Dr Johnson and the Critic’s Ambush : A literary man tries to trick Samuel Johnson into an honest opinion, which was neither necessary nor very rewarding.
Dr Johnson and the Critic’s Ambush

From ‘Life of Johnson’ Vol. 1 by James Boswell (1740-1795).

James Macpherson published two poems, ‘Fingal’ in 1762 and ‘Temora’ a year later, which he said were translations of Irish oral tradition. The narrator was supposedly Ossian, the legendary 3rd century Irish bard, who told of the ‘endless battles and unhappy loves’ of his father Fingal and son Oscar. Dr Johnson was, like most modern scholars, unconvinced.

AT this time the controversy concerning the pieces published by Mr James Macpherson, as translations of Ossian, was at its height.* Johnson had all along denied their authenticity; and, what was still more provoking to their admirers, maintained that they had no merit.

The subject having been introduced by Dr Fordyce, Dr Blair, relying on the internal evidence of their antiquity, asked Dr Johnson whether he thought any man of a modern age could have written such poems?* Johnson replied, ‘Yes, Sir, many men, many women, and many children.’

Johnson, at this time, did not know that Dr Blair had just published a Dissertation, not only defending their authenticity, but seriously ranking them with the poems of Homer and Virgil; and when he was afterwards informed of this circumstance, he expressed some displeasure at Dr Fordyce’s having suggested the topic, and said, ‘I am not sorry that they got thus much for their pains. Sir, it was like leading one to talk of a book when the author is concealed behind the door.’

* See ‘Fragments Of Ancient Poetry’, by James MacPherson.

* Hugh Blair (1718-1800) was minister in charge at the High Church of St Giles in Edinburgh, the highest post in the presbyterian Church of Scotland, and considered one of the finest critics of his day. James Fordyce (1720-1796) was also a Scottish Presbyterian minister, and a poet. His brother Sir William Fordyce (1724–1792) was a physician with a research interest in rhubarb cultivation for medicinal purposes.

From ‘Life of Johnson’ Vol. 1 by James Boswell (1740-1795).

Stanford: ‘Lament for the Son of Ossian’

‘Ossian’ exercised a tremendous influence over the arts in Europe, including classical music. Nils Gade in Denmark wrote ‘Echoes of Ossian’, and Sir Charles Villiers Stanford subtitled his Second Irish Rhapsody a ‘Lament for the Son of Ossian’.

Find this music (or similar) at Amazon.co.uk

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Picture: By Rosser1954 (Roger Griffith), Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
Ossian’s Hall of Mirrors at the Hermitage in Dunkeld, Scotland. Like Macpherson’s Ossian poems themselves, the hall and the nearby cave of Ossian are Georgian follies, gradually improved over the late 18th century to honour the legendary Irish bard Ossian. See The Hermitage (National Trust).
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