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

By Fiona J. Stafford | Go to book overview

Ironically, however, the victory is presented in English verse, while the poem itself contains hints of the real situation. As the English leader breathes his last, he gasps out an ominous prophecy:

The hill-descended shall retain the prize,
Until a race, deep-versed in policies,
Shall sprout from Saxon trunk, and schemes unfold
To change their steely points to fusil gold;
Then shackled on his heath, the hill-born swain
Shall crawl along, and move his hard-bound limbs with pain.
Fair Liberty to them shall lose her charms,
And Scots shall tremble at the sight of arms. ( IV, 181-89)

The 'prophecy' obviously reflects Macpherson's own opinion of the contemporary situation in Scotland.

The very idealisation of Donald, 'Who saves his country, nor is basely sold /To sordid interest and the love of gold' (V, 97-8), has a somewhat ironic edge. His reasons for being in Edinburgh at the crucial moment had nothing to do with any noble desire to save Scotland, but resulted from his own ambitions, which led eventually to fame and fortune. Thus Macpherson's poem embodies the conflict between non-materialistic ideals and the natural desire for success. The Highlander is deeply attached to his home and aware of the perils of life in the city, nevertheless he chooses to leave the Highlands to take advantages of the opportunities elsewhere.

In Macpherson's poem, the decision is presented as an inevitability. Hunting was a normal part of Highland life, so Donald is driven from home as a result of exercising his natural abilities. In much the same way, Macpherson's talents had taken him away from Badenoch to be educated, but in doing so, made him unable to settle there again. Macpherson was fully aware of the inevitable domination of English culture, and in the dissertation on Fingal, he was to emphasise the fact. Rather than dwelling upon Culloden, he discussed the effects of communications, trade, industry and education:

Many have now learned to leave their mountains, and seek their fortunes in a milder climate; and though a certain amor patriae may sometimes bring them back, they have, during their absence, imbibed enough of foreign manners to despise the customs of their ancestors. ( Fingal, xv)

The changes in the Highlands became irreversible, once the inhabitants wanted to be part of the United Kingdom.


NOTES
1.
B. Saunders, The Life and Letters of James Macpherson, ( London 1894), 42. The theory appears to be based on the supposition that because Macpherson's name does not appear on the matriculation list at the

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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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