James MacPherson.

The works of Ossian, the son of Fingal; (Volume 1) online

. (page 1 of 21)
Online LibraryJames MacPhersonThe works of Ossian, the son of Fingal; (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


THE

WORKS

O F

O S S I A N,

THE

S O N of F I N G A L,

IN TWO VOLUMES.

Tranflated from the Galic Language

By JAMES MACPHERSON.

VOL. I. containing,
FIN GAL, an Ancient EPIC POEM,

INSIXBOOKSJ
AND

SEVERAL OTHER POEMS.

Foriia faSlu patrum. Virg. -

THE THIRD EDITION.



LONDON:

printed for T. B E c k E t and P. A. D e h o N d t,

at Tully's Head, near Sarry Street, in the Strand.

^IDCCl-XV.



:: l^b^O :' Lately puhlijhed, ^>

Price Two Shillings,

THE SECOND EDITION, ;
A
CRITICAL

DISSERTATION ,.

O N T H 1

POEMS of O S S IAN,

THE ^l^^

*-^s o- N of F I N G A m'^^n-

II ' !, - I I II II I I I , I I

By HUGH BLAIR, D. D.

One of the Minifters of the iJigh Church, and Profeffbr
of -Rhetorick and Belles-Lettres, in ttie Univcrfity

.:.M^.,ft.s..i;. i-'.j ' ^Edinburgh. ^..*

Hj y i ^j^y..,. .u... I - ' ' ^J

I . ' To which is added.

An Appewdix, containing a variety of undoubted
. -Tji^ t I4^n lis eftjblilhing their A uthenticity.



3ni'^



T O T H E



EARL of BUTE, ^'

j Knight of the moft Noble Order of ' '
^^ the Garter, &c. &c.



My Lord,



^^



IPrefume to prefent to your lordfhip a
pleat edition of the Works of O



com-
pleat edition of the Works of Oflian.

"^ They have already been honored with your
approbation, and have been received with

^ applaufe by men of tafte throughout Eu-
rope. This addrefs therefore is not an en-
deavor to fecure the continuance of the pubr
lie favor through the fan6lion of your name.
Little folicitous myfelf about the reputation
of an author, I pv.rmit, with no concern, the
Old Bard to take his chance with the world :
It proceeds, my Lord, from another caufe ;
the ambition of being hereafter known to
have met with your favor and protection in
the execution of this work j an honor which
will be envied me, perhaps, more fome time

hence



'* ?



DEDICATION.

hence than at prefent. I throw no reflexions
on this age, but there is a great debt of fame
owing to the Earl of Bute, which here-
after will be amply paid : there is alfo fome
fiiare of reputation with-held from Oflian,
which lefs prejudiced times may beftow.
This fimilarity between the Statefman and
the Poet, gives propriety to this dedication ;
though your Lord fliip's avowed patronage of
literature requires no adventitious aid ta di-
re<5l to you the addrefles of authors. It is
with pleafurc I embrace this opportunity of
teftifying in public with what perfect attach*
ment,

I am,

my Lord,

your Lordfliip's moft humble,
moft obliged,
and moft obedient fervant,



JAMES MACPHERSON,



A

DISSERTATION

.^; . _^, -' l'-*'?vt:;

CONCERNINGTHE

ANTIQUITY, &c. of the POEMS

O F

OSSIAN the Son of FINGAL.

INQJJIRlES into the antiquities of nations
afford more pleafure than any real advantage
to mankind. The ingenious may form fyftems
of hiftory on probabilities and a few fa6^s ; but
at a great dlftance of time, their accounts muft
be vague and uncertain. The infancy of ftates
and kingdoms is as deftitute of great events, as of
the means of tranfmitting them to pofterlty.
The arts of pollllied life, by which alone fa6ls
can be preferved with certainty, are the produc-
tion of a well-formed community. It Is then hif-
torlans begin to write, and public tranfadions to
be worthy remembrance. The adlons of former
times are left in obfcurlty, or magnified by un-
certain traditions. Hence it Is that we find fo

a much



ii A DISSERTATION concerning the

much of the marvellous m the origin of every
nation ; pofterity being always ready to believe
any thing, however fabulous, that reflels ho-
nour on their anceftors. The Greeks and Ro-
mans were remarkable for this wcaknefs. They
fvvallowed the moft abfurd fables concerning the
high antiquities of their rcfpe<^ive nations.
Good liiftovlans, however, rofe very early
amongftthem, and tranfmitted, with luftre, their
great adions to pofterity. It is to them that
they owe that unrivalled fame they now enjoy,
while the great adions of other nations are in-
volved in fables, or loft in obfcurity. The Cel-
tic nations afford a ftriking inftance of this kind.
They, though once the maftcrs of Europe from
the mouth of the river Oby *, in Ruffia, to
Cape Finiften'e, the weftcrn point of Gailicia in
Spain, are very little mentioned in hiftory.
They trufted their fame to tradition and the
fongs of their bards, which, by the viciffitudc
of human affairs, are long fince loft. Their an-
cient language is the only monument that re-
mains of them i and the traces of it being found
in places fo widely diftant from each other,
ferves only to Ihew the extent of their ancient
power, but throws very little light on their
hiftory.

* Plin. 1. 6.

Op



Antiquity, &c. of OSSIAN's Poems, ill

Of all the Celtic nations, that which poiTelTed
old Gaul is the moft renowned ; not perhaps on
account of worth fuperior to the reft, but for
their wars' with a people who had hiftorians to
tranfmit the fame of their enemies, as well as
their own, to pofterity. Britain was firft peopled
by them, according to the teftimony of the bcft
authors * ; its fituation in refpe^ to Gaul makes
the opinion probable ; but what puts it beyond
all difpute, is that the fame cuftoms and lan-
guage prevailed among the inhabitants of both in
the days of Julius Caefar f.

The colony from Gaul pofTelTed thcmfelves,
at firft, of that part of Britain which was next
to their own country ; and fprcading north-
ward, by degrees, as they increafed in numbers,
peopled the whole ifland. Some adventurers
paffing over from thofe parts of Britain that are
within fight of Ireland, were the founders of the
IrilTi nation: which is a more probable ftory
than the idle fables of Milefian and Gallician
colonies. Diodorus Siculus ^ mentions it as a
thing well known in his time, that the inhabi-
tants of Ireland were originally Britons; and his
teftimony is unqueftionable, when we confider

* Caef. 1. 5. Tac. Agrlc. I. 1. c. 2. f Czfar,

Pomp. Mel. Tacitus. % ^^^- Sic 1. 5.

a 2 that,



iv A DISSERTATION concerning the

that, for many ages, the language and cuftoms
of both nations were the fame.

Tacitus was of opinion that the ancient
Caledonians were of German extract. By the
language and cuftoms which always prevailed in
the North of Scotland, and which are undoubt-
edly Celtic, one would be tempted to differ In
opinion from that celebrated writer. The Ger-
mans, properly fo called, were not the fame with
the ancient Celtae. The manners and cuftoms of
the two nations were fimilarj but their language
different. The Germans * are the genuine de-
fcendants of the ancient Dax, afterwards well
known by the name of Daci, and paffed origi-
nally into Europe by the way of the northern
countries, and fettled beyond the Danube, to-
wards the vaft regions of Traniilvania, Walla-
chia, and Moldavia j and from thence advanced
by degrees into Germany. The Celtae f, it is
certain, fent many colonies into- that country,
all of whom retained their own laws, language,
and cuftoms ; and it Is of them, if any colonies
came from Germany into Scotland, that the an-
cient Caledonians were defcended.

But whether the Caledonians were a colony of
the Celtic Germans, or the fame with the Gauls



Strabo, 1. 7. t Cf. 1. 6. Liv. 1, 5. Tac. de mor. Germ.

tha



Antiquity, &c. of OSSIAN's Poems, v

that firft poiTeffed themfelves of Britain, is 2
matter of no moment at this diftance of time.
Whatever their origin was, we find them very
numerous in the time of Julius Agricola, which
is a prefumption that the/ were long before fet-
tled in the country. The form of their govern-
ment was a mixture of ariftocracy and monarchy,
as it was in all the countries where the Druids
bore the chief fway. This order of men
feems to have been formed on the fame fyftem
with the Da(f^yli Idaei and Curetcs of the an-
cients. Their pretended intercourfe with hea-
ven, their magic and divination were the fame.
The knowledge of the Druids in natural caufes,
and the properties of certain things, the fruit of
the experiments of ages, gained them a mighty
reputation among the people. The cfteem of
the populace foon increafed into a veneration for
the order; which a cunning and ambitious tribe
of men took care to improve, to fuch a degree,
that they, in a manner, ingrofled the manage-
ment of civil, as well as religious, matters. It
is generally allowed that they did not abufe this
extraordinary power ; the preferving thtir cha-
rader of landity was fo ciTcntial to their in-
fluence, that they never broke out into violence
or opprelhon. Tiie chiefs were allowed 'o exe-
cute the laws, but the leghlative power wa^ en -

a 3 tirely



vi A DISSERTATION concerning' the

tirely in the hands of the Druids *. It was "by
tlieir authority that the tribes were united, in
times of the greateft danger, under one head.
This temporary king, or Vergobretus f, was
chofen by them, and generally laid down his of-^
fice at the end of the war. Thefe pricfts en-^
joyed long this extraordinary privilege among
the Celtic nations who lay beyond the pale of
the Roman empire. It was in the beginning of
the fecond century that their power among the
Caledonians begun to decline. The poems that
celebrate Trathal and Cormac, anceftors to Fin-r
gal, are full of particulars concerning the fall of
the Druids, which account for the total filence
concerning their religion in the poems that are
now given to the public.

The continual wars of the Caledonians againft
the Romans hindered the nobili^ty from initiating
the.mfelves, as the culjom formerly was, into
the order of the Druids. The precepts of their re-
ligion were confined to a few, and were not
much attended to by a people inured to war.
The Vergobretus, or chief maglftrate, was
chofen without the concurrence of the hierarchy,
or continued in his office agalnft their will.
Continual power ftrengthe^ied his intereft among

r

* Cxf, I. 6, f Fer^ubrethj th man fo judge.

the



Antiquity, &c. of OSSIAN's Poems, vli

the tribes, and enabled him to fend down, as
hereditary to his pofterity, the office he had
only received himfcif by ele^lion.
On occaiion of a new war againft the King of
the JVorld, as the poems emphatically call the
Roman emperor, the Druids, to vindicate the
honour of the order, began to refume their an-
cient privilege of chufing the Vergobretus.
Garmal, the fon of Tarno, being deputed by
them, came to the grandfather of the celebrated
Fingal, who was then Vergobretus, and com-
manded him, in the name of the whole order,
to lay down his office. Upon his refufal, a civil
* war commenced, which foon ended in almoft
the total extin6\ion of the religious order of the
Druids. A icw that remained, retired to the
dark receffi^s of their groves, and the caves they
had formerly ufed for their meditations. It is
then we find them in the circle of Jl ones, and un-
heeded by the world. A total difregard for the
order, and utter abhorrence of the Druidical
rites cnfued. Under this cloud of public hate,
all that had any knowledge of the religion oF
the Druids became extinfl, and the nation fell
into the laft degree of ignorance of their rites
and ceremonies.

It is no matter of wonder then, that Fingal
and his fon OfTian make fo little, if any, jncn-

a 4 ti^ii



viii A DISSERTATION concerning the

tion of the Druids, who were the declared cnc*
mies to their fucceffion in the fupreme ma-
giftracy. It is a lingular cafe, it muft be al-
lowed, that there are no traces of religion in the
poems afcribed to Offian ; as the poetical com-
poll Lions of other nations are fo clofely conne6teA
with their mythology. It is hard to account for
it to thofe who are not made acquainted with
the manner of the old Scottifh bards. That race
of men carried their notions of martial honour
to an extravagant pitch. Any aid given their
heroes in battle, was thought to derogate from
their fame^ and the bards immediately tranf-
ferred the glory of the ac^tion to him who had
given that aid.

Had Offian brought down gods, as often as
Homer hath done, to affift his heroes, this poem
had not conlifted of eulogiums on his friends, but
of hymns to thefe fuperior beings. To this day,
thpfe that write in the Galic language feldom
mention religion in their profane poetry ; and
when they profelTedly write of religion, they ne-
ver interlard with their compolitions, the ac-
tions of their heroes. This cuftom alone, even
though the religion of the Druids had not been
previoully extinguillied, may, in fome mea-
fure, account for Offian's lilence concerning the
religion pf his own times.

To



Antiquity, &c. of OSSIAN's Poems. \x

To fay, that a nation is void of all religion,
is the fame thing as to fay, that it does not con-
iift of people endued with reafon. The tradi-
tions of their fathers, and their own obfervations
on the works of nature, together with that fu-
perftition which is inherent in the human frame,
have, in all ages, raifed in the minds of men
fome idea of a fuperior being.- -Hence it is, that
in the darkeft times, and amongft the moft bar-
barous nations, the very populace themfelves
had fome faint notion, at leaft, of a divinity.
It would be doing injuftice to Oiiian, who, upon
no occafion, fhews a narrow mind, to think,
that he had not opened liis conceptions to that
primitive and greateft of all truths. But let
Oflian's religion be what it will, it is certain he
had no knowledge of Chriftianity, as there is not
the leaft allufion to it, or any of its rites, in his
poems ; which abfolutely fixes him to an sera
prior to the introduction of that religion. The
perfecution begun by DiockTian, in the year
303, is the moft probable time in which the firft
dawning of Chriftianity in the north of Britain
can be fixed. The humane and mild charn(5>er
of Conftantius Ghlorus, who commanded tl en in
Britain, induced the perfecuted Chriftians t \e
refuge under him. Some of them, li-r. a

^eal to propagate their tenets, or throu . -r,

-.. . ;it



31^ A DISSERTATION concerning the

went beyojid the pale of the Roman empire, ^d
fettled among the Caledonians ; who were the
more ready to hearken to their do6^rines, as the
religion of the Druids had been exploded fo long
before.

Thess millionaries, either through choice,
or to give more weight to the dodrine they ad-
vanced, took poiTeffion of the cells and groves
of the Druids J and it was from this retired life
they had the mme of Culdees * , which in the lan-
guage of the country fignified Jequejlered perfons.
It was with one of the Culdees that Offian, in his
extreme old age, is faid to have difputed con-
cerning the Chriftian religion. This difpute is
jftill extant, and is couched in verfe, according
to the cuftom of the times. The extreme igno-
rance on the part of Offian, of the Chril^ian te-
nets, Ihews, that that religion had only been
lately introduced, as it is not eafy to conceive,
how one of the firft rank could be totally unac-
quainted with a religion that had been known
for any time in the country. The difpute bears
the genuine marks of antiquity. The obfoiete
phrafes and expreffions peculiar to the times,
prove it to be no forgexy. If Offian then lived
at the introdu(5\ion of Chriftianity, as by all ap^

Culdicl*.

pearance



Antiquity, ^g. of OSSIAN's Poems, xi

pearance he did, his epoch will be the latter end
of the third, and beginning of the fourth cen^
tury. What puts this point beyond difpute,
is the allufion in his poems to the hiftory of tha
times.

. The exploits of Fingal againft Caracul*, the;
fon of the King of the World, are among the firft
brave a6lions of his youth. A complete poem,
which relates to this fubje<5l, is printed in this
colle^lion.

In the year 2io the emperor Severus, after re-
turning froni his expeditions againfl the Caledo-
nians, at York fell into the tedious illnefs of
which he afterwards died. The Caledonians and
Maiatac, refuming courage from his indifpofi-
tion, took arms in order to recover the poflef-
fions they had lofl. The enraged emperor com-
manded his army to march into their country,
and to deftroy it with fire and fword. His or-
ders were but ill executed, for his fon, Cara-
calla, was at the head of the army, and his
thoughts were entirely taken up with the hopes
of his fathc:ir's dc^th, and with fchemes to
fupplant his brother Geta. He fcarcely had en-
tered the enemy's country, wjien news was

* Caxzc'h'Sil, terrible e)e. Czrac-'hcalli, terrt'Ble look. Carac-
^hallamh, a fort of uf per garment.

brought



xu A DISSERTATION concerning the

brought him that Severus was dead. A fudden
peace is patched up with the Caledonians, and,
as it appears from Dion Caffius, the country
they had loft to Severus was reftored to them.

The Caracul of Fingal is no other than Cara-
calla, who, as the fon of Severus, the Emperor
of Rome, whofe dominions were extended al-
moft over the known world, was not without
reafon called in the poems of Offian, the Son of
the King of the World. The fpace of time be-
tween 211, the year Severus died, and the be-
ginning of the fourth century, is not fo great,
but Offian the fon of Fingal, might have feen
the Chriftians whom the perfecution under Dio-
cleiian had driven beyond the pale of the Roman
empire.

OssiAN, in one of his many lamentations on
the death of his beloved fon Ofcar, mentions
among his great anions, a battle which he fought
againft Caros, king of ihips, on the banks of
the winding Carun*. It is more than proba-
ble, that the Caros mentioned here, is the fame
with the noted ufurper Caraufius, who affumed
the purple in the year 287, and feizing on Bri-
tain, defeated the emperor Maximian Herculius,
in feveral naval engagements, which gives pro

Car-avon, Winding river,

priety



Antiquity, &c. of OSSIAN's Poems, xiii
priety to his being called in Oflian's poems, the
King of Ships. The winding Carun is that fmall
river retaining ftill the name of Carron, and
runs in the neighbourhood of AgricoIa*s wall,
which Carauiius repaired to obftru<5l the incur-
iions of the Caledonians. Several other pafTages
in the poems allude to the wars pf the Romans ;
but the two juft mentioned clearly fix the epoch
of Fingal to the third century ; and this account
agrees exa(5lly with the Irifh hiftories, which
place the death of Fingal, the fon of Comhal, in
the year 283, and that of Ofcar and their own
celebrated Cairbre, in the year 296.

Some people may imagine, that the allufions
to the Roman hiftory might have been induftri-
oully inferted into the poems, to give them the
appearance of antiquity. This fraud muft then
have been committed at leaft three ages ago, as
the palTages in which the allufions are made, are
alluded to often in the compofitions of thofe
times.

Every one knows what a cloud of ignorance
and barbarifm overfpread the north of Europe
three hundred years ago. The minds of men,
addided to fuperftition, contradcd a narrownefs
that deftroyed genius, Accordingly we find the
compofitions of thofe times trivial and puerile to
the laft degree. But let it be allowed, that,
4 amidfl



Hhr A DlSSERTATfON concerning the

amldft ail the iiiltoA^ard circumftances of ^li^
igc, a genius might arife, it i^ not eafy -to 3^-
torminie what cbulcl inBuce Hitti to giv6 the h'd-
Hbnr of his compbfitions to an age fo rendotc.
We find no fa6l that he has advanced, to favour
any defigns which could be entertained by any
man who lived in the fifteenth century. Bat
iTiould we fuppofe a poet, through humour, of
for reafons which cannot be feen at this diflance;
of time, would afcribe his dwii compofitions to
Offian, it is next to imp'ollible, that he could
impofe upon his countrymen, w^hen all of thifiii
were fo well acquainted with the traditlohi!
poems of their anceflors.

The llrongefl obje(flion to the authenticity 6i
the poems now given to the public under thd
name of Offian, is the improbability of their be-
ing handed down by tradition t'nrough fo many
centuries. Ages of barbarifm fome w-ill fay^
could not produce poems abounding with the
difinterefled and generous fentiments fo confpi-
cuous in the compofitions of Offian j and could
thefe ages produce them, it is impoffible but they
muft be loll, or altogether corrupted in a long
fucceffion of barbarous generations.

These obje6^1ons naturally fuggeft themfeives
to men unacquainted with the ancient flate of
the northern parts of Britain. The bards, who

were



Antiquity, &c. of OSSIAN's Poems, xv

were an inferior order of the Druids, did not
ihare their bad fortune. They were fpared by
the viftorious king, as it was through their
means only he could hope for immortality to his
fame. They attended him in the camp, and
contributed to eftablilh his power by their fongs.
His great anions were magnified, and the popu- ,
lace, who had ho ability to examine into his
character narrowly, were dazzled with his fame
in the rhimes of the bards. In the mean time,
men alTumed fentiments that are rarely to be
met with in an age of barbarifm. The bards
who were originally the difciples of the Druids,
had their minds opened, and their ideas enlarged,
by being initiated in the learning of thsCt cele-
brated order. They could form a perfedl hero
in their own minds, and afcribe that character to
their prince. The inferior chiefs made this ideal
chara(5ter the model of their condut^, and by
degrees brought their minds to that generous
fpirit which breathes in all the poetry of the
times. The prince, flattered by his bards, and
rivalled by his own heroes, who imitated his
character as defcribed in tlic eulogies of his
poets, endeavoured to excel his people in merit,
as he was above them in ftation. This emula-
tion continuing, formed at laft the general cha-
racter of the nation, happily compounded of

3 what



xn A DISSERTATION concerning the

what is noble in barbarity, and virtuous and ge-
nerous in a polifhed people.

When virtue in peace, and bravery in war,
are the chara6leriftlcs of a nation, their a(5tions
become interefting, and their fame worthy of
immortality. A generous fpirit is warmed with
noble adions, and becomes ambitious of perpe-
tuating them. This is the true fource of that
divine infpiration, to which the poets of all ages
pretended. When they found their themes in-
adequate to the warmth of their imaginations,
they varniflied them over with fables, fupplied
by their own fancy, or furnifhed by abfurd tra-
ditions. Thefe fables, however ridiculous, had
their abettors j pofterity either implicitly be-
lieved them, or through a vanity natural to
mankind, pretended that they did. They loved
to place the founders of their families in the days
of fable, when poetry, without the fear of con-
tradiction, could give what characters fhepleafed
of her heroes. It is to this vanity that we owe
the prefervation of what remain of the works of
OiTian. His poetical merit made his heroes fa-
mous in a country where heroifm was much ef-
teemed and admired. The pofterity of thefe
heroes j or thofe who pretended to be defcended
from them, heard with pleafure the eulogiums
of their ancellors -, bards were employed to re-
peat



ANtlQUlTYjkc. of OSSlAN'st*OEMS. xvii

peat the poems, and to retjord the conne<5lIon of
their patrons with chiefs fo renowned. Every
chief in procefs of time had a bard in his family,
and the office became at laft hereditary. By the
fiicceffion of thefe bards, the poems concerning
the anceftors of the family were handed down
from generation to generation ; they were re-
peated to the whole clan on folemn occafions,
and always alluded to in the new compofitions of
the bards. This cuftom came down near to
our own times ; and after the bards were difcon-
tinued, a great number in a clan retained by
memory, or committed to writing, their com-
pofitions, and founded the antiquity of their
families on the authority of their poems.

The ufe of letter was not known in the north
of Europe till long after the inftitution of the
bards : the records of the families of their pa-
trons, their own, and more ancient poems were
handed down by tradition. Their poetical com-
pofitions were admirably contrived for that pur-
pofe. They were adapted to mufic; and the
moft perfe(5l harmony was obferved. Each
verfe was fo connected with thofe which preceded
or followed it, that if one line had been remem-
bered in a ftanza, it was almoft impoflible to
forget the reft. The cadences followed in fo na-
tural a gradation, and the words were fo adapted


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryJames MacPhersonThe works of Ossian, the son of Fingal; (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 21)