Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

The Scottish Nation
MacPherson


MACPHERSON, the name of one of the two principal branches of the clan Chattan, the badge of which was the box evergreen. In the Celtic the Macphersons are called the clan Vuirich or Muirich, from an ancestor of that name, who, in the Gaelic MS. of 1450, is said to have been the “son of Swen, son of Heth, son of Nachtan, son of Gillichattan, from whom came the clan Chattan.” The word Gillichattan means a votary or servant of St. Kattan, a Scottish saint, as Gillichrist means a servant of Christ; hence Gilchrist.

      The descent of the heads of the Macphersons from the ancient chiefs of the clan Chattan has been unbroken, and tradition is uniformly in favour of their right to the chiefship of the whole clan. The claim of the Macintoshes, the other principal branch of the clan Chattan, to the chiefship has been already disposed of. Their own traditional story of their descent from Macduff, thane of Fife, is extremely improbable, and if it were true, it would prove that they were not a branch of the clan Chattan at all. On their own showing, they obtained the chiefship by marriage, and that from the head of the Macphersons, whom they acknowledge to have been at one period chief of the clan Chattan. The rule of clanship excludes females from the succession, and the heir male, not the heir of line, became chief of the clan Chattan.

      It was from Muirich or Murdoch, who succeeded to the chiefship in 1153, that the Macphersons derive the name of the clan Muirich or Vuirich. This Muirich was parson of Kingussie, a religious establishment in the lower part of Badenoch, and the surname, properly Macphersain, was given to his descendants from his office. He was the great-grandson of Gillichattan Mor, the founder of the clan, who lived in the reign of Malcolm Canmore, and having married, on a papal dispensation, a daughter of the thane of Calder, he had five sons. The eldest, Gillichattan, the third of the name, and chief of the clan in the reign of Alexander II., was father of Dougal Dall, the chief whose daughter Eva married Angus Macintosh of Macintosh. On Dougal Dall’s death, as he had no sons, the representation of the family devolved on his cousin and heir male, Kenneth, eldest son of Eoghen or Ewen Baan, second son of Muirich. Neill Chrom, so called from his stooping shoulders, Muirich’s third son, was a great artificer in iron, and took the name of Smith from his trade. Ferquhard Gilliraich, or the swift, the fourth son, is said to have been the progenitor of the MacGillivrays, who followed the Macintosh branch of the clan Chattan, and from David Dubh, or the Swarthy, the youngest of Muirich’s sons, were descended the clan Dhai, or Davidsons of Invernahavon.

      The portion of the clan Chattan who adhered to Kenneth settled in Badenoch. Kenneth’s son, Duncan Macpherson of Cluny, lived in the reign of Robert the Bruce, and fought on his side, at the head of his clan, at Bannockburn. He received a commission to expel the Comyns from Badenoch, and on their forfeiture he obtained, for his services, a grant of their lands. He was also allowed to add a hand holding a dagger to his armorial bearings. His grandson, Donald Mor Macpherson, was chief in 1386, when a battle took place at Invernahavon between the clan Chattan and the Camerons, in which a great number of the former were killed, and the latter were nearly cut off to a man. The laird of Macintosh having carried away the cattle of the Camerons, at different times, on account of the nonpayment of their rents, for the lands held of him in Lochaber, they marched into Badenoch to the number of 400, resolved upon reprisals. To oppose them Macintosh collected his followers, and called the Macphersons and Davidsons to his aid. A dispute about precedency greatly weakened his force, and gave the Camerons the advantage. The command of the right wing was claimed both by Cluny and Davidson of Invernahavon, the leader of the Davidsons, the former as chief of the clan Chattan, and the latter as the head of the eldest branch. Macintosh decided against Cluny, on which the Macphersons withdrew from the field. In the conflict that ensued, many of the Macintoshes and nearly all the Davidsons were slain. The Macphersons, seeing this, forgot their wounded pride, and next day attacking the Camerons, defeated them with great loss, their leader being among the killed. It is the opinion of some writers and among the rest of Shaw, the historian of Moray, that this quarrel about precedency was the origin of the celebrated judicial combat on the North Inch of Perth in 1396, which has already been described under the head MACINTOSH, and that the parties were the Macphersons, properly the clan Chattan, and the Davidsons, called in the Gaelic Clann Dhaibhidh, or Dhai’ (the last syllable being silent), pronounced Clan Chai. These rival tribes, we are told, for a long period bore a deadly enmity at one another, which was difficult to be restrained; but after the award by Macintosh, at the battle with the Camerons, against the Macphersons, open strife broke out between them, and for ten years the Macphersons and the Davidsons carried on a war of extermination, which was only put an end to by the victory of the Macphersons at Perth.

      The Macphersons were staunch adherents of Queen Mary in her troubles. By the intrigues of the earl of Huntly, lord of Badenoch, (the crown having bestowed that district on his predecessor in 1452), a final separation took place between the two principal branches of the clan Chattan about 1593. At their head he had maintained a fierce warfare with the western clans and his neighbours of Lochaber, but it was now his policy to divide their force and turn the one against the other. This he did by courting the Macphersons, who readily entered into his views, and by his encouragement and influence they declared themselves independent, and asserted their right to the chiefship, which the Macintoshes, as the more numerous party, had claimed for centuries. In the following year the Macphersons joined that nobleman, when the youthful earl of Argyle, at the head of the royal army, marched against him and the other two Catholic earls. Entering Badenoch, Argyle laid siege to the castle of Ruthven, which was so gallantly defended by the Macphersons that he was obliged to abandon the siege. John, chief of the Macphersons, fought under Huntly’s banner at the battle of Glenlivet which followed.

      In 1609 the chief of the Macphersons signed a bond, along with all the other branches of that extensive tribe, acknowledging Macintosh as captain of the clan Chattan; and in all the contentions and feuds in which the Macintoshes were subsequently involved with the Camerons and other Lochaber clans, they were obliged to accept of Macpherson’s aid as allies rather then vassals.

      Donald Macpherson of Cluny, who succeeded as chief in 1640, was a steady friend of King Charles I., and suffered much on account of his sincere attachment to the king’s cause. His brother and successor, Andrew, was also a staunch royalist. In 1665, under this chief, when Macintosh went on an expedition against the Camerons, for the recovery of the lands of Glenluy and Locharkaig, he solicited the assistance of the Macphersons, when, to guard against anything which might seem to sanction the pretensions of Macintosh to be considered chief of the clan Chattan, a notarial deed was executed, wherein Macintosh declares that it was of their mere good will and pleasure that they did so, and on his part it is added, “I bind and oblige myself and friends and followers, to assist and fortify and join, with the said Andrew, Lachlan, and John Macpherson, all their lawful and necessary adoes, being thereunto required.” In 1672, Duncan Macpherson of Cluny, Andrew’s grandson, made application to the Lyon office to have his arms matriculated as laird of Cluny Macpherson, and “the only and true representative of the ancient and honourable family of the clan Chattan.” This application was successful, but as soon as Macintosh heard of it, he raised a process before the privy council to have it determined as to which of them had the right to the proper armorial bearings. After a protracted inquiry, and the production of evidence on both sides, the council issued an order for the two chiefs to give security for the peaceable behaviour of their respective clans, thus deciding that they were each independent. “The process,” says Logan, “excited great interest in the north, and Cluny received the hearty congratulations of many friends on his return from Edinburgh; Keith, earl Marischal, and others entertaining him by the way, and freely accepting him as their chief.” The same year, Cluny entered into a contract of friendship with Æneas, Lord Macdonnell, and Aros, “for himself and takeing burden upon him for the haill name of Macphersons, and some others, called old Clanchatten, as cheeffe and principall man thereof.” Although Macpherson received a new matriculation of his arms as those of Macpherson of Cluny, there is nothing in this, or in the designation given to the laird of Macintosh, to militate against his right to the chiefship of the clan Chattan, so long in dispute between them.

      On the death, without issue, of Duncan, Andrew’s grandson, in 1721 or 1722, the chiefship devolved on Lachlan Macpherson of Nuid, the next male heir, being lineally descended from John, youngest brother of Donald and Andrew, the above-named chiefs. One of the descendants of this John of Nuid was James Macpherson, the translator of Ossian’s Poems, a memoir of whom is afterwards given below. Lachlan married Jean, daughter of Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel. His eldest son, Ewen, was the chief at the time of the rebellion of 1745.

      In the previous rebellion of 1715, the Macphersons, under their then chief, Duncan, had taken a very active part, on the side of the Pretender. On the arrival of Prince Charles in 1745, Ewen Macpherson of Cluny, who, the same year, had been appointed to a company in Lord Loudon’s Highlanders, and had taken the oaths to government, threw up his commission, and, with 600 Macphersons, joined the rebel army after their victory at Prestonpans. The Macphersons were led to take an active part in the rebellion chiefly from a desire to revenge the fate of three of their clansmen, who were shot on account of the extraordinary mutiny of the Black Watch, now the 42d regiment, two years before. That corps, composed principally of Highlanders, had been marched to the neighbourhood of London, preparatory to being sent abroad. As it had been formed of independent companies whose duties were intended to be confined solely to the Highlands, the determination to send them on foreign service, was deemed by them an infringement of their compact with government, and they resolved upon at once returning to Scotland. Accordingly, after a review on Finchley Common on 14th May 1743, they decamped from their quarters, and had reached the vicinity of Northampton on their way home, when they were discovered and obliged to surrender. The three who were made examples of, and suffered for the rest, were Corporals Malcolm, and Samuel Macpherson of Druminourd, brother of General Kenneth Macpherson of the East India Company’s service, who died in 1815, and Farquhar Shaw, a private. These men were remarkable for their great size and handsome figure. They were shot upon the parade, within the Tower of London, in presence of the other prisoners, and met their death with great courage and composure.

      Ewen Macpherson, the chief, at first hesitated to join the prince, and his wife, a daughter of Lord Lovat, although a staunch Jacobite, earnestly dissuaded him from breaking his oath to government, assuring him that nothing could end well that began with perjury. Her friends reproached her for interfering, and his clan urging him, Cluny unfortunately yielded. In the memorable retreat from Derby, the Macphersons behaved with great gallantry, distinguishing themselves particularly in the moonlight skirmish with the government troops at Clifton. Lord George Murray, who commanded the Highlanders on that occasion, placed himself at the head of the Macphersons, with Cluny at his side. At the commencement of the action, the Glengary men, who were on the right, kept firing as they advanced, but the Macphersons, on the left, came sooner in contact with the dragoons, and received the whole of their fire. When the balls were whizzing about them, Cluny exclaimed, “What the devil is this?” Lord George told him that they had no remedy but to attack the dragoons, sword in hand, before they had time to charge again. Then, drawing his sword, he cried out, “Claymore,” and Cluny doing the same, the Macphersons rushed down to the bottom ditch of the enclosure, and clearing the hedges as they went, fell sword in hand upon the king’s troops, killing many and putting the rest to flight.

      At the battle of Falkirk, the Macphersons formed a portion o the first line. They were too late for the battle of Culloden, where their assistance might have turned the fortune of the day, and they did not come up till after the retreat of Charles from that decisive field. In the subsequent devastations committed by the English army, Cluny’s house was plundered and burnt to the ground. Every exertion was made by the government troops for his apprehension, but they never could lay their hands upon him. At first he lived with Lochiel in a retreat at Benalder, a hill on his own property on the borders of Rannoch. Towards the end of Prince Charles’ wanderings, for the purpose of meeting the prince, he set out for Auchnacary, where he supposed him to be, but missing him there, he retraced his steps, and found him in a miserable hovel with Lochiel, at a place called Mellenauir or Millanuir, on the side of Benalder. On entering the hut, Cluny would have kneeled before the prince, but the latter prevented him, and, giving him a kiss, said, “I am sorry, Cluny, you and your regiment were not at Culloden: I did not hear till very lately that you were so near us that day.” The day following Cluny conducted the prince and his attendants to a little shieling about two miles farther into Benalder, and after passing two nights there he took him to a more secure retreat called the Cage, which he had fitted up for him, and where he lay concealed for several weeks till the arrival of the French frigate which conveyed him back to France.

      For himself Cluny had several places of concealment on his estate. He lived for nine years in a cave at a short distance from where his house had stood. “This cave,” says General Stewart, (Sketches of the Highlanders, vol. i. pp. 60, 61,) “was in the front of a woody precipice, the trees and shelving rocks completely concealing the entrance. It was dug out by his own people, who worked by night, and conveyed the stones and rubbish into a lake in the neighbourhood, that no vestige of their labour might betray the retreat of their master. In this sanctuary he lived secure, occasionally visiting his friends by night, or when time slackened the rigour of the search. Upwards of a hundred persons knew where he was concealed, and a reward of £1,000 was offered to any one who should give information against him; and as it was known that he was concealed on his own estate, eighty men were constantly stationed there, besides the parties continually marching into the country, to intimidate his tenantry, and induce them to disclose the place of his concealment.” But neither the fear of danger nor the hope of reward could prevail on any of his people to betray him, or even to discontinue their faithful services.

      For the purpose of discovering his retreat, Sir Hector Monro, at that time a lieutenant in the 34th regiment, at the head of a large party, continued two years in Badenoch, yet so true were the clan to their chief that not a trace of him could be found. On one occasion, while spending a few hours at night convivally with his friends, he escaped by a back window of the house they were in, just as the soldiery were breaking open the door. He became so cautious that, on parting with his wife, or any of his friends, he never told them to which of his places of concealment he was going, or suffered any one to accompany him, that they might have it in their power to answer, when questioned, that they knew not where he was. He escaped to France in 1755, and died at Dunkirk the following year.

      Frequent mention is made in the Stuart papers of a sum of money, amounting to £27,000, which the prince had intrusted to another person, by whom it was lodged in the hands of Cluny. Before quitting Scotland the prince gave Cluny instructions that “not one farthing” was to be assigned away without an order from himself. Another note to him, dated from on board the French vessel in which he embarked for France, directs £750 to be divided among the Macgregors, the Stewarts, the Macdonalds of Glengary and Kep0poch, and the “Lokel clan,” as the Camerons of Lochiel are called. He likewise directs especial care to be taken of “rings, sels, (seals,) and other trifels” belonging to him, and all lying in certain “boxks,” that is, boxes. The last letter that seems to have been written to him by the prince on the subject, dated “Ye 4th September, 1754,” and addressed “For C. M. (That is, Cluny Macpherson) in Scotld,” is as follows: “Sir, This is to desire you to come as soon as you can conveniently to Paris, bringing over with you all the effects whatsoever that I left in your hand when I was in Scotland, as also whatever money you can come at, for I happen to be at present in great straits, which makes me wish that you should delay as little as possible to meet me for that effect. You are to address yourself when arrived at Paris, to Mr. John Waters, Banker, &c. He will direct you where to find your sincere friend, C.P.” This letter is copied from the original draught in Charles’ own hand, among the Stuart papers, in possession of her majesty. In the perilous circumstances in which Cluny was then placed, it is not known whether he was able to comply with all the directions he received regarding the application of the money, but it is believed that when he escaped to France he was enabled to give the prince a good account of the same.

      Ewen’s son, Duncan, was born in 1750, in a kiln for drying corn, in which his mother had taken refuge after the destruction of their house. During his minority his uncle, Major John Macpherson of the 78th foot, acted as his guardian. He received back the estate which had been forfeited, and, entering the army, became lieutenant-colonel of the 3d foot-guards. He married, 12th June, 1798, Catherine, youngest daughter of Sir Evan Cameron of Fassfern, baronet, and on his death, 1st August 1817, was succeeded by his eldest son, Ewen Macpherson of Cluny, the 23d chief from Gillichattan Mor; a captain on halfpay, 42d Highlanders, a magistrate and a deputy-lieutenant of Inverness-shire; married 20th December 1832, the youngest daughter of Henry Davidson of Tulloch Castle, Ross-shire, with issue.

      In Cluny castle are preserved various relics of the rebellion of 1745; amongst the rest the prince’s target and lace wrist ruffles, and an autograph letter from Charles, promising an ample reward to his devoted friend Cluny. There is also the black pipe chanter on which the prosperity of the house of Cluny is said to be dependent, and which all true members of the clan Vuirich firmly believe fell from heaven, in place of the one lost at the conflict on the North Inch of Perth!

      The war-cry of the Macphersons was “Craig Dhu,” the name of a rock in the neighbourhood of Cluny Castle. The chief is called in the Highlands “Mac Mhurich Chlanaidh,” but everywhere else is better known as Cluny Macpherson.

      Among the principal cadets of the house of Cluny were the Macphersons of Pitmean, Invereshie, Strathmassie, Breakachie, Essie, &c. The Invereshie branch were chiefs of a large tribe called the Siol Gillies, the founder of which was Gillies or Elias Macpherson, the first of Invereshie, a younger son of Ewen Baan or Bane (so called from his fair complexion) above mentioned. Sir Eneas Macpherson of Invereshie, advocate, who lived in the reigns of Charles II. and James III., collected the materials for the history of the clan Macpherson, the MS. of which is still preserved in the family. He was appointed sheriff of Aberdeen in 1684.

      George Macpherson of Invereshie married Grace, daughter of Colonel William Grant of Ballindalloch, and his elder son, William, dying, unmarried, in 1812, was succeeded by his nephew, George, who, on the death of his maternal grand-uncle, General James Grant of Ballindalloch, 13th April 1806, inherited that estate, and in consequence assumed the name of Grant in addition to his own. He was M.P. for the county of Sutherland for seventeen years, and was created a baronet 25th July 1838. He thus became Sir George Macpherson Grant of Invereshie, Inverness-shire, and Ballindalloch, Elginshire. On his death in November 1846, his son, Sir John, sometime secretary of legation at Lisbon, succeeded as 2d baronet. Sir John died Dec. 2, 1850. His eldest son, Sir George Macpherson-Grant of Invereshie and Ballindalloch, born Aug. 12, 1839, became the 3d baronet of this family. He married, July 3, 1861, Frances Elizabeth, younger daughter of the Rev. Roger Pocklington, vicar of Walesby, Nottinghamshire.

      John Macpherson, of Calcutta, younger son of the Rev. John Macpherson, D.D., a clergyman of the church of Scotland, was appointed a member of the supreme council of Bengal in 1780, and governor-general of India, on the return of Warren Hastings to England in 1784. He was created a baronet Jan. 27, 1786, but the title became extinct on his death, unmarried, Jan. 12, 1821.

      The celebrated outlaw, James Macpherson, executed at Banff, Nov. 16, 1700, was an illegitimate son of one of the family of Invereshie, by a gipsy woman. He was one of the best violin players of his time, and author of a Lament which passes under his name. He performed at the foot of the gallows, on his favourite instrument, the Rant and Pibroch of his own composition.

MACPHERSON, JAMES, celebrated for his translations of Gaelic poetry, was born in the parish of Kingussie, Inverness-shire, in 1738. He received the rudiments of his education at the grammar school of Inverness, and with the view of studying for the church, was sent in 1752 to King’s college, Aberdeen, and afterwards to the university of Edinburgh. On leaving college he was for some time schoolmaster of his native village, and subsequently was employed as private tutor in Mr. Graham of Balgowan’s family. In 1758 he printed at Edinburgh a poem in six cantos, entitled ‘The Highlander,’ which shows little indication of poetical talent. About the same period, he wrote an ode on the arrival of the Earl Marischal in Scotland, which he called ‘An Attempt in the Manner of Pindar,’ with several other poetical pieces, some of which were inserted in the ‘Scots Magazine.’

      He seems early to have directed his attention to the subject of Gaelic poetry, and the following are the circumstances under which his celebrated collection, called the Poems of Ossian – which led to a lengthened literary controversy as to their genuineness – originated. In the summer of 1759, John Home, the author of Douglas, met Mr. Macpherson at Moffat, when he learned from him that he was possessed of some pieces of ancient Gaelic poetry, and he expressed a wish to see an English translation of them as a specimen. Accordingly Mr. Macpherson furnished him with two fragments, which he showed to Dr. Hugh Blair and other literary friends, who all greatly admired them. Dr. Blair in particular was so much struck with them, that he requested an interview with Macpherson. From him he learned that poems in the same strain as those in his possession were to be found in the Highlands, on which Dr. Blair urged him to translate all the pieces which he had, that they might be published. Dr. Blair informs us that Macpherson was extremely reluctant to comply with his request, saying that no translation of his could do justice to the spirit and force of the original, and that they were so different from the style of modern poetry that he was afraid they would not take with the taste of the public. Macpherson, however, was at length prevailed upon to translate and bring to Dr. Blair the several poetical pieces which he had then in his possession. These were published in a small volume at Edinburgh in the year 1760, under the title of ‘Fragments of Ancient Poetry collected in the Highlands of Scotland, and translated from the Gaelic or Erse language;’ to which Dr. Blair prefixed an introduction. “These ‘Fragments,’” says Dr. Blair in a Letter to Henry Mackenzie, the author of ‘The Man of Feeling,’ “drew much attention, and excited, among all persons of taste and letters, an earnest desire to recover, if possible, all those considerable remains of Gaelic poetry which were said still to exist in the Highlands.”

      To encourage Macpherson to undertake the collection of the ancient poetry of the Highlands, many of the first persons of rank and taste in Edinburgh met together at a dinner, to which Macpherson was invited, and Dr. Blair, from whom this account is taken, says that he had a chief hand in convoking the meeting. Among those present were Patrick, Lord Elibank, Principal Robertson, the historian, Mr. John Home, Dr. Adam Ferguson, Dr. Blair himself, and many others. After much conversation with Macpherson, it was agreed that he should, without delay, go through the Highlands for the purpose of collecting all the Gaelic poetry he could find, the expense to be defrayed by a subscription raised from the meeting, with the aid of such other friends as they might apply to with that object.

      The same year (1760) Macpherson set off to the Highlands; and, during his tour, he from time to time transmitted to Dr. Blair and his other literary friends, accounts of his progress in collecting, from many different and remote parts, all the remains he could find of ancient Gaelic poetry, either in writing or preserved by oral tradition. In the course of his journey he wrote two letters to the Rev. James M’Lagan, at one period minister of Amalrie, and afterwards of Blair in Athol, in the first of which, dated from Ruthven (in Badenoch), 27th October, 1760, he says, “I have met with a number of old manuscripts in my travels; the poetical part of them I have endeavoured to secure.” The second, dated from Edinburgh, 16th January, 1761, contains this passage: “I have been lucky enough to lay my hands on a pretty complete poem, and truly epic, concerning Fingal.” This is the first intimation of that remarkable work which was soon to create a most extraordinary sensation in the literary world.

      The districts through which Macpherson travelled, in the prosecution of his undertaking, were chiefly the north-western parts of Inverness-shire, the Isle of Skye, and some of the adjoining islands; “Places,” says the Report of the Committee of the Highland Society, afterwards published, “from their remoteness and state of manners at that period, most likely to afford, in a pure and genuine state, the ancient traditionary tales and poems, of which the recital then formed the favourite amusement of the long and idle winter evenings of the Highlanders.”

      On his return to Edinburgh, Macpherson immediately set about translating the Gaelic poems which he had collected into English. Soon after, he published the fruits of his mission, in 2 vols. 4to, the first in 1762, under the patronage of Lord Bute, containing ‘Fingal, an ancient Epic Poem in six books, with other lesser Poems;’ and the second in 1763, with the title of ‘Temora, an Epic Poem, in eight books, with other poems.’ Both professed to have been composed by Ossian, the son of Fingal, a Gaelic prince of the fourth century, and translated from the Gaelic language.

      From the first the genuineness of these poems became a matter of dispute, and for some years a violent controversy raged upon the subject. Among those who believed in their authenticity were Dr. Blair, Dr. Gregory, Lord Kames, the Rev. Dr. Graham of Aberfoyle, and Sir John Sinclair, baronet; and amongst the most distinguished of those who denied their genuineness were Mr. Hume the historian, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Dr. Smith of Campbelltown, and Mr. Laing, author of ‘Notes and Illustrations;’ introduced into an edition of Ossian’s Poems, published in Edinburgh in 1805. The latter were replied to be Mr. Alexander Macdonald in a work entitled ‘Some of Ossian’s lesser Poems rendered into verse, with a preliminary discourse in answer to Mr. Laing’s Critical and Historical Dissertations on the antiquity of Ossian’s Poems,’ Liverpool, 1805, 8vo. They were also condemned as spurious in a work entitled ‘An Inquiry into the Authenticity of the Poems of Ossian.’ By W. Shaw, A.M. London, 1781. So strong was Dr. Johnson’s prejudice against them, that in his ‘Journey to the Western Islands,’ he declared that “the poems of Ossian never existed in any other form than that which we have seen,” meaning in Macpherson’s translation, and “that the editor or author never could show the original, nor can it be shown by any other.” Sir James Macintosh, too, in his ‘History of England,’ expresses himself very strongly against their authenticity. At the close of a long and eloquent passage concerning them he says; “Since the keen and searching publication of Mr. Laing, these poems have fallen in reputation, as they lost the character of genuineness. They had been admired by all the nations, and by all the men of genius in Europe. The last incident in their story is perhaps the most remarkable. In an Italian version, which softened their defects, and rendered their characteristic qualities faint, they formed almost the whole poetical library of Napoleon, a man who, whatever may be finally thought of him in other respects, must be owned to be, by the transcendent vigour of his powers, entitled to a place in the first class of human minds. No other imposture in literary history approaches them in the splendour of their course.”

      To one of the books or divisions of Temora, Macpherson annexed the original Gaelic, but though often called upon to publish the originals of the remainder of the poems stated to be by Ossian and genuine relics of antiquity, as the only means of setting all the cavil or controversy at rest, this was the only specimen of them ever printed by himself. At his death, however, he left to John Mackenzie of Figtree court, London, £1,000 to defray the expense of the publication of the originals of the whole of his translations, with directions to his executors for carrying that purpose into effect. Various causes contributed to delay their appearance till 1807, when they were published under the sanction of the Highland Society of London.

      The investigations that were set on foot by Sir John Sinclair and others sufficiently establish the fact that, long before the name of Macpherson was known to the literary world, a collection of poems in Gaelic did exist which passed as the poems of Ossian, and the publication of the Gaelic manuscripts at length settled the question of their authenticity in the minds of all unprejudiced persons. At the same time, it must be confessed that, in the present advanced state of literature, the ‘Poems of Ossian’ are no longer looked upon as the wonderful productions which they were esteemed to be when they first appeared, and that their popularity has long been on the wane.

      That Macpherson, with the poetical fragments which he translated, took the liberty of adding to, transposing, or completing where he deemed it necessary, there can be no reason to doubt. On this point the Committee of the Highland Society reported that they were inclined to believe that he “was in use to supply chasms, and to give connexion, by inserting passages which he did not find, and to add what he conceived to be dignity and delicacy to the original composition, by striking out passages, by softening incidents, by refining the language, in short, by changing what he considered as too simple or too rude for a modern ear, and elevating what in his opinion was below the standard of good poetry. To what degree, however, he exercised these liberties it is impossible for the committee to determine.” And this is all that can now be said on the subject. The following is his portrait:


[portrait of James Macpherson]

      In 1764 Macpherson obtained the situation of private secretary to Captain Johnstone, on the appointment of the latter as governor of Pensacola, in which capacity he went out to America, but a difference arising between him and the governor, he relinquished his post, and after visiting the West India islands he returned to England in 1766, with a pension of £200 a-year for life. Taking up his residence in London, he resumed his literary labours, and in 1771 published a disquisition on the antiquities of the Scottish Gael or Celtic race, in one volume 4to, under the title of ‘An Introduction to the History of Great Britain and Ireland,’ which was very bitterly attacked on its appearance, and brought neither profit nor reputation to the author.

      In 1773, he issued a prose translation in two volumes, of the ‘Iliad of Homer,’ which was received with ridicule and abuse, and universally considered a failure. The same year he wrote a threatening letter to Dr. Johnson, in consequence of his remarks on Ossian in his celebrated ‘Tour to the Hebrides.’ The latter returned a most sarcastic reply, wherein he told him, with the most cutting contempt, that his “abilities since his Homer, were not so formidable.” In 1775, Macpherson published ‘A History of Great Britain, from the Restoration to the Accession of the House of Hanover,’ in 2 vols. 4to; and, along with it, the data on which his statements were founded, in two additional volumes of ‘Original Papers,’ for which last work he is said to have received the sum of £3,000.

      About this time he was employed by the government to write two pamphlets in vindication and support of the measures which led to the American war, and to the ultimate independence of the colonies of North America, now the United States. He was also appointed agent to the nabob of Arcot, in behalf of whom he also published two works. As it was thought requisite that he should have a seat in parliament, in order the more effectually to attend to the nabob’s interests, in 1780 he was elected member for Camelford, for which place he was rechosen in 1784, and again in 1790. Declining health induced him to retire to an elegant mansion, named Belleville, which he had built in the parish of Alvie, Inverness-shire, where he died February 17, 1796.

      Mr. Macpherson died wealthy. by his will, besides the £1,000 for the publication of the originals of Ossian, and the bequest of several large legacies to his friends, he left £300 for a monument to be erected to his memory at Belleville. He also directed that his body should be conveyed to Westminster abbey, and it was accordingly interred at Poet’s corner.

      His works are:

      The Highlander; an Heroic Poem, in 6 cantos. 1758, 12mo.

      Fragments of Ancient Poetry: collected in the Highlands of Scotland, and translated from the Gaelic or Erse Language. 1760. 8vo.

      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. London, 1762, 4to.

      Temora; an ancient Epic Poem, in eight books; together with several other Poems composed by Ossian, son of Fingal, Translated from the Gaelic Language. London, 1764, 4to.

      Introduction to the History of Great Britain and Ireland. London, 1771, 4to. 2d edition revised and greatly enlarged. London, 1773, 4to.

      The Iliad of Homer. Translated into Prose. 1773, 2 vols, 4to. 2d edit. London, 1773, 4to.

      The History of Great Britain from the Restoration to the Ascension of the House of Hanover. London, 1775, 2 vols, 4to. Dublin, 4 vols. 8vo.

      Original Papers; containing the Secret History of Great Britain, from the Restoration to the Accession of the House of Hanover. To which are prefixed, Extracts from the Life of James II., as written by himself. Lond., 1775, 1 vols, 4to.

      The Rights of Great Britain asserted against the Claims of the Colonies; being an Answer to the Declaration of the General Congress. 1776, 8vo.

      A Short History of the Opposition during the last Session of Parliament. 1779, 8vo.

      Letters from Mohammed Ali Chan, Nabob of Arcot, to the Court of Directors. To which is annexed, a State of Facts relative to Tanjore; with an Appendix of Original Papers. 1777, 4to.

      The History and Management of the East India Company, from its origin in 1600 to the Present time: vol. i. containing the Affairs of the Carnatic; in which the Rights of the Nabob are explained, and the Injustice of the Company proved. 1779. 4to.

      Ode on the Arrival of the Earl Marischal in Scotland. Published in the European Magazine for 1796.

MACPHERSON, DAVID, an industrious historical writer and compiler, was born in Scotland in 1747, and died August 1, 1816. During the latter part of his life he was one of the deputy keepers of the public records. All his works display laborious research, and contain much valuable information. They are:

      De Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland, be Andrew Syntown, Prious of Sanct Sersis, yuche in Loch Levyn. Now first published, with Notes and a Glossary. Lond. 1795, 2 vols. 4to. The same. Lond. 1795, 8vo.

      Geographical Illustrations of Scottish History; containing the Names of Places mentioned in Chronicles, Histories, Records, &c.; with Corrections of the corrupted Names, and Explanations of the difficult and disputed points in the Historical Geography of Scotland. With a Compendious chronology of the Battles, to 1603. Lond. 1796, 4to.

      Annals of Commerce, Manufactures, Fisheries, and Navigation; with brief Notices of the Arts and Sciences connected with them; containing the Commercial Transactions of the British and other countries, from the earliest accounts to the meeting of the Union Parliament in 1801. Comprehending the valuable part of the late Mr. Anderson’s History of Commerce, &c. Lond. 1805, 4 vols. 4to.

      The History of European Commerce with India. To which is subjoined, a Review of the Arguments for and against the Trade with India, and the management of it by a Chartered Company; with an Appendix of authentic accounts. Lond. 1812, 4to.


Return to The Scottish Nation Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast