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The following are the Poems, from "which the
subjects of the Engravings in this Edition are



Cath-Loda to face 17

Carric-Thura 67

Oithona 136

Calthon and Colmal 168

Fingal, Book 1 227


Fingal, Book V 52

Lathtnor 95

Temora, Book 1 177

Temora, Book III 220

Temora, Book IV 259

Temora, Book VII 289

The Portrait of MACPHEBSON to face the Title Page
of Vol. I.



VViTHOUT encreasing his genius, the
Author may have improved his language^
in the eleven ye"ars, that the following
Poems have been in the hands of the
Public. Errors irfr diction might have
been committed at twenty-four, which
the experience of a riper age may re-
move ; and some exuberances in imagery
may be restrained, with advantage, by a
degree of judgment acquired in the pro-
gress of time. Impressed with this opi-
nion, he* ran over, the whole with atten-
tion and accuracy ; and, he hopes, he has
brought the work to a state of correct-


ness, which will preclude all future im-

The eagerness, with which these Poems
have been received abroad, are a recom-
pence for the coldness with which a few
have affected to treat them at home. AH
the polite nations of Europe have trans-
ferred them into their respective lan-
guages ; and they speak of him, who
brought them to light, in terms that
might flatter the vanity of one fond of
fame. In a convenient ind'rFerence for
a literary reputation, the Author hears
praise without being elevated, and ribal-
dry without being depressed. He has
frequently seen the first bestowed too
precipitately; and the latter is so faith-
less to its purpose, that it is often the on-
ly index to merit in the present age.

Though the taste, which defines genius
by the points of the compass, is a subject
fit for mirth in itself, it is often a serious
matter in the salfe of a work. When ri-
vers define the limits of abilities, as well

IfRliFACE. i\

as the boundaries of countries, a writer
may measure his success, by the latitude
under which he was born. It was to a-
void a part of this inconvenience, that
the Author is said, by some, who speak
without any authority, to have ascribed
his own productions to another name.
If this was the case, he was but young in
the art of deception. When he placed
the Poet in antiquity, the Translator
should have been born on this side of the

These observations regard only the fri-
volous in matters of literature ; these,
however, form a majority in every age
and nation. In this country, men of
genuine taste abound ; but their still
voice is drowned in the clamours of a
multitude, who judge by fashion of poe-
try, as of dress. The truth is, to judge a-
right requires almost as much genius as
to write well ; and good critics are as rare
as great poets. Though two hundred
thousand Romans stood up, when Virgi)


came to the Theatre, Varius only could
correct the JEneid. He that obtains fame
must receive it through mere fashion ;
and gratify his \anity with the applause
of men, of whose judgment he cannot ap-

The following Poems, it must be con-
fessed, are more calculated to please per-
sons of exquisite feelings" of heart, than
those who receive all their impressions
by the ear. The novelty of cadence, in
what is called a prose version, though
not destitute of harmony, will not to com-
mon readers supply the absence of the
frequent returns of rhime. This was the
opinion of the Writer himself, though he
yielded to thej judgment of others, in a
mode, which presented freedom and dig-
nity of expression, instead of fetters,
which cramp the thought, whilst the har-
mony of language is preserved. His in-
tention was to publish in verse. The ma-
king of poetry, like any other handicraft,
may be learned by industry ; and he had


served his apprenticeship, though in se-
cret, to the muses.

It is, however, doubtful, whether the
harmony which these Poems might de-
rive from rhirne, even in much better
hands than those of the Translator, could
atone for the simplicity and energy,
which they would lose. The determina-
tion of this point shall be left to the rea-
ders of this preface. The following is
the beginning of a Poem, translated from
the Norse to the Gaelic language ; and,
from the latter, transferred into English.
The verse took little more time to the
writer than the prose ; and even he him-
self is doubtful (if he has succeeded in
either), which of them is the most literal



WHERE Harold, with golden hair,
spread o'er Lochlin * his high commands ;
where, with justice, he ruled the tribes,
who sunk, subdned, beneath his sword ;
abrupt rises Gonnalf in snow ! The tem-
pests roll dark on his sides, but calm,
above, his vast forehead appears. White-
issuing from the skii't of his storms, the
troubled torrents pour down his sides.
Joining, as they roar along, they bear the
Torno, in foam, to the main.

Grey on the bank and far from men,
half-covered, by ancient pines, from the

* The Gaelic name of Scandinavia, or Scandinia.

* The mountains of Sevo.


wind, a lonely pile exalts its head, long-
shaken by the storms of the north. To
this fled Sigurd, fierce in fight, from Ha-
rold the leader of armies, when fate had
brightened his spear, with renown : When
he conquered in that rude field, where
Lulan's warriors fell in blood, or rose in
terror on the waves of the main. Dark-
ly sat the grey-haired chief; yet sorrow
dwelt not in his soul. But when the war-
rior thought on the past, his proud heart
heaved against his side : Forth flew his
sword from its place, he wounded Harold
in all the winds.

One daughter, and only one, but bright
in form and mild of soul, the last beam
of the setting line, remained to Sigurd of
all his race. His son, -in Lulan's battle
slain, beheld not his father's flight from
his foes. Nor finished seemed the ancient
line ! The splendid beauty of bright-eyed
Fithon, covered still the fallen king with
venown. Her arm was white like Gor-


mal's snow; her bosoin whiter than the
foam of the main, when roll the waves
beneath the wrath of the winds. Like
two stars were her radiant eyes, like two
stars that rise on the deep, when dark
tumult embroils the night. Pleasant are
their beams aloft, as stately they ascend
the skies.

Nor Odin forgot, in aught, the maid.
Her form scarce equalled her. lofty mind.
Awe moved around her stately steps.
Heroes loved but shrunk away in their
fears. Yet midst the pride of all her
charms, her heart was soft, and her soul
was kind. She saw the mournful with
tearful eyes. Transient darkness arose in
her breast. Her joy was in the chace.
Each morning, when doubtful light wan-
dered dimly on Lilian's waves, she rouzed
the resounding woods, to Gormal's head
of snow. Nor moved the maid alone.



WHERE fair-hair'd Harold, o'er Scandinia reign'd,
And held, with justice, what his valour gain'd,
Sevo, in snow, his rugged forehead rears,
And, o'er the warfare of his storms, appears
Abrupt and vast. White-wandering, down his side,
A thousand torrents, gleaming as they glide.
Unite below : and pouring thro' the plain
Hurry the troubled Torno to the main.

Grey, on the bank, remote from human kind,
By aged pines, half-shelter'd from the wind,
A homely mansion rose, of antique form,
For ages batter'd by the polar storm.
To this, fierce Sigurd fled, from Norway's lord,
When fortune settled on the warrior's sword,
In that rude field, -where Suecia's chiefs were slain,
Or forced to wander o'er the Bothnic main.
Dark was his life, yet undisturb'd with woes,
But when the memory of defeat arose,
His proud heart struck his side; he graspt the spear-,
And wounded Harold in the vacant air.

One daughter only, but of form divine,
The last fair beam of the departing line,
Remain'd of Sigurd's race. His warlike son
Fell in the, shock, which overturn'd ihe throne.
Nor desolate the house ! Fionia's charms


Sustain'd the glory, which they lost in arms.

White was her arm, as Sevo's lofty snow.

Her bosom fairer, than the waves below,

When heaving to the winds. Her radiant eye*

Like two bright stars, exulting as they rise,

O'er the dark tumult of a stormy night,

And gladd'ning heaven, with their majestic light.

In nought is Odin to the -maid unkind.
Her form scarce equals her exalted mind ;
Awe leads her sacred steps where'er they move,
And mankind worship, where they dare not love.
But, mix'd with softnes>, was the virgin's pride,
Her heart had feelings, which her eyes dcny'd.
Her bright tears started at another's woes,
While transient darkness on her soul arose.

The chacc she lov'd ; when morn with doubtful


Came dimly wandering o'er the Bothnic stream,
On Sevo's sounding sides, she bent the bow,
And rouz'd his forests to his head of snow.
Nor mov'd the maid alone, &c.

One of the chief improvements, on
this edition, is the care taken, in arranging
the Poems in the order of time ; so as to
form a kind of regular history of the age
to which they relate. The Writer ha*


now resigned them for ever to their fate.
That they have been well received by the
Public, appears from an extensive sale ;
that they shall continue to be well recei-
ved, he may venture to prophecy without
the gift of that inspiration, to which
poets lay claim. Through the medium
of version upon version, they retain, in
foreign languages, their native character
of simplicity and energy. Genuine poe-
try, like gold, loses little, when properly
transfused ; but when a composition can-
not bear the test of a literal version, it is
a counterfeit which ought not to pass cur-
rent. The operation must, however, be
performed with skilful hands. A Trans-
lator, who cannot equal his original, is
incapable of expressing its beauties.


August 15, 1773.




A Dissertation concerning the JLra of Os-

sian 1

A Dissertation concerning the Poems of Os-

sian 25

:\ critical Dissertation on the Poems of Os-
sian 77







INQUIRIES into the antiquities of nations af-
ford more pleasure than any real advantage to
mankind. The ingenious may form systems of
history on probabilities and a few facts ; but, at
a great distance of time, their accounts must be
vague and uncertain. The infancy of states and
kingdoms is as destitute of great events, as of the
means of transmitting them to posterity. The
arts of polished life, by which alone tacts can be
preserved with certainty, are the production of
a well-formed community. It is then historians


begin to write, and public transactions to be
worthy remembrance. The actions of former
times are left in obscurity, or magnified by un-
certain traditions. Hence it is that we find so
much of the marvellous in the origin of every
nation ; posterity being always ready to believe
any thing, however fabulous, that reflects ho-
nour on their ancestors.

The Greeks and Romans were remarkable for
this weakness. They swallowed the most absurd
fables concerning the high antiquities of their
respective nations. Good historians, however,
rose very early amongst them, and transmitted,
with lustre, their great actions to posterity. It
is to them that they owe that unrivalled fame
they now enjoy, while the great actions of other
nations are involved in fables, or lost in obscu-
rity. The Celtic nations afford a striking in-
stance of this kind. They, though once the mas-
ters of Europe from the mouth of the river
Oby *, in Russia, to Cape Finisterre, the wes-
tern point of Gallicia, in Spain, are very little
mentioned in history. They trusted thcic-fame
to tradition and the songs of their bards, which.

* riin. I. 6.


by the vicissitude of human affairs, are long since
lost. Their ancient language is the only monu-
ment that remains of them ; and the traces of it
being found in places so widely distant from each
other, serves only to shew the extent of their an-
cient power, but throws very little light on their

Of all the Celtic nations, that which possessed
old Gaul is the most renowned ; not perhaps on
account of worth superior to the rest, but for
their wars with a people who had historians to
transmit the fame of their enemies, as well as
their own, to posterity. Britain was first peo-
pled by them, according to the testimony of the
best authors * ; its situation, in respect to Gaul,
makes the opinion probable ; but what puts it
beyond all dispute, is, that the same customs and
language prevailed among the inhabitants of both
in the days of Julius Caesar f.

The colony from Gaul possessed themselves,
at first, of that part of Britain which was next
to their own country ; and spreading northward,
by degrees, as they increased in numbers, pco-

* Cses. 1. 5. Tac. Agric. c. 2.
+ Caesar. Pomp. Mel. Tacitus.


pled the whole island. Some adventurers, pas-
sing over from those parts of Britain that are
within sight of Ireland, were the founders of the
Irish nation ; which is a more probable story
than the idle fables of Milesian and Gallician co-
lonies. Diodorus Siculus * mentions it as a
thing well known in his time, that the inhabi-
tants of Ireland were originally Britons ; and his
testimony is unquestionable, when we consider
that, for many ages, the language and customs
of both nations were the same.

Tacitus was of opinion, that the ancient Cale-
donians were of German extract ; but even the
ancient Germans themselves were Gauls. The
present Germans, properly so called, were not
the same with the ancient Celtce. The manners
and customs of the two nations were similar ;
but their language different. The Germans f
are the genuine descendants of the ancient Scan-
dinavians, who crossed, in an early period, the
Baltic. The Celtic }, anciently, sent many co-
lonies into Germany, all of whom retained their
own laws, language, and customs, till they were

* Diod. Sic. 1. 5. t Strabo, 1. 7.

J Cses. 1. 6. Liv. 1. 5. Tac. de inor, Germ.


dissipated in the Roman empire ; and it is of
them, if any colonies came from Germany into
Scotland, that the ancient Caledonians were de-

But whether the Caledonians were a colony of
the Celtic Germans, or the same with the Gauls
that first possessed themselves of Britain, is a
matter of no moment at this distance of time.
Whatever their origin was, we find them very
numerous in the time of Julius Agricola, which
is a presumption that they were long before set-
tled in the country. The form of their govern-
ment was a mixture of aristocracy and monar-
chy, as it was in all the countries where the
Druids bore the chief sway. This order of men
seems to have been formed on the same princi-
ples with the Dactyli Ida? and Curetes of the an-
cients. Their pretended intercourse with hea-
ven, their magic and divination, were the same.
The knowledge of the Druids in natural causes,
and the properties of certain things, the fruit of
the experiments of ages, gained them a mighty
reputation among the people. The esteem of
the populace soon increased into a veneration for
the order ; which these cunning and ambitious
priests took care to improve, to such a degree.


that they, in a manner, ingrossed the manage-
ment of civil, as well as religious, matters. It
is generally allowed that they did not abuse this
extraordinary power ; the preserving their cha-
racter of sanctity was so essential to their influ-
ence, that they never broke out into violence or
oppression. The chiefs were allowed to execute
the laws, but the legislative power was entirely
in the hands of the Druids *. It was by their
authority that the tribes were united, in times of
the greatest danger, under one head. This tem-
porary king, or Vergobretus f, was chosen by
them, and generally laid down his office at the
end of the war. These priests enjoyed long this
extraordinary privilege among the Celtic nations
who lay beyond the pale of the Roman empire.
It was in the beginning of the second century
that their power among the Caledonians began
to decline. The traditions concerning Trathal
and Cormac, ancestors to Fingal, are full of the
particulars of the fall of the Druids : a singular
fate, it must be owned, of priests, who had once
established their superstition.

The continual wars of the Caledonians against

* Cies. I. 6. t Fer-gubreth, the man to judge.

THE ;nn,A OF

the Romans, hindered the better sort from ini-
tiating themselves, as the custom 'formerly WHS,
into the order of the Druids. The precepts of
their religion were confined to a tew, and \vrrc
not much attended to by a people, inured to war.
The Vergobretus, or chief magistrate, was chosen
without the concurrence of the hierarchy, or
continued in his office against their will. Con-
tinual power strengthened his interest among the
tribes, and enabled him to send down, as here-
ditary to his posterity, the office he had only re-
ceived himself by election.

On occasion of a new war against the King of
the World, as tradition emphatically calls the
Roman emperor, the Druids, to vindicate the
honour of the order, began to icsume their an-
cient privilege of chusing the Vergobretus. Gar-
mal, the son of Tarno, being deputed by them,
came to the grandfather of the celebrated Fingal,
who was then Vergobretus, and commanded him,
in the name of the whole order, to lay down his
office. Upon his refusal, a civil war commen-
ced, which soon ended in almost the total ex-
tinction of the religious order of the Druids. A
few that remained, retired to the dark recesses
of their groves, and the caves they had formerly


used for their meditations. It is then we find
them in the circle of stones, and unheeded by the
world. A total disregard for the order, and ut-
ter abhorrence of the Druidical rites, ensued.
Under this cloud of public hate, all that had
any knowledge of the religion of the Druids be-
came extinct, and the nation fell into the last
degree of ignorance of their rites and ceremo-

It is no matter of wonder then, that Fingal
and his son Ossian disliked the Druids, who were
the declared enemies to their succession in tde
supreme magistracy. It is a singular case, it
must be allowed, that there are no traces of re-
ligion in the poems ascribed to Ossian ; as the
poetical compositions of other nations are so
closely connected with their mythology. But
gods are not necessary, when the poet has ge-
nius. It is hard to account for it to those who
are not made acquainted with the manner of the
old Scottish bards. That race of men carried
their notions of martial honour to an extrava-
gant pitch. Any aid given their heroes in bat-
tle, was thought to derogate from their fame ;
and the bards immediately transferred the glory
of the action to him who had given that aid.


Had the poet brought down gods, as often as
Homer hath done, to assist his heroes, his work
had not consisted of eulogiums on men, but of
hymns to superior beings. Those who write in
the Gaelic language seldom mention religion in
their profane poetry ; and when they professedly
write of religion, they never mix with their com-
positions, the actions of their heroes. This cus-
tom alone, even though the religion of the Druids
had not been previously extinguished, may, in
some measure, excuse the author's silence con-
cerning the religion of ancient times.

To allege that a nation is void of all religion,
would betray ignorance of the history of man-
kind. The traditions of their fathers, and their
own observations on the works of nature, toge-
ther with that superstition which is inherent in
the human frame, have, in all ages, raised in the
minds of men some idea of a superior being.
Hence it is, that, in the darkest times, and
amongst the most barbarous nations, the very
populace themselves had some faint notion, at
least, of a divinity. The Indians, who worship
no God, believe that he exists. It would be
doing injustice to the author of these poems, to
think, that he had not opened his conceptions to


that primitive and greatest of all truths. But
let his religion be what it will, it is certain he
has not alluded to Christianity, or any of its
rites, in his poems ; which ought to fix his opi-
nions, at least, to an aera prior to that religion.
Conjectures, on this subject, must supply the
place of proof. The persecution begun by Dio-
clesian, in the year 303, is the most probable
time in which the first dawning of Christianity
in the north of Britain can lie fixed. The hu-
mane and mild character of Constantius Chlorus,
who commanded then in Britain, induced the
persecuted Christians to take refuge under him.
Some of them, through a zeal to propagate their
tenets, or through fear, went beyond the pale of
the Roman empire, and settled among the Cale-
donians ; who were ready to hearken to their
doctrines, if the religion of the Druids was ex-
ploded long before.

These missionaries, either through choice, or
to give more weight to the doctrine they advan-
ced, took possession of the cells and groves of
the Druids ; and it was from this retired life
they had the name of Culdees *, which, in the

* Culdich.


language of the country, signified sequestered per-
sons. It was with one of the Ciildees that Os-
sian, in his extreme old age, is said to have dis-
puted concerning the Christian religion. This
dispute, they say, is extant ; and is couched in
verse, according to the custom of the times.
The extreme ignorance, on the part of Ossian, of
the Christian tenets, shews, that that religion had
only been lately introduced ; as it is not easy to
conceive how one of the first rank could be to-
tally unacquainted with a religion that had been
known for any time in the country. The dis-
pute bears the genuine marks of antiquity. The
obsolete phrases and expressions peculiar to the
times, prove it to be no forgery. If Ossian then
lived at the introduction of Christianity, as by
all appearance he did, his epoch will be the lat-
ter end of the third, and beginning of the iourth
century. Tradition here steps in with a kind of

The exploits of Fingal against Caracul *, the
son of the King of the World, are among the first
brave actions of his youth. A complete poem,

* Carac'huil, terrible eye. Carac'healla, terrible look.
1 'nracchallamb, a sort rtf upper garment.


which relates to this subject, is printed in this

In the year 210, the emperor Severus, after
returning from his expedition against the Cale-
donians, at York, fell into the tedious illness of
which he afterwards died. The Caledonians and
Maiatas, resuming courage from his indisposition,
took arms, in order to recover the possessions they
had lost. The enraged emperor commanded his
army to march into their country, and to de-
stroy it with fire and sword. His orders were
but ill executed ; for his son, Caracalla, was at the
head of the army, and his thoughts were entire-
ly taken up with the hopes of his father's death,
and with schemes to supplant his brother Geta.
He scarcely had entered the enemy's country,
when news was brought him that Severus was
dead. A sudden peace is patched up with the
Caledonians ; and, as it appears from Dion Cas-
sius, the country they had lost to Severus was
restored to them.

The Caracul of Fingal is no other than Cara-
calla, who, as the son of Severus, the emperor
of Rome, whose dominions were extended almost
over the known world, was not without reason
called the Son of the King of the World. The


of time between 211, the year Sevcrus
died, and the beginning of the fourth century, is
not so great, but Ossian, the son of Fingal, might

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