lines when he was dying. They are known to many about Tarbert:--
Sliabh mo chridhe 's an sliabh ghaoil,
Innis nan crodh laoigh 's nan each.
Esan cha tearn a nuas,
Mise cha d' theid suas am feisd.
Mount of my heart and the mount of love,
Isle of the calving cows and the horses.
It will never descend,
I will not mount up for ever.
[paragraph continues] Another place in the district is called "Leum na muice," the swine's leap; and other similar names abound, which, together with Colville's verses, shew that Fingalian legends have been localized in the west for a long time. 1
Kirk's edition of the Psalms has four lines of poetry
which are quoted, page 21 of the report of the Highland Society on Ossian, and which may be thus closely translated:--
"Go leaflet boldly forth
With God's pure songs arouse them yonder;
Hail the generous land of Fionn,
The rough bounds and isles of the stranger."
Inseabh-Gall, the Hebrides were so called from their Norse masters. This then proves that Scotland was considered to be the land of Fionn eighty years before MacPherson published anything.
This MS. is described is the Highland Society's report. So Gaelic continued to be written during the seventeenth century by Scotchmen in Scotland, they used it in legal documents, wrote tales about the ancient heroes, and poetry of various kinds; but the poems of 1807 are not yet found.
This was written (apparently) in the Scotch dialect, so it would appear that there was a popular and a cultivated dialect, both of which were supposed to pass current in Scotland.
1103. Martin, a Lewes doctor, wrote an account of the Western Isles, which gives a great deal of information about the ways of the people. At page 217 he speaks of the traditions of Fin MacCoul's, a great giant, whom he mentions as a well-known personage who had exercised
his valour on the inhabitants of Ar-Fyn or Fin's stronghold, which is the derivation given for Arran.
The standing stones are mentioned as confirmation of this story.
It so happens that the ground about many of these stones was lately searched, and it seems that they really do mark burial places of the stone period. Human bones, charcoal, and flint implements, were found about the centres of circles, in whose circumference four large stones or more are placed.
In one case the bones were much broken, and placed in a small grave about two feet long, scooped out of the rock. The bones were of the ordinary size, and did not appear to have been burned; so, unless the body was cut to pieces, it is not easy to make out how it was buried close to this grave, in a place called Dun Finn, Fin's fort. This seems to place Fionn in the "stone period," when iron was rare, and elk survived in Britain, according to antiquaries. Popular tales and songs appear to do the same.
Clanranald's bard wrote in the "Irish" hand in the
First Gaelic vocabulary printed. Macdonald's.
First work published in the then Scottish dialect of Gaelic--Baxter's Call to the Unconverted, translated by an Argyleshire minister. (Celtic Gleanings, p. 138.) So far, then, the printing press had been employed solely in the cause of religion, and anything in the nature of profane Gaelic literature had been condemned in the first book printed in Scotland.
Or thereabouts, a Mr. Farquharson made a Gaelic
1756. Jerome Stone's translation of Fraoch, of which the original Gaelic was recovered from his papers after his death, and is given in the report of the Highland Society (Appendix, p. 99). It still survives in fragments, in 1860, in Scotland, amongst the most unlearned classes. Stone was an Englishman, and his translation is a paraphrase, but faithful.
It was first published in the Scots Magazine, and is an indication of the taste of the period. Attention had been called to Gaelic poetry and the Gael by the battles of 1715 and 1745. The first who translated made a paraphrase, and thought more of himself than of his original; and almost every attempt since made to translate Gaelic into English, or English into Gaelic, has been of this kind.
the first time in English, I should in like manner recognise my traditional version of the "death of Osgur," though it is not the Gaelic of 1807, nor Gaelic from which the English of 1760 could have been translated.
It seems, then, that during the eighteenth century, and before MacPherson's time, attention had been drawn to the manners and customs, poetry and amusements of the Highlanders, who, in 1715 and 1745, had startled England and the Lowlands out of their propriety; and the first bit of direct evidence which tells strictly for the authenticity of MacPherson's translation dates from about a period when some collector might be expected to cater for the public taste, as Stone did. I think it highly probable that some one before MacPherson may have done that which Dr. Smith tells us he did after him, namely, gather all he could get, and tinker it according to his own notions of what an old Gaelic poet ought to have written in the third century, but, with the exception of the Farquharson manuscript, I have found no mention of any thing to support MacPherson's publications, so far, either in manuscript or print, though MacPherson's heroes pervade a whole series of early documents and Gaelic literature of all ages, Scotch and Irish, and his poems include bits which are clearly old.
My theory then is, that about the beginning of the eighteenth century, or the end of the seventeenth, or earlier, Highland bards may have fused floating popular traditions into more complete forms, engrafting their own ideas on what they found; and that MacPherson found their works, translated, and altered them; published the translation in 1760; made the Gaelic ready for the press; published some of it in 1763, and made
away with the evidence of what he had done when he found that his conduct was blamed. I can see no other way out of the maze of testimony.
If the statement of Mr. MacGilvray, given at page 50 of the dissertation prefixed to the large edition of Ossian, 1807, is not a deliberate falsehood, there is an end of the argument which makes MacPherson the author, though no early copy of the entire poems is known. It is said that the very poems which were translated and published, "Fingal; Temora," and many others, were collected, in Gaelic, in Scotland, from the people, long before 1760, and these were subsequently compared with MacPherson's published translations at Douay by the collector of the Gaelic, Mr. Farquharson, who did not know MacPherson; and the translations were found by Mr. Farquharson to be inferior to his Gaelic originals, inaccurate, but, in the main, translations so far as they went.
Mr. Farquharson's manuscript was afterwards torn, and leaves were used by the Douay students to light their fires, and if any part of it now exists, it is lost; but it was not written in the third century but in the eighteenth, chiefly in Strathglas. At page 75 of the dissertation is a statement which carries conviction with it, if such evidence has any weight; and, assuming the evidence to be admissible, and placing it beside what has been said above, there may have been some learned unknown Gaelic poet or poets who had collected, and arranged, and altered, the floating traditions of the country, between MacPherson and Dean MacGregor.
It is at least certain that MacPherson was a Highlander, and that some Gaelic bard wrote the Gaelic of 1763 and 1807, whatever his merits may have been.
MacPherson's first publication appeared, "The Fragments;"
A Mr. Ewen MacPherson, a schoolmaster, accompanied James MacPherson to Skye and the Long Islands, and gives an account of their journey in his affidavit (p. 95, H. S. Report). The schoolmaster wrote down a great many poems attributed to Ossian from dictation, and his companion took the manuscript away with him, as also a small manuscript belonging to Clanranald, and an order for a larger manuscript which was in Edinburgh. The schoolmaster declares his own conviction that the poems of Ossian are genuine, and that he had heard them. commonly repeated everywhere; but as there was no Gaelic Fingal. published when the affidavit was made, this does not apply to the publication of 1807. He had read Fingal in English, and thought, so well as he could remember, "the substance of the original," that the translation was "well executed." Another MacPherson, a residenter at Portree, deponed that his brother, a smith, had given his namesake a Gaelic quarto manuscript, which contained poems which the smith could then repeat, and which he had no doubt were the works of Ossian. But this does not prove that these were the originals of the translations; for as this witness could not write, it is not probable that he could read English.
The evidence of Mr. Hugh. MacDonald, given in Gaelic, and confirmed by a number of gentlemen of the Long Island, is also subject to this objection. They all knew something of Ossian's poems, and believed them to be genuine, of very great antiquity, distinct from and superior to all other Gaelic compositions; but there was only some published Gaelic, for the poems of Ossian
which the English public knew, and the Celts seem to mean one thing, while the Saxons meant another. These collections have disappeared.
This edition is commonly bound with that of 1762, and the selling price for the large quarto is now 5s.
The following are specimens of the Gaelic, as printed by MacPherson in 1763, in Roman type. He says it is "stripped of its own proper characters," that "a copy of the originals of the former collection lay for many months in the bookseller's hands for the inspection of the curious;" and that the "erroneous spelling of the bards is departed from in many instances."
Published Gaelic and English, divided according to the rhythm:--
O Linna doir-choille na Leigo,
From the wood-skirted waters of Lego,
Air uair, eri ceo taobh-ghórm nan tón;
ascend, at times, gray-bosomed mists;
Nuair dhunas dorsa na h' oicha
when the gates of the west are closed,
Air iulluir-shuil greina nan speur.
on the suns's eagle-eye.
Tomhail mo Lara nan-sruth
Wide over Lara's stream p. 79
Thaomas du'-nial as doricha cruaim:
is poured the vapour dark and deep:
Mar ghlas-scia, roi taoma nan nial,
the moon, like a dim shield,
Snamh seachad tu Gellach na h' oicha.
is swimming thro' its folds.
Close translation of the Gaelic, so far as it is understood by the translator.
From the pool of the dark woods of Leigo,
The blue-sided wave-mist rises at times;
When the doors of night are closed
On th' eagle-eyed sun of the skies.
Thick about Lara of the streams,
Black clouds of darkest frown are poured out;
As a gray shield, through the pouring of the clouds
Swimming past, is the moon of the night.
This is not like the style or the spirit ol popular songs and ballads. It is not modern vernacular Gaelic; it is not the old written language, so far as I know it, nor is it Irish; but it is not a translation of the English given with it, for it has metre, and assonance, and a meaning of its own. It bears a resemblance to "Mordubh;" and as it was published in 1763, it is a Gaelic composition at least 98 years old.
The following four lines have the metre and assonances of some current ballads:--
An taobh oitaig gu palin nan SEOID
Ceäch nan SPEUR
Gorm-thalla do thannais nach BEO
Gu ám eri' fón
Marbh rán nan TEUD.
In the side of a blast, to the heroes' tent,
they pour out
the mists of the skies;
a blue hall for shades not alive,
till the rising time of the sound
of the strings' death-moan.
In this case the Gaelic, though it is not such Gaelic as men speak now-a-days, expresses more, and seems to me better than its published English equivalent, which is not a true rendering of it.
"Often blended with the gale,
"to some warrior's grave,
"they roll the mist, a gray dwelling to his ghost,
"until the songs arise."
There is a second metre, which also has its equivalent in popular ballads, and in "Fingal"--
Ta torman a machair nan CRAN
Se Conar ri Erin at' AN
a taoma' ceo-tanais gu DLU'
Air Faolan aig Lubhair nan SRU.
The translation given is--
"A sound came from the desart
"it was Conar, King of Innisfail.
"He poured his mist
"on the grave of Fillan, at the blue-winding Lubar."
The meaning, as I understand it, is--
"There's a moan from the outland of stems;
It is Conar, Erin's king,
pouring out ghostly-mist closely
upon Faolan at Lubhair of the streams."
And here again the Gaelic, with all its grammatical peculiarities, seems to have the best of it, and it is no translation. And so it is throughout the specimen.
The Gaelic and English do not, quite fit each other, and the Gaelic seems to me to have been originally better than the English, though many words are used in strange ways, and the whole is spelt without any fixed rule. The Gaelic has most ideas, the English most words.
The orthography is, of course, the scribe's. It is such as comes to me from men who have not studied Gaelic writing. It is like my own spelling when I, who never learned to write Gaelic, try to take down a story rapidly from dictation; it is like the spelling of Dean MacGregor's MS. or the Manx system in a transition state; it is, in short, something between phonetic writing and old Gaelic, and that of 1807. As some one wrote in the Gaelic at the end of one of these ghostly passages--
S doilleir so!
"This is dim!"
As MacPherson says in his rendering of the line, which I strongly suspect was a comment, which the translator mistook for a line of poetry--
"It is night!"
But through this dimness and night it may be discerned that the writer of the English was not the writer of the Gaelic. No forger could have written "S DOILLEIR" SO for "IT IS NIGHT."
Strathmashie did not write Gaelic of this kind when he wrote in his own name; but, on the other hand, Chatterton afterwards spelt Rowly's poems according
to his notion of ancient English spelling, and so tried to make his language appear old, and succeeded for a time; and so Strathmashie, MacPherson, or some one else, may have done the same: but guessing is vain.
"My friendship is as firm as the white rock when the black waves roar around it, and the waters burst on its hoary top, when the driving wind ploughs the sable sea, and the rising waves aspire to the clouds, turning with the rattling hail." So much for heroics, etc.
It is supposed that "Fingal" suggested the idea of Rowley's poems "to that wonderful imitator and original genius, the author of the Rowley controversy, who poisoned himself at the age of eighteen.
This seems to be the work of a truthful, unsuspecting, prejudiced, wrongheaded, worthy man, who had a talent for English poetry. He believed implicitly in MacPherson' translation; he tells the exact truth so far as he knew it; he never appears to have suspected that any one could deceive him; he had a standard, and forthwith set to work to improve it, by "translating" MacPherson's English prose into good English verse of his own; while he was surrounded by people who were constantly repeating Gaelic poems,
which they attributed to Oisein; and which he neglected to translate, or preserve. There is a perverse simplicity in thus openly and obstinately going wrong in the wrong way; in sticking to supposed truth against all evidence, that would have made the worthy minister die a martyr for the false religion if he had been instructed in its tenets.
The book begins thus--
"To entertain any doubt of the antiquity or authenticity of the poems of Ossian, as some pretend to do, can only flow from an affected singularity of thinking, or from mere wantonness of prejudice."
The grounds for this opinion follow:--
"As to their authenticity, it was never so much as called in question in Scotland; over all the Highlands and isles, it is universally acknowledged. It is well known that the most illiterate old people there, can still repeat great parts of many of the poems. Unhappily, indeed, they are often found much interpolated and blended with the wild chimeras and absurdities of the bards of degenerate days."
Of MacPherson's translation he says:--
"His translation is faithful, accurate, elegant, and masterly." . . . "And it must be evident to many that be often falls short of his original."
And having said so much, and some more on his own account, the minister gives an abstract of Blair's criticism on the English Ossian, which, just as it is, was not that of a man who knew Gaelic. Then at page xc comes the evidence of the Islay minister himself, which is more valuable.
"For my own part, I frankly confess that I am not possessed of any of the originals; they are to be met with at greater length, and in greater purity, in those parts of the Highlands and isles most remote from Ireland, and furthest north. (But when we get
something traditional from the north this is found to be an error, unless Mordubh be a fair specimen). "Yet in the southern parts of Argyleshire, I remember from my infancy to have been in use to bear fragments of them repeated by old illiterate people, and as soon as I could judge of anything, to have been much struck and astonished by particular passages. I now live in an island not half a day's sailing distant from the north of Ireland, the very scene of action in the poem of Fingal; yet I could find but few that could rehearse any considerable portion of any of the poems, and that neither complete nor consistent with itself. What I have thus heard, commonly began and set out well in the pure and dignified style of Ossian, but soon fell off in mean conceits, disgusting absurdities, and ended inconclusively. The traditional stories, however, of these heroes are well known and abundantly familiar to all ranks in these parts. I have only mentioned this as an adminicle in support of Mr. MacPherson's position, that they are Scots and not Irish poems." . . . "There is scarce a hill, a heath, or vale where some large stones erected, or other monuments, are not to be met with, which tradition always refers to the time of Fingal; and the vulgar bestow names upon them, alluding to him or some one of his heroes."
These are facts from which I would draw conclusions different from those of Mr. Wodrow; but he tells us more; he remembered to have heard of a class of historians inferior to bards, called "SCELLACHA, or narrators of facts." (Tellers of tales is the real meaning, and the word is clearly the same as the Norse SKALD) The BARD, as the minister says, used to sing to the harp; and the SCELLACHA to fill up the pauses by telling prose history. He says, p. xcvii:--
"I have met with some old people among the vulgar Highlanders, who, as a winter evening's entertainment, have rehearsed fictions, or tales of a very ancient cast; much in the same manner. The gallant or heroic parts were in rhyme or measure, and sung to an air; the ludicrous incidents, and such as were little interesting, were only told." . . . "Such as are acquainted in the Highlands must know that ballad singers of this sort are yet to be met with."
And having told us what there really was, the minister leaves it with contempt, and gives his reasons for translating the English Ossian into English verse; and gives us "Fingal" in a measure which has no sort of resemblance to that of any Gaelic composition which I know; still it is a very readable poem.
In the arguments we got some traces of Gaelic. The old superstition of corpse lights is given as derived from Ossian's ghosts. It seems that a ghost came mounted on a meteor, and surrounded twice or thrice the place destined for the person to die; and then went along the road through which the funeral was to pass, shrieking at intervals, though with a feeble voice, till it came to the place of burial and disappeared. The superstition survives; the telling of tales and singing of ballads goes on; but the poem is so far forgotten, that I suppose I am the only member of the family of the man to whom it was dedicated, who knows the book; even I never saw it till November 1861, though I have always heard that an Islay minister had collected the poems of Ossian in Islay.
The minister gives two specimens of his collection, but translations only, and they are not like the current traditional poems. I may as well say here, once for all, that I have been brought up in the belief that "The Poems of Ossian" were something familiarly known to the people of the Highlands at some former period. and that I have been told the fact by a great many trust-worthy witnesses. But I am now considering the "poems of 1807," and I can only regret that I have not got Wodrow's opportunity of forming an opinion.
Dr. Johnson arrived on the 14th of August at
afterwards made his famous tour, of which he and Boswell both published accounts. From these dates, it seems that Johnson might have seen part of Ossian in the Strand, printed in Gaelic, if he had been so minded, ten years before he went to the Highlands; and a lot of manuscripts at the publishers' in London before that.
|1774. to 1783.|
The other volume is better written, and the arguments are in better English. A great many of the poems are versions of ballads still traditionally preserved. These are in the usual traditional metre, and consist of smooth regular quatrains with assonances. Two words at the end of the second and fourth lines are similar in sound and quantity, and two somewhere in the middle of the second and fourth lines agree with the terminations of the preceding lines; the second with the first, and the fourth with the third. Thus, in the version of "Manus," on which poem "Fingal" is supposed to be founded, Oisein says--
1. A chlerich a chanas na sailm,
2. Air leam fein
Gur baobh do CHIAL
3. Nach eisteadh tu tamul sgeala
4. Air an ffhein
Nach cual thu RIAMH.
[paragraph continues] The poet is speaking to a churchman, "Padrac," and his exordium might have been addressed to Bishop Carswell, and those who have followed him in striving to extirpate Gaelic lore.
Thou clerk that utterest psalms,
To me it seems
Thy wits are bad,
Wouldst thou not hearken to a story
Of the Feine
Thou hast never heard.
[paragraph continues] Some of these are in the form of dialogues between Oisein and his father-in-law "Peter MacAlpain," and sometimes Oisein represents the Fein as warriors of Eirinn. Some one appears to have thought this anti-Scotch, and has improved upon the original by importing from another poem; for example, the following line is struck out in ink--
"Nur thional Fiann Eireann gu trai,"
[paragraph continues] When gathered the Fiann of Eirinn to the strand, and a line is written in the margin, in a more modern hand, which means--
"Our heads are bent in the strife."
[paragraph continues] "Padruig" has been struck out, and other words suggested, which make the passages which follow apply to the Feine, and not to the saint, of Kennedy's authority. The stanza is given at the bottom of the 248th page of the H. S. Appendix, and is there made up from passages taken from two other versions, in which Padruig
was not mentioned. The original lines are not erased, so these are only suggestions, but this gives a curious indication of the unfair spirit which pervaded the Ossianic controversy.
The poems which I can trace as still current, differ from other versions, and from the marginal notes it appears that some portions of them were claimed by Kennedy as his own compositions. The bulk of the poetry is plain narrative converted into quatrains of smooth musical verse, which could easily be sung and remembered, and I believe that it was written down from dictation, as Kennedy said. Some of the passages claimed by the collector as his own are more sentimental, with more similes, different in rhythm, and as I think, far inferior. Other parts claimed by the scribe as his own, have been found in much older manuscripts, and it is quite possible that a man who had learned so much poetry by heart, might confound the old with the new, unintentionally. I hold Kennedy's to be a valuable collection of the traditional poems of 1774 and 1783, and the Fianaibh were then considered to be Irish warriors by the people about Loch Awe, where Kennedy made part of his collection. About the same time a certain Fletcher learned a number of Ossianic pieces, chiefly in Argyleshire, which he had written down from his own dictation. He could hardly write at all, and could not read the manuscript which he sold to the Highland Society; but, nevertheless, be repeated to a justice of the peace, who knew Gaelic, one poem which is in the manuscript, the death of the children of "Usno," which is the foundation of, but is not "Darthula."
This bears strongly upon the controversy. Appendix B to the Report of the Highland Society, extends from
page 190 to page 260, and gives part of Fingal in English at the foot of the pages, and a Gaelic composition, and an English translation by Dr. Donald Smith, and these three coincide tolerably well. But the Gaelic is not good poetry, for it is made up of a number of separate lines taken from a great many different collections of traditional poetry, to which references are given. Each line is genuine, and in Kennedy's collection, and the rest formed part of a poem which bore some likeness to the story of Fingal, or to parts of it. Some stanzas are left almost entire, but the new composition is not a genuine work, and it is spoiled. The lines detached from their fellows lose all the rhythm and assonance which gave them a musical cadence, and stanzas so broken and mended, and displaced, lose their original meaning. "Fingal" is like this.
The composition is no deception, but it is avowedly a mosaic constructed from several old works of high merit spoiled for the purpose. The makers took Fingal for a still older work, and pounded genuine old materials to make work like their model. As Dr. Smith did, so probably did the compounder of Fingal.
Ramsay had done something of the kind with Scotch ballads, and Percy had done the same as Ramsay. Burns and others did the same; it was the fashion of these times.
The Rev. Donald MacNicol, M.A., minister of Lismore
tour and the minister's reply, gives a view of three sides of the question; and when the statements are picked out of the mass of opinions, there is as little reason for Johnson's famous attack on Scotch veracity as there is for MacNicol's quotation, "old men and travellers LIE by authority."
It seems as if the combatants, blinded by national prejudice, spent their energy in fighting shadows. The books are brimful of national prejudice--English and Scotch, Lowland and Highland; but they contain facts which can be authenticated, and statements which I believe, because the rest are true.
It rests on Johnson's authority that there were plenty of Gaelic songs. Boswell gives the chorus of one by ear, and it still survives. It also rests on the Doctor's authority, that people made statements about Gaelic matters, and that be did not believe them, which proves nothing; and that he heard of Gaelic manuscripts which he believed to be Irish, but which be could not have read if he had seen them.
The minister, on the other hand, who understood Gaelic, says, p. 350--
"Every man of inquiry; every person of the least taste for the poetry or turn for the antiquities of his country, has heard often repeated some part or other of the poems published by Mr. MacPherson. Hundreds still alive have heard portions of them recited long before Mr. MacPherson was born; so that he cannot possibly be deemed the author of compositions which existed before he had any existence himself." "It is true that there is no man now living, and perhaps there never has existed any one person who either can or could repeat the whole of the poems of Ossian." . . . "Mr. MacPherson's great merit has been in collecting the disjecta membra poetæ; and his fitting the parts so well together as to form a complete figure."
This statement is supported by the Irish claim to the
poems; and if it be remembered what people meant by translations in those days, it seems that the minister spoke the truth according to his lights, and the doctor according to his. MacNicol mentions a great many Gaelic MSS., and many of these are quoted above, and exist; and he also mentions a number of other manuscripts which probably did exist then, wherever they are now.
At page 360, MacNicol, in speaking of the forthcoming Gaelic Ossian, says--"It would be impossible for any person, let his talents be ever so great, to impose a translation for an original on any critic in the Gaelic language."
So the minister, knowing that there were Ossianic poems current, and recognising them in the English, believed in the forthcoming Gaelic; and Johnson, who knew nothing but the English, held that MacPherson was the father of Ossian; and neither of them, as it seems, had looked at the Gaelic of the seventh book of Temora, which might have prevented them from using such strong language. This seems to have been the prevailing spirit of the Ossianic controversy. Men have argued as partisans without first defining the points on which they would agree to differ; and like partisans, they have belaboured each other unjustly. Boswell states that a certain Mr. Macqueen told Johnson, as to "Fingal," "that he could repeat some passages in the original; that he heard his grandfather had a copy of it; but that be could not affirm that Ossian composed all that poem as it is now published." Johnson had contended that "it is no better than such an epic poem as he could make from the song of Robin Hood" (p. 127, Boswell, Routledge, 1860). Boswell held that Mr. Macqueen's statement amounted to what
his hero Johnson had maintained; but Johnson called MacPherson "the father of Ossian," and he would not have called himself the father of Robin Hood if he had composed an epic about that half mythical hero; so be was scarcely fair even if he was right.
and which, from the description given of it, appears to be Moira Borb, or Fainesolis, of which I have several versions, and which is an episode in "Ossian," and these gentlemen heard, and heard tell of many other poems which seen) to be the same as those still current, though now far rarer. They met an old lady who had herself repeated one such poem to Dr. Johnson.
By this time MacPherson had risen in the world.
"The bard, as I was about to tell you, is as great a favourite of fortune as of fame, and has got more by the old harp of Ossian than most of his predecessors could draw out of the silver strings of Apollo. He has bought three small estates in this country within two years, given a ball to the ladies, and made other exhibitions of wealth and liberality. He now keeps a hall at Bellville, his newly-purchased seat, where there are as many shells as were in Selma, filled, I doubt not, with much better liquor." . . .
John Gillies, a Perth bookseller, who did not understand
The Gaelic of Smith's collection appeared; it was
have abandoned the old tongue; or these are popular songs mercilessly improved, till they have lost their character. I would rank them near Mordubh, but they are nearer to the ballads than "Ossian."
So far, then, all the collectors found something which had some relation to "Ossian's Poems," but no one except Farquharson had found the poems themselves; and every one who translated, had written paraphrases of what he found. Stone, and MacPherson, and Smith, all took liberties alike.
In this year Edmund Baron de Harold, gentleman of the bedchamber to the Elector Palatine, published an Irish Ossian, of which he says--"These poems, though founded on tradition, are entirely of my composition." Still, they were called poems "discovered" by the Baron, and purported to be taken from Irish originals. The book was dedicated to Grattan. Whatever can be said against MacPherson's Ossian applies to this, and it wants the merit of originality.
to everything, Gaelic and old, though it is a genuine work.
In this year MacPherson died Mrs. Grant of
A collection was made by MacDonald of
A collection of the works of the Highland bards,
Poems of Ossian were also collected by J. MacDonald in. the western parishes of Strathnaver, Ross, and Inverness-shire. These are of the usual traditional class.
There are many versions of well known ballads, but no epic poetry.
Now, all these were written while there was but little published Gaelic for "Ossian;" if there had been any epics then current, they would surely have been found; if there had been any inclination to make false translations there was ample opportunity.
24:1 Lectures on the MS. Materials of Ancient Irish History, by Professor O'Curry, 8vo, Dublin, 1861.
26:1 Scotorum Historia, f. cxxxiii. Paris, 1527.
35:1 Riomball (circle of power) is used for the circle within which the "inn's" stand at the game of rounders. The Irish Osin has much in common with Thomas the Rymour, according to old legends.
39:1 Report of the Highland Society, p. 293. This MS. is now missing from the Advocates' Library, where the collection of the Highland Society was deposited.
44:1 Translated 1780 from the Icelandic by the Rev. James Johnson, chaplain to the embassy at Copenhagen.
49:1 Sketches of Early Scotch History, p. 343. Black Book of Taymouth.
49:2 Sketches of Early Scotch History, p. 344.
57:1 Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1856, p. 35; 1831, p. 317, Papers by Donald Gregory, Esq., and the Rev. Thomas MacLauchlan. Report of the Highland Society on the poems of Ossian, etc., passim, 1805.
65:1 See page 17.
71:1 Hist of Scotch Poetry, p. 276.
89:1 London, printed for T. Cadell in the Strand, 1779.