I read of the Ossian poems and their effect on Robert Burns. When I went to research this blog I was astonished at his story! The author of the epic poems of Ossian - supposedly about the Celtic hero Fingal (more later). At this time in the late 18th century there was a rebirth in romantic thinking which led to the Romantic movement which has a big impact on all the arts in Europe.
(1736 – 1796) was a Scottish writer, poet, literary collector and politician, known for his interpretations of the Ossian poems. He was the first Scottish poet to gain an international reputation.
Macpherson's work - The Highlander (1758); 1760 as Fragments of Ancient Poetry collected in the Highlands of Scotland; 1761 Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books, together with Several Other Poems composed by Ossian, the Son of Fingal, translated from the Gaelic Language and written in musical measured prose. 1765 Temora, The Works of Ossian in 1765
When the epic Ossian poems were published by the Scottish poet James MacPherson in 1760 - a fantasy of a third century Gaelic bard who wrote of a Celtic hero named Fingal - they achieved success internationally. The general consensus today is that Macpherson was the author and had based them on ancient Gaelic folk tales. According to the clan Donald site Fingal of the Ossian poems was based on the Greatest Hero of the Celtic Race - (Somerled) Somhairlidh mac Gillebride mhic Gilledomnan. and not an ancient Irish hero as some made out at all.
Did Macpherson equate the Scottish hero to Irish legend, in order to have his works published at all? At this time, after the Jacobite 45 wars, Highland culture was being severely repressed (the punishment was Transportation). Poetic license in other words and one of the beauties of poetry - that we can express ideas, concepts and beliefs we cannot so clearly in prose. The Scottish Highlands then became "a place of great beauty and romance - rather than one of wild warriors and hardships." (Tom Devine).
The Clan Donald site believes Fingal was based on the renowned Celtic warrior king (Somerled) Somhairlidh mac Gillebride mhic Gilledomnan - who died in Renfrew 1160 fighting the Scots. He was king of Argyle and the Western Isles. They believe the works were poor translations and that Macpherson deliberately wrote under the Ossian name - as a fantasy to associate the ancient Gaelic poems to Ireland. They believe he did so to protect himself, as after the Jacobite 45 wars the English decided to repress the Highland culture and way of life.
Herder, Goethe, Napoleon, Diderot, Burns, Scott and Voltaire were great admirers of the poems. Thomas Jefferson thought Ossian "the greatest Poet that has ever existed". They were proclaimed as the Celtic equivalent of the classical writers such as Homer. Painters and composers chose Ossianic subjects. The poems also influenced the composers Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn who expressed the freedom of Romanticism. Schubert composed Lieder set to many of Ossian's poems. Mendelssohn was inspired to visit the Hebrides and composed the Hebrides overture, Fingal's Cave. Poets, Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth and Yeats were also influenced. Lady Jane Wild named her son Oscar Fingal Wilde (the Irish poet and playwright) after the writer of the romantic Ossian poems....
Robert Burns mentioned Ossian in the footnotes of his first book of poems. He too wished to be a national bard (Poems in mostly in the Scots Dialect 1786). After the success of Burns poems, other nations such as England wished to have their own national bard too. The Ossian poems were part of the glorification of heroic individuals and artists. By contrast Burns social democratic background was of the people and nature with quite modern and environmental views (like Tolstoy) he understood the importance of valuing all life - from the smallest creature to the highest lord.
The Clan Donald site believes Fingal was based on the renowned Celtic warrior king (Somerled) Somhairlidh mac Gillebride mhic Gilledomnan - who died in Renfrew 1160 fighting the Scots. He was King of Argyle and the Western Isles. They believe the works were poor translations and that Macpherson deliberately wrote under the Ossian name - as a fantasy to associate the ancient Gaelic poems to Ireland. They believe he did so to protect himself from Transportation as after the Jacobite 45 wars, the English repressed the Highland culture and way of life.
Clan Donald James Macpherson Ossian poems - http://www.clandonald-heritage