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

By Fiona J. Stafford | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE

The Death of Oscur

I Believe both Macpherson & Chatterton, that what they say is Ancient Is so.

Blake, 'Annotations to Wordsworth', 1826

In the autumn of 1759, the Scottish playwright, John Home, was making his annual visit to the fashionable Spa town of Moffat in Dumfriesshire. This year his trip was to prove particularly memorable, not only for Home, but also for James Macpherson. For some years, Home had been developing an interest in the culture of the Scottish Highlands. Though not a Highlander by birth, Home's interest in Highland beliefs went back at least as far as 1749, when his conversations with William Collins had resulted in the composition of Collins' 'An Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland, Considered as the Subject of Poetry'. 1 Further stimulation came from his friend Adam Ferguson, the philosopher, who had given Home enthusiastic descriptions of the ancient poetry of the Highlands. 2 Ferguson's accounts may well have been prompted by the publication of Jerome Stone's translation in the Scots Magazine, which would also have fuelled John Home's growing interest.

James Macpherson, who had finally escaped Ruthven School and was now working as a private tutor to Graham of Balgowan, was staying with his pupil at Lord Hopetoun's house in Moffat. There is evidence to suggest that Macpherson had already met Adam Ferguson, when he visited Ferguson's father in Perthshire with his young charge. 3 The meeting with John Home, which took place on the Bowling Green at Moffat, was therefore well prepared.

Home was thrilled to have come across someone who could give him an idea of what the Gaelic verse was really like. Macpherson, however, appears to have been rather puzzled by Home's request to see some of the poetry in his collection, since the Lowland gentleman could speak no Gaelic. John Home's own account of the conversation is well worth reading:

When Mr Home desired to see them, Mr Macpherson asked if he understood the Gaelic? 'Not one word,'

'Then, how can I show you them?'

-77-

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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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