British and Irish Literature James MacPherson
by
Dafydd Moore
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0066

Introduction

James Macpherson (b. 1736–d. 1796) was a poet, historian, and controversialist most famous for The Poems of Ossian, his supposed translations from the works of the 3rd-century CE Celtic poet Ossian. While inspired by and incorporating the Gaelic balladry of the Scottish Highlands, Ossian was not as Macpherson claimed, and it is better read as a creative construction of what Macpherson would have liked to think was the heroic poetic tradition emanating from the Highlands of Scotland. It was a reconstruction greeted with recognition within the Irish and Gaelic Scottish world. Macpherson did collaborate with Gaelic poets and incorporated both classical and vernacular Gaelic traditions to differing extents across his oeuvre (there are identifiable sources for passages in Fingal even if none such have been identified for Temora). This makes the notion of fakery or fraud in any straightforward sense untenable. Ossian was highly influential on a global scale. Macpherson’s works were also subject to controversy, notably involving Samuel Johnson, though this dispute and the misconceptions on which it was based have played a disproportionately large role within the Anglo-American critical tradition. Until the 1980s, consideration of Macpherson tended to be concerned with questions of influence or questions of authenticity and controversy. Since then, however, scholarship has emphasized other things as well: Macpherson’s Scottish Enlightenment context, mid-18th-century ideas of the epic and the place of poetry in culture; the aesthetics and politics of Sentiment; and Ossian’s place within debates about British identity in the 18th century within the context of “four nations” or “archipelagic” criticism. With increasingly rare exceptions, considerations of fraud and influence are now read through one of these lenses. The Anglo-American obsession with forgery is interpreted as a response to the unsettling Celtocentricism of Macpherson’s vision. The presence here of some of the more unreconstructed, and apparently uninformed, views might be controversial. However, it seems important to acknowledge the availability of different emphases, partly because a denial of plurality is one of the most disappointing things about the neo-Johnsonite position. This article allows readers to make up their own minds by mapping the contours of Macpherson scholarship in the 2010s, for good or ill. One symptom of renewed interest in Macpherson is passing reference in works of a more general nature. This article does cite some particularly significant individual chapters and sections of larger works, while generally being restricted to stand-alone items. This might misrepresent a critical heritage that has relied on the kindness of strangers. However, a focus on works that specifically address Macpherson is appropriate given the need to be selective, doubly so because many glancing references do not do Ossian appropriate justice. I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Leanne Tough in sourcing some of the references in the original version of this article.

Key Overviews

This section contains the key and indispensable works that play into many of the sections in the rest of the article. It covers book-length studies on Ossian (by individuals and diverse hands), as well as two shorter contributions richer and more comprehensive than many a book. In the case of the four essay collections cited here, occasionally individual chapters are cited elsewhere in appropriate sections. However, it would be impractical to cite all individual pieces in every place they are relevant, and it is also important to note them as collections in their own right. Gaskill 1991 represents a landmark collection edited by one of the major contributors to the field, containing essays by many of those responsible for Macpherson’s rehabilitation through the 1980s. It focuses on aspects of the reception of Macpherson and on his Scottish Enlightenment (but also Gaelic) context. Stafford and Gaskill 1998 is a more eclectic mix through which the reader is immersed in a range of approaches, parallels, and suggestive avenues of investigation. Mitchell 2016 and Moore 2017 offer another pair of collections that remain true to the modern tradition of lively encounters with Macpherson’s work while pushing scholarship into some fresh, and fresh disciplinary, areas. Moore 2003 remains the only modern monograph devoted entirely to Ossian and is an attempt to make sense of new historicist accounts of Ossian in terms of the experience of reading the poems. Gaskill 2004 anatomizes the reception of Ossian in thirteen European languages, with contributions from a range of international scholars. Essays range from the broad survey to the specialist case study, and it is an indispensible starting point for this important aspect of the field. Pittock 2008 offers, in the midst of the authors seminal account of Scottish Romanticism, an overview of Macpherson that plays into so many of the sections below that it can with justice belong only in this section of key works. Stafford 2011 is the latest contribution to the field by its foremost expert and manages to encapsulate all of the most significant things to say about Macpherson in a way stimulating to the expert and inspiring to the beginner. The presence of Duncan, et al. 2004 is slightly unexpected here. It is not in itself directly about Macpherson, but it is so key a statement of archipelagic criticism that it is essential reading.

  • Duncan, Ian, Leith Davis, and Janet Sorensen. “Introduction.” In Scotland and the Borders of Romanticism. Edited by Leith Davis, Ian Duncan, and Janet Sorensen, 1–9. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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    An important introduction to the growing understanding of Scottish Romanticism, in which Macpherson plays such a key role. Although not specifically about Macpherson, this is such a key argument for the understanding of any late-18th-century Scottish writer that it should be read by anyone undertaking serious thought about Ossian.

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    • Gaskill, Howard, ed. Ossian Revisited. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991.

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      Ten essays (including the introduction) from many of those responsible for placing Macpherson back on the critical stage, including Stafford, deGategno, and Sher. Essays cover aspects of Macpherson’s reception and, particularly, various Scottish Enlightenment contexts. An important starting point for generalists and specialists alike.

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      • Gaskill, Howard, ed. The Reception of Ossian in Europe. London: Continuum, 2004.

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        Twenty essays on Macpherson’s impact in fifteen different parts of Europe, as well as his influence in music, art, and literary criticism. Also contains a valuable introduction and comprehensive timeline of European reception of Macpherson divided into translations, criticism, and other responses (e.g., musical, exhibitions).

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        • Mitchell, Sebastian, ed. Special Issue: Forum on Ossian in the Twenty-First Century. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 39.2 (2016).

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          Eight essays spanning a range of disciplinary and theoretical approaches to Ossian, published to mark the twentieth anniversary of Gaskill and Stafford’s seminal modern edition. Taken together with Moore 2017, represents the latest state of thinking in the field.

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          • Moore, Dafydd. Enlightenment and Romance in James Macpherson’s Poems of Ossian. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003.

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            Book-length study reading the central preoccupations of Ossian—the sentimental, the sublime, cultural defeat—through the generic lens of romance rather than epic. Perhaps the most sustained attempt yet to read the poems as one might any other literary text.

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            • Moore, Dafydd, ed. The International Companion to James Macpherson and the Poems of Ossian. Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2017.

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              Nine chapters, an introduction, and a synoptic bibliography, covering all aspects of Macpherson’s career, including his work as a historian and translator, and an insight into some of his activities in the murky world of East India Company politics. The volume also contains essays on the influence of the poems and the ideas of translation that Macpherson embodies. To this extent the volume has a fair claim to being the most comprehensive treatment of Macpherson yet available, written for the generalist as well as the researcher. Taken together with Mitchell 2016, represents the current state of thinking in the field.

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              • Pittock, Murray. Scottish and Irish Romanticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

                DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199232796.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                Seminal study of Scottish Romanticism that finds the space to consider Macpherson’s literary, cultural, and political heritage; his relation to Scottish and British identity building; and his influence on Romantic and later literature in a usefully condensed form (chapter 3, especially pp. 71–80). It is also aware of the tensions and potential contradictions of Macpherson’s powerful and influential national elegy.

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                • Stafford, Fiona. “Romantic Macpherson.” In The Edinburgh Companion to Scottish Romanticism. Edited by Murray Pittock, 27–38. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011.

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                  Title belies the broad sweep of this introduction to Macpherson, his reception history, and the range of cultural and aesthetic contexts from the Scottish Enlightenment to postmodernism and contemporary art practice. An up-to-date and readily accessible starting point for anyone interested in Ossian (including the general reader).

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                  • Stafford, Fiona, and Howard Gaskill, eds. From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.

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                    Seventeen essays on various aspects of Ossian’s origins and reception. Along with Gaskill 1991, a comprehensive introduction to the variety of approaches it is now possible to take on Macpherson, along with significant examples of those approaches in their own right.

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                    Biographies

                    There are four significant biographies of Macpherson. Each has its strengths and is of interest in its own right, even if the more venerable might now need to be treated with a degree of caution. All have things to say of relevance to all the other sections of this article. Saunders 1968 (originally published in 1894) accords Macpherson the significance of a down-the-line late-19th-century biography, part of the upsurge in interest in Ossian during the period’s “Celtic Twilight.” Smart 1905 is the least sympathetic, and something of a riposte to Saunders’s more apologist account, as its slightly pointed subtitle suggests. That said, Smart does capture some of the larger cultural issues at play within what he terms the “episode,” even if they would be expressed differently today. Both deGategno 1989 and Stafford 1988 are important milestones in the rehabilitation of Macpherson, and if the latter has overshadowed the former, both repay attention as readings of the man, the writer, and the work. Both attend to Macpherson and his writings (not only Ossian) in conventional literary terms rather than exclusively through the question of authenticity, and in both, the reader, perhaps for the first time since Hugh Blair’s Critical Dissertation of 1765, get a sense of what Ossian is, how it is significant, and how it garners its effects. DeGategno 1992 is a more in-depth account of Macpherson’s time in Florida, and the start of his political career.

                    • deGategno, Paul J. James Macpherson. Twayne’s English Authors 467. Boston: Twayne, 1989.

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                      One of two modern biographies. Valuable in its accessibility and its consideration of Macpherson’s whole career, and notable for its poem-by-poem analysis of Ossian. Contains a useful annotated bibliography. Offers a useful starting point and many insights that only feel more pertinent the more one thinks about Ossian.

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                      • deGategno, Paul J. “The Sublime Savage in America: James ‘Ossian’ Macpherson’s Tour of Duty in West Florida.” Scotia: Interdisciplinary Journal of Scottish Studies 16 (1992): 1–20.

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                        Interesting account of an overlooked episode in Macpherson’s career as he moves up the slippery pole of Georgian ministerial politics. It appears that his stay in the American colonies was notably for more than conveniently losing a significant number of his “manuscripts” into a Floridian swamp.

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                        • Saunders, Thomas Bailey. The Life and Letters of James Macpherson. New York: Greenwood, 1968.

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                          A complete biography that, while superseded by advances since 1980, is of some historical interest to the more specialist reader, particularly for otherwise unpublished correspondence it contains. Originally published in 1894.

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                          • Smart, John Semple. James Macpherson: An Episode in Literature. London: David Nutt, 1905.

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                            The subtitle is revealing: an exposé of Macpherson that sees Macpherson as a historical curiosity, although it does offer some attempt to analyze the “episode” in terms of Anglo-Scottish cultural politics. Again, of historical interest to more specialist readers concerned with the history of Macpherson studies.

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                            • Stafford, Fiona. The Sublime Savage: A Study of James Macpherson and the Poems of Ossian. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1988.

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                              The indispensible, standard account of Macpherson and Ossian, upon which most of the best of what followed rests. A sophisticated and comprehensive getting to grips with the subject that identifies, and places Macpherson and Ossian within, a range of pressing contexts. Still prescient after more than a quarter century of revisionism because of its secure grip both on the text and the ways in which it can be read.

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                              Bibliographies

                              The three previous significant bibliographies of Macpherson are interesting for two reasons. In and of themselves, they contain material that supplements the current one. This is especially true of Black 1926 and Dunn 1971, which contain much 19th-century material that is not appropriate to include in this article. At the same time, through their structure they say a lot about the general understanding of how Macpherson should be viewed. So we move from a fixation with influence and with the authenticity debate in Black 1926, reinforced by Dunn 1971, to a more capacious understanding of the ways Macpherson needs to be considered in the early 21st century (James MacPherson and Ossian). DeGategno 1989 (cited under Biographies) also contains a useful annotated bibliography.

                              • Black, George F. Macpherson’s Ossian and the Ossianic Controversy. New York: New York Public Library, 1926.

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                                Also published in the Bulletin of the New York Public Library in the same year. Useful for older sources that are in themselves now of only historical interest to the more specialist reader. Notable that Macpherson is considered of interest only as a controversy or as an influence on others.

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                                • Dunn, John J. “Macpherson’s ‘Ossian’ and the Ossianic Controversy: A Supplementary Bibliography.” Bulletin of the New York Public Library 75 (1971): 465–473.

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                                  An update of Black 1926 through to 1970. Notably sees no reason to unsettle Black’s structural categories. Again, useful for works of interest to the more specialist student of Macpherson’s reception history.

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                                  • Sher, Richard. James MacPherson and Ossian.

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                                    Comprehensive and lightly annotated online bibliography up to 2004. Useful categorization by the most-pressing themes of Macpherson revisionism, and a useful complement to the current bibliography up to 2004.

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                                    Editions

                                    The publication history of Ossian is not complicated, but it is subtly significant. The work we think of as Ossian originally appeared in three publications: The Fragments of Ancient Poetry (Edinburgh, 1760), Fingal and Other Poems (London, 1761–1762), and Temora and Other Poems (London, 1763). These were collected together into a so-called third edition of the Works of Ossian (1765). This contained some two hundred changes and also the final version of Hugh Blair’s Critical Dissertation. The year 1773 saw a revised edition on which most subsequent ones were based (note that the revisions were based on the first two editions rather than the third edition). The two modern editions cited here both revert to pre-1773 editions. Both of these have their strengths, notably the editorial commentary of Gaskill 1996, and the fact that the facsimile offered in Moore 2004 gives an immediate sense of reading the poems as they appeared. For this reason both are included.

                                    • Gaskill, Howard, ed. James Macpherson: The Poems of Ossian and Related Works. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996.

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                                      Based on the 1765 edition of The Works of Ossian, with critical notes and a useful introduction by Fiona Stafford. Also includes Macpherson’s dissertations and preface to the 1773 edition and Blair’s A Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian. Critical notes offer textual variants of considerable interest to the specialist reader.

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                                      • Moore, Dafydd, ed. Ossian and Ossianism. 4 vols. London: Routledge, 2004.

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                                        Vol. 1 includes most of Macpherson’s significant juvenilia and the Fragments of Ancient Poetry (1760); Vol. 2, facsimile reproductions of the first editions of Fingal (1761–1762) and Temora (1763); Vol. 3, a selection of critical responses to Ossian; and Vol. 4, a selection of versification and dramatizations. Vol. 1 also contains an extensive (over one hundred pages) introduction.

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                                        The Ossian Controversy

                                        This section identifies key texts within the various scholarly discussions that can be broadly considered under the heading of the controversy: views of the relationship between Ossian and genuine Gaelic balladry, accounts of the Ossian controversy, and interpretations of the controversy from the point of view of “fake theory.” With one notable and important exception, it is restricted to scholarship from 1950 onward, since what came before is either too famous, too obscure, or too wrong (and sometimes more than one of these) to warrant inclusion.

                                        Ossian and Its Sources

                                        The work of Derick Thomson has been essential to the understanding of Macpherson and his sources. Notable for its lack of righteous indignation and its open-minded assessment of Macpherson’s achievement, Thomson 1952 offers the definitive account of the Gaelic sources of Ossian. Subsequent work by Gaelicists (including Thomson himself) has considered how to understand and interpret the process of transmission from Gaelic ballad to 18th-century neoclassical English epic. Included here are two of the more interesting, accessible, and thought-provoking examples of this: Meek 1991 and Porter 2001, the latter a contribution to a special issue of the Journal of American Folklore devoted to Macpherson. Also included here is the closest we have to a contemporaneous scholarly account of the affair, Mackenzie 1805. Yose, et al. 2016 is a rather unusual contribution to the debate, using mathematics and network theory to consider Ossian’s relationship to other heroic traditions. Many of the works listed under Biographies, Ireland, and Scotland and the Highlands consider this matter in some degree.

                                        • Mackenzie, Henry, ed. The Report of the Committee of the Highland Society of Scotland Appointed to Inquire into the Nature and Authenticity of the Poems of Ossian. Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1805.

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                                          Publishes testimonials from many of the key players, including Hugh Blair, and the findings of inquiries within the Gaelic-speaking Highlands. Its conclusion—that while no evidence exists to suggest that Macpherson’s “Ossian” had a literal counterpart in Gaelic, significant portions of Gaelic balladry find their ways into the poems—has been borne out by subsequent inquiry.

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                                          • Meek, Donald E. “The Gaelic Ballads of Scotland: Creativity and Adaptation.” In Ossian Revisited. Edited by Howard Gaskill, 19–48. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991.

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                                            Develops understanding established in Thomson 1952 and emphasizes the tradition of making new poetry within Gaelic balladry. From this perspective, Macpherson’s rewriting and (re)imagining of Gaelic material in anglophone forms is only an extreme form of something within the spirit of the Gaelic tradition.

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                                            • Porter, James. “‘Bring Me the Head of James Macpherson’: The Execution of Ossian and the Wellsprings of Folkloristic Discourse.” Journal of American Folklore 114.454 (2001): 396–435.

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                                              Ferociously punning title perhaps belies a generous reading of Macpherson, following Meek, as part of an inventive storytelling tradition outside (and predating) modern understandings of authorship.

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                                              • Thomson, Derick S. The Gaelic Sources of Macpherson’s Ossian. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1952.

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                                                The standard forensic account of the relationship between Ossian and the Gaelic heroic tradition. Identifies in some detail the parts of Ossian that can be ascribed to extant material. A key work for all interested in exactly what Macpherson used and how, and an inarguable corrective to the wilder extremes of those who see the matter entirely as one of Macpherson’s forgery.

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                                                • Yose, Joseph, Ralph Kenna, Pádraig MacCarron, Thierry Platini, and Justin Tonra. “A Networks-Science Investigation into the Epic Poems of Ossian.” Advances in Complex Systems 19.4.5 (2016).

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                                                  A genuinely interdisciplinary collaboration that attempts to model, mathematically speaking, the connectivity structures that underlie the societies described in Ossian. It shows a closer correlation between Ossian and Irish heroic poetry than between either and the equivalent Homeric model. An interesting sidelight on, and alternative approach to, an age-old debate that humanities scholars should find an intriguing complement to the approaches with which they are more familiar.

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                                                  Macpherson and Johnson

                                                  The Macpherson-Johnson spat was one of the most famous literary disputes of the 18th century—and that is saying something, given the general propensity for literary fisticuffs during the period. For Curley 2009 the argument is still a live one, and a question of truthfulness and deceit to the total exclusion of anything else, in ways that are rather startling (see Introduction). While many in the field of Macpherson studies will find its inclusion here troubling, it seems unrepresentative to ignore an early-21st-century Cambridge monograph. Lynch 2002 offers a more reasoned account from the Johnsonian side of the fence, and whatever one’s enthusiasm for Macpherson, it is good to engage with such different perspectives. Gaskill 1991 demolishes some of the myths surrounding the dispute between Macpherson and Johnson and is an indispensible starting point, while Stafford 1989 offers a small case study drawing on unpublished letters that offers a timely corrective not only to the facts we thought we knew, but also to the whole business of confidence in fact itself. The other texts in this section focus on interpreting some of the issues discerned to be at stake in the affair. Hook 1984 offers an eloquent early example of the need to see the larger cultural politics at work in the argument, and it is notable that the authenticity debate had little traction outside the British Isles. Hart 1999 offers a short but suggestive interpretation in terms of ideas of property, while Clark 1994 usefully links Johnson’s attitude to Ossian to his views on (and involvement in) questions of literary “fraud” earlier in the century. Trumpener 1997 offers a seminal analysis that ties debates over the discipline of antiquarianism and the cultural politics of the emergent British nation.

                                                  • Clark, J. C. D. Samuel Johnson: Literature, Religion and English Cultural Politics from the Restoration to Romanticism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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                                                    Pages 77–87 offer an interesting account of Johnson’s attitude to Ossian, usefully linking it to his views on the Phalaris affair and his involvement with the Lauder fraud. A good window on Johnson and his views from a historicized perspective, even if it also repeats some of the hoarier chestnuts of the squabble (compare with Stafford 1989).

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                                                    • Curley, Thomas M. Samuel Johnson, the Ossian Fraud, and the Celtic Revival in Great Britain and Ireland. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

                                                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511576461Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      The title of this culmination of a twenty-five-year campaign speaks for itself. Curley has no truck with recent revisionism, viewing it as a denial of basic “fact”: Johnson was right; Ossian, a fraud. A controversial position, less for what it says about Johnson than for its intolerance of other dimensions of the scholarly field. Only to be considered in concert with other views.

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                                                      • Gaskill, Howard. “Introduction.” In Ossian Revisited. Edited by Howard Gaskill, 1–18. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991.

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                                                        Sympathetic reading of Macpherson’s position, stressing the way in which Macpherson was drawn into talking about manuscripts and accepting the terms of a debate alien to his initial claims.

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                                                        • Hart, Kevin. Samuel Johnson and the Culture of Property. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

                                                          DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511484285Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          A short but stimulating discussion of the Ossian controversy (pp. 136–150) in terms of different and changing 18th-century definitions of cultural property. An example of an attempt to see the debate in other than moral terms.

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                                                          • Hook, Andrew. “‘Ossian’ Macpherson as Image Maker.” Scottish Review 36 (1984): 39–44.

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                                                            Among other things, a clear and convincing call for recognizing the cultural agenda within debates about authenticity at a time when Macpherson’s fortunes were not only low but almost exclusively seen in terms of forgery and fraud in the aftermath of Trevor-Roper 1983 (cited under Scotland and the Highlands).

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                                                            • Lynch, Jack. “Samuel Johnson’s ‘Love of Truth’ and Literary Fraud.” Studies in English Literature 42.3 (2002): 601–618.

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                                                              Only partially about Macpherson, an interesting and playful consideration of Johnson’s attitudes toward literary fraud and why it mattered so much to him. Within the unfortunately polarized terms of the debate pro-Johnson, but more profitably considered as an intelligent consideration of the personal context to the argument.

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                                                              • Stafford, Fiona. “Dr Johnson and the Ruffian: New Evidence in the Dispute between Samuel Johnson and James Macpherson.” Notes and Queries, n.s. 36.1 (1989): 70–77.

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                                                                Considers the stage managing of the Johnson-Macpherson row by Boswell via evidence that the famous letter from Johnson to Macpherson was not reproduced as it was sent. Stafford suggests that the version Macpherson actually received made no allusion to a threat of violence on Macpherson’s part, opening up the possibility that, contrary to popular myth, none was in fact forthcoming.

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                                                                • Trumpener, Katie. Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.

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                                                                  As part of her wide-ranging and stimulating discussion of Macpherson, Trumpener considers the clash of values and culture between “oral” Macpherson and “written” Johnson in terms of understandings of literary culture and achievement. See especially chapter 2.

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                                                                  Forgery Studies

                                                                  Since the 1970s there has been a tradition of considering the “Macpherson fraud” within a more redemptive frame of (to draw a crude distinction) post-structuralist-leaning ideas about forgery and authenticity (here represented by Groom 2002), or historicist understandings of the contingent nature of such definitions (Haywood 1986) and the legal definitions the Ossian debate engaged within (Wickman 2000, Manning 2007). The relationship between Romanticism and ideas of forgery broached by Groom are explored in different ways in Russett 2006 and Moore 2010: while the former provides a wide understanding of the field, the latter offers a sustained reading of the reception of the poems in these terms, indebted to those that have gone before. There is significant overlap here with the Macpherson and Johnson section, and the majority of the works therein could also be counted under this head.

                                                                  • Groom, Nick. The Forger’s Shadow: How Forgery Changed the Course of Literature. London: Picador, 2002.

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                                                                    Chapter on Macpherson argues that Ossian status as forgery gives rise to—or at least is necessary for—Romantic notions of literary self-authentication. Densely and provokingly argued, it is aimed at the specialist Macpherson reader and the more generalist theoretician.

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                                                                    • Haywood, Ian. The Making of History: A Study of the Literary Forgeries of James Macpherson and Thomas Chatterton in Relation to Eighteenth-Century Ideas of History and Fiction. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986.

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                                                                      Relates Macpherson to epistemological debates of the mid-18th century and the rise of the novel. Notably less interested in the national dimensions of these things than later discussions of Macpherson and Humean thinking in relation to Ossian and the emerging discourse of the novel.

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                                                                      • Manning, Susan. “Henry Mackenzie’s Report on Ossian: Cultural Authority in Transition.” Modern Language Quarterly 68.4 (2007): 517–539.

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                                                                        Examines the legal and rhetorical structures of Mackenzie 1805 (cited in Ossian and Its Sources), considering assumptions about the nature of evidence. Also interested in wider questions of the particular nature of Scottish Romanticism.

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                                                                        • Moore, Dafydd. “‘A Blank Made’: Ossian, Sincerity and the Possibility of Forgery.” In Romanticism, Sincerity, and Authenticity. Edited by Tim Milnes and Kerry Sinanan, 58–79. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

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                                                                          Considers what Macpherson might have offered William Wordsworth and Walter Scott in terms of an imaginative engagement with ideas of sincerity and truth telling within the context of Romantic and national notions of sincerity.

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                                                                          • Russett, Margaret. Fictions and Fakes: Forging Romantic Authenticity, 1760–1845. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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                                                                            Remarkably little on Macpherson per se, but a thorough account of the period. Gives consideration of the authenticating devices of the Ossianic text.

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                                                                            • Wickman, Matthew. “The Allure of the Improbable: Fingal, Evidence, and the Testimony of the ‘Echoing Heath.’” PMLA 115.2 (2000): 181–194.

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                                                                              Considers the legal context of considerations of evidence and testimony, and the Highland context within the British state. A dense article (not for the beginner), but it repays efforts.

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                                                                              The Scottish Enlightenment

                                                                              The rediscovery of the Scottish Enlightenment context of Ossian was one of the defining features of the first phase of Macpherson revisionism (rediscovery because, as Sher 1982 highlights, Macpherson’s contemporaries were not slow to see it as a group effort). For the sake of argument, these studies can be seen in three broad and often-overlapping categories: efforts such as Sher’s emphasize the group dynamic that led to the birth of Ossian; Price 1991, Raynor 1991, and Rizza 1991 consider the motivations of individuals in their connection with Macpherson, and Leneman 1987 represents those that interpret an interest in Ossian as a way of defining characteristics of the Scottish Enlightenment. DeLucia 2015 considers the ways in which Ossian offered female Enlightenment thinkers a way of arguing for the importance of emotion. It should be noted that these studies are not always sympathetic to Macpherson and the Ossian project. There is significant crossover with other sections here, particularly with Macpherson and Sentimentalism and some of the contributions to the Ossian Controversy.

                                                                              • DeLucia, JoEllen. A Feminine Enlightenment: British Women Writers and the Philosophy of Progress, 1759–1820. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015.

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                                                                                “Ossianic History and Bluestocking Heroism” makes up chapter two of this study of the ways in which women writers shaped Enlightenment discourse and, in particular, the ways in which emotion was central to narratives of progress during the period.

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                                                                                • Leneman, Leah. “Ossian and the Enlightenment.” Scotia 11 (1987): 13–29.

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                                                                                  A useful overview that pays particular attention to what Ossian offers us in terms of understanding the connections and relationship between Scottish Enlightenment and Highland culture.

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                                                                                  • Price, John Vladimir. “Ossian and the Canon in the Scottish Enlightenment.” In Ossian Revisited. Edited by Howard Gaskill, 109–128. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991.

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                                                                                    Ossian is represented as a disreputable symptom of the Scottish Enlightenment’s desire to expand the literary canon that finds its proper voice in the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott. Useful connections to theories of original genius, but overall a rather neo-Johnsonian view of the moral organization of the literary order.

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                                                                                    • Raynor, David. “Ossian and Hume.” In Ossian Revisited. Edited by Howard Gaskill, 147–163. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991.

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                                                                                      A consideration of Hume’s changing attitude toward Ossian and in particular his hostile unpublished essay on Ossian in 1775. Questions the standard interpretation of the suppression of the essay owing to friendship with Blair, by drawing attention to Hume’s own earlier involvement—indeed, implication within—the Ossian episode.

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                                                                                      • Rizza, Steve. “A Bulky and Foolish Treatise? Hugh Blair’s ‘Critical Dissertation’ Reconsidered.” In Ossian Revisited. Edited by Howard Gaskill, 129–146. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991.

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                                                                                        Reassessment of perhaps the most significant critical account of Ossian that suggests it offers a clear articulation of the “state of the art” in literary criticism in the period—though clear to warn against assumptions that it represents a complete aesthetic theory.

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                                                                                        • Sher, Richard B. “Those Scotch Imposters and Their Cabal: Ossian and the Scottish Enlightenment.” In Man and Nature: Proceedings of the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Edited by Roger L. Emerson, 55–63. London, ON: University of Western Ontario, 1982.

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                                                                                          The most concise elaboration of Sher’s theory about the collaborative nature of Ossian. One of the most significant pieces of Ossian revisionism and essential for full understanding of the poems, it considers the evidence for a group approach and adduces the motivations behind it. The argument reappears in Sher’s Church and University in the Scottish Enlightenment (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1985).

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                                                                                          Sentimentalism

                                                                                          Another key theme of revisionism since the 1990s has been the relationship between Ossian and the movements of sentiment and sensibility. These works fall into three categories. Some consider Ossian within the context of the literary movements of sentiment and sensibility. Here Keymer 1998 considers Macpherson and Sterne in a stimulating, lively discussion; McGann 1996 sees Macpherson’s prosody in terms of a profoundly important shift in sensibility, and Manning 1998 considers Macpherson and Henry Mackenzie’s sentimental form. All three are interested in formal concerns. The second category, represented here by Dwyer 1991 and Potkay 1992, considers Ossianic sentiment in terms of the history of cultural and indeed political ideas and the battle between civic and modern virtue (this work has most in common with Macpherson and the Scottish Enlightenment readings of Ossian). A third category, represented here by Mitchell 1999, Gibbons 1996, and Shields 2010, is interested in the more direct politics of sentiment and in the relationship between sentiment and national identity. Shields 2010 relates Britishness to the sentimental philosophy of Adam Smith, Gibbons 1996 thinks about Smith in terms of Ireland and the Highlands, and Mitchell 1999 considers Ireland, but also the wider British political scene. This work is aligned with that on Macpherson and Politics and National Identities. Notable across all is the evidence they provide of the way Ossian is open to conventional literary exegesis.

                                                                                          • Dwyer, John. “The Melancholy Savage: Text and Context in the Poems of Ossian.” In Ossian Revisited. Edited by Howard Gaskill, 164–206. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991.

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                                                                                            An influential argument that sees Ossian as a mythic compromise between the ideologies of civic and commercial humanism, a marriage of ancient heroism and modern manners. Reinforced by Potkay 1992 and qualified by Moore 2003 (cited under Key Overviews).

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                                                                                            • Gibbons, Luke. “The Sympathetic Bond: Ossian, Celticism and Colonialism.” In Celticism. Edited by Terence Brown, 273–291. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996.

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                                                                                              Considers Macphersonian sentiment as a rhetoric and wider ideology of assimilation as Celtic peoples and identity fell in thrall to Anglo-British control. Establishes connections between Ossian and Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. Shares many affinities with Womack 1989 (cited under Scotland and the Highlands). To be balanced against those accounts that detect a slightly more subversive or resistant strain in Ossian.

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                                                                                              • Keymer, Thomas. “Narratives of Loss: The Poems of Ossian and Tristram Shandy.” In From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations. Edited by Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill, 79–96. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.

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                                                                                                Ambitious and convincing consideration of Ossian as sentimental text in formal terms through consideration of the idiom of the fragment in Sterne and Macpherson, and on their shared preoccupations with representing the past in language and the futility of such efforts.

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                                                                                                • Manning, Susan. “Henry Mackenzie and Ossian: Or, the Emotional Value of Asterisks.” In From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations. Edited by Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill, 136–152. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.

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                                                                                                  Eloquent account of the fragment form in Mackenzie and Macpherson, and of the emotional, cultural, national, and ideological inflections of fragmentation in the work of both. Complements Keymer’s contribution to same volume.

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                                                                                                  • McGann, Jerome. The Poetics of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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                                                                                                    One chapter devoted to Macpherson, in which McGann makes large claims for the importance of Macpherson for late-18th-century poetics. An exhilarating example of the way in which Ossian is open to conventional literary exegesis.

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                                                                                                    • Mitchell, Sebastian. “James Macpherson’s Ossian and the Empire of Sentiment.” British Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies 22.2 (1999): 155–172.

                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1754-0208.1999.tb00235.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                      An important and accessible essay that covers a lot of ground and is richly suggestive in a number of fields, from the political to the colonial to the aesthetic. Complements work on reception of Ossian, and on the politics in particular.

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                                                                                                      • Potkay, Adam. “Virtue and Manners in Macpherson’s Poems of Ossian.” PMLA 107.1 (1992): 120–130.

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                                                                                                        Like Dwyer 1991, a reading of Ossian in terms of the marriage of civic and commercial humanism. More gender inflected, and perhaps a closer reading than Dwyer; nevertheless in broad agreement with his position. The work appears in slightly expanded and contextualized form in Potkay’s The Fate of Eloquence in the Age of Hume (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994).

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                                                                                                        • Shields, Juliet. Sentimental Literature and Anglo-Scottish Identity, 1745–1820. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511750793Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          Sophisticated account of Macpherson’s role in the creation of a feeling of Britishness through the moral sentiment of Adam Smith. See especially chapter 1. See also many of the works under National Identities.

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                                                                                                          Politics

                                                                                                          Few modern readings of any text are likely to be entirely divorced from a political context, as the sections on the Ossian Controversy, National Identities, Macpherson, and Sentimentalism bear witness. However, these selections offer overt meditations on the political dimension of the features of Macpherson they seek to highlight. Macpherson’s Jacobite heritage has been one focus of attention, succinctly put forward here in Pittock 1998 and Macpherson 1998, which usefully also points us in the direction of some of Macpherson’s non-Ossianic work. This non-Ossianic work has been read in different ways in Kidd 1993 and Kersey 2004, and if the balance of opinion is against the latter, the author’s work on a much-neglected Macphersonian text (and particularly his willingness to engage with a much-derided poem) is nevertheless of interest. Mitchell 1999 and Mac Craith 1998 in their different ways recommend attention to the particular political context of the early 1760s. Overall, the breadth of work of value in different ways here bears out Pittock’s observation that it does not do to be too categorical about Macpherson’s politics. Hanif and Rezaei 2016 demonstrates the ways in which the dynamics of Ossian’s political moment can be seen in other times and cultures.

                                                                                                          • Hanif, Mohsen, and Tahereh Rezaei. “Epic Heroes in Ossian by Macpherson and Shahnameh by Firdausi.” Persian Literary Studies Journal 5.7–8 (2016): 37–53.

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                                                                                                            Fascinating comparative account of Ossian and the 10th-century Shahnameh (or Book of Kings), the most important work of the greatest Persian epic poet Abul-Ghasim Ferdausi. While the account of Macpherson and Ossian might be a little rough around the edges, the article offers proof of the broad relevance and applicability of the issues central to the poems and their historical and cultural moment.

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                                                                                                            • Kersey, Melvin. “The Pre-Ossianic Politics of James Macpherson.” British Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies 27.1 (2004): 61–76.

                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1754-0208.2004.tb00278.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              One of very few serious discussions of Macpherson’s early epic The Highlander, which attempts to demonstrate the pro-Union, Whig credentials of the young Macpherson. Not necessarily the most obvious interpretation of the poem, but a useful counterbalance to most other positions and worthy of attention.

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                                                                                                              • Kidd, Colin. Subverting Scotland’s Past: Scottish Whig Historians and the Creation of an Anglo-British Identity, 1689–c. 1830. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511660290Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                With significant attention to Macpherson’s Introduction to the History of Great Britain and Ireland (1771), Kidd argues that the author of Ossian should be more properly considered a “Celtic Whig” rather than a Jacobite or Tory. See especially chapter 10.

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                                                                                                                • Mac Craith, Mícheál. “Fingal: Text, Context, Subtext.” In From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations. Edited by Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill, 59–68. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.

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                                                                                                                  Considers Macpherson’s adaptation of Gaelic balladry, Jacobitism, and the politics of the Seven Years’ War. An ambitious but very readable account of Macpherson’s achievement.

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                                                                                                                  • Macpherson, Alan G. “‘On the Death of Marshall Keith’ and the Clan Consciousness of James Macpherson.” In From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations. Edited by Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill, 51–58. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.

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                                                                                                                    Useful reminder of the non-Ossianic Macpherson in poetry (in the case of this anonymously published essay on a Jacobite general who fell in foreign service), and indeed in life. This essay provides an interesting context for arguments over the Jacobite heritage of Macpherson.

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                                                                                                                    • Mitchell, Sebastian. “James Macpherson’s Ossian and the Empire of Sentiment.” British Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies 22.2 (1999): 155–172.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1754-0208.1999.tb00235.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      Concise and very readable discussion of the immediate political context of anti-Scottish prejudice into which Ossian was launched. Includes discussion of squibs and satires of Ossian in terms of the discourse of anti-Scottish prejudice.

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                                                                                                                      • Pittock, Murray G. H. “James Macpherson and Jacobite Code.” In From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations. Edited by Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill, 41–50. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.

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                                                                                                                        The most condensed and easily accessible version of Pittock’s thinking on Macpherson in relation to the rhetoric and iconography of Jacobitism, which is also elaborated over the course of a decade in more-general books—for example, his analysis of “Macpherson’s Protesting Lament” in his Poetry and Jacobite Politics in Eighteenth-Century Britain and Ireland (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

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                                                                                                                        National Identities

                                                                                                                        The years since 1990 have seen considerable scholarly effort seeking to understand the way that national identities played out in the emerging British state of the 18th century. In particular, “four nations” or “archipelagic” scholarship has sought to undermine the historical assumptions of Anglo-British Whig history in favor of a more contingent, fraught, and polyphonic understanding of the literature and culture of the British Isles in the period. Macpherson and Ossian have been seen as key to these debates. At the risk of making a false distinction for argument’s sake, the works noted here fall into the two major categories of this field: first, studies interested primarily in Scotland (and the Gaelic Highlands), and their place within 18th-century Britain; and second, work concerned with Britain more widely. So important has this area been as the lens through which much recent work has looked that there are significant overlaps with most other sections of this article.

                                                                                                                        Scotland and the Highlands

                                                                                                                        Macpherson produced an epic for mid-18th-century Scotland, and what that tells us about the hopes, aspirations, and fears of that nation at that time, in the aftermath of the Act of Union and the failed Jacobite risings, has been a significant focus of scholarly attention. A surprising amount of this work has been hostile, and often from different perspectives: from Trevor-Roper 1983, an infamous jeremiad on a bogus Scottish identity foisted on the (English) world, to Womack 1989, an attack on the “false consciousness” of Highland Romanticism bequeathed by Macpherson as a mystification of economic and political exploitation to the gross disadvantage to the region and its people. Gibbons 1996 is more sympathetic, while still holding onto the Highland “false consciousness” position. Meek 2004, Simpson 1988, and Simpson 2009 offer in their different ways essential correctives to these views, and Meek’s essay is of particular importance in coming to a balanced judgment on the impact of Ossian on Highland culture.

                                                                                                                        • Gibbons, Luke. “The Sympathetic Bond: Ossian, Celticism and Colonialism.” In Celticism. Edited by Terence Brown, 273–291. Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi, 1996.

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                                                                                                                          Forcefully connects the stoic sentimentalism of Macpherson and Adam Smith with the need for tearful resignation on the part of the Celtic fringe as a response to the growth of the Anglo-British state. Complements Womack 1989 and needs considering alongside Meek 2004.

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                                                                                                                          • Meek, Donald. “The Sublime Gael: The Impact of Macpherson’s Ossian on Literary Creativity and Cultural Perception in Gaelic Scotland.” In The Reception of Ossian in Europe. Edited by Howard Gaskill, 40–66. London: Continuum, 2004.

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                                                                                                                            Essential balance to the position adopted most thoroughly in Womack 1989. Meek, a Gaelic specialist, argues that Ossian provided a positive rhetoric for, and way of understanding, Gaelic experience during the 18th and 19th centuries.

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                                                                                                                            • Simpson, Kenneth. The Protean Scot: The Crisis of Identity in Eighteenth-Century Scottish Literature. Aberdeen, UK: Aberdeen University Press, 1988.

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                                                                                                                              Lively and convincing reading of the poems that treats Macpherson’s Ossian as an episode in the ongoing Scottish concern with personal and national identity. Fine accounts of the poems accord with much noticed and interpreted by others in other contexts (especially that of sentimentalism). See especially chapter 2.

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                                                                                                                              • Simpson, Kenneth. “The Place of Macpherson’s Ossian in Scottish Literature.” In Crossing the Highland Line: Cross-Currents in Eighteenth-Century Scottish Writing. Edited by Christopher MacLachlan, 113–122. Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                Stakes a claim both for Macpherson as one of Scotland’s most important literary exports and for a legacy in terms of the nature of Scottish literary culture. Captures nicely both the powerful and more-limiting aspects of Macpherson’s bequest.

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                                                                                                                                • Trevor-Roper, Hugh. “The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland.” In The Invention of Tradition. Edited by Eric Hobsbawm, 15–41. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

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                                                                                                                                  Inappropriately savage criticism of Macpherson, Ossian, and Gaelic culture. Hugely influential in terms of general knowledge of the subject, though now almost entirely discredited by serious criticism. While it contains little of value in itself, it is useful for the historian of Macpherson studies, and it provides an explanation of the way certain responses have been shaped.

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                                                                                                                                  • Womack, Peter. Improvement and Romance: Constructing the Myth of the Highlands. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1989.

                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-08496-8Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                    Contains a stimulating discussion of Ossianic aesthetics in terms of the assimilation of the Highlands into the Anglo-British state. Eloquent and lively in its own terms, it needs, however, to be compared with other more-nuanced accounts, such as Meek 2004.

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                                                                                                                                    Britain

                                                                                                                                    Discussions of Macpherson in relation to Scottish identity have of course been inseparable from discussions of the place of that Scottish identity within a wider British one. The works in this section are primarily interested in that British identity. Again there is precious little apology or special pleading for Macpherson on display: Weinbrot 1993 is firmly of a Johnsonian view on matters Ossianic, though Weinbrot’s reading of the poems and sense of their significance is acute. Davis 1993 and Davis 1998, in rehearsals of the same argument in two distinct settings (and hence both worth attention), consider Ossian and Macpherson’s relationship with Johnson in terms of a literary “negotiation” of the British state in ethnic terms. Trumpener 1997 is an essential account of the way the past and its mediation were contested in the century following the Union.

                                                                                                                                    • Davis, Leith. “‘Origins of the Specious’: James Macpherson’s Ossian and the Forging of the British Empire.” Eighteenth Century 34.2 (1993): 132–150.

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                                                                                                                                      Argues that Ossian creates a native founding identity for the post-Union British state that simultaneously acknowledges, diffuses, and circumvents Scottish anxieties about being a junior partner through the presentation of a Celtic heroism decisively divorced from contemporaneous versions of Scottishness. A stimulating part of the mix of views on this matter.

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                                                                                                                                      • Davis, Leith. Acts of Union: Scotland and the Literary Negotiation of the British Nation, 1707–1830. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                        Chapter 4 is an extension and deepening of the argument of Davis 1993 and worth separate attention in the context of the book as a whole. The argument is concerned with some of the most paradoxical aspects of Macpherson and is not always unscathed by the encounter, but well worth consideration.

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                                                                                                                                        • Trumpener, Katie. Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                          Trumpener’s influential sense of Macpherson’s achievement and the controversy it provoked is animated by a sharp awareness of the stakes in play in terms of the British understanding of their past—and the means of accessing it.

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                                                                                                                                          • Weinbrot, Howard D. Britannia’s Issue: The Rise of British Literature from Dryden to Ossian. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511553554Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                            Weinbrot displays an almost Trevor-Roperean antipathy toward Macpherson and all Weinbrot perceives him to stand for. However, this is a stimulating and rich discussion of the ways Ossian is key to the growth of a polished literature for a polite and commercial people. See especially Part 5.

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                                                                                                                                            Primitivism

                                                                                                                                            Ossian, and the way the poems were articulated by the likes of Hugh Blair, was of course one of the foundational texts for European primitivism. The poems represent an articulation of the previous forty years of historicist classical theory (such as that of Thomas Blackwell). Rubel 1978 here represents the commentary that has considered the matter from the point of view of the history of ideas. Stafford 1996 and Pittock 1997 represent more recent, more politically, and more culturally inflected accounts, not out of place within the sections on Politics or National Identities

                                                                                                                                            • Pittock, Murray G. H. Inventing and Resisting Britain: Cultural Identities in Britain and Ireland, 1685–1789. London: Macmillan, 1997.

                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-25619-8Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                              Another example of the interpretation of the issue in terms of cultural politics, as does Stafford 1996, this explores the fine balance inherent within Macpherson primitivism and the differing interpretations it is possible to read into it.

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                                                                                                                                              • Rubel, M. M. Savage and Barbarian: Historical Attitudes in the Criticism of Homer and Ossian in Britain, 1760–1800. Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1978.

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                                                                                                                                                Comprehensive history of ideas approach to the way in which 18th-century historicist accounts of epic influenced Ossian. Important discussion of differences between “savage” and “barbarian” within 18th-century critical and social rhetoric, of some significance to anyone interested in this line of inquiry.

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                                                                                                                                                • Stafford, Fiona. “Primitivism and the ‘Primitive’ Poet: A Cultural Context for Macpherson’s Ossian.” In Celticism. Edited by Terence Brown, 79–87. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996.

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                                                                                                                                                  A subtle but accessible discussion of the cultural politics of primitivism and the epic form in the 18th century in the context of the history of Celtic Scotland. An important effort to balance the “misrepresentation” of the Highland culture point of view with the view that sees Ossian as an evolution of Highland culture.

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                                                                                                                                                  Influences

                                                                                                                                                  Ossian’s significant impact on the literary and cultural scene of the 18th-century world has been a focus of attention throughout the history of Macpherson studies—indeed, along with the question of authenticity, this was for a while the exclusive focus of the literature. The reach, depth, and variety of Ossianic influence made it one of the most important works of the century. The revival of Ossian’s fortunes reengaged scholarship with this influence, often also examining why it had been so often written out of personal and national histories. Latterly, devolutionary criticism has worried somewhat about the politics of the stress on influence, concerned that it perpetuates a view of literary history in which marginalized writers are brought in from the cold merely because they exerted an influence on someone “‘important.” This section is highly selective from a huge (particularly international) field and is split into convenient geographical and disciplinary sections. A special case is made for a selection of works that represent the importance of Macpherson in growing understandings of the nature of Scottish Romanticism. The separation of this from works covering a wider British response is pragmatic, while also acknowledging this key development in “British” Romantic studies since around 2000. While there has tended to be an assumption that people responded to Ossian with admiration or antagonism expressed in equally violent ways, more-recent criticism (even if it starts from this assumption) tends to reveal more complex, fraught, and sophisticated engagements.

                                                                                                                                                  Scottish Romanticism

                                                                                                                                                  There has been growing interest since the first decade of the 21st century in the nature, forms, and significance of Scottish Romanticism as distinct from the previously normative anglocentric models of the Romantic writer and wider Romantic culture. Macpherson is seen as an important figure in this understanding. This section includes some key touch points between Macpherson and this scholarly field and provides a gateway to the general field. Duncan, et al. 2004 provides an important methodological introduction to “four nations” Romanticism. Moore 2003 offers an analysis of the forces of marginalization that have worked on Macpherson, while Pittock 2008 and Stafford 2011 (see Key Overviews) cover much ground, including Ossian’s importance as a Scottish Romantic text. This is borne out in the other contributions: Manning 2007 considers Mackenzie 1805 (cited in Ossian and Its Sources) as a text of Scottish Romanticism, while Mack 2009 thinks through the ways in which Ossianic bardism figures in Hogg, and Leask 2017 considers the importance of Ossian to Sir Walter Scott’s The Antiquary.

                                                                                                                                                  • Duncan, Ian, Leith Davis, and Janet Sorensen. “Introduction.” In Scotland and the Borders of Romanticism. Edited by Leith Davis, Ian Duncan, and Janet Sorensen, 1–19. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511484186.001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                    Although not specifically about Macpherson, this is a key argument for the understanding of any late-18th-century Scottish writer and the ways in which Scottish Romanticism occupies different spaces and times and adopts different rhythms from the traditional. Essential reading for anyone undertaking serious thought about Ossian.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Leask, Nigel. “Sir Walter Scott’s The Antiquary and the Ossian Controversy.” In Special Issue: Walter Scott: New Interpretations. Edited by Susan Oliver. Yearbook of English Studies 47 (2017): 189–202.

                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.5699/yearenglstud.47.2017.0189Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                      Part of a volume devoted to reassessments of Scott, the essay argues that the explicit (and comic) discussion of Ossian early in the novel is far from the only time the poems feature in The Antiquary. Leask suggests that the Ossian debate speaks to the novel’s broader concern with the ethnic origins and modern identity of the Scots, and that Macpherson’s work may have influenced the controversial “invasion plot” of The Antiquary.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Mack, Douglas S. “Hogg’s Bardic Epic: Queen Hyde and Macpherson’s Ossian.” In James Hogg and the Literary Marketplace: Scottish Romanticism and the Working Class Author. Edited by Sharon Alker and Holly Faith Nelson, 139–155. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                        Much more about Hogg than Macpherson, this essay nevertheless locates Ossian within a context of Scottish Romantic writing that is refreshingly free of reproach. Hogg’s bardic utterance, says Mack, was an alternative to rather than imitation of Macpherson’s “noble solemnisation” (p. 155), but the reading of the latter in such terms is interesting.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Manning, Susan. “Henry Mackenzie’s Report on Ossian: Cultural Authority in Transition.” Modern Language Quarterly 68.4 (2007): 517–539.

                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1215/00267929-2007-014Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                          Examines the legal and rhetorical structures of Mackenzie 1805 (cited in Ossian and Its Sources) as a route into wider questions about the particular nature of Scottish Romanticism.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Moore, Dafydd. “The Critical Response to Ossian’s Romantic Bequest.” In English Romanticism and the Celtic World. Edited by Gerard Carruthers and Alan Rawes, 38–53. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511484131.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                            An examination of the ways in which conventional Anglo-American Romantic criticism has traditionally marginalized Ossian. Somewhat shrill in execution, the points made are nevertheless broadly valid and the style is engaging enough. The collection from which it hails is, along with Duncan, et al. 2004, seen as a key development in the field.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Pittock, Murray. Scottish and Irish Romanticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199232796.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                              Seminal study of Scottish Romanticism that includes an account of Macpherson’s influence, in particular in the creation of the figure of the bard. Pittock relates Macpherson to a number of the book’s larger criteria to do with the creation of a national literature. See especially chapter 3, particularly pp. 71–80.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Stafford, Fiona. “Romantic Macpherson.” In The Edinburgh Companion to Scottish Romanticism. Edited by Murray Pittock, 27–38. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011.

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                                                                                                                                                                Goes far beyond Romanticism, but in doing so also makes a convincing case for Macpherson’s as a text that defines key characteristics of European Romanticism while also offering challenges to established understandings. Both thought provoking and highly accessible.

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                                                                                                                                                                Britain

                                                                                                                                                                Macpherson’s influence is perhaps less well understood in Britain than anywhere in the world. For all its strengths, revisionism since the 1990s has done relatively little to address this, perhaps because of the reticence about such narratives of influence in “four nations” circles. Dunn 1965 (an unpublished doctoral thesis) remains the closest to an extended account of influence in Britain. The other works cited here demonstrate the more common approach of considering individual influences within mainly Romantic writing: Punter 1995 (on William Blake), MacLachlan 1997 (predominantly on Robert Burns), Michasiw 2008 (on Thomas Chatterton), Stafford 1991 (on William Wordsworth), and, perhaps surprisingly, Moore 2006 (on Alfred Lord Tennyson). Hunter 2005 takes what is a common link with Sir Walter Scott a little further and extends it into the 20th century in the shape of Tolkien. Duncan 2015 also takes in Tolkien within a more general account of the possibilities the Ossianic offers. While this remains a selective list, it is far less selective than one might assume.

                                                                                                                                                                • Duncan, Ian. “Spawn of Ossian.” In Global Romanticism: Origins, Orientations, and Engagements, 1760–1820. Edited by Evan Gottlieb, 3–18. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2015.

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                                                                                                                                                                  A fresh and wide-ranging rehearsal of the ways in which Macpherson’s “fantasy of national belonging” echoes through later literature, in the usual suspect Arnold, but also in the work of Tolkien and John Cowper Powys.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Dunn, John. “The Role of Macpherson’s Ossian in the Development of British Romanticism.” PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1965.

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                                                                                                                                                                    Considers the linguistic and poetic debt of the major Romantic poets to Macpherson. One chapter provided the basis for an article, “Coleridge’s Debt to Macpherson,” in Studies in Scottish Literature 7.1 (1969): 76–89.

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                                                                                                                                                                    • Hunter, John. “The Reanimation of Antiquity and the Resistance to History: Macpherson-Scott-Tolkien.” In Tolkien’s Modern Middle Ages. Edited by Jane Chance and Alfred K. Siewers, 61–75. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

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                                                                                                                                                                      Hunter sees Macpherson and Scott as the progenitors of the tradition of writing into which Tolkien fits, without getting bogged down in questions of direct influence. Tolkien is the main focus, but interesting issues having to do with Ossian, history, fantasy, and modernity do emerge in an essay that is unembarrassed about seeing Macpherson as important.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • MacLachlan, Christopher, ed. Special Issue: Macpherson’s Ossian. Scotlands 4.1 (1997).

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                                                                                                                                                                        Special issue of the journal devoted to Macpherson and, broadly speaking, his influence. Notable for containing four different takes on the Burns-Macpherson axis, by Susan Manning, Colin Kidd, Margery Palmer McCulloch, and Valentina Bold.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Michasiw, Kim Ian. “Chatterton, Ossian, Africa.” Studies in English Literature 48.3 (2008): 633–652.

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                                                                                                                                                                          Macpherson and Chatterton have been associated together since the 1770s, so the dearth of work on the two is somewhat surprising (though see also Haywood 1986, cited under Forgery Studies). This is a welcome exception to the rule, an account of Chatterton’s complex engagement with the political, cultural, and national significance of the Ossianic mode across a variety of not-altogether-expected poems.

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Moore, Dafydd. “Tennyson, Malory and the Ossianic Mode: The Poems of Ossian and the ‘Death of Arthur.’” Review of English Studies 57.230 (2006): 374–391.

                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1093/res/hgl043Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                            One of few efforts to consider the question of Macpherson’s more long-standing influence, in this case explored through the narrative structures and represented sensibility of what the article claims to be Tennyson’s Ossianic Arthuriad.

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Punter, David. “Ossian, Blake, and the Questionable Source.” In Exhibited by Candlelight: Sources and Developments in the Gothic Tradition. Edited by Valeria Tinkler-Villani, 25–41. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995.

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                                                                                                                                                                              Currently the only sustained individual work on Macpherson’s most obvious Romantic inheritor. Not a general survey, but rather an exploration of what Blake might owe to Ossian’s playing with notions of evidence, authenticity, and origins. The “questionable source” of the title is a pun: it concerns sources that can both be interrogated and doubted.

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                                                                                                                                                                              • Stafford, Fiona. “‘Dangerous Success’: Ossian, Wordsworth, and English Romantic Literature.” In Ossian Revisited. Edited by Howard Gaskill, 49–72. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991.

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                                                                                                                                                                                Stimulating account of Wordsworth’s fraught and contradictory relationship with Macpherson, exemplified by Wordsworth’s considering Ossian both a dangerous success and an irrelevance. Demonstrates how thinking about Macpherson can be a vehicle for wider discussion about the nature of Romantic thought patterns.

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                                                                                                                                                                                Ireland

                                                                                                                                                                                The reception and influence of Macpherson in Ireland have a number of dimensions, one of which is the Irish response to the appropriation and denigration of Irish history and culture by Macpherson. This response took the form of historical argument (significant amounts of which are reproduced in Moore 2004, cited under Editions) and in the production of rival works. Both aspects are represented in the works listed here. O’Halloran 1989 and Mac Craith 2004 demonstrate the breadth of positions that Irish commentators took on the matter, as does Leerssen 1997, while Nagy 2001 good-humoredly continues the argument over ownership in an essay that corroborates the findings in Meek 1991 (cited under Ossian and Its Sources) about the continuities between Macpherson’s practices and those of the traditions from which he draw inspiration. Ó Gallchoir 2007, Watson 1998, and Barlow 2017 provide a link into the more straightforwardly creative response to Macpherson’s Celticism in Ireland. Many of the essays on Macpherson and Sentimentalism consider the politics of Macpherson’s aesthetics with reference to Ireland.

                                                                                                                                                                                • Barlow, Richard. The Celtic Unconscious: Joyce and Scottish Culture. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 2017.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  “The Dream of Ossian: Macpherson and Joyce” makes up chapter 5 of this broadly speaking (though the author does not use the phrase) archipelagic account of Joyce’s engagement with Scotland and Scottishness, and the ways in which this engagement destabilizes the otherwise tempting structuring binaries between Ireland and Britain.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  • Leerssen, Joseph T. Mere Irish and Fior-Ghael: Studies in the Idea of Irish Nationality; Its Development and Literary Expression Prior to the Nineteenth Century. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Contains a significant and oft-cited account of the Irish response to Macpherson within the context of Irish assertions of national culture in the third quarter of the 18th century.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    • Mac Craith, Micheal. “‘We Know All These Poems’: The Irish Response to Ossian.” In The Reception of Ossian in Europe. Edited by Howard Gaskill, 91–108. London: Continuum, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      Detailed analysis of the Irish response, focused on the neglected figure of Charles Wilson (b. c. 1756–d. 1808), who first produced Irish material in response to Macpherson’s efforts. For the more specialist reader.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      • Nagy, Joseph Falaky. “Observations on the Ossianesque in Medieval Irish Literature and Modern Irish Folklore.” Journal of American Folklore 114.454 (2001): 436–446.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        Lively essay that emphasizes the continuities between Macpherson’s practices and those of medieval Irish Fenian matter. Emphasizes features of the poems (rather than historical perspective contained within them) and complements and corroborates Meek 1991 (cited under Ossian and Its Sources).

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                                                                                                                                                                                        • Ó Gallchoir, Clíona. “Celtic Ireland and Celtic Scotland: Ossianism and the Wild Irish Girl.” In Scotland, Ireland, and the Romantic Aesthetic. Edited by David Duff and Catherine Jones, 114–130. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          Reverses the standard equation of Ossian’s version of Ireland by considering how Ossian influences the representation of Scotland in Irish literature. Interesting example of how archipelagic criticism can work on a non-Anglo axis (in this case between Ireland and Scotland).

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                                                                                                                                                                                          • O’Halloran, Clare. “Irish Re-creations of the Gaelic Past: The Challenge of Macpherson’s Ossian.” Past & Present 124 (August 1989): 69–94.

                                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1093/past/124.1.69Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                            Excellent and subtle explanation of the response of Irish historians and antiquarians to Macpherson’s vision of ancient Ireland. Essential for the subject. See also this argument updated in the relevant sections of O’Halloran’s Golden Ages and Barbarous Nations: Antiquarian Debate and Cultural Politics in Ireland, c. 1750–1800 (Cork, Ireland: University of Cork Press, 2004).

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                                                                                                                                                                                            • Watson, G. J. “Yeats, Macpherson and the Cult of Defeat.” In From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations. Edited by Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill, 216–225. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              Explores ways in which Ossian provided a literary, cultural, and political strategy for the young W. B. Yeats as he constructed an Irish national identity to challenge earlier-19th-century stereotypes of Irishness. As with Meek 2004 (cited under Scotland and the Highlands), Watson challenges the notion that a myth of national defeat is inevitably enervating in all circumstances.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              Continental Europe

                                                                                                                                                                                              Gaskill 2004, with its reference to thirteen European languages, its timeline, and its bibliographies, is the clear starting point in this area. Gaskill is himself a Germanist, and the exceptional influence of Macpherson in Germany is also reflected in Gaskill 1998 and Lamport 1998, and the monumental effort (in German) in Schmidt 2003. Italy is represented through Broggi 2006 and Cristea 1969. France is “merely” represented by the extraordinarily comprehensive efforts of Van Tiegham 1917.

                                                                                                                                                                                              • Broggi, Francesca. The Rise of the Italian Canto: Macpherson, Cesarotti, and Leopardi, from the Ossianic Poems to the Canti. Ravenna, Italy: Longo, 2006.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                Italy is but one of the European nations where Ossian hit very hard. This study demonstrates the significance of Macpherson for Italian Romanticism. The striking nature of the title, which places Macpherson in august Italian company, makes clear his importance.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                • Cristea, S. N. “Ossian v. Homer: An Eighteenth-Century Controversy.” Italian Studies 24 (1969): 93–111.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1179/007516369791064033Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Interesting and subtle piece on Cesarotti’s use of Ossian to validate non-Homeric/classical poetry (and by extension alternatives to other inherited traditions) in Italy. A good insight for the non-Italianist.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Gaskill, Howard. “‘Blast, rief Cuchullin . . . !’: J. M. R. Lenz and Ossian.” In From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations. Edited by Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill, 107–118. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    A story of double marginalization inasmuch as it considers the influence of the marginalized Ossian on the marginalized Sturm und Drang figure Lenz. The subject matter is specialized, but the account is a readable one and a good example of the “secret histories” dimension to understanding the Macpherson’s proper and previously elided place in national literary heritages.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Gaskill, Howard, ed. The Reception of Ossian in Europe. London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      Outstanding collection of twenty essays covering fifteen different parts of Europe (and sometimes colonial possessions) and music, art, and criticism as well as literature. These essays, and their extensive bibliographies, are the essential starting point for the generalist and specialist alike.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Lamport, F. J. “Goethe, Ossian and Werther.” In From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations. Edited by Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill, 97–106. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        Lamport’s analysis of Goethe’s debt to Macpherson is, not unusually, also an analysis of a later disavowal. Demonstrates how Goethe’s later dismissal of Ossian’s role in Werther is both disingenuous and accurate. A nice representative example of how coming to terms with Ossian is also coming to terms with a personal history.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Schmidt, Wolf Gerhard. “Homer des Nordens” und “Mutter der Romantik”: James Macphersons “Ossian” und seine Rezeption in der deutschsprachigen Literatur. 4 vols. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          Monumental account of Macpherson’s reception in literature in German. For the non-German reader, a taste of the value of Schmidt’s work can be had in his contribution to Gaskill 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Van Tiegham, Paul. Ossian en France. 2 vols. Paris: F. Rieder, 1917.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            A work with almost mythical status (helped perhaps by being in French!). After over one hundred years, still the standard work on the French response to Ossian and a daunting work of polymath scholarship. Unlikely to be surpassed by a single author.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            North America

                                                                                                                                                                                                            The question of the American response to Macpherson is still best approached via Carpenter 1931, but significant attention has also been given in particular to Jefferson’s interest in Ossian. DeGategno 1991 offers an eloquent and moving account, while McLaughlin 1993 moves attention also toward Edgar Allen Poe. Manning 1997 builds on these in interesting ways. Holmgren 2002 is a rare examination of Macpherson in Canada and also a reminder that Ossian can hit home in the 21st century.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Carpenter, Frederic I. “The Vogue of Ossian in America: A Study in Time.” American Literature 2 (1931): 405–417.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/2920160Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                              A venerable but still-classic introduction to the subject. Later works tend to be more focused on specific writers, so this is still the best place to start.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              • deGategno, Paul J. “‘The Source of Daily and Exalted Pleasure’: Jefferson Reads the Poems of Ossian.” In Ossian Revisited. Edited by Howard Gaskill, 94–108. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                Jefferson and Ossian is a relatively crowded field, but this stands up well in comparison as it explores what Jefferson’s enthusiasm for Ossian might say about Jeffersonian ideas of heroism, progress, and statehood.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Holmgren, Michele. “Ossian Abroad: James Macpherson and Canadian Literary Nationalism, 1830–1994.” Canadian Poetry 50 (2002): 51–81.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Traces engagement of a range of (broadly) Irish Canadian writers with Ossian from 1841 through 1993. It claims that Ossian is suggestive for the creation and exploration of hybrid Canadian history, culture, and identity through its commitment to, but also radical undermining of, the ideas of national tradition.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Manning, Susan. “Why Does It Matter that Ossian Was Thomas Jefferson’s Favourite Poet?” Symbiosis 1.2 (1997): 219–236.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    On balance, the best of the several articles dealing with Ossian and Jefferson. See also chapter 4 of Manning’s Fragments of Union: Making Connections in Scottish and American Writing (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • McLaughlin, Jack. “Jefferson, Poe and Ossian.” In Special Issue: Thomas Jefferson, 1743–1993: An Anniversary Collection. Edited by Sharon Salinger and Max Byrd. Eighteenth-Century Studies 26.4 (1993): 627–634.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.2307/2739486Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Another treatment of Jefferson, this time valuably extended to consider Poe as well. A suggestive place to start a consideration of the influence of Ossian in 19th-century American writing, something occasionally asserted but little examined in any great detail.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Art and Architecture

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The material and visual culture of the Macpherson’s reception offers rich interdisciplinary ground and further evidence of the pervasive nature of the Ossian craze. Okun 1967 is broadly considered the standard work still, while Macmillan 1986 also offers analysis of Scottish painting inspired by Macpherson. Cheape 1997 and Dingwall 1997 broaden the focus to include other aspects of material culture, while Mitchell 2008 draws parallels with the way the works of other writers were represented in paint in the period. He also considers questions of national identity, an emphasis also to be found in work as otherwise disparate as Colvin 2002 and Smiles 1994. Maierhofer 2011 offers more evidence of the particular usefulness of Ossian to female writers and, in this case, artists, in an essay that also speaks to the preoccupations of the works considered under Sentimentalism.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Cheape, Hugh. “The Culture and Material Culture of Ossian, 1760–1900.” Scotlands 4.1 (1997): 1–24.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                        An interesting (and unique) survey of the material artifacts that formed part of the Ossian craze and what they say about literary tourism. Adds an interesting dimension to a collection devoted to reception, but likely to be of more specialist interest.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Colvin, Callum. Ossian: Fragments of Ancient Poetry/Oisein; Bloighean De Sheann Bhàrdachd. Edinburgh: Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 2002.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                          A stunning photographic meditation on Ossian, art, forgery, and national identity, by a foremost contemporary artist. Thought provoking and beautiful, the work pays tribute to the relevance of Macpherson’s vision for early-21st-century Scotland, a theme usefully picked up in Tom Normand’s introductory essay.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Dingwall, Christopher. “Ossian and Dunkeld: A Hall of Mirrors.” Scotlands 4.1 (1997): 62–70.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Textual reconstruction of one of the more impressive monuments to an enthusiasm for Ossian, built as a garden feature on the Dunkeld estate and now sadly lost. Interesting nexus between the literary, landscape appreciation, and garden design.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Macmillan, Duncan. Painting in Scotland: The Golden Age. Oxford: Phaidon, 1986.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The Runciman brothers’ Ossianic paintings (the originals of which are now lost) are perhaps the most-famous British examples. A chapter here is devoted to the paintings and their Enlightenment connections.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Maierhofer, Waltraud. “Angelica Kauffmann’s War Heroes: (Not) Painting War in a Culture of Sensibility.” In Enlightened War: German Theories and Cultures of Warfare from Frederick the Great to Clausewitz. Edited by Elisabeth Krimmer and Patricia Anne Simpson, 192–218. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell & Brewer, 2011.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                The essay shows how Kauffmann’s Ossian-inspired paintings fit into a larger career of martial painting and how painterly as well as literary versions of sensibility represented epic violence and “expanded the semantic possibilities of historical painting.”

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Mitchell, Sebastian. “Ossian and Ossianic Parallelism in James Barry’s Works.” Eighteenth-Century Ireland 23 (2008): 94–120.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Considers Barry’s one Ossian painting and the use of the Ossianic elsewhere in the work of this Irish painter and printmaker. Interesting connections made between Barry’s Ossian and Shakespeare’s works.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Okun, Henry. “Ossian in Painting.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 30 (1967): 327–356.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.2307/750749Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Not the most recent but the standard survey of the reception of Ossian in visual art across a number of countries. Still a worthwhile place to start investigating this aspect of Macpherson’s influence.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Smiles, Sam. The Image of Antiquity: Ancient Britain and the Romantic Imagination. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      A wide-ranging and impressive survey of historical painting and the representation of (fancied) national pasts in the Romantic artistic imaginary. Reserves particular and sustained attention for Macpherson. A substantial introduction to the field and its contexts (including archaeological).

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Music and Drama

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The works here consider either Macpherson’s influence or stagings of Ossian. Malek 1975 offers a straightforward survey, which usefully isolates aspects of Ossian revealed through the process of dramatization. For example, the minimal adaptation in many of the stagings offers testimony to the essentially dramatic nature of the would-be epics. One would need to be a scholar of music to appreciate Daverio 1998 in its entirety, but it gives a sense of Macpherson’s wide appeal for the nonspecialist. Smith 1998 combines the cultural politics of Napoleonic France with a sense of the development of 19th-century opera that is again understandable to the nonspecialist, an approach also adopted in Cassiday 2000. Waltz 2016 offers a broader canvas in a discussion of German musical settings, while Williams 2016 demonstrates the historically arbitrary but nevertheless informative association between Ossianism and the bagpipes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Cassiday, Julie A. “Northern Poetry for a Northern People: Text and Context in Ozerov’s Fingal.” Slavonic and East European Review 78.2 (2000): 240–266.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The essay argues that Vladislav Ozerov’s neoclassical tragedy Fingal (1805) was the most significant fruit of Russian Ossianism. Unpacking the play’s historical, political, and literary context suggests the ways in which Russians’ national pride was shaped and articulated at the outset of the 19th century.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Daverio, John. “Schumann’s Ossianic Manner.” 19th-Century Music 21.3 (1998): 247–273.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1525/ncm.1998.21.3.02a00020Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Contains useful survey of Ossianic music well beyond that of Robert Schumann. One needs to be a music historian (or at least read music) to get maximum benefit from this, but an interesting insight nonetheless for the Ossian generalist.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Malek, James S. “Eighteenth-Century British Dramatic Adaptations of Macpherson’s Ossian.” Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theatre Research 14.1 (1975): 36–52.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Restricted more or less to a survey of materials, but a useful starting point nonetheless. Moore 2004 (cited under Editions) reprints a number of the identified texts and offers some speculation as to their significance for the student of Ossian.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Smith, Christopher. “Ossian, ou Les Bardes: An Opera by Jean-François Le Seur.” In From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations. Edited by Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill, 153–163. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              An engaging chapter that considers one of the best-known musical responses to Ossian in terms of its staging, its Napoleonic cultural politics, and its (and by extension Ossian’s) place in the history of 19th-century music and opera.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Waltz, Sarah Clemmens, ed. German Settings of Ossianic Texts: 1770–1815. Recent Researches in the Music of the Classical Era 100. Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2016.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                An unapologetic consideration of what it was about Ossian that interested German poets and composers. It argues that the German interest in Ossian led to settings that, in style and form, importantly foreshadow musical Romanticism.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Williams, Vivien Estelle. “The Bagpipe and Romanticism: Perceptions of Ossianic ‘Northernness.’” European Romantic Review 27.4 (2016): 459–473.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1080/10509585.2016.1190088Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  An account of the ways in which Ossianism and bagpipes have been key to the cultural identity of the Highlands, and how they are associated together in ways that bear absolutely no scrutiny whatsoever.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Poetics

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The specifically poetic nature of Ossian sometimes gets lost in the flurry of activity that surrounds it as a cultural artifact. The best criticism of course manages both. The texts in this section do not fit neatly into the sections devoted to larger cultural preoccupations, though they are far from close readings in a vacuum. They range from Crawford 2001, a response to Macpherson as inaugurating a key shift in notions of the modern poet, to the very differently theoretically informed discussions of Leerssen 1998, Kozlowski 1998, and Giovanelli 2005, which complement Bogel 1984. Radcliffe 1998 places Macpherson within an 18th-century genre history, while Laughlin 2000 profitably ponders what the urge to versify Ossian might tell us about its actual poetic style. Gidal 2015 takes a “geographic turn” to ponder Ossian’s importance for the Anthropocene.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Bogel, Frederic. Literature and Insubstantiality in Later Eighteenth-Century England. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The slightly off-putting title hides a very fruitful response to the poems and their engagement with ideas of a heroic past. Notably serious consideration of Macpherson (pp. 97–133) at a time when few considered the poems worthy of interest in and of themselves, and even if later responses added a more substantial cultural context for many of these features, this is still worth a look in its own right.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Crawford, Robert. The Modern Poet: Poetry, Academia and Knowledge since the 1750s. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Makes very large claims indeed for the importance of Macpherson for the modern notion of the poet and the academy and the relation between the two. Provocative and outspoken, nevertheless one of the few considerations of the relationship between poetry and scholarly apparatus—worth attention for this alone. See especially chapter 1.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Gidal, Eric. Ossianic Unconformities: Bardic Poetry in the Industrial Age. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        An ambitious attempt to grapple with what its author terms the “geo-critical turn” in considerations of Ossian in the 19th century and to speculate about the power of the bardic to conceptualize industrialized space and the impact of industrial modernity on the environment. It reads familiar texts in new ways, shows how some of the more eccentric topographical responses are nevertheless of interest, and forges new ways of thinking about the Ossianic aesthetic.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Giovanelli, Laura. “From Substantial Body into Evanescent Ghost: The World of James Macpherson’s Ossianic ‘Fragments.’” In The Poetics of Transubstantiation: From Theology to Metaphor. Edited by Douglas Burnham and Enrico Giaccherini, 75–87. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2005.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Interesting effort to consider Macpherson both from the point of view of the philosophy of Thomas Reid and from modern notions of the spectral. Not the most accessible of essays, but an interesting complement to the works on Macpherson and Sentimentalism.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Kozlowski, Lisa. “Terrible Women and Tender Men: A Study of Gender in Macpherson’s Ossian.” In From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations. Edited by Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill, 119–135. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Given the nature of Ossian’s gender characterization—neatly summed up in the title here—it is a surprise that there has not been more consideration of this feature of the poems. This is a useful introduction to the topic.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Laughlin, Corinna. “The Lawless Language of Macpherson’s Ossian.” Studies in English Literature 40.3 (2000): 511–537.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/1556259Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Along with Moore 2004 (cited under Editions), the only consideration available of what the versifying response to Ossian tells us about the nature of Macpherson’s prosody. By attending to the domesticating impulses of others, we get a hint at the lawlessness of the original, its peculiar music that was both embraced and resisted at the same time.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Leerssen, Joep. “Ossianic Liminality: Between Native Tradition and Preromantic Taste.” In From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations. Edited by Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill, 1–16. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                A clever and wide-ranging essay that discusses the idea of Ossianic liminality, taking in Irish poetic traditions and modern theories of the “chrono-trope.” Its notion of an “Ossianic quiddity” is a rich starting point for any discussion of Ossian’s legacy.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Radcliffe, David Hall. “Ancient Poetry and British Pastoral.” In From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations. Edited by Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill, 27–40. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  A sophisticated essay that places Ossian in the context of debates about genre in 18th-century literature and argues that the text be seen as a version of the anti-Georgic. Also claims importance of Macpherson for the invention of the notion of “culture” and “cultural discourse” itself and reading of “social structures as aesthetic objects” (p. 30).

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Folklore Studies

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Through the 19th century, the discipline of folklore studies was the perhaps natural home of most work on Macpherson. It was rather decentered by the Scottish Enlightenment / national-identity focus of the revisionism that began in the mid- to late 1980s, and it is notable that quite a lot of the material cited here (especially from North America) seems unaware of much of that revisionism as it rediscovered Macpherson at the turn of the 21st century. The works cited here tend to fall into one or more of a number of categories: Macpherson’s influence on individual folklorists, as in Gaskill 2003; Macpherson’s place in the history of folklore studies, in Mckean 2001, Foley 2002, Porter 2001; or the cultural politics of Macpherson’s vision of folklore, as in Groom 1996 and Rix 2009. Mulholland 2009 and Mulholland 2013 belong in this company but are equally interested in the impact on poetry more widely of Macpherson’s rendering of oral tale in text.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Foley, John Miles. “Macpherson’s Ossian: Trying to Hit a Moving Target.” In Special Issue: Toward New Perspectives on Verbal Art as Performance. Edited by Elaine J. Lawless. Journal of American Folklore 115.455 (2002): 99–106.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Response essay summarizing the positions of the essays in this special issue of the Journal of American Folklore, devoted to what Foley terms this “knotty problem in the history of folklore studies” (p. 99). Agrees with Bold, Nagy, Maclean, and Porter and adduces comparative examples to reinforce their cases, from American slam poetry to Icelandic saga.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Gaskill, Howard. “Ossian, Herder and the Idea of Folksong.” In Camden House History of German Literature. Vol. 6, Literature of Sturm und Drang. Edited by David Hill, 95–116. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The importance of Ossian in Herder’s ideas of the folk and its literature has long been acknowledged. This is the most recent account, benefiting from the wealth of Macpherson studies since the late 20th century, not least from its author, himself a leading authority on Ossian.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Groom, Nick. “Celts, Goths and the Nature of the Literary Source.” In Tradition in Transition: Women Writers, Marginal Texts, and the Eighteenth-Century Canon. Edited by Alvaro Ribeiro and James G. Basker, 275–296. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198182887.003.0016Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Valuable comparison of Percy’s written Gothic past and Macpherson’s oral Celtic past, as related to mid-18th-century political ideas. See also his Making of Percy’s Reliques (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) for a more extended and contextualized rehearsal. See also Rix 2009, Mulholland 2009, and Trumpener 1997 (the last cited under Macpherson and Johnson).

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Mckean, Thomas A. “The Fieldwork Legacy of James Macpherson.” Journal of American Folklore 114.454 (2001): 447–463.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Considers Macpherson to have been a “talented and adventurous fieldworker” (p. 461) at a time when the methodologies of folklore studies were in their infancy. A valuable contribution in terms both of Macpherson’s disciplinary legacy and the light it casts back on modern methods, which, it claims, are familiarly Macphersonian ones (however uncomfortable that may seem).

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Mulholland, James. “James Macpherson’s Ossian Poems, Oral Traditions, and the Invention of Voice.” Oral Tradition 24.2 (2009): 393–414.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1353/ort.0.0040Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Considers the way in which Macpherson’s printed text mediates and re-creates the (perhaps fancied) experience of oral verse, both in the 18th century and later. As such, it argues that Macpherson represents an important moment in the development of British poetry. An ambitious and interesting essay for specialist and generalist alike.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Mulholland, James. Sounding Imperial: Poetic Voice and the Politics of Empire, 1730–1820. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Chapter 3, “Scotland and the Invention of Voice,” continues and broadens the discussion begun in Mulholland 2009, this time within the context of a book-length study of the cultural politics of orality.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Porter, James. “‘Bring Me the Head of James Macpherson’: The Execution of Ossian and the Wellsprings of Folkloristic Discourse.” Journal of American Folklore 114.454 (2001): 396–435.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Lively and wide-ranging account of Macpherson as an early folklorist. Offers corroboration for Meek 1991 (cited under Ossian and Its Sources) in terms of Ossian’s relationship with Gaelic folklore in a broadly sympathetic and accessible outing.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Rix, Robert. “Thomas Percy’s Antiquarian Alternative to Ossian.” Journal of Folklore Research 46.2 (2009): 197–229.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2979/JFR.2009.46.2.197Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  This essay complements Groom 1996 in stressing the difference between Percy’s vision of the medieval past and that of Macpherson, this time focusing on Percy’s Five Pieces of Runic Poetry Translated from the Icelandic Language (1763). Again we see a story of engagement and inspiration, but also resistance.

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