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The Celtic Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 2, December 1875 A Monthly Periodical Devoted to the Literature, History, Antiquities, Folk Lore, Traditions, and the Social and Material Interests of the Celt at Home and Abroad   By:

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No. II. DECEMBER 1875.


IN controversy about Ossian, the man on the affirmative side has an immeasurable advantage over all others; and, with an average practical acquaintance with the subject, may exhaust any antagonist. The contents, the connection, and the details; the origin, the tradition, the translation; the poetry, the sentiment, the style; the history, the characters, the dramatis personæ ; the aspects of nature represented, the customs and manners of the people; the conflicting nationalities introduced, the eventful issues, the romantic incidents; the probable scenes, the subsequent changes; the philosophy and the facts, and multiplied revelations of humanity all these, and many more such themes inseparably connected with Ossian, if a man rightly understands and believes in them, would enable him to maintain his position in actual controversy, with integrity and ease, for a twelvemonth. The man, on the other hand, who does not believe in the authenticity of Ossian must forego all these advantages in succession, and will reduce himself to straits in an hour. He dare not expatiate or admire, or love, or eulogise, or trust, or credit, or contemplate, or sympathise with anything; or admit a fact, or listen to a word, or look at an argument, on the peril of immediate discomfiture. He must simply shut the book. His only stronghold is denial; his sole logic is assertion; his best rhetoric is abuse; his ultima ratio is to create distrust, and to involve both himself and everybody else in confusion. Genius, for example, he declares without hesitation to be trickery; poetry to be bombast; pathos, monotonous moaning; the tenderest human love to be sham; the most interesting natural incidents, contemptible inventions; the plainest statistical information, a deliberate act of theft; the sublimest conceptions of human character, a fudge; the details of human history for three hundred years, a melodramatic, incredible fiction; and what cannot now be found anywhere else recorded, a dream; accidental coincidence he speaks of as detected dishonesty; imaginary resemblance, as guilty adaptation; a style suitable to the subject, as plagiarism; occasional inspiration he calls a lie; translation, a forgery; and the whole, if not a "magnificent mystification," then, in Procurator Fiscal phrase, a "wilful falsehood, fraud, and imposition." But all this, without proof and nothing like proof is ever advanced may be said in an hour, and the argument would remain as it is. Such, in point of fact, has been the sum total of assault, reiterated by every new antagonist with increasing boldness for a century, till reasonable readers have become callous to it, and only ignorant or prejudiced listeners are impressed. To be "hopelessly convinced" by it, is perhaps the latest phase of incredulity; to be edified or enlightened by it is impossible.

But, besides the advantage of being able to speak with freedom of an author like Ossian, from any natural point of view, an almost infinitely higher advantage still is to be obtained by actually verifying his text; by realising his descriptions, ascertaining his alleged facts, and localising the scenes of his narrative. Whatever is truly grand in Ossian may thus be identified with nature, if it has a counterpart there; and what seems only an imaginary outline at first may be filled up and fixed for ever as among her own still extant properties. A new sense, coherent and intelligible, may thus be imparted to the most familiar figures; and not an allusion to earth or sky, to rock or river, will be lost after such a process. Nay, a certain philosophic significance, amounting to scientific revelation, may be honestly associated with some of his loftiest figures; and what the translator himself apologises for as extravagant, may be thus converted into dreamful intuitions of hidden fact and poetic forecasting of future discoveries... Continue reading book >>

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