Thursday 22 October 2009

Lamartine and Ossian

Lamartine, by Henri Decaisne (Musée de Mâcon).

Just over a century since the Ossianic controversy first raised its ugly head, Alexander Carmichael, like his older contemporary, John Francis Campbell, was still enthralled by tales and poetry about the mythological heroes of the Gaelic world. Carmichael actively collected Ossianic ballads and related material but unlike the more circumspect Campbell was inclined more to believe that they were the genuine article and to dismiss the accusations of literary forgery beset upon the so-called translations that James Macperson (1736-1796) furnished to the literary world. What may be described as literary tittle-tattle was collected by Carmichael from a Roman Catholic Priest, Fr James McGregor, who was serving Ardkenneth, South Uist, at the time the anecdote was collected on 10 January 1865.

Lamertine was at some literary din-
ner in London when the conversation turn-
ed upon Ossian. Some of those present asked
Lamertine his opinion as to whether or not
he thought Ossian’s poems genuine or as
the forgeries of MacPherson. The forgeries
of MacPherson said the great French
scholar Mr Mac Pherson was as capable
of forging the poems of Ossian as he
was of forging the hills and dales of the
Scottish Highlands. No! no! the impress
of the great original is as indelibly stamp
ed on the poems of Ossian as the impress
of the master hand of the Creator is
stamped on the mountains and
rivers of Strathspey.

James McGregor himself had a Lismore connection for he was admitted to the seminary there on the 19th April, 1808. He was for forty years at Ardkenneth in South Uist,  along with, at the same time, the charge of Benbecula. He died on the 15th February, 1867. The man to whom the priest referred to in his anecdote was none other than Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869), a French romantic poet and who was, like many others, heavily influenced by Macphersons two ‘great’ works (Fingal and then Temora) that took the literary world by storm when they were first published in the 1760s. His remark from the above anecdote would have placed him well in the camp of Carmichael who was a believer rather than John Francis Campbell who (correctly) was a sceptic.

CW 113, fol. 14r.
Lamartine, by Henri Decaisne (Musée de Mâcon).

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]