Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/183

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JOHN MAIR. 553


this power tlien, nor at any period during his after life, though urged to it by motives which gentlemen and men of honour hare been always accustomed to hold as sacred.

When pressed by the committee of the Highland Society of London, to pub- lish the originals, and thus satisfy the public mind as to the authenticity of the poems, Macpherson thus replies to the secretary of that body : " I shall adhere to the promise I made several years ago to a deputation of the same kind, [in their anxiety to have the question set at rest, they had proposed that another deputation should wait upon him for this purpose,] that is, to employ my first leisure time, and a considerable portion of time it must be, to do it accurately, in arranging and printing the originals of the Poems of Ossian, as they have come to my hands." The delay here acknowledged, a delay of several years, and the further delay bespoken, as it were, in this extract, between the promise of giving the originals to the world and its fulfilment, will seem to many sus- picious circumstances, and will appear rather a necessary provision for getting tip a translation from the English, than for the preparation of original docu- ments. Nor is this suspicion lessened by his telling us, that they were yet to arrange ; a process which it will be thought must of necessity have taken place before they were translated. It seems odd that the translations should be in perfect order, while the originals were in confusion. The mere disarrange- ment of sheets of MS., from passing through the hands of the printer, or from inattention, could scarcely warrant the formidable and cautious provision of " a considerable portion of time."

The fact of Macpherson having interpolated, although it could not have been ascertained by other evidence, would be sufficiently established by his own. When taxed by Dr Macintyre of Glenorchy with being himself the author of the greater part of the Poem of Fingal " You are much mistaken," replied Macpherson ; " I had occasion to do less of that than you suppose." Thus ad- mitting the fact, and only limiting its extent.

On the whole, it seems, on a careful revision of all that has been said on this once famous controversy, beyond all doubt that Macpherson is, in nearly the strictest sense of the word, the author of the English Poems of Ossian. The skeleton was furnished him, but it was he who clothed it with flesh, en- dued it with life, and gave it the form it now wears. He caught the tone and spirit of the Celtic lyre, from hearing its strings vibrating in the wind. The starting note was given him, but the strain is his own. Whatever degree of merit, therefore, may be allowed to these strains, belongs to Macpherson.

MAIR, or MAJOR, JOHN, a celebrated name of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Little of the life of this eminent person is known, beyond a few incidental circumstances mentioned in his own works, and some allusions by contemporary scholars. Dr Mackenzie and other writers not to be depended on, have stated, without reference to any authority, that he was born in the year 1469. His birth-place, by his own account, was the parish of North Berwick, and is said to have been at the village of Gleghorn. In the early part of the sixteenth century he became a member of Christ's college in Cam- bridge. 1 " In this post," says bishop Nicholson, " he seems to have written

1 He afterwards went to the university of Paris. Mackenzie, who has corrected his life of Major in the preface to his work, on the ground of some communications received from Paris, says he joined the university in 1493, and became master of aits in 1496. " Mr John Harvey," continues this authority, "a Scotsman and bursar, or fellow of the Scots college, being then rector of the university of Paris, he passed through all the honourable places of the faculty of arts , being first procurator and then quaestor; and designs himself thus in the Register, ' M. Joannes Mair, Glegemocensis, Diocesis S. Andrea;.* He was made doctor of divinity in 1508." Mackenzie's Lives, vol. ii. Preface, vii. in. 4 A