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Fingalian Topographies: Ossian and the Highland Tour, 1760-1805: Ossian and the Highland Tour



If Ossian validated the Highland landscape for eighteenth-century tourists, the landscape, in turn, seemed to authenticate poems whose authenticity never ceased to be doubted; but text and topography alike ran the risk of dissolving into insubstantiality. Many tourists cited 'local tradition' in order to embroider existing (or to invent new) Fingalian place-names. Ranging over a wide variety of eighteenth-century travel-writers, this article casts new light on the relations between Ossian, travel-writing and Highland topography. It concludes by discussing the 'fieldwork' tradition of Ossianic tourism after 1800, which sought out local tradition bearers, rather than attempting to authenticate Macpherson's 'translations'.
Fingalian Topographies: Ossian and the Highland Tour, 176 0 -1805
Abstract: If Ossian validated the Highland landscape for eighteenth-century tourists, the
landscape, in turn, seemed to authenticate poems whose authenticity never ceased to be
doubted; but text and topography alike ran the risk of dissolving into insubstantiality.
Many tourists cited local traditionin order to embroider existing (or to invent new)
Fingalian place-names. Ranging over a wide variety of eighteenth-century travel-writers,
this article casts new light on the relations between Ossian, travel-writing and Highland
topography. It concludes by discussing the eldworktradition of Ossianic tourism after
180 0 , which sought out local tradition bearers, rather than attempting to authenticate
Keywords: Ossian, Macpherson, Highland tour, travel-writing, topography, Romanticism,
Gaelic language and literature
Sailing through the Sound of Mull in the summer of 17 72 , the sight of the wooded shores
of Morvern to starboard kindled in the English naturalist Joseph Banks a mood of sublime
enthusiasm, given the peninsulas identication as the home of Fingal, the legendary
King of Morven, the site of his court at Selma and the tomb of his grandson Oscar. As
he noted in his journal:
Morven the land of heroes once the seat of the exploits of Fingal the mother of the romantick
scenery of Ossion [sic]. I could not even sail past it without a touch of enthusiasm sweet
affection of the mind which can gather pleasures from the empty elements & realise substan-
tial pleasure which three fourths of mankind are ignorant of. I lamented the busy bustle of
the ship & had I dard to venture the censure of my companions would certainly have
brought her to an anchor. To have read ten pages of Ossian under the shades of those woods
would have been luxury above the reach of Kings.
Bankss enthusiasm exemplies the mood aroused by the publication of James
Macphersonstranslationsfrom the Gaelic of the poems of Ossian, the son of Fingal. Like
many readers in the sentimental era, Banks identies not so much with the heroic Fingal
as with the melancholy blind bard Ossian, the last of his race,wholaments:Where is Fingal
the King? Where is Oscur my son? Where are all my race? Alas! In the earth they lie. I feel their
tombs with my hands.
Dafydd Moore has argued that Ossian presents a world dominated by
[] the archetypal myth of sparagmos, and quotes Northrop Frye: the sense that heroism and
effective action are absent, disorganised, or foredoomed to defeat, and that confusion and
anarchy reign over the world.
Commentators have linked this to Macphersons own Jacobite
roots, and his sense that the old world of Highland clanship had been destroyed on the
battleeld of Culloden in 174 6 .
MacphersonsprefacetoFingal ([17 61 ]1762 ) describes the
taste of modern Gaels for their ancient poetryas being at a low ebb(Poe m s ,p.51 ), thereby
representing his own undertaking as a form of salvage ethnography.
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Yet the cultural politics of Ossian are by no means limited to sparagmos. In articulating
the sentimentalised voice of Bardic nationalism, Macpherson sutured Highland and Low-
land identity in creating an integrated national mythe histoire for Scotland within the
Union that played well with its sponsors, the Enlightenment Edinburgh literati.
also played a crucial role in the improvementof the Scottish Highlands, underpinning
its ideological ambivalence as both nationalist and colonial discourse. In his inuential in-
terpretation Peter Womack proposed that The Ossianic version of the Highlands []
doesnt resist the Improvers view of its moors and rocks as scenic negations [] on the con-
trary, it makes negation into a style.
This perfectly encapsulates the colonising myth of
the Highlands, the bleak reality of a post-Culloden Gàidhealtachd internalised in the minds
of enthusiastic travellers (many of them agents of economic improvement), resulting in
mass emigration, military recruitment and catastrophic sheep clearances. As I am going
to argue in this article, however, this was only part of the Ossian story, ignoring the extent
to which the poems also provided a focus for cultural resistance to the imperatives of eco-
nomic modernisation and a rallying cry for Gaelic language and culture.
I. FingalsCave
A few days later Bankss party visited the small Hebridean island of Staffa, which they
proceeded to explore, measure, describe and draw. Bankss famous description of Staffa
and FingalsCavewas published in his friend Thomas PennantsTour in Scotland and
Voyage to the Hebrides in
177 2
(17 74 ), together with engravings of the island and its cave
by John and James Miller and John Cleveley. The enthusiasm kindled in Bankss mind by
the sight of Morvern was exceeded by the wondersof Staffa and its basaltic caves, rein-
forced by the revelation of its Gaelic name, which led him straight back to Macpherson:
We asked the name of it. Ouwa Eehn said our guide the cave of Fiuhn. What is Fiuhn said we
Fiuhn Mac Coul whoom the translator of Ossians Works has called Fingal. How fortunate
that in this cave we should meet with the remembrance of that cheif whose existence as well
as that of the whole epick poem is almost doubted in England.
If Ossian validated the Highland landscape, the landscape, in turn, seemed to authenticate
the poems, but as we will see, text and topography alike ran the risk of dissolving into
insubstantiality. In his illuminating essay Ossianic GeographyPaul Baines notes that
the fusion of etymological extrapolation, poetic interpretation, and landscape mood was
a potent one, capable of very general application, so that scores of travellers and tourists
in the decades after 17 6 0 gave new life to Macphersons poems by discoveringtheir
settings in the Gaelic landscape.
Banks had recently returned from the Endeavour voyage to the Pacic, where he had
been party to what David Simpson has termed an onomastic orgythat trampled over
indigenous place-names, often preferring to re-designate Pacic coastal sites with names
like Port Famine,Cape Disappointmentand Thirsty Sound.
Had Banks turned over a
new leaf on Staffa, then, rejecting the static imperial gazethat characterised his Pacic
travels? At least here in FingalsCavea local toponym is translated, purportedly from
local Gaelic tradition, although theres no record of a FingalsCavebefore Banks, and
all subsequent visitors associated the name with his discoveryof Staffa. Bankss Gaelic
interpreter was the bilingual (and educated) Charles Maclean, son of the laird of Drimnin.
©(2016) The Authors. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd
on behalf of British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
The only other Gaelic speaker present was Staffas (unnamed) tenant, probably illiterate
and with only a few words of English, who may have provided Maclean with the local
name for the cave.
Visiting Staffa twelve years later, in 17 84 , the French volcanologist Barthélemy Faujas
de Saint-Fond suggested that Joseph Banks, the rst who gave the cave of Staffa the name
of Fingal, had been misinformed about the name, which actually translated as the melo-
dious cave, on account of a small submarine cavity, which sends forth a very agreeable
noise every time that the water rushes into it, and which might be truly regarded as
an organ created by the hand of Nature.
In a learned footnote Saint-Fond claimed that
the true name of the cave is an-ua-vine.An, the; ua, grotto, cave, cavern; vine, melodious. The
name of Fingal in the same language is spelt and pronounced Fion in the nominative. But the
Earse nouns are declinable, and the genitive of Fingal is Fine; so that if one wished to express
the cave of Fingal in the Earse language, he would write ua-an-ne.
Because only a tiny phonetic shift separates the Gaelic for melodious cave(Uamh Bhinn)
from FingalsCave(Uamh Fhinn), he speculated that some person not very well versed in
the Earse language, might have translated to Sir Joseph Banksthe name FingalsCave
instead of melodious cave.
Actually, Saint-Fond was probably wrong: although the
Gaelic genitive for FingalsCaveis indeed Uamh Fhinn, the initial Fis silenced by len-
ition, whereas the initial consonant of Uamh Bhinn(the melodious cave) is pronounced
as a v. Bankss phonetic rendering of the caves Gaelic name (Ouwa Eehn) accurately
transcribes it as it would have been spoken by a Gaelic speaker, although this has been dis-
guised by Pennants transcription of the original journal in his published version, where
the Gaelic name is rendered in English as the cave of Fhinn. The French ideologues
attempt to correct Banks seems impelled by a desire to decomposelanguage. Gaelic
scholarship and careful enquiry into physical phenomena reveal the caves true name,
which turns out to describe a veriable natural (rather than a nebulous Ossianic) sublim-
ity. Whether Bankss or Saint-Fonds version was correct, the name FingalsCave
appeared on StevensonsChart of the Coast of Scotland in 1832 and remains on Ordnance
Survey maps and tourist brochures to this day, the worlds most celebrated site of
Fingalian topography.
II. Ossians Cultural Politics
Whatever the truth about Fingals Cave, Fingalian topography long pre-dated
Macphersons translation of Ossian, extending across the North Channel from the Scottish
to the Irish Gàidhealtachd. Uncertainty still surrounds the etymology of many such fea-
tures marked on modern maps, such as FingalsCaveitself. As well as melodious(binn),
the proper name Fionn is easily confused with the Gaelic for white(onn)orwine
Moreover, as Baines points out, after 17 6 0 Ossianomaniareplaced an earlier
indifference to recording Gaelic toponyms in accounts of the Highland landscape, making
it hard to distinguish authentic from invented traditions in place-names.
The same is
often true of Ossians relations to its Gaelic sources, although scholars have conclusively
established Macphersons debt to contemporary Scots and Irish anaigecht or an-ballads,
which he collected on a series of ethnopoeticeld trips through the Highlands and
Islands in 17 6 0 -61 ,nanced by the Edinburgh literati.
Valuable source material was
also gathered by correspondence with Gaelic ballad collectors, many of them Presbyterian
Ossian and the Highland Tour 185
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ministers, such as Revd John Macpherson of Sleat, or Revd James MacLagan of Blair
Macphersons publication inspired subsequent collectors of Ossianic verse, such
as the Revd John Smith (Sean Dana,1777) and the English Quaker Thomas F. Hill (Ancient
Erse Poems,178 4 ), as well as, of course, the tours of sceptics such as Dr Johnson and his
Gaelic disciple Revd William Shaw.
Macphersons Ossian presented its readers with an ideologically as well as aesthetically
doctored version of Gaelic tradition. Richard Sher has read Ossian in the context of the
Poker Clubscampaign for a Scottish militia in the 17 60 s, one aspect of Macphersons
nationalistic bid to bolster the myth of Caledonian resistance to foreign invaders.
extent to which Fingal is the offspring of Calgacus (the heroic leader of the Caledonians
at Mons Graupius, in TacitusAgricola) has never been adequately grasped by commenta-
tors, however. Ossians third-century setting permitted Fingal to be represented as the
leader of Scotlands Iron Age tribes against the Roman imperium in the gure of Caracul,
the son of the King of the World(Poems,p.47 ), a metaphor for post-Culloden Hanoverian
triumphalism. Anachronistically, Fingal: An Ancient Epic Poem is concerned with his de-
feat of the Norse invader Swaran: both campaigns, however, asserted Scotlandsagging
national pride during the crisis of the Bute administration. As Murray Pittock writes,
though [Macpherson] might talk the talk of sympathy, sentiment, and elegy, he walked
the walk of the taxonomy of glory.
If, inuenced by CamdensBritannia (1586), the
tourist itinerary of Highland Scotland pre-176 0 made by antiquarians such as Alexander
Gordon, Sir Richard Burrell or Richard Pococke was largely concerned with Roman
camps and battleeld sites, the publication of Ossian reinvented the Highland landscape
as the scene of heroic Fingalian resistance.
The famous boulder burial in Perthshires
SmaGlen, for example, was initially identied as a Romantomb by Hanoverian
soldiers constructing General Wades road network in the 1730 s, but sometime after
17 6 0 it was renamed Clach-Ossianor Ossians Grave, and it became an obligatory site
on the eighteenth-century tourist circuit, invoked, for example, in Wordsworths1805
poem Glen-Almain:In this still place, remote from men,/ Sleeps Ossian, in the
Colin Kidd had argued that Macphersons researches were intended to purify and sim-
plify the Scottish past, liberating the true national history from beneath a palimpsest of
Irish cultural imperialism and Romish priestcraft.
Ossians controversial historical
and geographical setting underwrote its claims to present an unalloyed bardic national-
ism quite distinct from the later traditions of the anaigecht ballads, products of a Catholic
popular culture common to Ireland and Gaelic Scotland. These claims were nessed in
Macphersons introductory dissertations, as well as in the copious footnotes to his poems,
often overlooked by commentators.
The fact that its third-century provenance pre-dated
Christianity in Scotland allowed for a sort of negative Protestantismthat mollied
moderate Presbyterian opinion, whether that of the Edinburgh literati or Gaelic-speaking
Highland ministers, struggling to purge their parishioners of pre-Reformation supersti-
tions. St Patrick, Oiséans interlocutor in many of the source ballads, is airbrushed out
by Macpherson as a historical anachronism.
The same is true of the poems geograph-
ical settings. Womack claims that these are topographically null: the place names are
meaningless, and the scenic components [] remain arbitrary and inexplicit, wrapped
up in the mystique of tradition.
In fact, the explanatory mythe histoire permeating
Macphersons prefaces and footnotes encouraged the reader to perform ideological acts
of geographical as well as historical localisation, clues to which are sown like cryptic seeds
in the verse itself, inspiring travellers to visit the Highlands in search of Fingalian locations
and bardic fragments.
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on behalf of British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
As part of his attack on the Hibernian system(which since Fordun and Buchanan
derived Scottish Gaels from Ireland), Macphersons footnotes claimed Scottish descent
for Fingal, Cuchullin and many of the Fiana, even if most of the heroic action in Fingal
and Temora actually takes place in Ireland, with episodes set in the Hebrides and Orkneys,
as well as Lochlin(Scandinavia). The Scottish Fingal ew in the face of popular legends:
in 1703 Martin Martin had associated Fingalian toponyms in Skye with Fin MacCoulof
popular fame, a
gigantic man [] reported to have been a general of a militia that came from Spain to Ireland,
and from thence to these isles. All his soldiers are called Fienty from un []. The natives have
many stories of this general and his army, with which I will not trouble the reader.
In exemplifying the complex trafcofan-ballads between medieval Ireland and Scotland,
Donald Meek has shown that the medieval Scottish version of the Lay of Diarmaidtrans-
poses the Irish setting of Ben Bulben, near Sligo, to Perthshires Ben Gulabin, in Glen Shee,
also mentioned in the ballad.
But Macpherson and his followers employed topography
to refute the claims of Irish Ossian. In his polemical Ossianio (1818 ), for example, Hugh
Campbell concluded that Fingals progress in Ireland never exceeded twenty miles from
the coast of Ulster, which he took to be conclusive proof of his Scottish rather than Irish
Little wonder that Irish antiquarians such as Charles OConor and Sylvester OHalloran
were outraged by Macphersons provocative description of ancient Ireland as a virtual
Caledonian colony, even if, as Clare OHalloran notes, the debate stimulated a defensive
revival of interest in Irish Gaelic traditions.
In her 180 6 novel The Wild Irish Girl, Sydney
OwensonsPrince of Inismoreinsisted that Fingals denomination King of Morvendidnt
refer to the Highland peninsula of that name, but rather signied Riagh Môr Fhionne,King
or Chief of the Fhians, or Fians, a body of men [] which [] in the annals of Scottish
history or Scottish poetry, would be vainly sought.
And if by the 17 9 0 s Scottish Gaelic
poets such as Duncan Ban Macintyre were enlisting the Fiana for loyalist purposes, Luke
Gibbons has described how Irish antiquaries at the turn of the nineteenth century
reclaimed the Irish Oisín for a more radical version of bardic nationalism.
III. Ossian and the Highland Tour
Ossian loomed large in the Welsh naturalist Thomas PennantsTours in Scotland in 1769
and 177 2 , the rst systematic and illustrated description of a country that he described
as almost as little known to its southern brethren as Kamschatka.
Pennant endorsed
Macphersons claims for the authenticity of Ossian when he reported in Inverness-shire
that they still have fragments of the story of Fingal and others, which they carrel as they
go along; these vocal traditions are the foundations of the works of Ossian.
Fraoch-Eilan on Loch Awe, he acknowledged the island as the Hesperides of the High-
lands, the setting of Jerome Stones Ossianic translation Albin and the Daughter of
Mey, published in the Scots Magazine in 1756 .
In Glen Coe, Pennant described the river
Cöan, or Cona, celebrated in the works of Ossian. Indeed no place could be more happily
calculated than this for forming the taste and inspiring the genius of such a poet.
The high point of Pennants1772 tour was his Voyage to the Hebrideson board the
Lady Frederick Campbell, which took his expedition through the Inner Hebrides and Skye
Ossian and the Highland Tour 187
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on behalf of British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
as far as Wester Ross. Although unable to visit Staffa, he had earlier visited another
FingalsCaveatDrum-an-Dùinon the isle of Arran, purportedly used as a hunting lodge
by Fin MacCoul, or Fingalen route between Morven and Ulster. Here Pennant allowed his
imagination free rein in describing heroes of old devour[ing] their meat half raw, cooked
in skin bags hanging from the cavern roof. He also described cave paintings that depicted
rude gures, cut on the stone, of men, or animals, and of a claymore and two handed
sword, although he remained unsure whether these were the productions of Fingalian
or later ages.
Pennant described the Hebrides as partaking of an Ossianic sparagmos: everywhere he
went, he found a depressed and impoverished population on the brink of starvation.
Although never quite sharing Bankss Ossianic enthusiasm, he overtly enlisted
Macphersons poem in the service of social critique in perhaps the most remarkable
passage in the 177 2 tour.
In the Vision at Ardmaddie, which concludes his Voyage
to the Hebrides, Pennant imagines himself again gently wafted down the Sound of Mull;
bounded on each side by the former dominions, of mighty chieftains; or of heroes immor-
talized in the verse of Ossian.
Ruminating on this Fingalian topography as he nods off to
sleep, he is promptly visited by an Ossianic spectre, agure dressed in the garb of an
ancient warrior,whooated in the air before me: his target and his claymore seemed
of no common size, and spoke the former strength of his hero.
At one level identied
with Fingal, the King of Morven, the spectre also announces himself as a Highland chief-
tain of the sixteenth century, collapsing modern Gaeldom into the same imaginative space
as the Ossianic past. After praising the chivalric and paternalistic aspects of the traditional
clan system which now lay in ruins, the spectre delivers a jeremiad against the contem-
porary Highland elite, who have degenerated from Fingalian mighty chieftainsto rapa-
cious landlords.
But although the spectre tasks the chiefs to return to their estates and
introduce the peaceful arts of sheries and textile manufactories, the priority here seems
to be military recruitment, in line with the atavistic clan militarism personied by Fingal
and his Fiana. However problematic (as Andrew Mackillop has argued) the idea of
transforming Gaeldom into a military reservoirefor the service of the British state proved
in practice, Pennants appropriation of Ossian as a usable past, from which to deliver his
critique of Highland landlordism contrasts with Joseph Bankss solitary reveries in the
woods of Morvern, a prototype of WomacksaestheticizedHighlands.
A year later, in October 1773, Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell visited the
Hebridean isle of Coll as a guest of the young Maclean laird in the course of what was
in many respects a reprise of PennantsVoyage to the Hebridesof 177 2 . In his Journey
to the Western Islands (1775 ) Johnson boasted that the island of Coll was exempt from
any of the distresses, which Mr Pennant, in a t of simple credulity, seems to think almost
worthy of an elegy by Ossian.
The Ossianic reference (coming from Dr Johnsons pen,
compounding Pennants political sin of simple credulity) leaves little doubt that it was
a specic allusion to Pennantsvision at Ardmaddie, which he had just time to read in
May-June of 17 74 , before delivering the manuscript of the Journey to his London publisher.
However, the fact that Johnsonsownreections at Ostaig in Skye are similar to many of
Pennants criticisms, including a verbal echo of his attack on rapacious landlords,
suggests that his main objection was to Pennants adoption of an Ossianic gure of protest
rather than to the spirit of the critique itself.
Although Dr Johnson denied it, Revd Donald MacNicol probably wasnt far off the mark
in claiming that from the rst appearance of Ossians Poems in public, we may date the
origin of Dr Johnsons intended tour to Scotland, whatever he may pretend to tell us, in
the beginning of his tour.
Johnsons depiction of Scotland as a treeless waste encodes
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on behalf of British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
his view of what Ian Duncan has called its metaphysical desertication.
In the absence
of Ossianic sublimity, Johnson suggests, an eye accustomed to owery pastures and
waving harvests is astonished and repelled by this wide extent of hopeless sterility.
By the same token, the great lexicographer argued that Earse [Scottish Gaelic] was never
a written language; that there is not in the world an Earse manuscript a hundred years
old []Earse merely oated in the breath of the people, and could therefore receive little
improvement. Macpherson had artfully confected an epic tradition out of names that
circulate in popular stories [] and wandering balladsin order to promote Scottish
cultural nationalism.
If we know little of the ancient Highlanders,cautioned Johnson,
let us not ll the vacuity with Ossian.
Boating on Loch Bracadale on Skye on 22 September, Johnson and Boswell visited a
cave remarkable for the powerful reverberation of sounds. Although its exact location
has not been traced, Johnsons description suggests that it was possibly another melodi-
ous cave, like that visited on Staffa by Banks the preceding summer.
Johnson was
unimpressed when they reached their destination: as a new testimony to the veracity
of common fame, here was no echo to be heard.
Katie Trumpener notes that Johnson
remains preoccupied with the caves lack of echo, as evidence both of the fundamental
unreliability of Highland tradition and of the fundamentally un-resonant character of
the Scottish landscape, if viewed without nationalist sentimentality. She also notes an
implicit denial here of an Ossianic aesthetic that had turned the Highlands into one enor-
mous echo chamber [] [resonating] with the remembered voices of the past.
was more impressed with Mackinnons Cave at Gribun, on the west coast of Mull, from
which his party could see the island of Staffa. Rough seas prohibited any landing on the
island, so they were unable to add the recently celebrated FingalsCaveto their list of
Hebridean sites. Nevertheless, Joseph Bankss description, published in Pennants1772
Tour, doubtless jarred in Johnsons mind when he narrated this episode in his Journey,
especially Bankss onomastic identication of the cave with Ossian. Johnson would
doubtless have been delighted with Saint-Fonds suggestion that Fingalwas a misprision
of the Gaelic for melodiouscave. Looking beyond what he regarded as a bogus narrative
of Fingalian warriors, denizens of a pre-Christian world, the climax of Johnsons tour of
the Hebrides was his account of the medieval ruins of Iona, the luminary of the
Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benetof
knowledge, and the blessings of religion.
Fingalian topography played a major role in popularising the Highland tour in the decades
following the appearance of Pennant and JohnsonsTours in the mid-1770 s. The arduous long
tourof the Highlands, following in their tracks, increasingly gave way to the more leisurely
and accessible petit tour, following William Gilpins two-week circuit of 1776 , notable for pro-
ducing the rst accounts by women.
Like Gilpin, neither Eliabeth Diggle nor Mary Hanway
nor Sarah Murray (at least in her 1799 publication) showed much interest in Fingalian topog-
raphy, preferring the contemplation of sublime and picturesque scenery untrammelled by
bardic associations.
Nonetheless, the anonymous One Days Journey to the Highlands of Scot-
178 4
provided a recipe of Fingalian wonders accessible from the town of Perth
during a single days outing: the climax of this tour was Clach-Ossian, or Ossians Grave,but
tourists could take in the iron-works where Fingalsswordsandspearshadbeenforgedat
Lochenlour, while the name of the village of Monivaird (Bards Hill) undoubtedly commemo-
rated the warrior-bards encampment. Given that Selma in Morvern was only 60 miles west
from Glenalmond, it would have made sense for Ossian to base his army just north of the Ro-
manfrontierafterhisfatherFingals death, thereby explaining the Perthshire location of
Ossian and the Highland Tour 189
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Easily the most sensational site on the petit tourwas the duke of Athollshermitage
near Dunkeld, constructed in 1757 but re-designated Ossians Hallin 178 3 . This
pavilion displayed the falls of the River Bran, described by Malcolm Andrews as one of
the nest picturesque sites in Britain.
In the words of the Londoner Elizabeth Diggle,
visiting in 178 8 ,
it is called a hermitage, but has more resemblance to a fairy palace called up in a moment by
the stroke of her wand, & suspended among rocks, & close to a noble cascade, the entrance is
by a rude gothic porch, a painting of the blind bard Ossian being the only gure that strikes
the eye, he disappears at the touch of an invisible spring, & you are introduced to a most
elegant room adorned in the most improved stile of modern art. I conceive both these
apartments are meant as emblematic of the ancient & modern times.
Gilpin was less impressed, objecting to tricks below the dignity of scenes like this.
1803 the kaleidoscopic hall of mirrors had both William and Dorothy Wordsworth in
stitches, which, remarked Dorothy, no doubt [our guide] considered as high commenda-
Like Ossians Gravein Glenalmond, in 1814 the hermitage inspired Wordsworth
to compose an Effusion in the Pleasure-Ground on the Banks of the Bran, Dunkeld.For
all his doubts about Fingalian topography, Wordsworth sought to recall some feeling to
set free/ The Bard from such indignity!(l.44-5). In place of the meretricious hermitage he
proposed a rough-hewn statue of Ossian carved in rock on the banks of the Bran, so that
in some t of anger sharp,
The wind might force the deep-grooved harp
To utter melodious moans
Not unconnected with the tones
Of soul-sick esh and weary bones;
While grove and river notes would lend,
Less deeply sad, with these to blend!(l.98-104 ).
Like the natural organ sounded by the surging tide in Fingals Cave, in Wordsworths
poem bardic nationalism gives way to natural supernaturalism, the romantic music of
an aeolian harp.
IV. Fieldwork
In the years immediately following Macphersonsdeathin179 6 , the Highland Society of Ed-
inburgh appointed an investigative committee charged with laying to rest the Ossian contro-
versy, alongside the bones of its instigator. Reviewing the societys cautious Report in 180 5 ,
alongside Malcolm Laings damaging Ossian edition of the same year, Sir Walter Scott declared
let us therefore hear no more of Macpherson; increasingly the Trossachs of ScottsLady of the
Lake (1810 ) or Robert BurnsBirks of Aberfeldyand other sites vied with Fingalian topogra-
phy to inspire the touristsgaze.
In 1807 Sir John Sinclair, sponsored by the Highland Society
of London (as distinct from the Edinburgh society that had commissioned the 1805 report),
supervised the publication of The Poems of Ossian, in the Original Gaelic, with a Literal Translation
into Latin, which sought to balance the effects of Laings damaging literary source-hunting by
presenting the long-promised originals.In1952 the Gaelic scholar Derick Thomson described
Sinclairs Gaelic texts as merely back-translations from Macphersons English, and ridiculed
©(2016) The Authors. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd
on behalf of British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
the execrable Gaelic of their author, one stage further removed from [the original] ballads
than the English of 17 63 .
Recently, Donald Meek has taken a different view, arguing that
the 1807 Gaelic Ossian had a remarkably stimulating inuence on nineteenth-century Gaelic
literatureand, like Macphersons original poems, exalted the status of the Gaelic language
and cultureat a time of cultural and political crisis. The jury is therefore still out on Ossians
Gaelic legacy.
Since Banksdiscoveryon Staffa, Fingalian topography had offered a ready alibi for
Macphersons defenders, which Sinclairs volume now took to new extremes. He excerpted
ministersreports in the Statistical Account identifying Ossianic sites in their own parishes
around Argyll and Lorne, and published a map showing the location of FingalsSelmaon
thesiteoftheancientcityofBeregoniumin Lorne (Fig. 1). A waterfall beside the Connell
Ferry answers so well the description of the Eas Laoire of Ossian, and MacphersonsLora []
that it would be in vain to look for it anywhere else.
In the words of Eric Gidal, tradition
and information [here] become equivalent, and epic poetry and statistical analysis become in-
terchangeable genres for recording the history of a land and its peoples.
In initiating
1. Map of Ancient Selma, the Residence of Fingal, 1807. By permission of the University
of Glasgow
Ossian and the Highland Tour 191
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on behalf of British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
Schliemann-style mapping, Sinclair may have promoted Scotlands burgeoning Romantic
tourist industry, but did little to convince the scholarly world of the authenticity of
Macphersons Ossian: this hardly mattered, however, given that twenty-seven editions of the
poem appeared between 180 0 and 183 0 .
A more productive outcome of the Highland Society of Scotland investigation was the ques-
tionnaire circulated to native witnesses, which, as Maureen McLane has argued, represented a
shift from the pursuit of Macphersonsoriginal manuscriptsto producing native informants,
oral testimonies, or more precisely oral editions[] which would most likely be plural and
The shift is emblematised in an incident from the 179 0 s, narrated in Faujas
Saint-FondsTravels, which occurred when the French travellers chaise broke down between
Oban and Dalmally. In an attempt to rally their spirits, one of the party, a young American
called William Thornton, indulged in an Ossianic rapture: we are among those mountains
which the exploits of Fingal have for ever signalised. The immortal Ossian has trod upon this
ground. His name is dear to the Muses. My imagination warms!
Instantly, in a literalist
replay of PennantsVision at Ardmaddie,an old man, with his head uncovered, his hair
white, and dressed in a oating drapery of the same colour, started up before us. It is Ossian!
cried Thornton, it is the divine poet himself! Let us prostrate ourselves before him!”’But
rather than launch into Pennantian social critique, the bardic gure suddenly disappeared,
leaving the travellers asking themselves is it an illusion? Is it a dream?The Fingalian land-
scape is here replaced by a prosopopoeia of Macphersons bard himself, a reversal of the trick
in the Dunkeld hermitage. But Saint-Fonds Ossianic apparition rapidly collapses into
burlesque when it turns out that the white phantom [was] an old miller, who, awakened
by our cries, ran in his shirt bareheaded to our assistance, and having seen their plight, rushed
The gure of the oury miller emblematises a shift of touristic attention from Macphersons
ancient bard to contemporary labouring-class Gaelic tradition-bearers in many of the ac-
counts published during the period of the Highland Society enquiry. The narratives of Saint-
Fond, John Leyden and John Stoddart in these years describe scouring the increasingly
depopulated glens of Argyllshire for Ossianic fragments, hunting down contemporary bards
such as the redoubtable blacksmith Alexander MacNab of Dalmallie.
Incapacitated by their
ignorance of Gaelic, their researches reveal authentic Ossianic sources to be an elusive quarry,
as they discover locked chests full of ancient manuscripts for which the keys are unobtainable,
receive reports of senachies in ever more remote and inaccessible glens or else encounter mono-
lingual cowherds and slate-quarriers, who sing Fingalian verse which they canttranslate.Yet
his eldwork convinced Wordsworths friend John Stoddart that Macpherson had employed
great freedom in expunging the extravagances of superstitionfrom his sources, which still
abounded in popular notions of the Highlands, respecting the Fions, and he grumbled at this
fastidiousness. He noted identical Fingalian toponyms occurring all over the Highlands,
wherever an-ballads had been disseminated, suggesting a more subtle relationship between
tradition and topography than Bankss eagerness to claim that the name of FingalsCavesup-
ported the authenticity of Macphersons Ossian.
Inlaterdecadesthiseldwork tradition
ourished in the hands of Gaelic-speaking folklorists, such as J. F. Campbell and Revd J. G.
Campbell, whose important published collections reveal the staying power of an-ballads in
Gaelic popular culture, and which did more to stimulate the contemporary revival of Gaelic
song and oral culture than Macphersonspoems.
Nevertheless, across much of the Scottish
Gàidhealtachd, Fingalian topography outlived the language and culture that created it, whether
as authentic or invented tradition. It survives today mainly in the Gaelic toponyms, often
misspelt on the OS maps, their meaning opaque to residents and tourists alike, which bear me-
lodious witness to Ossianic songs of other times.
©(2016) The Authors. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd
on behalf of British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
1. Roy A. Rauschenberg, The Journals of Joseph Bankss Voyage up Great Britains Coast to
Iceland and to the Orkney Isles, July to October 177 2 ,Proceedings of the American Philosophical
Society 117 :3(197 3 ), p.205. This is the only available edition of Bankss Iceland journal and
contains a useful introduction, although the annotation is unreliable regarding the Hebrides.
2. Howard Gaskill (ed.), The Poems of Ossian, with an introduction by Fiona Stafford (Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press,19 96 ), p.18 . Subsequent references to the Poems are to this edition, cited
in parentheses within the text.
3. Dafydd Moore, Heroic Incoherence in James MacphersonsThe Poems of Ossian,Eighteenth
Century Studies 34:1(2000 ), p.45, quoting Northrop Frye, The Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1957 ), p.192 .
4. See Fiona Stafford, The Sublime Savage: James Macpherson and the Poems of Ossian (Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press, 19 88 ), p.17 -20 .
5. Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997 ), p.3-34 ,74 -82 .
6. Peter Womack, Improvement and Romance: Constructing the Myth of the Highlands
(Basingstoke: Macmillan, 198 8 ), p.78,82,99.
7. Rauschenberg, Journals of Joseph Bankss Voyage,p.207. In the version of Bankssjournal
published in Pennant the Gaelic is anglicised, appearing as: We asked the name of it. Said our guide,
The cave of Fhinn.”“What is Fhinn?said we. Fhinn MacCoul, whom the translator of Ossians
works has called Fingal.Account of Staffain Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to
the Hebrides,
177 2
, intro. by Charles Withers, ed. Andrew Simmons (Edinburgh: Birlinn,199 8 ), p.25 8 .
8. Paul Baines, Ossianic Geography: Fingalian Figures on the Scottish Tour, 176 0 -18 30 ,
Scotlands 4:1(19 97 ), p.49. See also Eric GidalsOssianic Uncomformities: Bardic Poetry in the Indus-
trial Age, (Charlottesville, VA, and London: University of Viriginia Press, 2015), which was only
available to me at a late stage in the preparation of this article. Gidal casts important light on
the application by nineteenth-century Ossian scholars of historical geography, speculative geology,
and a kind of nascent industrial archaeology to measure and map [the] vernacular environment of
a displaced oral tradition [standing] in fraught relation to the ofcial and normative landscape of a
British industrial order(p.182 ).
9. David Simpson, Wordsworth and Empire Just Joking, in Peter de Bolla, Nigel Leask and
David Simpson (eds), Land, Nation and Culture,
174 0
184 0
: Thinking the Republic of Taste
(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), p.191 .
10. Our guidereferred to in Bankss journal must have been a literate man like Maclean, in
possession of the knowledge (as Banks spells out here) that Macpherson, the translator of Ossians
workshad rendered the Fionn McCumhalof Gaelic popular tradition as Fingal.
11. Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond, Travels in England, Scotland, and the Hebrides,2vols
(London, 17 99 ), vol. II.49.
12. Faujas de Saint-Fond, Travels, vol. II.50 -51 . For a possible earlier source of Saint-Fonds
hypothesis, see Donald B. MacCulloch, Staffa,4th rev. edn (Newton Abbot: David & Charles,
1975 ), p.18 . Thanks to Tom Furniss for this reference.
13. Baines, Ossianic Geography,p.47 .
14. John Murray, Reading the Gaelic Landscape (Caithness: Whittles Publishing, 2014), p.90,196 .
15. Baines, Ossianic Geography,p.52 .
16. This is well described in Stafford, The Sublime Savage,p.113 -32.
17. Derick S. Thomson, The Gaelic Sources of MacphersonsOssian(Aberdeen: Oliver and Boyd,
1952 ), p.5-12 ; Donald Meek, The Gaelic Ballads of Scotland: Creativity and Adaptation,in
Howard Gaskill (ed.), Ossian Revisited (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 19 91 ), p.20. See also
Ossian and the Highland Tour 193
©(2016) The Authors. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd
on behalf of British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
Robert Dunbar, Vernacular Gaelic Tradition, in Sarah Dunnigan and Suzanne Gilbert (eds), The
Edinburgh Companion to Scottish Traditional Literatures (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press,
2013), p.51 -62.
18. See Richard Sher, Percy, Shaw, and the Ferguson Cheat: National Prejudice in the Ossian
War s , in Gaskill (ed.), Ossian Revisited,p.207-45 .
19. Richard Sher, Church and University in the Scottish Enlightenment (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univer-
sity Press, 1985 ), p.242-61 ; Colin Kidd, Subverting ScotlandsPast:Scottish Whig Historians and the Crea-
tion of an Anglo-British Identity,
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 19 93 ), p.219 -39 .
20. Murray Pittock, Scottish and Irish Romanticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008),
p.80. See Juliet Shieldss discussion of Ossian and race in Sentimental Literature and Anglo-Scottish
174 5
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p.36 -50 .
21. Alexander Gordon, Itinerarium septentrionale, or, A Journey throMost of the Counties of Scotland
(London,17 26 ); Sir William Burrells Northern Tour,
, ed. John G. Dunlop (East Linton: Tuckwell
Press, 1997 ); Tours in Scotland,
176 0
by Richard Pococke, Bishop of Meath, From the
Original Manuscript and Drawings in the British Museum, ed. with a biographical sketch of the author
by Daniel William Kemp (Edinburgh: T. and A. Constable, for the Scottish History Society, 18 87).
22. John O. Hayden (ed.), William Wordsworth: The Poems,2vols (Harmondsworth: Penguin,
1977 ), vol. I.638 . Dorothy Wordsworth noted that the poem was written by Wordsworth on hear-
ing of a tradition relating to it, which we did not know when we were there. Dorothy Wordsworth,
Reections of a Tour Made in Scotland, intro., notes and photographs by Carol Kyros Walker (New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 19 97 ), p.17 6 .
23. Kidd, Subverting Scotlands Past,p.232 .
24. Notable exceptions are Howard Gaskills seminal essay Ossian in Europein Canadian Review of
Comparative Literature 21 (19 94 ), p.643-78, and Sebastian Mitchells discussion in Visions of Britain: An-
glo-Scottish Writing and Representation,
173 0
(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p.126 -43 .
25. See, for example, Gaskill (ed.), Poems of Ossian,p.11 9 ,n.1and 32 , and p.219 ; Thomson,
Gaelic Sources,p.43.
26. Wom a ck, Improvement and Romance,p.78 . For strictures on Macphersons topography, see also
Fiona Stafford, The Sublime Savage,p.103 , and Luke Gibbons, Edmund Burke and Ireland (Cambridge: Cam-
bridge University Press, 2003), p.217 .
27. Martin Martin, A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, intro. by Charles Withers and
R. W. Munro (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 199 9 ), p.99 .
28. Meek, Gaelic Ballads of Scotland,p.29 . See Gleann Síodh an gleann-so rém thaoibh(a
version of the Lay of Diarmaid) with its numerous references to Beann Gulbainn, in Neil Ross
(ed.), Heroic Poetry from the Book of the Dean of Lismore (Edinburgh: Olive & Boyd, 1939 ), p.71-7.
The Book of the Dean, compiled in Perthshire around 15 20 , was in Macphersons possession.
29. Hugh Campbell, Ossiano: Being an Attempt to Ascertain the Battleelds of Fingal in Ulster (1818 ), in
Dafydd Moore (ed.), Ossian and Ossianism,3vols (London and New York: Routledge,2004), vol.III.406-
7.SeeGidal,Ossianic Unconformities,p.103 -24, for a nuanced account of Campbell.
30. Clare OHalloran, Ossian and the Irish Bardsin her Golden Ages and Barbarous Nations: Antiquarian
Debate and Cultural Politics in Ireland, c.
180 0
(Cork: Cork University Press, 20 04 ), p.97 -124 .
31. Lady Morgan (Sydney Owenson), The Wild Irish Girl (180 6 ), ed. with intro. by Kathryn
Kirkpatrick (Oxford: Worlds Classics, 19 99 ), p.108 . In a note to Fingal, Book 3, Macpherson
specied that all the north west coast of Scotland probably went under the old name of Morven,
which signies a ridge of very high hills(Poems of Ossian,p.428,n.17 ).
32. See MacintyresOran do Iarla Bhraghaid Albann,l.5280 -81 , in Angus Macleod (ed.), Orain
Dhonnchaid Bhain (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1952 ), p.367 ; Luke Gibbons, From Ossian
to OCarolan: The Bard as Separatist Symbol, in Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill (eds.), From
Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 199 8 ), p.226 -51 .
©(2016) The Authors. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd
on behalf of British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
33. The Literary Life of Thomas Pennant, Esq.,by Himself (London, 17 93 ), p.10 .
34. Thomas Pennant, A Tour of Scotland in
176 9
,3rd edn ([17 74 ] Perth: Melven Press, 197 9 ),
p.196 .
35. Pennant, A Tour of Scotland in
176 9
,p.217 . Stones translation was based on the Gaelic
ballad Bas Fhraoch. See Stafford, Sublime Savage,p.64-5.
36. Pennant, A Tour in Scotland in
176 9
,p.210 . This is based on Macphersons note to Fingal,
Book 1(Poems of Ossian,p.424,n.94). See Baines, Ossianic Geography,p.47 , for Pennants visit
to other Fingalian sites.
37. Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides in
177 2
, intro by Charles W. J.
Withers, ed. Andrew Simmons (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 19 98 ), p.17 2 -3.
38. On Pennants politics, see Paul Smethurst, Travel Writing and the Natural World,
176 8
184 0
(Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p.11 9 .
39. Pennant, A Tour of Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides in
177 2
,p.364 .
40. Pennant, A Tour of Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides in
177 2
41. Pennant, A Tour of Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides in
177 2
42. Andrew Mackillop, More Fruitful than the Soil: Army, Empire and the Scottish Highlands,
(East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 200 0), p.240.
43. Ronald Black (ed.), To the Hebrides: Samuel JohnsonsJourney to the Western Islands of Scotland
and James BoswellsJournal of a Tour to the Hebrides(Edinburgh: Birlinn, 20 07),p.299 .
44. At one point, Johnson quotes these very words from Pennant. See Black (ed.), To the Hebrides,
p.188 . For Johnsons reading of Pennant, see J. D. Fleemans introduction to A Journey to the Western
Islands of Scotland (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 19 85 ), p.xvii.
45. Donald McNicol, Remarks on Dr Samuel Johnsons Journey to the Hebrides (London, 17 79 ), p.10 .
46. Ian Duncan, The Pathos of Abstraction: Adam Smith, Ossian, and Samuel Johnson,in
Leith Davis, Ian Duncan and Janet Sorensen (eds.), Scotland and the Borders of Romanticism
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p.39 .
47. Black (ed.), To the Hebrides,p.88 .
48. Black (ed.), To the Hebrides,p.209 .
49. Black (ed.), To the Hebrides,p.210 .
50. Black (ed.), To the Hebrides,p.17 6 . There is no agreement as to whether this cave was The
PipersCave(Uamh an Òir) at Harlosh Point, or the sea cave on Harlosh Island, or else a cave on
Oronsay, or one of the other sea caves on Loch Bracadale. See To the Hebrides,p.
528 -9.
51. Black (ed.), To the Hebrides,p.17 6 .
52. Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism,p.70.
53. Black (ed.), To the Hebrides,p.38 0 .
54. Pennant seems to have invented the term petit tour.Tour
176 9
,p.91 ; Malcolm Andrews,
The Search for the Picturesque: Landscape Aesthetics and Tourism in Britain,
176 0
180 0
Scolar Press, 1989 ), p.206-7; William Gilpin, Observations, Relative Chiey to Picturesque Beauty,
Made in the Year
177 6
, On Several Parts of Great Britain, Particularly the High-Lands of Scotland,2vols
(London, 1789 90 ), vol. I.169 .
55. Betty Hagglund, Tourists and Travellers: Womens Non-Fictional Writing about Scotland
177 0
(Bristol: Channel View, 2010), p.24-8. Sarah Murrays interest in Ossian grew in
her later tours of Scotland: see Hagglund, Tourists and Travellers,p.26 .
56. One Days Journey to the Highlands of Scotland,
th March
178 4
(Perth, 178 4 ), p.12 ,13 ,16 .
This locally printed 21 -page pamphlet achieved nationwide circulation when it was incorporated
in Thomas Newtes widely read Prospects and Observations; on a Tour in England and Scotland,
published in London in 17 91 . Newte was the pseudonym of William Thomson, who hailed from
Perthshire and may have been the author of One Days Journey printed by John Gillies of Perth.
57. Andrews, The Search for the Picturesque,p.214 .
Ossian and the Highland Tour 195
©(2016) The Authors. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd
on behalf of British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
58. Elizbeth Diggle, Journal of a Tour from London to the Highlands of Scotland, 17 88 ,in
Alastair J. Durie (ed.), Travels in Scotland,
178 8
(Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2012), p.25-6.
59. Gilpin, Observations,p.121.
60. Dorothy Wordsworth, Reections of a Tour Made in Scotland,p.174 .
61. Effusion in the Pleasure-Ground on the Banks of the Bran, Dunkeld, in Hayden (ed.),
Wordsworth: The Poems, vol. II.300-01 . For Wordsworths doubts about Fingalian topography, see
Essay, Supplementary to the Preface, in John O. Hayden (ed.), Wordsworth: Selected Prose
(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988), p.404.
62. Report of the Highland Society upon Ossian,Edinburgh Review 6(July 1805 ), p.429-62 ,461.
63. Thomson, Gaelic Sources,p.85 -9. The translations appear to have been by Macpherson
himself, assisted by Captain Alexander Morison.
64. Donald E. Meek, The Sublime Gael: The Impact of MacphersonsOssian on Literary Creativ-
ity and Cultural Perception in Gaelic Scotland, in Howard Gaskill (ed.), The Reception of Ossian in
Europe (London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004 ), p.41,66. Meek notes that Ossian was enlisted
by nineteenth-century Gaels in opposing forced emigration and sheep clearance, and in support
of the CroftersWar (p.55 ,58).
65. The Poems of Ossian, in the Original Gaelic, with a Literal Translation into Latin, by the Late
Robert Macfarlan, Together with a Dissertation on the Authenticity of the Poems by Sir John Sinclair, Bart,
3vols (London, 18 07 ), vol. III.511 .Port Selmais still marked on the OS map of the site, in the
modern village of Benderloch. See Eric Gidal, Ossianic Unconformities,pp.55 -90, for a detailed
account of Sinclairs edition.
66. Gidal, Ossianic Unconformities,p.64 .
67. Dafydd Moore, The Reception of Ossian in England and Scotland, in Gaskill (ed.), The Reception of
Ossian in Europe,p.30 . A fantastical extension of Sinclairs project, integrating new geological theories
against the background of industrial modernity, was P. Hately WaddellsOssian and the Clyde, Fingal in
Ireland, Oscar in Iceland, or, Ossian Historical and Authentic (Glasgow: James Maclehose, 1875 ), to which
Gidal devotes an excellent chapter in Ossianic Unconformities,p.125 -54.
68. Maureen McLane, Balladeering, Minstrelsy, and the Making of British Romantic Poetry
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p.79.
69. Saint-Fond, Travels, vol. I.316 .
70. Saint-Fond, Travels, vol. I.317 . For a different interpretation of this passage, see Baines,
Ossianic Geography,p.57 .
71. John Leyden, Journal of a Tour in the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland in
180 0
, ed.
James Sinton (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1903 ); John Stoddart, Remarks on Local Scenery and Manners
in Scotland,2vols (London, 18 01 ). For MacNab, see Thomson, Gaelic Sources,p.8. Leydens account
of his visits to Donald MacNicol of Lismore and James MacLagan has been of great service to Gaelic
72. Stoddart, Remarks, vol. I.278 , vol. II.32 ; Baines, Ossianic Geography,p.49 .
73. John Francis Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands,4vols (Paisley and London: Alexander
Gardner, 1892 ), and Leabhar na Féinne (London: Spottiswoode, 1872 ); John Gregorson Campbell, The
Fians; or, Stories, Poems and Traditions of Fion and His Warrior Band Band (London: David Nutt, 1891 ).
The two Campbells were not related.
NIGEL LEASK holds the Regius Chair of English Language and Literature at the University of Glasgow. He has pub-
lished widely in the area of Romantic literature and culture, with a special emphasis on empire, orientalism
and travel-writing, as well as Scottish literature and thought, 1750 -1850 . He is currently Co-Investigator of
the AHRC-funded Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant and the Welsh and Scottish Tour, 1750 -182 0
(2014-18) and is also writing a book on the Scottish Tour in the long eighteenth century. He is a Fellow of
the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
©(2016) The Authors. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd
on behalf of British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
... On the vexed question of the authenticity of the Ossian poems, Necker generally restricted himself to reportage of other people's opinions, or of toponyms. Faujas de Saint-Fond was suspected, in similar circumstances, of being tactful in not expressing an opinion about Ossian (anon 1800), since he had provided an alternative etymology for Fingal's Cave (Leask 2016). In Necker's case it is likely that, under the influence of confirmed Ossianist Germaine de Staël (Carboni 2004), and that of Henry Mackenzie (who had chaired the Highland Society's investigation into the authenticity of the poems) and his circle, he simply took their authenticity for granted. ...
Two books about Scotland, published in French in 1821, offer an interesting contrast, both in the aims of the authors and the style of the accounts they produced. They reveal unexpected similarities too: Louis-Albert Necker’s long and detailed account of Scotland, Voyage en Écosse et aux Iles Hébrides, seems typical of the purposive journey of an eighteenth-century naturalist, yet contains historical elements and scenic descriptions more associated with the Romantic Movement; while the avowedly Romantic Charles Nodier includes in his Promenade de Dieppe aux montagnes d’Écosse some very precise natural history along with his impressions of the country. Both authors were marked by their experience of Scotland to a larger extent than they might have foreseen: one spent the rest of his life as a self-proclaimed expert on Scotland after a visit of a few weeks, while the other passed the last twenty years of his life on the Isle of Skye.
Cambridge Core - British History after 1450 - Art and Identity in Scotland - by Viccy Coltman
This essay surveys responses to Macpherson’s Ossian in Irish literature, alongside analysis of the development of literary Celticism. Despite being a key text behind the development of Celticism in Irish writing, Ossian is consciously rejected in Irish Romanticism and in the Celtic Revival. However, Ossian becomes a symbol of literary recycling and mental fragmentation in Irish Modernism. Texts studied in this essay include Owenson’s The Wild Irish Girl, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and Beckett’s Murphy.
The dynamics of Empire and their presence in Romantic writing have been lately much inspected, and most people probably think they know what Wordsworth thought about them. He did not, one might say, think much about them at all, lining up with a number of other major writers who seem to have said very little on the difficult topics of slavery, imperialism, commerce and conquest. To be sure there is the vigorous critique of militarist empire-building in the ‘Salisbury Plain’ poem, along with the more or less sympathetic 1802 sonnets on Toussaint and on the ‘female Passenger’ exiled from France because of her race; but then there are those purple passages in The Excursion which might well continue to make us wince even if we convince ourselves that they are dramatic and not doctrinal, the property of the poem’s speakers and not (or not simply) of its author. We may wince because it is after all the ‘poet’, and not one of the more obviously distanced characters, who launches into an encomium on the state and church of England — ‘Hail to the State of England!’ (BK. 6, 1.6)1 — in a moment of hyperbole that elides the controversial unions of 1707 and 1800 with Scotland and Ireland, and quite forgets the earlier one with Wales. We are sensitive to these matters now. It is hard to make the case that this voice is not Wordsworth’s own — for the poet says hardly anything in this poem, at least not enough to deserve the attribution of a dramatic personality clearly or interestingly distinct from that of the author.
Eighteenth-Century Studies 34.1 (2000) 43-59 When in 1805 Walter Scott characterized Fingal, the hero of Macpherson's The Poems of Ossian (1760-63), as combining "all the strength and bravery of Achilles, with the courtesy, sentiment, and high-breeding of Sir Charles Grandison," he put his finger on the ethical and aesthetic compromise which it has become increasingly fashionable to see at the heart of Ossian. Building on revisionist accounts of Macpherson's endeavors which stress the influence and assistance of the Scottish Enlightenment literati in the Ossian project, a coherent critical perspective has developed over recent years to explain the fascination exerted by Ossian over some of the greatest literary and philosophical minds of the age. This view suggests that Ossian was in large part generated as a response to the fact that "the language of virtue in the eighteenth century was still tied to the essentially civic and masculine realm of the active and patriotic warrior-citizen" and that "on the face of it this language had little in common with the emerging discourse of passion, benevolence, and humanity." In fact, "little in common" seems an understatement, given that the civic tradition at this time has been seen as explicitly oriented itself in contradistinction to the virtues of a refined society that it characterized as being "artificial, selfish, and effete." Seen in these terms, Ossian emerges as a "cultural seam between two ethical domains," an answer to the "troubling ethical dialectic of progress and civic 'corruption'" as it was understood by eighteenth-century political philosophers. By presenting the eighteenth century with "noble deeds, but little bloodshed, rude manners mixed with lofty sentiments, much weeping and dying, but no physical pain" in poems which combine "the raw power and majesty of Homer with the moral and aesthetic sensibilities of the neo-classical age," Ossian suggested that society did not have to choose between "strength and bravery" and "courtesy and sentiment," but could combine both within a system of what we might call civic sensibility. That is to say, Ossian represents an originating myth for practical muscular sensibility by reconditioning the martial virtues of the civic tradition for the modern "polished" world, and at the same time it offers legitimization for the eighteenth century manifestations of that tradition, most immediately for the Scottish thinkers in question, the Scottish Militia campaign of the late 1750s. This sophisticated account has much to recommend it, establishing both the nature of Ossian's appeal and the place of the poems within wider cultural trends. It also reestablishes Ossian as a serious endeavor, in contrast to a broadly Anglocentric literary historiography which tends to marginalize the poems as literary curios. However, I would like to problematize aspects of this interpretation by suggesting that, as an account of the Ossianic world we encounter when actually reading Ossian, it is unsatisfactory. Whatever we might think of his ranking of Ossian amongst the four greatest poets of Western cultural tradition, there is little denying William Hazlitt's claim that Ossian represents "the decay of life and the lag end of the world." "There is," says Hazlitt, "one impression which [Ossian] conveys more entirely than all other poets, namely, the sense of privation, the loss of all things, of friends, of good name, of country." Hazlitt has in mind here primarily the image -- the presiding one across the body of the poems -- of the aged bard raking over the embers of a glorious past from which he is a lone, blind exile. Yet this "sense of privation" extends throughout the text and sums up the peculiar melancholy of Ossian's tales of doomed heroism. This article explores the implications of this atmosphere of defeat upon our sense of Ossian as cultural bridge. As such it will explore exactly how, and suggest reasons why, Ossian would seem to deny the utopian combination of modern and ancient virtue suggested for the poems. In other words, while I find the notion that Ossian arose from certain cultural tensions convincing, indeed almost indisputable, I am less inclined to feel that Ossian offers an answer to those tensions; rather, I would suggest that Ossian represents eloquent testimony to their continued and...
The Journals of Joseph Banks's Voyage up Great Britain's Coast to Iceland and to the Orkney Isles
  • Roy A Rauschenberg
Roy A. Rauschenberg, 'The Journals of Joseph Banks's Voyage up Great Britain's Coast to Iceland and to the Orkney Isles, July to October 1772', Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 117: 3 (1973), p.205. This is the only available edition of Banks's Iceland journal and contains a useful introduction, although the annotation is unreliable regarding the Hebrides.
The Poems of Ossian, with an introduction by
  • Howard Gaskill
Howard Gaskill (ed.), The Poems of Ossian, with an introduction by Fiona Stafford (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press,1996), p.18. Subsequent references to the Poems are to this edition, cited in parentheses within the text.
The Sublime Savage: James Macpherson and the Poems of Ossian
  • See Fiona Stafford
See Fiona Stafford, The Sublime Savage: James Macpherson and the Poems of Ossian (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1988), p.17-20.
Improvement and Romance: Constructing the Myth of the Highlands
  • Peter Womack
Peter Womack, Improvement and Romance: Constructing the Myth of the Highlands (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988), p.78, 82, 99.