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lands of Scotland, a very singular view, surely, presents itself, of the condition in which society must have existed in a country and period which have been usually accounted barbarous; and, from this view, an enquiring mind will be naturally led to carry its researches farther into the history and manners of the early inhabitants of Caledonia.
If, on the other hand, it be ascertained, that these poems were composed by a contemporary, imbued, as Mr Macpherson certainly was, in a very respectable measure, with the literature of Greece and Rome, as well as of modern times, we are presented with a phenomenon still more inexplicable. That such a person should have produced a body of poetry, which has been justly considered as possessing so high a merit as “ to have given “ a new tone to poetry throughout all
Europe;"* but, at the same time, devoid of all modern allusion, and formed neither in its imagery or expression on the model of those ancient authors, who have communicated their peculiar colouring, so generally, to all modern compositions ; appears to be a circumstance still more strange, than the supposition of the high antiquity which has been ascribed to it.
In this point of view, then, it should seem, that the question of the antiquity and authenticity of these poems, must always be considered as interesting, not only to literature, but even to the philosophy of the human mind.
Edinburgh Review, No. XII. Art. 7.
At a very early period in this controversy, Dr Johnson, a man whose name must ever be held in veneration by the friends of literature and virtue, but who appears to have been very unqualified, on account of his prejudices, and his too slight investigation of this subject, to form a just estimate of its merits, decisively pronounced these poems to be a modern imposture. The sum of Dr Johnson's argument, on this occasion, however, is of too small amount to require any particular notice. It may, indeed, be more properly considered in the light of personality towards James Macpherson, and towards Scotland, than in that of legitimate reasoning.
Of late, however, a more formidable opponent of the antiquity of these poems has appeared. Malcolm Laing, Esq. Advocate, and now Member of Parliament for the county of Orkney, has, in a Dissertation annexed to the second volume of his History of Scotland, endeavoured, by a formal and very elaborate series of arguments, to prove that this poetry is modern, and that it is the production of Mr James Macpherson. The arguments of Mr Laing appear to have made a very considerable impression upon the public mind; and many persons, probably, as well as himself, have considered some of them as unanswerable.
Some years ago, the Highland Society of Scotland, with that liberality of research which has always interested it in every thing that concerns the honour and advantage of North Britain,
appointed a Committee of its number “ to enquire into the Nature and Au
thenticity of the Poems of Ossian." The Report of the Committee has appeared, drawn up by the elegant pen of Henry Mackenzie, Esq. its chair
In this very interesting work, many important circumstances, relating to Celtic literature in general, and to the Poems of Ossian in particular, are brought forward, and placed in a luminous point of view. This is, indeed, what might have been expected from the learned and accomplished Author, assisted by able Celtic scholars and antiquarians, and favoured with an extensive correspondence, carried on by himself, and his associates of the Committee, throughout the Highlands.
The Committee, however, properly