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cerning an invasion, a battle, and a combat between two chiefs, which the Doctor took down from a tailor's recitation.
And now "the moon takes up the
wondrous tale." In Autumn 1759, Doctor Carlyle 4, and Mr John Home, met Macpherson, with his pupil, at Moffat. Mr Home, in consequence of his previous information from Dr Ferguson, enquired concerning the remains of Earse poetry, and was told by Macpherson, that several pieces of ancient poetry were then in his possession. When the former desired to see them, the latter asked, (as usual) if he understood the Gaelic. "Not one word." "How then can I shew them to you
Very easily," said Mr Home; "translate one of the poems which you think a good one; and I imagine, that I shall be able to form some opinion of the genius and character of the Gaelic poetry." Such an application from a dramatic poet, so distin
Appendix to Mr Mackenzie's Report, p. 66.
guished then as the author of Douglas, must have been secretly acceptable and gratifying to an obscure tutor like Macpherson, whose Highlander had sunk unnoticed from the press, and whose name was still unknown among men of letters. After a coy resistance, he was persuaded to comply; and in a day or two, he produced the Fragment on the death of Oscar', which of all others, is the most demonstratively a forgery, and which Macpherson himself was obliged to appropriate afterwards to another Oscar, the son of Caruth". When the very first poem, produced by Macpherson, is an almost avowed fabrication, it is evident, that on finding the genuine Earse ballads unfit for translation, he could not resist the temptation to vindicate that neglected merit of which he was conscious, by submitting his own poetry, which the public had hitherto overlooked, to a distinguished judge as a
See vol. II. of this edition, p. 46, note.—p. 393, note.
relique of antiquity. In a few days he produced two or three other fragments, with which Mr Home returned in triumph to Edinburgh.
The literati of Edinburgh, to whom the Fragments were communicated, considered only their poetical merit. A treasure hid for ages was received with avidity. Copies were transmitted to Gray and Shenstone; and as no enquiry was made concerning the originals, it appears that the antiquity of the fragments was implicitly admitted, because they teemed with the sentimental cant which was then in vogue. Dr Blair, in particular, "struck with the high spirit of poetry that breathed in them," was industrious to procure other fragments from Macpherson, who affected to translate with reluctance, pretending that "no versions of his could do justice to the spirit and force of the original';" but his secret objection was very differently explained to a confidential friend; namely, "that his Highland
▾ Appendix to Mr Mackenzie's Report, p. 57.
pride was alarmed at appearing only as a translator to the world." Startled, perhaps,
at the magnitude and danger of the imposture, he endeavoured, at this period, to get released from his engagements to Blair, who, after much and repeated importunity, procured translations of the remaining fragments," by representing the injustice that would be done to his native country, in keeping concealed those hidden treasures, which, if brought forth, would serve to enrich the whole learned world"." Accordingly, the Fragments were published in June 1760, with a preface, which Blair
"I well know, that his (Macpherson's) first attempts were encouraged by Dr Blair; and I have in my custody several letters from Macpherson, soliciting me to be released from his promise of collecting and transmitting to the learned Doctor the few Fragments first published; and one great argument he used against the printing them was, That his Highland pride was alarmed at appearing to the world only as a translator.” Letter from the late Mr George Laurie, minister of Loudon, January 18, 1782.
9 Mr Mackenzie's Report; appendix, p. 56.
penned from the information supplied by Macpherson, and in which he begins with assuring the public, that "they may depend on the following fragments, as genuine remains of ancient Scottish poetry;" without once reflecting that the pretended translator was himself a poet.
Macpherson, a heroic poet from the very beginning, had artfully represented to Blair, what was now fully announced in the preface, that if suitable encouragement were given, an epic poem of considerable length might be recovered in the Highlands. Specimens of the poem were inserted in the Fragments; and, at a literary dinner, a subscription for the recovery of this lost epic was proposed
10 Blair writes thus to Lord Hailes; " I intended to have waited on you this day, (but was hindered by some accident) that we might have had some conversation about scheme that can be fallen any for encouraging Mr Macpherson to apply himself to the making a further collection of Earse poetry, and particularly for recovering our epic. As the specimens are so high, ly relished, dont you think, that a pretty considerable