Source 5 : ‘An enquiry into the authenticity of the poems ascribed to Ossian’ by William Shaw, 1781
Printed book (NLS shelfmark: Oss.208)
William Shaw was a Gaelic grammarian and compiler of dictionaries. His ‘Galic and English Dictionary’ was published in 1780.
Like his fellow lexicographer Samuel Johnson, Shaw was sceptical about the authenticity of the Ossian poems. His book, ‘An enquiry into the authenticity of the poems ascribed to Ossian’, provoked an angry response from one of James Macpherson’s friends and supporters, John Clark of Penicuik. However, Shaw maintained his position by issuing his ‘Reply to Mr Clark’s Answer’ in 1782.
“Another circumstance,” says the Doctor, “is the absence of religious ideas” – Ossian has a mythology. The author knew that was necessary to constitute an epic poem; and genuine history instructing him when the Christian religion was introduced into Ireland and Scotland, it was natural to suppose he would, as much as possible, avoid any allusions to it. In this, however, he has oftener than once failed; for in Temora we find the Christian expressions, “peace to thy soul,” “blest be
“thy soul.” But the religion of that aera was not what Mr. Macpherson tells us. – His mythology he has raised entirely on the superstition of the second sight, heightened by poetry, and the stories of ghosts, apparitions, &c. so common in the fifteenth century, which he affects so much to despise; but to which, however, he is indebted for all the materials he has had.
The other great spirits to which allusions sometimes are made, is
nothing less nor more than the common Highland idea of the Devil, who is believed to raise every storm, and go abroad with it. All these notions are still prevalent in the mountains, and a proper part of a mythology. In short, the whole machinery is nothing but the superstition of the Highlands poetically embellished.
- What does Shaw think is the main reason for the success of the Ossian poems?
- In source 1, Hugh Blair provides an argument for the authenticity of the Ossian poems. William Shaw challenges this argument. Outline the main points of Shaw’s counter argument.