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Main page » Fiction literature » The Poetical Works of Ossian

The Poetical Works of Ossian


"The Poems of Ossian" by James Macpherson were published in the 1760's, and created a sensation. Over the next thirty years it was translated into many languages, and gave a tremendous impetus to both the nascent romantic movement, and the study of folklore and Celtic languages. Goethe translated parts into German; Napoleon brought a copy to Moscow and also commissioned Ingres to paint The Dream of Ossian; Scandinavian and German princes were named Oscar after the character in it, as was Oscar Wilde; indeed the popularity of this name is due entirely to Macpherson. The city of Selma in Alabama, USA, is named after the palace of Fingal. Writers as diverse as William Blake, Henry Thoreau, George Byron, Walter Scott, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Matthew Arnold praised or imitated it. Its influence or lack of it on James Fenimore Cooper has been the subject of lively debate. Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms composed pieces inspired by it. But it is little known today (though it has been recently reprinted).

When it was first published Macpherson said that it was a translation of an ancient manuscript in Scottish Gaelic which had come into his possession, and which was a copy of an original work written by Ossian. This was contested by various people, including notably Samuel Johnson, who said that it was entirely the work of Macpherson himself. Both sides became passionate and vituperative in expressing their own view, and the controversy rumbled on over the next fifty years. The alleged manuscript never appeared, but later researches have shown that the work is based partly on genuine Highland traditions.

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Tags: Ossian, languages, named, after, translated, Oscar, Poetical