James Macpherson (27 October 1736 – 17 February 1796) was a Scottish writer, poet, literary collector and politician, known as the "translator" of the Ossian cycle of poems. Macpherson was born at Ruthven in the parish of Kingussie, Badenoch, Inverness-shire. In 1753, he was sent to King's College, Aberdeen.
"My love is a son of the hill. He pursues the flying deer. His grey dogs re panting around him; his bow-strong sounds in the wind. Whether by the fount fo the rock, or by the stream of the mountain thou liest; when the rushes are nodding with the wind, and the midst is flying over thee, let me approach my love unperceived, and see him from the rock. Lovely I saw thee first by the aged oak; thou wert returning tall from the chace; the fairest among thy friends."
"That is to say, <i>Ossian</i> represents an originating myth for practical muscular sensibility by reconditioning the martial virtues of the civic tradition for the modern "polished" world, and at the same time it offers legitimization for the eighteenth century manifestations of that tradition, most immediately for the Scottish thinkers in question, the Scottish Militia campaign of the late 1750s."
"For poetic as well as nationalistic reasons, the <i>Poems of Ossian</i> was a cause celebre among Scottish intellectuals of the later eighteenth century. more impressively, "Ossian" became the single most popular English -language poet in Europe during that period and, with the exception of Byron, during the nineteenth century as well."
The authenticity of these poems was at first believed by many in its fullest extent, even by men of high character in the literary world. Dr. Blair, in particular, was so persuaded of the truth of Macpherson's statement, that he wrote an elaborate Dissertation to prove the antiquity, and illustrate the beauties, of the poems. There were others, however, of equal reputation for critical acumen, who could not be persuaded of the possibility of picking up complete Epics in this way, among the traditional literature of a country; and who, besides, from the style of the penis themselves, openly pronounced them to be forgeries.
The authenticity of Ossian was supported by Blair, looked on with skepticism by the Scottish philosopher David Hume, admired with doubt by the English poet Thomas Gray, and denied by the panjandrum of English letters, Samuel Johnson.
Macpherson presented these poems as authentic translations of an original oral work by a legendary Gaelic bard, Ossian. They turned out to be hugely influential -inspiring artists, composers and writers. The poems evoked a coherent, mythic world, equivalent to the classical legends and characters of Homer. However, controversy soon followed, with detractors claiming that Macpherson had written the works himself. It is now believed he used existing Gaelic ballads, adding themes and references from other sources.
Macpherson’s first book of poems, <i>The Highlander</i> (1758), was undistinguished; but after collecting Gaelic manuscripts and having orally transmitted Gaelic poems transcribed with the encouragement of the poet John Home and the financial support of the rhetorician Hugh Blair, he published <i>Fragments of Ancient Poetry…Translated from the Gallic or Erse Language</i> (1760), <i>Fingal</i> (1762), and <i>Temora</i> (1763), claiming that much of their content was based on a 3rd-century Gaelic poet, Ossian.
He died unmarried at his house in Inverness and was buried in the Abbey by his own wish (one of his London residences was near the Abbey). Of his five illegitimate children James succeeded to his estates and Juliet married David Brewster.
In 1780, Mr. Macpherson who was now, by his own genius and industry, in very opulent circumstances, and had acquired a name of considerable weight in the political world, was brought into Parliament for the borough of Camelford. He was reelected for the same place in 1784 and 1790; but it does not appear that, during the whole of his Parliamentary career, he ever was a speaker.
He was the son of Andrew Macpherson, a farmer, and his wife Ellen, who were both related to the chief of the clan Macpherson. He was educated in Aberdeen and contributed poems to the Scots Magazine. Touring Scotland he collected manuscripts of native songs and ballads and in 1758 published his poem <i>The Highlander</i>. For a while he lived in America and was later agent in London for John Macpherson, governor general in India. He became Member of Parliament for Camelford in Cornwall.