Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/172

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512 JAMES MACPHERSON.

and it almost instantly sank into oblivion. It must, however, be recorded, to the credit of the poet, that he very soon became sensible of its defects and defi- ciencies, and made every endeavour to suppress it About this time, also, he wrote an ode on the arrival of the earl Marischal in Scotland, which he en- titled " An Attempt in the manner of Pindar." This ode, though it certainly does not possess much poetical merit, is yet, on the whole, considerably above mediocrity. From this period, there is no more heard of Macpherson's poeti- cal compositions, until he appeared as the translator of those singular poems on which his celebrity is founded.

It was intended by his friends that he should, on completing his studies, en- ter the church ; but it is not certainly known whether he ever actually did take orders or not He is, however, spoken of about this time, 1760, as a " young clergyman ;" and is described by Hume, the celebrated historian, as " a modest, sensible young man, not settled in any living, but employed as a pri- vate tutor in Mr Graham of Balgowan's family ; a way of life which he is not fond of." The notice of Mr Hume was thus directed to Macpherson, in conse- quence of the appearance of a work bearing the title of " Fragments of Ancient Poetry, collected in the Highlands of Scotland, and translated from the Gaelic, or Erse Language," the production of Macpherson, and the first presentation of that literary novelty which was afterwards to attract so large a portion of the world's notice, and to excite so much discussion and dissension in its literary circles.

The " Fragments " were declared to be genuine remains of ancient Celtic poetry ; and were, as well from that circumstance, as their own intrinsic merit, received with the utmost enthusiasm and delight. Every one read them, and every one admired them ; and, altogether, a sensation was created in the world of letters, which it had known but on few occasions before. As it was inti- mated that other specimens of this ancient poetry might be recovered, a sub- scription was immediately begun, to enable Macpherson to quit his employment as a family preceptor, and to undertake a mission into the Highlands to secure them. With the wishes of his patrons on this occasion, the principal of whom were Dr Blair, Dr Robertson, Dr Carlyle, and Mr Hume, Macpherson readily com- plied, and lost no time in proceeding in quest of more " Fragments ;" having been furnished previously to his setting out with various letters of recommenda- tion and introduction, from the influential persons just named, to gentlemen resident in the Highlands.

After making an extensive tour through the mainland and isles, he re- turned to Edinburgh, and in 1762 presented to the world the first portion of the results, real or pretended, of his mission. This was " Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem, in 6 books ; together with several other Poems, com- posed by Ossian, the son of Fingal : translated from the Gaelic," 4to. These poems were received with equal, if not yet greater applause, than that which had hailed the first specimen Macpherson had given of Celtic poetry. The demand for the work was immense, and the fame of the translator and saviour, as he was deemed, of these presumed relics of ancient literature, was rapidly spread, not only over Britain, but over all Europe. They were almost immediately translated into nearly every language spoken on the continent; and in each of these translations, Macpherson was alluded to in terms, " that might," as he himself says, " flatter the vanity of one fond of fame," a circumstance which must have been highly gratifying to him, for he was fond of fame, even inordinately so, and was known to have been under the influence of a violent passion for literary repute, from a very early period of his life.