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

By Fiona J. Stafford | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN

The Highland Tours

The Fragments, upon their first appearance, were so much approved of, that several people of rank, as well as taste, prevailed with me to make a journey into the Highlands and western isles, in order to recover what remained of the works of the old bards, especially those of Ossian, the son of Fingal, who was the best, as well as most ancient, of those who are celebrated in tradition for their poetical genius. -- I undertook this journey, more from a desire of complying with the request of my friends, than from any hopes I had of answering their expectations. I was not unsuccessful, considering how much the compositions of ancient times have been neglected, for some time past, in the north of Scotland. Several gentlemen in the Highlands and Isles generously gave me all the assistence in their power; and it was by their means I was enabled to compleat the epic poem.

James Macpherson, Fingal, preface

Macpherson's publication of the Fragments of Ancient Poetry met with immediate success. The ground had been well prepared by his influential patrons in Edinburgh, who had sent examples of the newly discovered poetry to various English writers, prior to publication. When the small volume actually appeared, the vague interest in Gaelic poetry turned into a warm enthusiasm, shared by academics and general readers alike. Extracts from the Fragments, together with Blair's preface, were published not only in the Scots Magazine, but also South of the border, in the Gentleman's Magazine. The popular response can be seen in the July editions of the journals, which included new versions of the Fragments, submitted by poets anxious to turn the simple measured prose of Macpherson's translations into poems with regular verses and rhyme schemes. 1 The Fragments were attracting attention throughout Britain, and with this success came the demand for more ancient poetry.

Nowhere was interest more intense than in Edinburgh. Not only did the Fragments show that Scotland had a literary heritage far more ancient than anything England could claim, but the preface hinted that, somewhere in the remote Highlands, the great national epic might be found.

Never could the idea of a Scottish epic have been more welcome

-113-

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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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