The Poems of Ossian and Related Works

The Poems of Ossian and Related Works

The Poems of Ossian and Related Works

The Poems of Ossian and Related Works


This annotated edition is based on the 1765 text of the Works of Ossian, republished here for the first time in its entirety; major variants from other editions are included, together with a comprehensive descriptive register of Ossianic names. A critical introduction explains the genesis of the work and its impact and influence on Romantic culture throughout Europe.


Fiona Stafford

During November 1854, Lady Jane Wilde wrote to friends to announce the birth of her second son: "He is to be called Oscar Fingal Wilde. Is not that grand, misty, and Ossianic?" The choice of names reflects her passionate nationalism, since "Oscar" and "Fingal" were meant to evoke the great figures of early Irish legend, but the subsequent comment also shows her debt to the Scottish incarnations of the ancient Celtic heroes, famous throughout the Western world since the 1760s, when James Macpherson had startled the reading public with his Ossianic poetry. For although Macpherson's Ossian is often regarded as a curious phenomenon of the later eighteenth century, its enduring appeal is clear from the steady stream of reprints, selections and new editions that continued to appear for the next hundred-and-fifty years. By 1923 the Ossianic characters were still sufficiently recognisable to be featured in an advertising campaign for Bulloch Lade Scotch whisky, while even today there are hotels in the Highlands whose names derive from Macpherson's work. The impact of Ossian was immediate and permanent, even if the individual poems eventually fell out of fashion. It is one of those rare texts that generates a life beyond its own pages, not only by providing direct inspiration for numerous poems, paintings and pieces of music, but also through its much more nebulous influence on Western culture, and the popular image of the Celtic.

For Lady Wilde, "Ossianic" was synonymous with grandeur and mistiness, but this distinctive combination of qualities had already enthralled generations of readers. The strange Celtic past created by Macpherson's Fragments of Ancient Poetry, Fingal and Temora, which appeared in rapid succession between 1760 and 1763, prompted astonished eulogies on Ossian's "infinite beauty" and "noble wild imagination" while even doubts over the authenticity of the translations did little to diminish their imaginative power. Thomas Gray, the leading English poet and antiquarian of the day admitted to having "gone mad about them", but it was more the otherworldly atmosphere than the scholarly significance of the poetry that seems to have struck him so forcefully:

Ghosts ride on the tempest to-night:
Sweet is their voice between the gusts of wind;
Their songs are of other worlds!

Did you never observe (while rocking winds are piping loud) that pause,
as the gust is recollecting itself, and rising upon the ear in a shrill and

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