From Gaelic to Romantic

Ossianic Translations


The appearance of James Macpherson's Ossian in the 1760s caused an international sensation. The discovery of poetic fragments that seemed to have survived in the Highlands of Scotland for some 1500 years gripped the imagination of the reading public, who seized eagerly on the newly available texts for glimpses of a lost primitive world. That Macpherson's versions of the ancient heroic verse were more creative adaptations of the oral tradition than literal translations of a clearly identifiable original may have exercised contemporary antiquarians and contributed eventually to a decline in the popularity of Ossian. Yet for most early readers, as for generations of enthusiastic followers, what mattered was not the accuracy of the translation, but the excitement of encountering the primitive, and the mood engendered by the process of reading. The essays in this collection represent an attempt by late twentieth-century readers to chart the cultural currents that flowed into Macpherson's texts, and to examine their peculiar energy. Scholars distinguished in the fields of Gaelic, German, Irish, Scottish, French, English and American literature, language, history and cultural studies have each contributed to the exploration of Macpherson's achievement, with the aim of situating his notoriously elusive texts in a web of diverse contexts. Important new research into the traditional Gaelic sources is placed side by side with discussions of the more immediate political impetus of his poetry, while studies of the reception of Ossian in Scotland, Germany, France and England are part of the larger recognition of the cultural significance of Macpherson's work, and its importance to issues of fragmentation, liminality, colonialism, national identity, sensibility and gender.

Table of contents

Acknowledgments. Notes on Contributors. Abbreviated Reference. Editors' Preface. Joep LEERSSEN: Ossianic Liminality: Between Native Tradition and Preromantic Taste. Derick S. THOMSON: James Macpherson: The Gaelic Dimension. David HALL RADCLIFFE: Ancient Poetry and British Pastoral. Murray G.H. PITTOCK: James Macpherson and Jacobite Code. Alan G. MACPHERSON: On the Death of Marshall Keith and the Clan Consciousness of James Macpherson. Mícheál MAC CRAITH: Fingal: Text, Context, Subtext. John MACQUEEN: Temora and Legendary History. Thomas KEYMER: Narratives of Loss: The Poems of Ossian and Tristram Shandy. F.J. LAMPORT: Goethe, Ossian and Werther. Howard GASKILL: Blast, rief Cuchullin ...!: J.M.R. Lenz and Ossian. Lisa KOZLOWSKI: Terrible Women and Tender Men: A Study of Gender in Macpherson's Ossian. Susan MANNING: Henry Mackenzie and Ossian: Or, The Emotional Value of Asterisks. Christopher SMITH: Ossian, ou Les Bardes: An Opera by Jean-François Le Sueur. Fiona STAFFORD: Fingal and the Fallen Angels: Macpherson, Milton and Romantic Titanism. Dafydd MOORE: James Macpherson and William Faulkner: A Sensibility of Defeat. G.J. WATSON: Yeats, Macpherson and the Cult of Defeat. Luke GIBBONS: From Ossian to O'Carolan: The Bard as Separatist Symbol. Index.