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The Erse fragments have been published five weeks ago in Scotland, though I had them not (by a mistake) till the other day. As you tell me new things do not reach you soon at Aston, I inclose what I can; the rest shall follow, when you tell me whether you have not got the pamphlet already. I send the two to Mr. Wood which I had before, because he has not the affectation of not admiring.” I have another from Mr. Macpherson, which he has not printed; it is mere description, but excellent too in its kind. If you are good and will learn to admire, I will transcribe and send it.
As to their authenticity, I have made many inquiries, and have lately procured a letter from Mr. David Hume (the historian), which is more, satisfactory than any thing I have yet met with on that subject. He says,
“Certain it is that these poems are in every body's mouth in the Highlands, have been handed down from father to son, and are of an age beyond all memory and tradition. Adam Smith, the celebrated professor in Glasgow, told me, that the piper of the Argyleshire militia repeated to him all those which Mr. Macpherson had translated, and many more of equal beauty. Major Mackay (Lord Rae's brother) told me that he remembers them perfectly well; as likewise did the Laird of Macfarline(the greatest antiquarian we have in this country), and who insists strongly on the historical truth, as well as the poetical beauty, of these productions. I could add the Laird and Lady Macleod, with many more that live in different parts of the Highlands, very remote from each other, and could only be acquainted with what had become (in a manner) national works.f. There
* It was rather a want of credulity than admiration that Mr. Gray should have laid to my charge. I suspected that, whether the fragments were genuine or not, they were by no means literally translated. I suspect so still; and a former note gives a sufficient cause for that suspicion. See page 229. # All this external evidence and much more has since been collected and published by Dr. Blair (see his Appendix to his Critical Dissertation on the Works of Ossian); and yet notwithstanding, a later Irish writer has been hardy enough
is a country surgeon in Lochaber, who has by heart the entire epic poem mentioned by Mr. Macpherson in his preface ; and, as he is old, is perhaps the only person living that knows it all, and has never committed it to writing, we are in the more haste to recover a monument, which will certainly be regarded as a curiosity in the republic of letters : we have therefore set about a subscription of a guinea or two guineas apiece, in order to enable Mr. Macpherson to undertake a mission into the Highlands to recover this poem, and other fragments of antiquity.” He adds, too, that the names of Fingal, Ossian, Oscar, &c. are still given in the Highlands to large mastiffs, as we give to ours the names of Caesar, Pompey, Hector, &c. o
XL. M.R. GRAY TO DR. WHARTON.
I REJoic E to find that you not only grow reconciled to your northern scene, but discover beauties around you that once were deformities: I am persuaded the whole matter is to have always something going forward. Happy they that can create a rose-tree or erect a honeysuckle; that can watch the brood of a hen, or see a fleet of their own ducklings launch into the water: it is with a sentiment of envy I speak it, who never shall have even a thatched roof of my own, nor gather a strawberry but in Covent-garden. I will not, however, believe in the vocality of Old Park till next summer, when perhaps I may trust to my own ears. ... * * to assert, that the poems in question abound with the strangest anachronisms: for instance, that Cucullin lived in the first, and Fingal in the third century; two The nouvelle Heloise cruelly disappointed me, but it has its partisans, amongst which are Mason and Mr. Hurd; for me, I admire nothing but Fingal” (I conclude you have seen it, if not Stonhewer can lend it you); yet I remain still in doubt about the authenticity of these poems, though inclining rather to believe them genuine in spite of the world; whethey they are the inventions of antiquity, or of a modern Scotchman, either case is to me alike unaccountable; je m'y perd. I send you a Swedish and English Calendar;f the first column is by Berger, a disciple of Linnaeus; the second by Mr. Stillingfleet; the third (very imperfect indeed) by me. You are to observe, as you tend your plantations, and take your walks, how the spring advances in the north, and whether Old Park most resembles Upsal or Stratton. The latter has on one side a barren black heath, on the other a light sandy loam, all the country about it is a dead flat; you see it is necessary you should know the situation (I do not mean any reflection upon any body's place); and this is the description Mr. Stillingfleet gives of his friend Mr. Marsham's seat, to which he retires in the summer and botanizes. I have lately made an acquaintance with this philosopher, who lives in a garret here in the winter, that he may support some near relations who depend upon him, he is always employed, consequently (according to my old maxim) always happy, always cheerful, and seems to me a very worthy honest man: his present scheme is to send some persons properly qualified to reside a year or two in Attica, to make them* In a letter to another friend, informing him that he had sent Fingal down to him, he says, “For my part I will stick to my credulity, and if I am cheated, think it is worse for him (the translator) than for me. The epic poem is foolishly so called, yet there is a sort of plan and unity in it very strange for a barbarous age; yet what I more admire are some of the detached pieces—the rest I leave to the discussion of antiquarians and historians; yet my curiosity is much interested in their decision.” No man ...', ever took more pains with himself to believe any selves acquainted with the climate, productions, and natural history of the country, that we may understand Aristotle, Theophrastus, &c. who have been heathen Greek to us for so many ages; and this he has got proposed to Lord Bute, no unlikely person to put it into execution, as he is himself a botanist.
rinces who are said to have made war with the Danes, a nation never heard of in Europe till the ninth ; which war could not possibly have happened till five hundred years after the death of the supposed poet who sings it. (See O'Halloran's Introduction to the Study of the History and Antiquities of Ireland, quarto, 1772.) To whatever side of the question truth may lean, it is of little moment to me; my
doubts arising (as I have said in the former note) from internal evidence only, and a want of proof of the fidelity of the translation.
XLI. M.R. GRAY to M.R. MA son.
I ca NNot pity you; au contraire, I wish I had been at Aston, when I was foolish enough to go through the six volumes of the Nouvelle Héloise. All I can say for, myself is, that I was confined for three weeks at home by a severe cold, and had nothing better to do: there is no one event in it that might not happen any day of the week (separately taken) in any private family; yet these events are so put together, that the series of them is more absurd and more improbable than Amadis de Gaul. The dramatis persona (as the author says) are all of them good characters; I am sorry to hear it: for had they been all hanged at the end of the third volume, nobody (I believe) would have cared. In short, I went on and on, in hopes of finding some wonderful denouement that would set all right, and bring something like nature and interest out of absurdity and insipidity: no such thing, it grows worse and worse; and (if it be Rousseau's, which is not doubted) is the strongest instance I ever saw, that a very extraordinary man may entirely mistake his own talents. By the motto and preface, it appears to be his own story, or something similar to it.*
* If it be considered that Mr. Gray always preferred expression and sentiment to the arrangement of a story, it may seem somewhat extraordinary that the many striking beauties of these kinds, with which this, singular work abounds, were not excepted from so general a censure; for my own part (to use a phrase
of his own) “they strike me blind” to all the defects which he has here enumerated.
The Opera House is crowded this year like any ordinary theatre. Elisi is finer than anything that has been here in your memory; yet, as I suspect, has been finer than he is: he appears to be near forty, a little pot-bellied and thick-shouldered, otherwise no bad figure; his action proper, and not ungraceful. We have heard nothing, since I remember operas, but eternal passages, divisions, and flights of execution: of these he has absolutely none; whether merely from judgment, or a little from age, I will not affirm; his point is expression, and to that all the graces and ornaments he inserts (which are few and short) are evidently directed: he goes higher (they say) than Farinelli; but then this celestial note you do not hear above once in a whole opera; and he falls from this altitude at once to the mellowest, softest, strongest tones (about the middle of his compass) that can be heard. The Mattei, I assure you, is much improved by his example, and by her great success this winter; but then the burlettas, and the paganina, I have not been so pleased with anything these many years: she too is fat, and above forty, yet handsome withal, and has a face that speaks the language of all nations; she has not the invention, the fire, and the variety of action that the Spiletta had ; yet she is light, agile, ever in motion, and above all graceful; but then her voice, her ear, her taste in singing: good God—as Mr. Richardson the painter says. Pray, ask Lord *; for I think I have seen him there once or twice, as much pleased as I was.
XLII. M. R. GRAY TO M R. MASON. . - August, 1761. BE assured your York canon never will die; so the better the thing is in value the worse for you.f The true
* This was written at a time, when, by the favour of Dr. Fountayne, dean of York, I expected to be made a residentiary in his cathedral.