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

By Fiona J. Stafford | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Macpherson's Early Poetry

Thus every good his native wilds impart
Imprints the patriot passion on his heart,
And even those ills, that round his mansion rise,
Enhance the bliss his scanty fund supplies . . .
So the loud torrent and the whirlwind's roar
But bind him to his native mountains more.

Such are the charms to barren states assigned;
Their wants but few, their wishes all confined.
Yet let them only share the praises due:
If few their wants, their pleasures are but few.

Goldsmith, The Traveller, 1755-1764

In 1756, Macpherson returned to his native town of Ruthven. He had spent three years at Aberdeen and a further few months in Edinburgh, but now his days as a student were over and he had to begin to earn a living. According to Bailey Saunders, Macpherson was hoping to enter the Church, but given his temperament and general character, this seems a little unlikely. 1 What is certain is that he took up a post as a teacher in the school where he had been a pupil a few years before. Despite his deep affection for Badenoch, the move back home does not appear to have been a happy one.

Macpherson's experience of city life made settling down in the Highlands again very difficult. Whatever the theoretical drawbacks of urban life, in practical terms it offered entertainment and intellectual stimulation, as well as opportunities for acquiring wealth and status. Life in Badenoch was very different. By 1756 the repressive policies which had followed the '45 were beginning to tell, while much of the old Clan spirit had departed with Cluny, who had finally escaped to France in 1755. The literary notion that the country was the happiest environment for the poet was to prove something of a fallacy when Macpherson put it into practice. Donald Macpherson, one of James' childhood friends, was later to draw a vivid picture of the moody young schoolmaster:

When he taught the Grammar School of Ruthven, near his father's and my father's Dwellings, I know he composed several

-40-

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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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