James Macpherson Criticism - Essay

Rudolf Tombo, Jr. (essay date 1901)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "General Survey and First Notices: General Considerations upon the Reception of the Ossianic Poems in Germany," in Ossian in Germany, 1901. Reprint by AMS Press, 1966, pp. 66-75.

[In the following excerpt from his landmark study of Macpherson's influence on German Romantic poetry, Tombo surveys the history of the poet's popularity in that country.]

Almost a century and a half has elapsed since the literary world of Europe bowed to a new offspring of the poetic muse that many thought would be immortal. The poems of Ossian were assigned to a 'natural genius,' whom men of unquestioned literary sagacity placed next to and even above Homer. Now they are almost...

(The entire section is 3717 words.)

George Saintsbury (essay date 1916)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Fugitives from the Happy Valley," in The Peace of the Augustans: A Survey of Eighteenth Century Literature as a Place of Rest and Refreshment, Oxford University Press, 1946, pp. 286-334.

[In the following excerpt from an essay first published in 1916, Saintsbury discusses the poetic merit of Macpherson's Ossianic poems apart from the issue of their authenticity.]

It has been said that it requires considerable critical exercise or expertness to appreciate, in any critical fashion, the charm of Gray's Elegy. It may be added that even greater preparation is required before any modern man can really appreciate Ossian. The penalty of enthusiastic...

(The entire section is 1024 words.)

Derick S. Thomson (essay date 1952)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Fingal: The Garbh mac Stàirn and Magnus Ballads" and "Fingal (contd.)," in The Gaelic Sources of Macpherson's "Ossian," Oliver and Boyd, 1952, pp. 13-20, 21-41.

[In the following excerpt from his book-length study, Thomson offers a detailed examination of the Gaelic verses Macpherson used to create some of the central scenes in his epic Fingal.]

Fingal is probably to be regarded as Macpherson's magnum opus. Some of the shorter pieces may claim a greater felicity, and indeed the lack of architectonic power which [Matthew] Arnold attributed, with some justice, to the Celts, and particularly to Ossian, may be attributed to Macpherson also. But when...

(The entire section is 2957 words.)

Robert P. Fitzgerald (essay date 1966)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Style of Ossian," in Studies in Romanticism, Vol. VI, No. 1, Autumn, 1966, pp. 22-33.

[In the following essay, Fitzgerald shows how Macpherson's literary style was shaped both by his exposure to Gaelic sources and the necessity of making the poetry sound like a translation.]

When James Macpherson published his Fragments of Ancient Poetry, Collected in the Highlands of Scotland in 1760 at Edinburgh, he presented them in a form that undoubtedly had a good deal to do with the remarkable success of the little volume. His rhythmic prose, with its simple syntax and exotic and profuse imagery, had the appeal of novelty; and this style was easily preserved...

(The entire section is 4695 words.)

Derick Thomson (lecture date 1963)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "'Ossian' Macpherson and the Gaelic World of the Eighteenth Century," in The Aberdeen University Review, Vol. XL, No. 129, Spring, 1963, pp. 7-20.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture at the University of Aberdeen, Thomson relates both Macpherson's Ossianic poetry and the controversy over its authenticity to social and political circumstances in Scotland during the eighteenth century.]

What we mark today by these bicentennial celebrations is not a single, isolated occasion, but a series of events which brought James Macpherson, a young man from the Eastern Highlands and an alumnus of both King's and Marischal Colleges, prominently on to...

(The entire section is 7383 words.)

John J. Dunn (essay date 1971)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "James Macpherson's First Epic," in Studies in Scottish Literature, Vol. LX, No. 1, July, 1971, pp. 48-54.

[In the following essay, Dunn argues that The Highlander, a long poem Macpherson published as a young man under his own name, demonstrates a commitment to Gaelic history and his Highland heritage that predates his "discovery" of Ossian.]

In June of 1760, Macpherson's Fragments of Ancient Poetry was published anonymously with a short preface by Dr. Hugh Blair, who was then at work preparing his lectures on belles lettres. A warm commendation from the pastor of the High Church of St. Giles assured the volume attention at least in the...

(The entire section is 2442 words.)

Robert Folkenflik (essay date 1974)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Macpherson, Chatterton, Blake and the Great Age of Literary Forgery," in The Centennial Review, Vol. XVIII, No. 4, Fall, 1974, pp. 378-91.

[In the following essay, Folkenflik argues that eighteenth-century English culture made literary forgery both practically and imaginatively useful for several different writers, including Macpherson.]

It is no accident that the later eighteenth century was the great age of literary forgery. Macpherson, Chatterton, Pinkerton and Ireland (Steevens is perhaps another case) share a world which made forgery an innovative answer to a difficult series of questions which faced the wouldbe artist. The circumstances are fairly...

(The entire section is 3811 words.)

John L. Greenway (essay date 1975)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Gateway to Innocence: Ossian and the Nordic Bard as Myth," in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, Vol. 4, 1975, pp. 161-70.

[In the following essay, Greenway offers a reinterpretation of Macpherson's Fingal, maintaining that the poem functions as a "mythic narrative."]

Few now tremble at the dauntless heroism of Fingal, and none of us, I fear, are tempted to don Werther's yellow vest and share the misty signs of Temora. Indeed, the noble passions of this Last of the Bards have been treated with a neglect less than benign. Though we no longer read Ossian, we do read writers who, convinced of his authenticity, attempt to recapture what they imagine...

(The entire section is 4081 words.)

Kirsti Simonsuuri (essay date 1979)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Notions of Poetry and Society in the Controversy about Ossian," in Homer's Original Genius: Eighteenth-Century Notions of the Early Greek Epic (1688-1798), Cambridge University Press, 1979, pp. 108-18.

[In the following excerpt, Simonsuuri examines some of the literary and philosophical preconceptions that underlay the enormous popularity of Macpherson's Ossianic Poems in the eighteenth century.]

The view that folk poetry and popular culture have an interest of their own and are worthy of serious attention gained acceptance during the middle years of the eighteenth century. Scholars hunted for genuine folk epics. They looked for evidence for the workings of...

(The entire section is 4171 words.)

Richard B. Sher (lecture date 1980)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "'Those Scotch Imposters and their Cabal': Ossian and the Scottish Enlightenment," in Man and Nature: Proceedings of the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 1, Roger L. Emerson, Gilles Girard, Roseann Runte, eds., The University of Western Ontario 1982, pp. 55-63.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture in 1980, Sher argues that Macpherson's "translations" of Gaelic poetry were in some part the product of a group of literary figures in Edinburgh with whom Macpherson was associated and who provided the financial and intellectual support that made the project possible.]

Although the name of Ossian was heard a great deal during...

(The entire section is 3151 words.)

Peter T. Murphy (essay date 1986)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Fool's Gold: The Highland Treasures of Mac-Pherson's Ossian," in ELH, Vol 53, No. 3, Fall, 1986, pp. 567-91.

[In the following essay, Murphy places both Macpherson's accomplishments and the controversy surrounding them in the context of the Scottish sense of national heritage in the eighteenth century.]

James MacPherson was once a famous man, famous for translating Ossian's poems. If he is remembered now, it is for forging the Ossian poems, with the emphasis on the forgery rather than the poetry; but mostly he is hardly remembered at all. If literary memory is founded on quality, then the turgid prose of these "poems," with its thick syntax and grand, vague...

(The entire section is 9254 words.)

Maurice Colgan (lecture date 1986)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Ossian: Success or Failure for the Scottish Enlightenment?" in Aberdeen and the Enlightenment: Proceedings of a Conference Held at the University of Aberdeen, edited by Jennifer J. Carter and Joan H. Pittock, Aberdeen University Press, 1987, pp. 344-49.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture in 1986, Colgan traces some of the contemporary influences on Macpherson's poetic vision and argues that Scottish intellectual culture bears at least some responsibility for his literary deceptions.]

Literary historians do not find it difficult to explain the European-wide interest in James Macpherson's 'translations' from the Gaelic of the ancient...

(The entire section is 2227 words.)

Leah Leneman (lecture date 1986)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Effects of Ossian in Lowland Scotland," in Aberdeen and the Enlightenment: Proceedings of a Conference Held at the University of Aberdeen, edited by Jennifer J. Carter and Joan H. Pittock, Aberdeen University Press, 1987, pp. 357-62.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture in 1986, Leneman describes how Macpherson's poetry influenced the Scottish perception of the Highlands.]

In the first half of the eighteenth century the Highlands held no appeal for Lowland Scots. The scenery had no attraction, as evidenced by descriptions such as Daniel Defoe's 'frightful country full of hidious desart mountains.' The language was considered barbarous...

(The entire section is 2491 words.)

Ian Heywood (essay date 1986)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Ossian: The Voice of the Past," in The Making of History: A Study of the Literary Forgeries of James Macpherson and Thomas Chatterton in Relation to Eighteenth-Century Ideas of History and Fiction, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986, 73-100.

[In the following excerpt from his book-length study of literary forgeries, Heywood examines the evolution of Macpherson's fictitious historical vision.]

To understand fully Macpherson's making of history, it is necessary to look at his forgery as it evolved. Like Chatterton, the historical vision manifested itself accumulatively with each new item. The forgeries were a process. The focus of our analysis in this...

(The entire section is 5476 words.)