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the literary controversy over Ossian

GUEST,Grishka 20 Feb 20 - 03:52 AM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 19 Feb 20 - 06:16 PM
GUEST,keberoxu 19 Feb 20 - 05:43 PM
keberoxu 19 Feb 20 - 03:38 PM
GUEST,HiLo 19 Feb 20 - 10:11 AM
GUEST,Grishka 19 Feb 20 - 09:48 AM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 18 Feb 20 - 06:02 PM
GUEST,keberoxu 18 Feb 20 - 05:53 PM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 18 Feb 20 - 03:31 PM
GUEST,Grishka 18 Feb 20 - 02:56 PM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 18 Feb 20 - 02:36 PM
GUEST,Grishka 18 Feb 20 - 02:33 PM
GUEST,meself 18 Feb 20 - 02:22 PM
GUEST,meself 18 Feb 20 - 02:21 PM
GUEST,Grishka 18 Feb 20 - 02:19 PM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 18 Feb 20 - 02:08 PM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 18 Feb 20 - 01:51 PM
GUEST,meself 18 Feb 20 - 01:48 PM
Lighter 18 Feb 20 - 01:15 PM
GUEST,Grishka 18 Feb 20 - 01:06 PM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 18 Feb 20 - 12:27 PM
Lighter 18 Feb 20 - 11:49 AM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 18 Feb 20 - 10:45 AM
Lighter 18 Feb 20 - 10:26 AM
GUEST,Rob Mad Jock Wright 17 Feb 20 - 06:54 PM
Rapparee 15 Feb 20 - 09:38 AM
keberoxu 12 Feb 20 - 07:03 PM
GUEST,Starship 12 Feb 20 - 11:32 AM
keberoxu 11 Feb 20 - 05:47 PM
Steve Gardham 30 Jan 20 - 02:57 PM
Steve Gardham 30 Jan 20 - 02:35 PM
meself 30 Jan 20 - 01:14 PM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 30 Jan 20 - 08:51 AM
GUEST,Grishka 30 Jan 20 - 04:28 AM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 29 Jan 20 - 11:11 PM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 29 Jan 20 - 10:58 PM
GUEST,Grishka 29 Jan 20 - 04:33 PM
GUEST,An Buachaill Caol Dubh 29 Jan 20 - 02:59 PM
meself 18 Jan 20 - 04:36 PM
Joe Offer 18 Jan 20 - 03:51 PM
GUEST,Grishka 15 Jan 20 - 05:36 PM
Steve Gardham 15 Jan 20 - 05:12 PM
GUEST,Grishka 15 Jan 20 - 05:08 PM
meself 15 Jan 20 - 02:00 PM
GUEST,Grishka 15 Jan 20 - 12:20 PM
GUEST,Peter Laban 15 Jan 20 - 09:42 AM
Lighter 14 Jan 20 - 07:42 PM
meself 14 Jan 20 - 06:38 PM
keberoxu 14 Jan 20 - 06:22 PM
keberoxu 14 Jan 20 - 05:08 PM
Steve Gardham 14 Jan 20 - 03:22 PM
Steve Gardham 14 Jan 20 - 03:14 PM
robomatic 14 Jan 20 - 03:07 PM
Steve Gardham 14 Jan 20 - 03:04 PM
Dave Hanson 14 Jan 20 - 03:00 PM
keberoxu 14 Jan 20 - 02:57 PM
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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 20 Feb 20 - 03:52 AM

Thank you, keberoxu, for your informations, which in my opinion finish the discussion about the facts.

Calling a forgery a forgery is not an insult. And yes, demonstrating the fallability and seducibility of apparent experts is a "heroic" act of enlightenment.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 19 Feb 20 - 06:16 PM

Yes, HiLo; as I was curious about why anyone should be "embarrassed" that JM had done what many, many others have done, before and since. He re-shaped his materials -and none can deny these existed - in accordance with the conventions and expectations of his time. Whether his work be of high merit is another issue (as it would be with any other work of artifice, like a painting attributed to a famous name, or a musical setting for an Edwardian parlour-song based on a Hebridean melody). That it had a significant effect on European high culture is likewise incontestable. Some may castigate him for what they term "forgery" or "imposture"; some may consider him a mediocre artist. Dr Johnson, c.1780, asked rhetorically and dismissively, "Who now reads Sterne?" Well, who now reads MacPherson's Ossianic fragments? Yet the insult about "forgery" continues, often enunciated confidently by those who know least about the works and their times. I've heard them at it, and read them at it -as indicated away back at the end of January.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,keberoxu
Date: 19 Feb 20 - 05:43 PM

Thomson on the back-translated Gaelic-language product of 1807:

It seems safe to conclude that the 1807 Gaelic version of this story is not a piece of genuine Gaelic composition in the sense that the [Gaelic] ballads are. Indeed it shows the strong influence of Macpherson's English of 1762, and it must be concluded that it was translated from that English...
That it was composed by somebody who was extremely careless of Gaelic syntax is certain.

--Appendix II, Page 89


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: keberoxu
Date: 19 Feb 20 - 03:38 PM

Remember that I supplied a James Macpherson link specifically to
an excerpt from something called Darthula, in an early post?

Darthula turns out to be Macpherson's renaming of no less than
Deirdre of the Sorrows, for heaven's sake.
Some connection to the name "Dearshul," Thomson supposes (page 51).

This "Ossian" re-writing merits its own section of commentary in
Derick S. Thomson's Gaelic Sources.
The author does not mince words.

quote
The Story of Deirdre is one of the oldest in Scottish, as distinct from Irish, tradition.
A prose version exists in the Glenmasan MS., which may be a copy
of a MS. from the first half of the thirteenth century.
[Footnote:
from the Catalogue of Gaelic MSS. by prof. D. MacKinnon:
'This MS. does not date further back than 1500, but
it may well be a copy of an older one of date 1238'.]

...Macpherson's story bears only a general relation to the traditional one [of Deirdre of the Sorrows],
and it has been adapted to fit in with Macpherson's own scheme of history.
Names are altered at will ...
Cuthullin [Cuchullainn] takes the place of 'Conchobar' as the uncle of the three brothers ...
The home country of [the brothers' father Uisneach] is represented as around Loch Eta in Argyllshire [!].
This is the Loch Etive associated with Deirdre in Scottish tradition, but
Macpherson is here shifting the original habitat of the main characters -- as distinct from their place of sojourn -- from Ireland to Scotland.

...Macpherson may be said to adapt his sources with some ingenuity, but in so doing he loses much of the story.
The representation becomes blurred.
The fine clear colours of the original are gone --
we no longer see the red blood and the black raven against the whiteness of the snow.
At times, indeed, the course of the story becomes hard to follow.
In this telling the tale has lost its tragedy, its pathos, its dignity, and practically all of its meaning.
endquote

from Chapter V, pages 53 - 55, excerpted


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,HiLo
Date: 19 Feb 20 - 10:11 AM

I am truly curious as to why one should be embarrassed by Margaret Kennedy Fraser ? Could you explain ?


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 19 Feb 20 - 09:48 AM

Don't ask me who translated Macpherson's English-language Ossian into Gaelic
Somewhere I read (- correct me if that was fake news -) that it was Mecpherson himself, as a reaction to public pressure to publish at least some samples of the purported original epos. He may have consulted native speakers, but these are not to blame.

ABCD, I agree that impostors who were initially successful and eventually busted with a big media echo have the great merit of popularizing the underlying subject. For example, many modern painters are only known to the general public because of spectacular forgeries. Artistic adaptations such as Astérix can do the same service with bonus added.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 06:02 PM

That is, JM wrote in the rhetorical style of the time?

I'll leave it to someone else to point out the relevance of some other figures with regard to drawing from one culture and re-shaping things in accordance with the norms of another. Anyone "embarrassed" by Marjorie Kennedy Fraser, say?


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,keberoxu
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 05:53 PM

If you ask me,
the Encyclopedia Britannica's article, and its arrogance, are all about defensiveness and embarrassment, which have weakening effects.

This has not been an opportune time for me to attempt to read
D. S. Thomson's book, and the copy will have to be returned
to the lending library soon enough.

What I have seen Thomson do, in the chapters that I have skimmed,
is to compare and contrast two distinct types of literature:
the Gaelic sources, especially the Scottish Gaelic as he could locate it, but failing that, the sources that are Irish;
and Macpherson's own English.

I may be mistaken here, but it is my understanding that
the published James MacPherson Gaelic-language Ossian --
yes, there was indeed such a product in the marketplace --
was a "back-translation" and owed everything
to MacPherson's English, and next to nothing
to the authentic source material.
Don't ask me who translated Macpherson's English-language Ossian into Gaelic, though, because I don't even know where to look for that answer ... for obvious reasons,
back in the day, the culprit was hidden.

Well, I suppose the perception of this event is permanently colo[u]red
by the sheer notoriety in the publishing business,
and the incautious readers, students, and even lecturers and scholars.
It is small wonder if a whole generation, not to speak of a whole century, of persons had much to be embarrassed about.


So, what did I notice about Thomson in his book's comparison
of the Gaelic / archaic source material with James Macpherson?

There is no irony, sarcasm, or archness whatever in his comments.
He will look at one ancient account and
relate how spare and economical the description is.
Then he will state that Macpherson totally covered the whole story
in the most embarrassingly overdone emotion and purple language,
entirely at odds with the original.

Thomson will also note if Macpherson
keeps intact such details as are vouchsafed in the Gaelic,
such as proper names,
or if he alters names of persons, places, and things;
the same applies to the events and actions described.
Thomson does this with the calm efficiency
of someone who has devoted no small amount of trouble
to grasping -- whether or not mastering -- the Gaelic tongue itself.
I recommend the book,
even if I can't read it closely or describe it well.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 03:31 PM

So, let's get this right; it's incontestable that JM had a significant impact. His works were regarded as "translations" from Irish. They were greatly admired by some, and in addition to the operatic arie or lieder or orchestral pieces cited much earlier it's known that Napoleon always had an Italian translation (?Cesarotti) with him. Others were concerned to brand JM an impostor and worse in a way that seems more sustained and determined than contemporary views of Translation(s) would justify.

In my own view, something should be made of how genuine is a response to any work of human artifice. That is, if a painting has long been admired as one of the most beautiful works by an Old Master, and then turns out incontestably to be a later copy, well, while the attribution will change, surely the admiration will not - if it were caused by the quality of the work itself. Actually, it's becoming easier to make fakes of paintings from some periods, since Art Historians are more concerned with "provenance" than tasteful in assessing a work ('nuff sed). So, for people adversely to judge the Ossianic material set forth by JM once it becomes clear that a lot of it isn't ancient, "unmediated" verses and tales but his own Translation - context, remember - is for them to reveal a proud condescension, an arrogance even, of which they remain so amusingly unaware. In short,"We'll admire stuff of negligible real quality just as long as it's old", rather than have the enthusiasm of many readers in the eighteenth century and later for the spirit they found in these works when approached "sympathetically"(C18th). The case of JM also involves the fact that he was a writer in a colonised country, at a time when the concern of the British State was to exterminate that which was distinctive about North Britain; not so much effort required now. And, again, the issue of confidence occurs; France is rightly proud of the Heroic tales of Ancient Times disseminated by Goscinny and Uderzo, but then France is a country and nation and there's not any "Gallic Cringe".


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 02:56 PM

Agreed, Buachaill, with one exception: anti-Scottish sentiments may well enter in that matter, but would scarcely be a major point. Those who were most critical of JMP were people who had hoped for an epos of Scottish pride and were eventually disappointed.

(Note that I represent the continental European perspective, although I spent part of my life in England. Many romantic admirers of a mythical Celthood hereabouts.)


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 02:36 PM

Yes, that's right. Some grounds seem to be shifting here; as far as I'm aware, my previous post citing inter alios Thomas Gray is still here, which tends to negate the confident assertion that JM would have been all but ignored without his "u.s.p." (Which I think business types use for "unique selling point"). People found what they wanted to find or expected to find, in the sense of what an ancient epic should be. As, again, I and of course others have indicated, things are best considered in the context of their times. In the case of all the controversy, the relationship of North Britain within the British State and even Empire is relevant and, sadly, still ongoing.

Even if it were lies from end to end, well, that in itself would have been pretty Heroic.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 02:33 PM

Some cross-posting. Buachaill, thanks for the summary.

That existing "tales can be traced" is certainly of some scholarly significance. The "diaries" I mentioned contain many correct facts.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,meself
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 02:22 PM

(My previous post addressed to ABCD).


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,meself
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 02:21 PM

Thank you. Would I be correct in understanding your second-last post as your own ideas and the last as the 'summary' of Thomson? Whatever the case, your remarks are helpful, and you have clarified the basis of your complaint to at least my satisfaction.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 02:19 PM

Buachaill, the reason is pretty obvious: JMP claimed to be translating existing epic poetry. As far as we know, this was a false claim, even if we were to allow for "free translation". (If we got that wrong, please inform us.)

Moreover: his poetry had its great impact based on that assumption. If JMP had published the poems as his own, he would have got almost no attention at all. The authors you are naming were first-class poets in their own right. Wagner was actually criticized for failing to mention some of his sources - just the opposite case.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 02:08 PM

Summary: at least sixteen tales can be traced in MacPherson's works. ( From the handwritten notes I made near forty years ago. This was as one facet of a long work of research I was doing, and in terms of the content of my own writing a very, very small percentage. Nevertheless, I preferred to find out as much as I could from the best authorities, in any field that was relevant, rather than rely ongeneralisations )


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 01:51 PM

He worked within the conventions of his time. See earlier contribution mentioning Dryden. A work of forgery based in part on existing tradition and/or some written sources does not become "more genuine" than if it were lies from end to end, though I suppose it might bring some of this pre-existent material to wider notice. There's a conflation, or confusion, being made among several aspects of "the Ossianic controversy", in a way that's never done -as far as I'm aware, though things might have changed in recent years - when re-use of historical material, adapted, elaborated, distorted and accompanied by sheer invention occurs in works by Walter Scott, Byron, Wagner or even Defoe. For whatever reason, MacPherson is being judged by standards quite different from other writers, and this has been the case for nearly three centuries.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,meself
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 01:48 PM

ABCD: You are not "answering" Lighter's question at all. Many of us would like to learn a little something - without having to read all the source materials and subsequent commentaries ourselves. Why not share your knowledge?


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Lighter
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 01:15 PM

Not in the least.

But did M. "translate" or "invent"? Or both?

The answer has no bearing on literary merit, but it does on literary history. If "Ossian" is good, it's good.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 01:06 PM

Would someone who has read Thomson's book please summarize his findings and theses?

Like most successful impostors, JMP based his work on existing and known tales. For example, the forger of Hitler's diaries in some parts reproduced texts from historical essays, replacing all occurrences of "Hitler" with "I". Does this make the "diaries" more genuine?


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 12:27 PM

Does anyone dispute that there are tales pre-dating JM, in oral tradition before ever being written? Just answering.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Lighter
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 11:49 AM

Did Thomson show that MacPherson's "originals" were not his own compositions turned into Gaelic?

Or was Thomson discussing the genuine Ossianic ballads?

Just asking.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 10:45 AM

Ah, so it was "finally settled" long before DSThomson's research was even begun, according to this authority. Another example of the arrogant confidence which so often springs from ignorance and which many in Scotland find characteristic of the British State. I wonder has the E.B. any mention of William Smellie yet?


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Lighter
Date: 18 Feb 20 - 10:26 AM

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2020:

"The Ossianic controversy was finally settled in the late 19th century, when it was demonstrated that the only Gaelic 'originals' that Macpherson had produced were poor-quality Gaelic translations of his own English compositions. The name Ossian, popularized by Macpherson, superseded Oisín, though they are often used interchangeably.

"The term Ossianic ballads refers to genuine late Gaelic poems that form part of the common Scots-Irish tradition and should not be confused with the romanticized epics of 'Ossian.'"


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Rob Mad Jock Wright
Date: 17 Feb 20 - 06:54 PM

Ah , so it's not about the beer??


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Rapparee
Date: 15 Feb 20 - 09:38 AM

Keb -- Gaelic Sources of Macpherson...


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: keberoxu
Date: 12 Feb 20 - 07:03 PM

Another thought for robomatic.

These epic myths from the Gaelic -- some of them honestly
older than Gaelic itself, more like old Irish which is a different language --
have their place in Scotland as well as Ireland.
It's true that one well-known group of accounts is called
the Ulster cycle, and with good reason.

On the other hand, consider Deirdre of the Sorrows, one of the most infamous of the myths.
The beginning of the tragedy, and its end,
both take place in Ireland.
And yet the action itself moves to Scotland at one point, as
Deirdre, her beloved, and her beloved's brothers
travel there at one point,
and Deirdre herself pronounces a very emotional lyric
when taking her farewell of Scotland
and heading back to Ireland,
where they all know the tragedy will reach its fated end.

Where does one go to get the original tales? asked robomatic.
That's worthy of another thread in itself --
and well outside my expertise!

I wonder if there are some elderly Mudcat threads on the subject.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Starship
Date: 12 Feb 20 - 11:32 AM

There was a 1973 edition also.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: keberoxu
Date: 11 Feb 20 - 05:47 PM

Sadly, while Derick S. Thomson's
Gaelic Sources of Macpherson's 'Ossian' remains a watermark
in scholarship on this subject,
this publication is out of print,
and I can find absolutely NO second-hand, or any-hand, copies for sale online.
A lending library here has one circulating copy, which I have borrowed and will have to return soon enough.

I have not read every last page at this moment,
although I have begun reading a little at a time.
Mister Thomson's English prose is thankfully clear and direct;
knowing that this piece began as a 'tripos thesis,' I dreaded the kind of postgraduate jargon which makes some scholars sound as though their left brain has got a permanent warp through it.

In the Introduction to his own thesis,
Thomson names Alexander Cameron and J. F. Campbell, citing their 'transcripts'
of authentic Gaelic source material -- in the Gaelic, not translated.

Then, too, this book
has a detailed bibliography that identifies
all the published material used in writing the thesis.
It's not a large book at all,
but it is indeed a book of substance,
and one needs to be educated to understand the whole of it.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 30 Jan 20 - 02:57 PM

A correction to my post of 14 Jan 3.14 p.m. Those pages are actually about the effect of Percy's Reliques. The pages on JM in 'Folk Song in England' by Steve Roud are p49-50.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 30 Jan 20 - 02:35 PM

Rabbie was himsel as much a mediator as the others. For instance, who would say they could separate out all of his adaptations from what was already in tradition?


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: meself
Date: 30 Jan 20 - 01:14 PM

Ah, good ol' Burns - y'can't beat'm!


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 30 Jan 20 - 08:51 AM

As far as I can work it out, then, JM should be judged by the same criteria as Thomas "Rowley" Chatterton, in your view? With regard to many commentators on literature in the C19th, generally from the kind of privileged background as the lecturers I mentioned above, well, I'd regard them in pretty much the same way. The original post was about distinguishing what was invented and what was collected and translated.

One of the very first commentators on JM was Dr Hugh Blair, who confidently asserted that chieftains in the Americas would "harangue" their fellow tribesmen in terms as poetic as any of Homer's heroes (or, of course, Ossian's), an early example of the "finding what one wants to find" approach which I think you have been addressing. That is, he and others expected that modern-day "primitive" peoples would have more in common with the Ancients than modern-day civilised ones. Dr J several times drew parallels between Highlanders of the 1770s and the Greeks as described by writers of Antiquity. While I would guess that various accounts and "links" will include Thomas Gray's assessment - that JM was either "the very demon of Poetry or he has lit on a treasure hid up for ages" (I quote from memory) - it's worthwhile to add something less familiar but more amusing. Robert Burns has a neatly ironic few lines in his poem of the Two Dogs, since his own collie-dog was "Luath" (swift/fleet), named

"After some dog in Hielan' sang
Was made lang syne - Lord knows how lang."

Seems that an intelligent Ploughing Poet had mair perception than a number of your "professional" literary critics and mediaevalists.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 30 Jan 20 - 04:28 AM

Buachaill, my observation was about "the literary controversy over Ossian" quite generally, and specifically from hindsight in 19th century Europe. Those whose professional reputation was seriously damaged were the medievalists (mostly non-Scottish), all too credulous and "intoxicated" because they wanted the "epos" to be authentic.

The poets, including Chatterton, must be judged by different criteria. Forgery and other forms of deception can well be acts of art.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 29 Jan 20 - 11:11 PM

That is, I'm a bit puzzled, Grishka. First, having scrolled up and down this thread, I can't see anything about "intoxicated scholars". Secondly, JM came in for a good deal of personal abuse (Dr Johnson, with his characteristic brutishness and a stout cudgel, apparently sought him out with the intention of teaching a Scot to know his place), whereas other writers who have drawn inspiration from earlier material did not and have not. To refer to Sir Joshua Reynolds, admittedly speaking of Antique statuary and the works of Renaissance artists, these pieces -familiar to any educated person of the time- were to be regarded as "a quarry from which every man may draw as he pleases", and the same held true for the Imitation (not mere copying, in contemporary terminology) of Classical writing; at some points, I recall from years ago, Macpherson is clearly borrowing from the Iliad.

What do you make of Chatterton?


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 29 Jan 20 - 10:58 PM

?


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 29 Jan 20 - 04:33 PM

Buachaill, I do not think MacPherson was the primary target of criticism at all; the intoxicated scholars were.

Nevertheless, an impostor is an impostor and must be thus called regardless of his nationality, and whatever the moral verdict may be.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 29 Jan 20 - 02:59 PM

On seeing this title & the start of the thread I immediately thought of DS Thomson (Ruari MacTomas), and of course his work has been adduced above. It's a sign of the arrogant ignorance of the public school breed that infest the "teaching" staff of the Arts Faculties in so many North British universities that, even in the 1980s I was confidently "taught" that MacPherson's translations were entirely fabricated. Even as an undergraduate I knew of the Fenian Cycle and, crucially, had heard a recording made by the Irish Folklore Commission (I think) of one such tale recited, in a manner declamatory rather than lyrical, by ?Joseph Heaney. Not long after hearing some braying lecturer confidently spouting his anti-Scottish errors, I read much of the works of Dryden, including how the rendering of one text into another language was understood in the generation before MacPherson (Dryden died 1700). If anyone be interested, check the distinctions among "paraphrase", "metaphrase", Imitation and free translation. M. took the kind of liberties with his sources, or inspiration, that other poets, versifiers and other writers have done before and since. Their works did not meet with the negative response that his did, at least in England and among the North Britons of Scotland. Wonder why?

Of course, that's not to claim that J. M. himself wasn't a bit of a chancer; he certainly made more money out of his versions, expansions, imitations and inventions than many other more original and better poets have.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: meself
Date: 18 Jan 20 - 04:36 PM

"Mendelssohn's ouverture was about the cave itself, not its name."

So, it's pretty much irrelevant to the discussion, then, isn't it?


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Joe Offer
Date: 18 Jan 20 - 03:51 PM

Here's the text of The Poems of Ossian
by James Macpherson
[1773]

https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/ossian/index.htm


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 15 Jan 20 - 05:36 PM

Steve, it is often stated that the Ossian fans had been deceived, and therefore the artistic (not necessarily moral) value of their works was diminished from hindsight. This is indeed true in the case of many essayists (including first-rate names), but composers are not affected.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 15 Jan 20 - 05:12 PM

Absolutely, Grishka, but I don't think anyone is questioning their right to use MacPherson's material. Much of the balladry that was mediated by sophisticated people is of superb quality and deserves to be spread abroad and performed. Prime example, Bert Lloyd.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 15 Jan 20 - 05:08 PM

Mendelssohn's ouverture was about the cave itself, not its name. But even those creative minds who let themselves inspire by the Ossian fables had every right to do so.

The case was a disaster only for historians of literature. Artists are expected to describe their wishes and feelings as if they were reality, scientists must not.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: meself
Date: 15 Jan 20 - 02:00 PM

Fingal's Cave was given that name by MacPherson, apparently.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 15 Jan 20 - 12:20 PM

Fingal's Cave is a rock-hard reality. Besides, the notion of truth in creative arts does not depend on the authenticity of whatever the inspiration may be.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 15 Jan 20 - 09:42 AM

On my shelves rests a 18/19th centuries edition, on the inside of the cover the bookseller wrote 'The biggest literary con of all ages'.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Lighter
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 07:42 PM

Wikipedia (which is pretty good on literary topics):

"Contemporary critics were divided in their view of the work's authenticity, but the consensus since is that Macpherson framed the poems himself, based on old folk tales he had collected."

This is essentially what my medieval lit professor told me in college, which was not long after the Middle Ages.

Moreover, "Macpherson's fame was crowned by his burial [1796] among the literary giants in Westminster Abbey. "

Read all about it:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ossian


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: meself
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 06:38 PM

Of course, no one claimed that Finn, etc., were a figment of JM's imagination, just that the bulk of his 'translations' were.

If I may stray into current politics, I came across this quote from Johnson, which seems more a propos now than ever:
“There is no crime more infamous than
the violation of truth. It is apparent that men can be
social beings no longer than they believe each other.
When speech is employed as the vehicle of falsehood,
every man must disunite himself from others, inhabit
his own cave, and seek prey only for himself.”


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: keberoxu
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 06:22 PM

the question posed by robomatic
is partly addressed by
the scholarship of the late Derick Thomson,
in particular his 1952 work,
The Gaelic Sources of Macpherson's 'Ossian'.


Thomson concluded that while the stories of
Finn McCool, Oisin, Oscar and so on
were in fact centuries old
and thus not a figment of James Macpherson's imagination,
the literature that Macpherson published
was positively Macpherson's writing,
which had more to do with appealing to the audience of his own time
than in opening a window to the literature of another time and place.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: keberoxu
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 05:08 PM

Here's an example.

Ossians Lied (from Darthula), in German: Schubert, D. 278


And this link to the LiederNet Archive brings up
James MacPherson's English,
and the German translation by Baron Edmund von Harold,
the lyric for the song recorded in the first link of this post.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 03:22 PM

Steve Roud's Folk Song in England gives a cursory summary of the effect of Ossian in pp50-60.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 03:14 PM

Dave, why do you have to be so rude? Have an opinion by all means but what is the point of pissing on someone else's bonfire?


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: robomatic
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 03:07 PM

Keb:

Interesting subject. I was introduced to Finn MacCool from the works of Flann O'Brien. I assumed that Finn MacCool was of Irish origin. But- where does one go to get the original tales?


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 03:04 PM

Yes the Ossianic rage was as influential as Percy's Reliques. I'm sure you'll find much online just by Googling. I read a paper on it recently on Academia but I can't remember if I printed it off or not. If you can get onto Academia you will probably find it and much more just by using the search engine. I don't know anything about it by the way, with it not having much connection with oral tradition.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Dave Hanson
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 03:00 PM

Not distasteful, just boring.

Dave H


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Subject: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: keberoxu
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 02:57 PM

Of course the name Ossian/Oisin is familiar from the Finn MacCool tales.
My focus is something fairly particular in British history.

In the time of England's Dr. Samuel Johnson, a man named James MacPherson published English verses for which he made some provocative claims. MacPherson claimed, that these verses were not simply his own poems about Oisin and the Fianna Fail, but that they had origins in the Scottish Gaelic and that he was the translator. I mention Dr. Johnson because this assertion roused the latter's temper. As I grasp it, Dr. Johnson proceeded, in the colloquial phrase, to toss the baby out with the bathwater, and insisted that the whole darned thing was false. Maybe I have that wrong, but quotes from Johnson are certainly very negative.

Well, that was a century or more ago,
and in the meanwhile there has been a lot of hard work
at locating manuscripts preserved, for example, in monasteries by monks,
and there is much more known today about source materials and languages,
and about their contents,
than was general knowledge in the time of Dr. Johnson and MacPherson.

So why bring up the controversy peculiar to them?
Because:
that literary event, however dubious or made-up,
had tremendous consequences, not in the "trad" world,
but in continental European literature and art.

My specialty and love is classical vocal music;
and translations into modern European languages,
of MacPherson's English,
became all the rage in Europe.
It is asserted that German Romanticism would have been different
without the Ossianic myth to excite poets and composers alike,
and indeed you can find,
not just Mendelssohn ("Fingal's Cave")
but Schubert and Brahms attracted to the whole Ossianic idea.

This subject may be distasteful, which I regret,
but as I say,
it is a matter of literary and musical history.
And the more I can sort out
what is authentic,
what is stolen,
and what is invented and presented as something other than it is,
the more it would please me. Thanks.


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