Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/173

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


JAMES MA.CPHERSON. 543

In the following year, viz., 1763, the poem of Fingal, &c., was succeeded by " Temora, in eight books, with other Poems, by Ossian," 4to. This was also well received, but scarcely with the same degree of enthusiasm which had marked the reception of the preceding poems. A change had taken place, both with regard to Macpherson himself, personally, and his poetry. A suspicion as to the authenticity of the latter, was now beginning to steal over the public mind ; and the former, from being a modest man, as he Mas repre- sented to be by Mr Hume, had become insolent and arrogant. Whether this last was the result of the operation of extraordinary success on an ill-regulated mind, or the effect of frequent irritation from the attacks of the sceptical, to which Macpherson was now certainly subjected, it would not, perhaps, be easy to determine. It probably arose partly from both. The likelihood that the latter consideration had, at any rate, some share in producing this change of demeanour is considerable, when the nature of Macpherson's disposition, which was ardent, haughty, impatient and irascible, is taken into account. That such a change, however, had taken place, is certain ; and the circum- stance derives no little interest from the person by whom, and the manner in which it is marked. " You must not mind," says Mr Hume, in a letter to Dr Blair on the subject of the poems of Ossian, " so strange and heteroclite a mortal, (Macpherson,) than whom I have scarce ever known a man more per- verse and unamiable." This was Mr Hume's opinion of him in 1763 ; and.it will be remarked how oddly it contrasts with that which he expressed regard- ing him in 1760. That Mr Hume, however, saw sufficient reason in Macpher- son's conduct, thus to alter his opinion of him, no man can doubt, who knows any thing of the character of the illustrious historian, himself one of the most amiable of men.

In 1764, the year following that in which Temora appeared, Macpherson obtained the appointment of secretary to governor Johnstone, then about to set out for the settlement of Pensacola, of which he was made chief. After a short residence in the colony, during which he had assisted in the construction and arrangement of its civil government, a difference arose between Macpher- son and the governor, and they parted. The former left the settlement, visited several of the West India islands, and some provinces of North America, and finally returned to England in 1766.

He now took up his residence in London, and shortly after resumed his literary pursuits ; these, however, as the Ossianic Poems were now exhausted, were of an entirely different nature from those which had hitherto employed him. His first public appearance again as an author, was in 1771, when he produced a work, entitled " An Introduction to the History of Great Bri- tain and Ireland," 4to. This work, he says himself, he composed merely for private amusement. Whatever were the incitements which led to its production, necessity, at any rate, could not have been amongst the num. ber ; for Macpherson, if not already comparatively wealthy, was rapidly be- coming so by the extensive sale of the poems. W'hether written, how- ever, for amusement, or with a view to fame, the author of the " Introduc- tion" had no reason to congratulate himself on the result of its publication. Both the book and the writer were attacked from various quarters with much bitterness of invective, and a controversy regarding its merits and the opinions it promulgated, arose, which was but little calculated to improve the irritable temper of its author, or to add to his happiness. Nor was this treat- ment compensated by any success to the work itself. It made a sufficient noise ; but yielded neither fame nor profit. The former was the result of its author's celebrity ; the latter, it is to be feared, of his incapacity.