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

By Fiona J. Stafford | Go to book overview

Epilogue

I breakfasted with Macpherson, the translator of Fingal, a man of great genius and an honest Scotch Highlander. It did my heart good to hear the spirit with which he talked. 'The Highlanders,' said he, 'are hospitable and love society. They are very hardy, and can endure the inconveniences of life very well. Yet they are very fond of London when they get to it, and indulge as much in its pleasures as any body. Let me,' said he, 'have something in perfection: either the noble rudeness of barbarous manners or the highest relish of polished society. There is no medium. In a little town you have the advantage of neither.

James Boswell, London Journal, 1762-1763

But what of the Sublime Savage himself? While allies such as Hugh Blair and John Clark were to spend years fighting to defend his credibility, Macpherson's own interests shifted from matters Celtic. As soon as Fingal had been published in December 1761, Macpherson's financial difficulties evaporated, along with any 'reserve' he might once have had. Suddenly the awkward young Highlander was a well-known figure in the capital, being toasted as a great poet by literary ladies and sought after as a drinking companion by the gentlemen. Any prejudices against urban civilisation or the Sassenachs seem to have vanished miraculously as Macpherson's eyes were opened to the compensations London offered ('I hate John Bull, but I love his daughters' -- 14 May 1763). Once away from the restraining influences of university or the watchful eyes of family and friends, Macpherson was determined to make the most of life in the city.

Apart from a riotous social life, Macpherson also seems to have had a talent for meeting the right people. He had been introduced to the Earl of Bute soon after he arrived in England, and by 1763 he was taking his first steps out of a poetic career and into public service. Macpherson was offered a job in America as Surveyor General and Secretary to the new Governor of Florida. So as the Ossianic controversy began to rage after the publication of Temora, Macpherson moved off the scene for two years.

When Macpherson returned to Britain after visiting America and

-181-

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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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