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the literary controversy over Ossian

keberoxu 14 Jan 20 - 02:57 PM
Dave Hanson 14 Jan 20 - 03:00 PM
Steve Gardham 14 Jan 20 - 03:04 PM
robomatic 14 Jan 20 - 03:07 PM
Steve Gardham 14 Jan 20 - 03:14 PM
Steve Gardham 14 Jan 20 - 03:22 PM
keberoxu 14 Jan 20 - 05:08 PM
keberoxu 14 Jan 20 - 06:22 PM
meself 14 Jan 20 - 06:38 PM
Lighter 14 Jan 20 - 07:42 PM
GUEST,Peter Laban 15 Jan 20 - 09:42 AM
GUEST,Grishka 15 Jan 20 - 12:20 PM
meself 15 Jan 20 - 02:00 PM
GUEST,Grishka 15 Jan 20 - 05:08 PM
Steve Gardham 15 Jan 20 - 05:12 PM
GUEST,Grishka 15 Jan 20 - 05:36 PM
Joe Offer 18 Jan 20 - 03:51 PM
meself 18 Jan 20 - 04:36 PM
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Subject: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: keberoxu
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 02:57 PM

Of course the name Ossian/Oisin is familiar from the Finn MacCool tales.
My focus is something fairly particular in British history.

In the time of England's Dr. Samuel Johnson, a man named James MacPherson published English verses for which he made some provocative claims. MacPherson claimed, that these verses were not simply his own poems about Oisin and the Fianna Fail, but that they had origins in the Scottish Gaelic and that he was the translator. I mention Dr. Johnson because this assertion roused the latter's temper. As I grasp it, Dr. Johnson proceeded, in the colloquial phrase, to toss the baby out with the bathwater, and insisted that the whole darned thing was false. Maybe I have that wrong, but quotes from Johnson are certainly very negative.

Well, that was a century or more ago,
and in the meanwhile there has been a lot of hard work
at locating manuscripts preserved, for example, in monasteries by monks,
and there is much more known today about source materials and languages,
and about their contents,
than was general knowledge in the time of Dr. Johnson and MacPherson.

So why bring up the controversy peculiar to them?
Because:
that literary event, however dubious or made-up,
had tremendous consequences, not in the "trad" world,
but in continental European literature and art.

My specialty and love is classical vocal music;
and translations into modern European languages,
of MacPherson's English,
became all the rage in Europe.
It is asserted that German Romanticism would have been different
without the Ossianic myth to excite poets and composers alike,
and indeed you can find,
not just Mendelssohn ("Fingal's Cave")
but Schubert and Brahms attracted to the whole Ossianic idea.

This subject may be distasteful, which I regret,
but as I say,
it is a matter of literary and musical history.
And the more I can sort out
what is authentic,
what is stolen,
and what is invented and presented as something other than it is,
the more it would please me. Thanks.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Dave Hanson
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 03:00 PM

Not distasteful, just boring.

Dave H


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 03:04 PM

Yes the Ossianic rage was as influential as Percy's Reliques. I'm sure you'll find much online just by Googling. I read a paper on it recently on Academia but I can't remember if I printed it off or not. If you can get onto Academia you will probably find it and much more just by using the search engine. I don't know anything about it by the way, with it not having much connection with oral tradition.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: robomatic
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 03:07 PM

Keb:

Interesting subject. I was introduced to Finn MacCool from the works of Flann O'Brien. I assumed that Finn MacCool was of Irish origin. But- where does one go to get the original tales?


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 03:14 PM

Dave, why do you have to be so rude? Have an opinion by all means but what is the point of pissing on someone else's bonfire?


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 03:22 PM

Steve Roud's Folk Song in England gives a cursory summary of the effect of Ossian in pp50-60.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: keberoxu
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 05:08 PM

Here's an example.

Ossians Lied (from Darthula), in German: Schubert, D. 278


And this link to the LiederNet Archive brings up
James MacPherson's English,
and the German translation by Baron Edmund von Harold,
the lyric for the song recorded in the first link of this post.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: keberoxu
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 06:22 PM

the question posed by robomatic
is partly addressed by
the scholarship of the late Derick Thomson,
in particular his 1952 work,
The Gaelic Sources of Macpherson's 'Ossian'.


Thomson concluded that while the stories of
Finn McCool, Oisin, Oscar and so on
were in fact centuries old
and thus not a figment of James Macpherson's imagination,
the literature that Macpherson published
was positively Macpherson's writing,
which had more to do with appealing to the audience of his own time
than in opening a window to the literature of another time and place.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: meself
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 06:38 PM

Of course, no one claimed that Finn, etc., were a figment of JM's imagination, just that the bulk of his 'translations' were.

If I may stray into current politics, I came across this quote from Johnson, which seems more a propos now than ever:
“There is no crime more infamous than
the violation of truth. It is apparent that men can be
social beings no longer than they believe each other.
When speech is employed as the vehicle of falsehood,
every man must disunite himself from others, inhabit
his own cave, and seek prey only for himself.”


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Lighter
Date: 14 Jan 20 - 07:42 PM

Wikipedia (which is pretty good on literary topics):

"Contemporary critics were divided in their view of the work's authenticity, but the consensus since is that Macpherson framed the poems himself, based on old folk tales he had collected."

This is essentially what my medieval lit professor told me in college, which was not long after the Middle Ages.

Moreover, "Macpherson's fame was crowned by his burial [1796] among the literary giants in Westminster Abbey. "

Read all about it:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ossian


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 15 Jan 20 - 09:42 AM

On my shelves rests a 18/19th centuries edition, on the inside of the cover the bookseller wrote 'The biggest literary con of all ages'.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 15 Jan 20 - 12:20 PM

Fingal's Cave is a rock-hard reality. Besides, the notion of truth in creative arts does not depend on the authenticity of whatever the inspiration may be.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: meself
Date: 15 Jan 20 - 02:00 PM

Fingal's Cave was given that name by MacPherson, apparently.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 15 Jan 20 - 05:08 PM

Mendelssohn's ouverture was about the cave itself, not its name. But even those creative minds who let themselves inspire by the Ossian fables had every right to do so.

The case was a disaster only for historians of literature. Artists are expected to describe their wishes and feelings as if they were reality, scientists must not.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 15 Jan 20 - 05:12 PM

Absolutely, Grishka, but I don't think anyone is questioning their right to use MacPherson's material. Much of the balladry that was mediated by sophisticated people is of superb quality and deserves to be spread abroad and performed. Prime example, Bert Lloyd.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 15 Jan 20 - 05:36 PM

Steve, it is often stated that the Ossian fans had been deceived, and therefore the artistic (not necessarily moral) value of their works was diminished from hindsight. This is indeed true in the case of many essayists (including first-rate names), but composers are not affected.


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: Joe Offer
Date: 18 Jan 20 - 03:51 PM

Here's the text of The Poems of Ossian
by James Macpherson
[1773]

https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/ossian/index.htm


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Subject: RE: the literary controversy over Ossian
From: meself
Date: 18 Jan 20 - 04:36 PM

"Mendelssohn's ouverture was about the cave itself, not its name."

So, it's pretty much irrelevant to the discussion, then, isn't it?


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