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

By Fiona J. Stafford | Go to book overview

Eventually Cluny escaped to France, but by this time, James Macpherson was eighteen. Throughout his late childhood and adolescence, his home and family had been under a constant threat of violence and repression. Not only was Badenoch affected by the strong military presence at Ruthven, but also by more far-reaching changes. The repercussions of the '45 Rebellion were felt throughout the Highlands, as the Government's displeasure gave rise to a series of Draconian Acts. After 1746, Highlanders were forbidden to carry arms, play the bagpipes or wear their distinctive dress. The estates of fourteen of the most prominent rebel Chiefs (including Cluny) were forfeited to the crown, while the ancient systems of wardholding and of heritable jurisdiction were abolished. 56 Such radical changes were designed to demoralise the rebellious Highlanders and, by destroying their traditional communities, force them into the 'civilised' society of the United Kingdom.

Such was the atmosphere in which James Macpherson spent his formative years. He left Badenoch for University in 1752, at a time when the search for Cluny was at its height, and it is perhaps not surprising that he was later to look back on the world of his childhood as a lost paradise. The local resentment towards the British Government cannot have eased the normal problems of leaving home for the first time and Macpherson must have set out for Aberdeen with mixed feelings. Despite his suspicions about the world beyond Badenoch, it was certain to offer greater prospects to a talented young man than were promised in the Highlands in the 1750s. Although he left home with the traditional distrust of the Lowlanders, his very background heightened the appeal of the wealthy south. When he returned to Ruthven after four years in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, Macpherson was no longer satisfied with life in a small Highland town. Although he always professed to defy the influence of English culture, Macpherson's own career demonstrates its inevitable domination. The Government's moves to 'improve' the Highlands gave Macpherson the opportunity to acquire an education and win a place at University. The sudden policy of severe repression after the '45 meant that once Macpherson finished at Aberdeen, his native country would hold little attraction. Like many a talented Highlander, James Macpherson was to find wealth and success in England, while remaining haunted by the memory of the Highlands. His interest in Ossian, the sole survivor of a heroic Celtic race, is already becoming more comprehensible.


NOTES
1.
R. Carruthers, The Highland Notebook, ( Edinburgh 1843), 311.
2.
Macpherson to John Macpherson 14 December 1790, 10 MS Macp 127.

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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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