The Sublime Savage: A Study of James Macpherson and the Poems of Ossian

By Fiona J. Stafford | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Macpherson's Childhood in the Scottish Highlands

We were once ferried over the Spey by an old grey-haired Celt . . . who had, fifty years before, done the same duty for Macpherson. The poet was a great man from London and the court, bedizened with rings, gold seals, and furs; but he looked with a moistened eye on the turf school-house in which he had once taught English, and on the hills on which he had run in his youth. They were then his own property, and he told the ferryman, with strong emotion, and no doubt with Highland pride, that he would make every poor Highlander on his estate a comfortable and a happy man!

R. Carruthers, The Highland Notebook, 18431

As the Inverness train pulls out of the station at Kingussie, it passes a stone obelisk from which the face of an eighteenth-century gentleman is gradually wearing away. To most passengers, the monument is meaningless. James Macpherson is no longer a household name, and the idea that the man on the stone left instructions in his will for such a memorial to be built seems nothing but a piece of eighteenth-century folly. And yet, when Macpherson died in 1796, his body was taken from Badenoch on a journey lasting eighteen days, to be buried in Westminster Abbey. The news that the world famous author, James Macpherson, was dead, hit the national press.

Although Macpherson's statue, with its broken nose, is showing signs of age, a more lasting monument survives on the hill above. Balavil House (named Belleville by its original owner) was built by the Adam brothers as a Highland retreat for Macpherson, for times when the pressures of Parliament and London society became too intense. Balavil appears to have been more impressive than even Macpherson had intended, as he admitted in a letter to his friend Sir John Macpherson, the Governor General of India: 'I am involved in stones and mortar at Raits, and I partly repent of the magnitude of my Castle. The truth is that Adam's plan did not appear so large in my eyes on paper as on the hill, on which the House is rising. But I have gone too far to stop with any credit to myself.' 2 The elegant Georgian mansion overlooking the Spey valley is an appropriate memorial to the complicated character of its first occupant. Although the foundations are sunk

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The Sublime Savage: A Study of James Macpherson and the Poems of Ossian
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Illustrations vi
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Abbreviations viii
  • Prologue 1
  • Notes 4
  • Chapter One - Macpherson's Childhood in the Scottish Highlands 6
  • Notes 20
  • Chapter Two - Macpherson at the University of Aberdeen 1752-1755 24
  • Notes 37
  • Chapter Three - Macpherson's Early Poetry 40
  • Notes 58
  • Charter Four the Highlander 61
  • Notes 75
  • Chapter Five - The Death of Oscur 77
  • Notes 94
  • Chapter Six - Fragments of Ancient Poetry 96
  • Notes 111
  • Chapter Seven - The Highland Tours 113
  • Notes 129
  • Chapter Eight - Fingal 133
  • Notes 149
  • Chapter Nine - Macpherson's Vision of Celtic Scotland 151
  • Notes 160
  • Chapter Ten the Response to Ossian 163
  • Notes 178
  • Epilogue 181
  • Surviving Gaelic Manuscripts collected by James Macpherson 184
  • Index 188
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