is the narrator, and supposed author, of a
cycle of poems which the Scottish
poet James Macpherson
have translated from ancient sources in the Scots Gaelic
. He is based on
, son of Finn or Fionn mac Cumhaill
, a character from
. The furor over the
authenticity of the poems continued into the 20th century.
Macpherson published the
English-language text Fragments of Ancient Poetry collected in
the Highlands of Scotland
, and later that year obtained
In 1761 he claimed to have found an epic
on the subject of the hero Fingal, written by Ossian. The name
Fingal or Fionnghall
means "white stranger".
He published translations of it during the next few years,
culminating in a collected edition; The Works of Ossian
. The most famous of these poems was
written in 1762
The poems achieved international success (even Napoleon
became a great fan) and were proclaimed as
a Celtic equivalent of the Classical
writers such as Homer
. Many writers were influenced by the works,
including the young Walter Scott
the German writer Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe
, whose own German translation of a portion
of Macpherson's work figures prominently in a climactic scene of
The Sorrows of Young
Goethe's associate Johann
wrote an essay titled Extract from a
correspondence about Ossian and the Songs of Ancient Peoples
in the early days of the Sturm und
was as much admired in Hungary as in France
and Germany; Hungarian János Arany
wrote "Homer and Ossian" in response, and several other Hungarian
writers - Baróti Szabó,
Csokonai, Sándor Kisfaludy, Kazinczy, Kölcsey,
Ferenc Toldy, and Ágost Greguss, were also influenced by
Italy the translation of Ossian by Melchiore Cesarotti made that work
highly popular, and among others it influenced Ugo Foscolo who was Cesarotti's pupil in the
The poems also exerted an influence on the burgeoning of Romantic music
, and Franz Schubert
in particular composed
setting many of Ossian's poems.
There were immediate disputes of Macpherson's claims on both
literary and political grounds.
promoted a Scottish origin for the material, and was hotly opposed
by Irish historians
who felt that their heritage was being appropriated.
However, both Scotland and Ireland shared a common Gaelic
culture during the period in which the poems
are set and some Fenian
common in both countries was composed in Scotland.
A great detractor of the Ossian poems was Samuel Johnson
, who had no knowledge of the
language or of the
tradition. Johnson believed
that they were not only not authentic, but were, moreover, not even
good poetry. Upon being asked, "But Doctor Johnson, do you really
believe that any man today could write such poetry?" he famously
replied, "Yes. Many men. Many women. And many children."
Faced with the controversy, the Committee of the Highland Society
enquired after the
authenticity of Macpherson's supposed original. It was thanks to
these circumstances that the so-called Glenmasan manuscript
(Adv. 72.2.3) came
to light, a compilation which contains the tale Oided mac
This text is a version of the Irish Longes mac n-Uislenn
and offers a tale which bears some comparison to Macpherson's
"Darthula", although it is radically different in many respects.
cited it in his report for
The controversy raged on into the early years of the 19th century,
with disputes as to whether the poems were based on Irish sources,
on sources in English, on Gaelic fragments woven into his own
composition as Johnson concluded , or largely on Scots Gaelic oral
traditions and manuscripts as Macpherson claimed.
Scottish author Hugh Blair
's 1763 A Critical Dissertation on the Poems of
upheld the work's authenticity against Johnson's
scathing criticism and from 1765 was included in every edition of
to lend the work credibility.
In 1952 Derick Thomson
Macpherson had collected Scottish Gaelic ballads
, employing scribes to record those that were
preserved orally and collating manuscripts, but had adapted them by
altering the original characters and ideas, and had introduced a
great deal of his own.
- 1996: The Poems of Ossian and Related Works, ed.
Howard Gaskill, with an Introduction by Fiona Stafford (Edinburgh:
Edinburgh Univ. Press).
- George F. Black, Macpherson's Ossian and the Ossianic
Controversy, New York, (1926).
- Patrick MacGregor, M.A., The Genuine Remains of Ossian,
Literally Translated, Highland Society of London,