Skip to main content

Full text of "The heroic and Ossianic literature : read at the Inverness Gaelic Society meeting, 17th February 1886"

See other formats


THE HEROIC AND OSSIANIC 
LITERATURE 



READ AT THE INVERNESS GAELIC SOCIETY 
MEETING, 17th FEBRUARY 1886 



ALEXANDER MACBAIN, M.A., 

F.S.A. SCOT., INVKRNESS. 



INVERNESS : 
PRINTED BY R. CARRUTHERS & SONS. 



THE HEROIC AND OSSIANIC 
LITERATURE. 



Ireland and Scotland had practically a common language and 
literature until the fall of the Lordship of the Isles and the time 
of the Reformation, and even after these events, the ebb of Irish 
influence was felt in our earliest printed works and in the style of 
orthograpliy and of language adopted. This close connection ex- 
isted at least a thousand years, for in the fourth century the Picts 
and Scots were united together against the Romans and their 
dependants. The colonising of Argyllshire by Irish settlers — 
Scots they were called — is placed in the beginning of the sixth 
century ; it is believed that a previous wave of Gaelic Celts — the 
Caledonians — had over-i-un and then held lordship over the rest 
of the country, having mingled with the previous bronze-age 
Picts, whose language, at least, the Gaelic was rapidly ex- 
tinguishing. Be this as it may, the Scots from Ireland were 
a cultured and literary colony, and Columba, with his priests, 
soon followed in their wake. The Irish Fili, or poet, again 
followed in the wake of culture and Christianity, carrying the 
tales and poems of his country among a kindred people, and 
doubtless receiving in turn whatever A Ibanic genius was able to add 
to the common stock of Goidelic literature. This went on for 
centuries, and Scotland was a second home for the Irish Culdee, 
and for the Irish poet and harper. "Even in the twelfth and 
thirteenth centuries," says Dr Sullivan, "the Irish poets and 



musicians included Scotland in their circuit, and took refuge, and 
sought their fortune there. We shall mention one instance as it 
happens to be instructive in another way, tliat of Muireadhach 
O'Daly, better known on account of his long stay in Scotland as 
Muireadhach Albanach, or Muireach the Scotchman." This 
Muireach Albanach is believed to have been the ancestor of 
the Mac Vurrichs, hereditary bards to Clanranald, and one of 
them figures in the Ossianic controversy. The literary language 
remained Irish throughout, from the sixth to the sixteenth century, 
and our first printed book is couched in the Irish of its time, 
I* the sixteenth century. That work is Bishop Carswell's Gaelic 
V iPrayer-book. And it, as the famous Irish scliolar O' Donovan 
said, "is pure Irish, and agrees with the Irisli manuscripts 
of the same period in orthography, syntax, and idiom." The 
literature, equally with the language, was common to both 
countries ; the mythic, heroic, and historic tales were the 
same, practically, in each country. But the end of the fifteenth 
century saw a change begun ; a masterful policy was adopted to- 
wards the Highlands, and the Lordship of the Isles, the great bond 
between Ireland and Scotland, and indeed the great Gaelic head- 
ship of the country, was broken up. The Gaels of Scotland, 
thrown on their own resources, advanced their own dialect to the 
position of a literary language, and tried to discard the Irish or- 
thography. The first eftbrt in this line is the Dean of Lismore's 
Book, about 1512. Little, however, was done in the matter of 
. writing down literary compositions, so that the next considerable 
' MS. is that of Fernaig in 1688. At the same time the religious 
literature still appeared in the Irish form, such as Carswell's book, 
Kirke's works, and the Bible. A compromise was efiected last 
century ; the popular dialect became the literary language, as it 
ought, but the Irish orthography was adhered to still. 

Scotland also dealt with the ballad and tale literature in much 
the same way. The purely popular part of the old Irish-Scottish 
literature was retained ; the tales and ballads of Eionn and his 
heroes were almost the only survivors of tlie mighty literature of 
the middle and early ages. We see the change beginning in the 
Dean of Lismore's book ; the favourite heroic ballads are those in 
, regard to Fionn, but Cuchulinn is not neglected. Nevertheless, 

I rlast century Macpherson could, without a word of protest from 

II friend or foe, bring Cuchulinn and Fionn together as contempor- 
\1 aries ; so much was Cuchulinn's real position in the Gaelic literary 
\\ cycles unknown. 

This pre-Reformation literature, common to both Ireland and 



Scotland, may be called not old Gaelic literature, for Gaelic is 
ambiguous, but " Goidelic " literature. It is the literature of the 
Goidelic or Gaelic branch of the Celtic race, as opposed to the 
Brythonic branch — ^the Welsh, Cornish, and Breton. The Goidelic 
literature suffered sadly at the hands of time ; first the monks gave 
it their peculiar twist in trying to eliminate paganism from it ; 
then the unhappy history of the country of Ireland, with its con- 
tinuous wars since the advent of the Norse in the eighth century 
onwards, checked the growth of literature, and much of it was 
thereafter lost in the social wars that lasted on to our own times ; 
for at times it was dangerous even to possess an Irish MS. 
Goidelic literature is divisible into three cycles or groups. | 
There is, first, the mythological cycle ; this deals with the history 1^ 
and ethnology of Ireland and Scotland ; second, the Ouchullin */ 
cycle ; and, thii'd, the Fionn or Ossianic cycle. The first cycle 
deals with the mythical history of Ireland ; it was completely 
recast by the monks of the early middle ages. Consequently the 
Irish gods became merely earthly sovereigns, chiefs of an early 
race that seized on and colonised Ire'and. Monkish manufacture 
begins Irish history before the flood, when the Lady Cesair took 
the island. But she and her company were drowned, all except 
Finntan, who survived the flood in a Druidic sleep and lived for 
generations to relate the tale. Several post-deluvian "'takings" 
of the island then follow ; but the outstanding invasions 
amount to four. These are, the Fir-bolgs, overcome by the Tuatha- 
De-Danann, both of whom were successively annoyed by the Fo- 
morians or sea-rovers ; and, lastly, came the Milesian or the real 
Gaelic Irish race. The Pir-bolg, Fomorians, and Tuatha-De- 
Danann fight with each other by means of Druidic arts mostly, 
and it is incontestably established that the Tuatha-De, as indeed 
the name shows, were the higher gods of the Gaels. The 
Fomorians were the gods of misrule and death ; that is also 
clear. The Fir-bolg may have been earth-powers, or they may 
have been the pre-Celtic inhabitants ; it is hard to say. When 
the Milesians arrived they found the Tuatha-De-Danann in pos- 
session ; the Tuatha kept them at bay by Druid magic, but at 
last came to terms with the Milesians or Gaels, gave up Ireland 
to them, and themselves retired to the Sids or fairy mounds, and 
to the Land of Promise, from which places they still watched and 
tended the actions of men. Now these facts, such as they are, 
a]>])ear in sober chronological order in the Irish annals, with 
minute details and genealogies. The Tuatha-De came to Ireland 
in the year 1900 B.C., and the Milesians in 1700. Such is the 



mythological cycle. Nt)w we pass over close on 1700 years, for 
all of which, however, Iiish history finds kings and minute details 
of genealogies. A few years before our era there was a Queen 
over Connaught named Meave (Medb), whose consort and 
husband was Ailill. He was a weak and foolish man, and 
she was a masterful woman, very beautiful, but not very 
good. Some tales make her half divine — that a fairy or 
Sid6 was her mother. This Ailill was her third husband. 
She had been married to Conchobar Mac Nessa, King of 
Ulster, but they mutually divorced each other The reign 
and rule of Conchobar is the golden age of Irish romance ; 
it is in fact the "Cuchulinn" cycle. It was in his reign, that 
the third of the SoiTowful Tales of Erin was enacted. The first 
concerned the children of Lir, a prince of the Tuatha-De, whose 
children were enchanted by their stej^motlier, and became swans, 
suffering untold woes for ages, until their spells were broken 
under Christian dispensation. The second sorrowful tale had, as 
its theme, the children of Turenn, whom Luga, prince of the Tua- 
tha-De, the sun god, persecuted and made to undei-go all sorts of 
toils and dangers. The third tale concerns the reign of Concho- 
bar, not the age of the gods. The subject of it is the woes of 
Deirdre, well known in both Scotland and Ireland. Deirdre was 
daughter of the bard Feidlimid, and, shortly before her birth, the 
Druid Cathbad prophesied that she should be the cause of woes 
unnumbered to Ulster. The warriors were for killing her, but 
Conchobar decided to bring her u]) to be his own wife, and 
evade the prophecy. She was kept apart in a lis (fortress), 
where slie could not see a man until she should wed Concho- 
bar. Her tutor and uurse alone saw her. The tutor was one 
day killing a calf in the snow, and a raven came, and was 
drinking the blood of the calf Deirdre said to her nurse that she 
would like to have the man who would have the " three colours 
yonder on him ; namely, his hair like the raven, his cheek like the 
blood, and his body like the snow." The nurse told her such a 
person was near enough — Nois, the son Uisnech. There were 
three brothers of them, Nois, Ardan, and Ainle, and they sang so 
sweetly that every human being who heard them wei'e enchanted, 
and the cattle gave two-thirds additional milk. They were fleet 
as hounds in the chase, and the three together could defy a 
province. Deirdre managed to meet Nois and boldly proposed to 
him to fly with her. He refused at first, but she prevailed. He, 
his brothers, and their com])any fled with her. After wandering 
round all Erin, they were forced to come to Alba. They made 



friends with the king of Alba and took service under him. But 
the king came to hear of Deirdre's beauty and he must have her. 
The men of Alba gathered against the brothers and they had to 
fly. Their flight was heard of in Erin, and Conchobar was pressed 
to receive them back. Fergus Mac Roich, Conchobar's stepfather, 
and Cormac, Conchobar's son, took tlie sons of Uisnech under 
their protection, and bi'ought them to Ulster. Conchobar got some 
of his minions to draw Fergus and Cormac away from them, and 
then the sons of Uisnech were a:tacked, defenceless as they were, 
and were slain. Conchobar took Deirdre as his wife, but a year 
afterwards she killed herself, by striking her head against a rock, 
from grief for Nois and from Conchobar's cruelty. 

The Scotch version of the tale differs from the Irish only in 
the ending. Deirdre and the sons of Uisnech were sailing on 
the sea ; a fog came on and they accidentally put in under the 
walls of Conchobar's town. The three landed and left Deirdre 
on board ; they met Conchobar and he slew them. Then Conchobar 
came down to the sea and invited Deirdre to land. She refused, 
unless he allowed her to go to the bodies of the sons of Uisnech: 

" Gun taibhrinn mo thri poga meala 
Do na tri corpa caomh geala." 

On her way she met a carpenter slicing with a knife. She gave 
him her ring for the knife, went to the bodies, stretched herself 
beside them, and killed herself with the knife. 

Macpherson's poem of Darthula opens with an invocation to 
the moon, and then we are introduced to the sons of Uisnech 
and Darthula, on the sea near Cairbar's camp, driven there by a 
storm, the niglit before their death. This brings us in medias res, 
as all true epics should do, and the foregoing part of the storv 
is told in the speeches of Darthula and Nathos, a somewhat con- 
fusing dialogue, but doubtless "epic." These previous facts are, 
that Dai'thula is daughter of CoUa. Cairbar, who usurped the 
Irish throne on the death of Cuchulinn, regent for young Cormac, 
and put Cormac to death, was in love with Darthula. Cuchulinn 
was uncle to the sons of Uisnech, and Nathos took command on 
his death, but had to fly, for the Irish army deserted him for 
Cairbar. On his way to Scotland he fell in with Darthula, and 
rescued her from Cairbar ; they put out for Scotland, but were 
driven back. Cairbar met them and killed them with arrows, 
one of which pierced Darthula. Macpiierson naively says : "The 
poem relates the death of Darthula differently from the common 
tradition. This account is the most probable, as suicide seems to 



have been unknown in those early times, for no traces of it are 
found in the okl poetry." Yet Boadicea, qiieen of the Iceni, 
committed suicide only fifty years later, to escape Roman tyranny 
and lust ! The oldest Irish version is in a MS. written nearly 
700 years ago, and the composition may be much older, yet there 
Deirdre unpoetically knocks out her brains, evidently because no 
weapon could be had. The Scotch version ends far more poeti- 
cally than either Macpherson's or the Irish one. 

Fergus Mac Roich and Cormac Oonloingeas, son of Conchobar, 
who had taken the sons of Uisnech under their larotection, took 
vengeance for the sons of Uisnech, as far as they could, and then 
withdrew to the court of Queen Meave. Fergus was there her 
chief counsellor and friend. 

Now we come to Cuchulinn, son of Sualtam, " fortissmus 
heros Scotorum," as Tigernach says. Like all mythic and fairy- 
tale heroes, strange tales are told of his birth. Dechtine, sister of 
Conchobar, lost a foster-child of somewhat supernatural descent. 
On comino- from the funeral she asked for a drink ; she got it, and 
as she raised it to her lips a small insect sprang into her mouth 
with the drink. That night the god Luga of the Long Arms 
appeared to her and said that she had now conceived by him. As 
a result, she became pregnant. As she was unmarried, the scandal 
was f-reat, but a weak-minded chief named Suallam married her. 
\ She bore a son, and he was called Setanta, and this Setanta latterly 
got the name of Cuchulinn. The way Setanta got the name of 
Cuchidinn was this. Culand the smith invited Conchobar and his 
train to spend a night and a day in his houte, and when closing 
the door for the night he asked Conchabar if he expected any more 
of his people to come. He did not. Culand then let loose his 
house dog and shut the door. But the boy Setanta came late and 
was set on by the furious animal. A severe fight took place, but 
Setanta killed the animal The smith demanded eric iov the dog 
and Setanta offered to w'atch the house until a pup of that dog 
should o-row up. Thishe did, and hence got the name of Cu-chulaind, 
thi3 dog of Culann. 

This is evidently a myth founded on a popular etymology of 
Cuchulinn's name, and, though a smith, always a Druidic and 
mythic character, is introduced, it may have no further significance. 
Some of his youthful exploits are told. He prayed his mother to 
let liim go to his uncle's court among the other boys; he goes, 
and appears a stranger among the boys playing liurley or sliinty 
before the castle. "They all set on him and let fly all their 
" camags" and balls at him ; the balls he caught and the hurleys 



he warded off. Then his war rage seized him. " He shut one 
eye till it was not wider than the eye of a needle ; he oi)ened the 
other till it was bigger than the mouth of a meal-goblet." He at- 
tacked the youths and set them flying every way. Conchobar re- 
cognised him and introduced him to the boys. The next thing was 
the choosing of arms when he was fit to bear them. Conchobar 
gave him first ordinary weapons, but he shivered them with a 
sliake. Fifteen sets did he so break in ever rising grade of strength. 
At last Conchobar gave him his own royal weapons. These he 
could not shiver. Fifteen war-chariots did he break by leajjing 
into them and shaking them, until he got the king's own chariot, 
which withstood him. He and the chaidoteer then darted off, 
reached Meath, challenged and slew three champions, and came 
back again to Emania, his uncle's capital, safe and sound. 

A wife had now to be got for him, and Conchobar searched 
all Erin for a suitable pai'tner, but in vain. The ladies of Ei-in 
greatly loved him, as the records say — " for his splendour at the 
feat, for the readiness of his leap, for the excellence of his wisdom, 
for the melodiousness of his eloquence, for the beauty of his face, 
for the lovingness of his countenance. For tliere were seven pupils 
in his royal eyes, four in the one and three in the other for him ; 
seven fingers on each of his two hands and seven on each of his 
two feet." And another says, after the visual profusion of colour 
and minutiae as to garments — " I should think it was a shower of 
pearls that was flung into his head. Blacker than the side of a 
black cooking-spit each of his two brows; redder tlian ruby his lips." 
The Highland ballad of the Chaiiot of Cuchulin de.scribes him 
even better and certainly in true Celtic style of succe';sive epithets. 
Cuchulinn himself set out for a wife, and fell in with Emer, 
daughter of Forgill, a "noble farmer " holding extensive lands 
near Dublin. "Emer had these six victories upon her," says the 
tale, " the victory of form, the victory of voice, the victory of 
melodiousness, the victory of embroidery, the victory of wisdom, 
the victory of chastity." Emer did not immediately accept him, 
though latterly she was violently in love Avith him. Her father 
would not have him at all ; he did not like professional champions. 
He got him to leave the country to complete his military education 
with the celebrated lady Scathach in the Isle of Skye. Cuchulinn 
went to Scathach, whose school was certainly no easy one to enter 
or pass through. Here he learned all those wonderful feats— 
cleasa — for which he is so famous in story. His special cleas 
was the gae holq or belly-dart, a mysterious weapon mysteriously 
used, for it could only be cast at fords on water. It was at Scat- 



hach's school that he fell in with Ferdia MacDamain, the Fir-bolg 
champion, who was the only man that could match Cuchulinn. 
Their friendship was great for one another, and they swore never 
to oppose one another. 

Aoife or Eva, daughter of Scathach, and also an amazon, 
fell in love with Cuchulinn, and he temporarly married her, but 
like those heroes, he forgot her as soon as he left hei'. His son 
by her, Conloch, was not born before he left. When Cuchulinn 
returned to Erin he married Emer, daughter of Forgill, taking her 
by force from her friends. 

We now come to the great "Tain Bo Chualgne," the "queen of 
Celtic epics," as Kennedy says. The scene shifts to Meave's palace 
at Cruachan. She and Ailill have a disjiute in bed one night as to 
the amount of property each had. They reckoned cattle, jewels, 
arms, cloaks, chess-boards, war-chariots, slaves, and nevertheless 
found their possessions exactly equal. At last Ailill recollected the 
famous bull Finn-beannach (white-horned), which, after having 
ruled Meave's herds for a while, left them in disgust, as being the 
property of a woman, and joined the cattle of Ailill. Much 
chagrin was her portion, until she recollected that Dai'e of Facht- 
na in Cualgne possessed a brown bull, Bonn Ghuailgne, the finest 
beast in all Erin. She sent Fergus Mac Roich, with a company, 
to ask the bull for a year, and he should then be returned with 
lifty heifers and a chariot worth 63 cows. Dare consented, and 
and lodged Meave's deputies for the niglit. But getting uproarious 
in their cui^s, they boasted that if Dare would not give the bull 
willingly, they would take it by force. This so annoyed Dare that 
he sent Meave's embassy back without the bull. The queen was 
enraged, and at once summoned her native forces, including Ferdia 
and his Firbolg, and invited Fergus and Cormac to join her with 
all their followers. This they did, but unwillingly. So the large 
army moved against Ulster, Meave accompanying them in lier 
chariot — a lady of large size, fair face, and yellow hair, a curiously 
carved spear in her hand, and her crimson cloak fastened by a 
golden brooch. 

The people of Ulster, meanwhile, were suffering from a 
])eriodical feebleness tliat came upon them for a heinous crime 
committed by them. They were, therefore, in a condition of 
childish helplessness, and they could neither hold shield or throw 
lance. 

But when Meave, at the head of her exulting troops, ap- 
proached the fords which gave access to the territory of Dare, 
there stood Cuchulinn. He demanded single combat from the 



best warriors of her army, laying injunctions on them not to pass 
the ford until he was overcoioe. The spirit and usages of the 
time put it out of Meave's power to refuse, and there, day after 
day, were severe conliicts waged between the single Ultonian 
champion and the best warriors of Meave, all of whom he 
successively vanquished. Meave even called in the aid of magic 
spells. One warrior was helped by demons of the air, in bird shape, 
but in vain, and the great magician, Cailetin and his twenty- 
seven sons, despite their spells, also met their doom. Cuchulinn 
further is persecuted by the war goddess, the Morrigan, who 
ap])ears in all shapes to plague him and to frighten the life of 
valour out of his soul. Cuchulinn is not behind in daimonic 
influence, for with the help of the Tuatha-De— Manannan especi- 
ally — he does great havoc among Meave's troops, circling round 
them in his chariot, and dealing death with his sling. Meave is 
getting impatient ; time is being lost ; the XJltonians will soon 
revive, and Cuchulinn must be got rid oS'. She calls on 
Ferdia, the only match there exists for Cuchulinn, but he 
refuses to fight with his school days' friend. Nay, he would 
by his vows be forced to defend him against all comers. 
The queen plies him in every way with promises, wiles, and 
blandishments ; he will get Findabar, her daughter, for wife, and 
lands and riches ; and, alas ! he consents, he binding himself to 
fight Cuchulinn, and she binding herself to fulfil her magnificent 
promises. Fergus goes forward to apprise Cuchulinn of what 
occurred, that his friend and companion, Ferdia, was coming to 
fight with him. "I am here," said Cuchulinn, " detaining and 
delaying the four great provinces of Erin, since Samhain to the 
beginning of Imbulc (spring), and I have not yielded one foot in 
retreat before any one during that time, nor will I, I trust, before 
him." Cuchulinn's charioteer gets his chariot yoked, with the 
two divine horses — those my.stic animals that the gods had sent 
for Cuchulinn, the Liath Macha " Grey of Macha," the war- goddess, 
and the Dub-sanglend. " And then," says the tale, " the battle- 
fighting, dexterous, battle-winning, red-sworded hero, Cuchulinn, 
son of Sualtam, sprang into his chariot. And there shouted 
around him Bocanachs, and Bananachs, and Geniti Glindi, and 
demons of the air. For the Tuatha-De-Danann were used to set 
up shouts around him, so that the hatred and the fear and the 
abhorrence and the great terror of him should be greater in every 
battle, in every battlefield, in every combat, and in every fight into 
which he went." 

Ferdia's charioteer, who does not wish his master to fight with 

2 



10 

his friend, Cuchulinn, hears Cuchulinn coming thundering to the 
ford, and describes the sound and its meaning to Ferdia in verse, 
following the introductory narrative. And he was not long 
" until he saw something, the beautiful, flesh-seeking, four-peaked 
chariot, with speed, with velocity, with full cunning, with a green 
pavilion, with a thin-bodied, dry-bodied, high-weaponed, long- 
speared, warlike creit (body of the chariot); upon two fleet-bound- 
ing, large-eared, tierce, prancing, whale-bellied, broad-chested, 
lively-hearted, high-flanked, wide-hoofed, slender-legged, broad- 
rumped, resolute hoi'ses under it. A gray, broad-hipped, fleet, 
bounding, long-maned steed under the one yoke of the chariot. A 
black tufty-maned, ready-going, broad-backed steed under the other 
yoke. Like unto a hawk (swooping) from a cliff on a day of hard 
wind ; or like a sweeping gust of the spring wind on a March 
day, over a smooth plain ; or like the fleetness of a wild stag on 
his being first started by the hounds in his first field, were Cuchu- 
laind's two horses with the chariot, as though they were on fiery 
flags ; so that the earth shook and trembled with the velocity of 
their motion." 

The heroes met at the ford- -Cuchulinn is always connected 
with ford-fighting. They fought for three days, and on the fourth 
the fight was terrible and the feats grand ; Cuchulinn hard pressed 
calls for his gae-bolg — a feat which Ferdia was unacquainted with, 
and Cuchulinn slays him. Cuchulinn mourns over his friend's 
body in piteous strains, and weak with grief and wounds he leaves 
his place at the ford, which he had defended so long and well. 

Meave now passed into Ulster, seized the Donn Chualgre, 
and sent it to Connaught ; she ravaged Ulster to the very gates 
of its capital, and then began to retire. But now the spell that 
bound the men of Ulster was broken, they woke and pursued ; a 
great battle was fought in which, as usual, the combatants and arms 
are described minutely ; indeed throughoiit the Tain we are 
treated to a profusion of colour — of red or yellow hair on the 
warriors' heads, coloured silk leine or blouses, mantles held by rich 
brooches, aiid finely wrought shields. The Queen was defeated, 
but the Donn Chualgne reached Connaught nevertheless. This 
wonderful animal finding himself among strange pastures, gave 
vent to his wonder and vexation in a serious of mighty bellows. 
These brought the Finnbeannach on the scene at once ; they 
fought, the Donn overcame and raising his rival on his horns rushed 
homewards, leaving detached parts of the Finnbeannach hei'e and 
there on his way ; such as at Athlone, whiish (signifies the ford of 
the loin. His rage ceased not when he reached Cualgne, but he 



11 

went charging against a rock there thinking it was his rival, and 
thus dashed out his own brains. 

Such is the story of the epic of the "Bo Chualgne." This 
does no justice to the spirit and vigour of the original, its 
wealth of description of men, arms, and colours, its curious cus- 
toms, its minutiiB, its wordlists of descriptive epithets, all which 
are characteristic of the Celtic imagination — profuse, minute, and 
boldly original. As a repertory of manners and customs, it is 
invaluable. These are in their general form Homeric, literally 
Homeric ; but there are differences — there is always the Celtic 
smack in the facts seized on and made prominent, and, in other 
matters, though for instance we have chariots and horses and 
bronze arms enough, we meet with no body armour, not even a 
helmet. 

In Scotland, Tain Bo Chualgne is little known ; the Cuch- 
ulinn Cycle altogether, indeed, belongs to the literary rather than 
the popular epos. But this Society has been lucky enough to get 
almost the only popular account of the Tain that exists in the 
Highlands. In the Second Volume of our Transactions, Mr 
Carmichael gives an excellent version of it, much degraded though 
it be in the shape of a mere popular tale. Yet it practically repeats 
every feature of the tale we have told. Macpherson, too, got a copy 
the tale, and it appears as that inveterate episode, in Book II. of 
Fingal, but sadly shorn of its dignity, and changed to suit his 
theme. Cuchulinn, after his defeat by Swaran, attributes his 
ill-luck to his having killed his dearest friend, Ferda, the son of 
Damman. Ferda was a chief of Albion, who was educated with 
Cuchulinn in " Muri's hall " {sic), an academy of arms in Ulster. 
Deugala, spouse of Cairbar, who was " covered with the light 
of beauty, but her heart was the house of pride," loved Ferda, and 
asked Cairbar to give her half of his herd and let her join her 
lover. Cairbar called in Cuchulinn to divide the herd. " I 
went," he said, "and divided the herd. One bull of snow re- 
mained. I gave that bull to Cairbar. The wrath of Deugala 
rose." She induced Ferda most unwillingly to challenge Cuchu- 
linn to mortal combat. " I will fight my friend, Deugala, but 
may I fall by his sword ! Could 1 wander on the hills and behold 
the grave of Cuchulinn?" They fought and Ferda fell. 

The eighteeneth century sentimentality of Macpherson's Ferda 
is very different from the robust grief and practical sense shown 
by Ferdia in his relations with Meave in both the Irish and High- 
land version of the tale. Ferdia there consents under the influence 
of wine and female blandishment, but nevei'theless takes heavy 



12 

guarantees that Meave will fulfill her promises, especially as to the 
money and lands. Curiously too, in tlie Tliad, the Greeks always 
fight for Helen and the riches she took with her to Asia. There 
is little sentiment in the matter. But if we argue merely a priori 
as to what sentiments or customs existed in ancient times, we are 
certain to go wrong, as Macpherson always did. 

The rest of Cuchulinn's life is shortly told, and this portion 
of it is also the one that has taken most popular hold, and hence is 
known best here. We have mentioned that he left a son unboi-n 
in Scathach. This was Couloch. His mother educated him in all 
warlike accomplishments possible, save only the "gae-bolg." She 
then sent him to Ireland under "geasa" not to reveal his name, 
but he was to challenge and slay if need be the champions there. 
She secretly hoped in this way that he would kill his fiither 
Ouchulinn, and so avenge her wrongs. He landed in Ireland, 
demanded combat, and overcame everybody. He lastly overcame 
and bound Conall Cernach, next to Cuchulinn the best champion 
of Erin. Then Conchobar sent for Cuchulinn; he came — asked 
Conloch his name, but he would not divulge it. Conloch knew 
his father Cuchulinn, and though Cuchulinn pressed him bard, he 
tried to do him no injury. Cuchulinn, finding the fight go against 
him, called, as in his extremity he always did, for the Gae-Bolg. 
He killed Conloch. Then follows a scene of tender and simple 
pathos, such as not rarely ends these ballads of genuine origin. 
The story is exactly parallel to that of Soohrab and Rustem in 
Persia, so beautifully rendered in verse by Matthew Arnold. 

A wild and pathetic story is that of Cuchulinn's death. 
Meave, determined to avenge herself on him for the Tain Bo 
Chualgne, suddenly attacked him with a force that took her years 
to get ready. For instance, the six posthumous children of 
Cailetin, the magician, whom Cuchulinn killed on the Tain, appeared 
against him. The omens were against Cuchulinn's setting out ; 
the divine horse, the Liath Macha, thrice turned his left side to 
him ; he reproached the steed ; " thereat the Gray of Macha came 
and let his big round tears of blood fall on Cuchulinn's feet." 
He went ; the Tuatha-De evidently and plainly deserted him ; 
the magician children of Cailetin had therefore open field. He 
fell by his own spear, hurled back by the foe. But Conall Cernach 
came to avenge his fall ; and as he came, the foe saw something at 
a distance. " One horseman is here coming to us," said a 
charioteer, " and great are the speed and swiftness with which he 
comes. Thou woiildst deem that the i-avens of Erin were above 
him. Thou wouldst deem that flakes of snow were specking the 



13 

plain before him." " Unbeloved is the horseman that comes," 
says his master, "It is Conall the victorious on the Dewy-Red. 
The birds thou sawest above him are the sods from that horse's 
hoofs. The snow flakes tliou sawest specking the plain before 
him are the foam fi'om that horse's lips and the curbs of the 
bridle." A true piece of Celtic imagination ! Conall routs the 
foe and returns with the heads of the chief men to Emer, 
Cuchulinn's wife, whom the ballads represent as asking whom 
each head belonged to, and Conall lells her in reply. The 
dialogue is consequently in a rude dramatic form. 

We now come to the Fionn or Ossianic cycle. The chroniclei's, 
as already stated, place this cycle three hundred years later than 
the Cuchulinn cycle. Whether we accept the dates or not, the 
Ossianic cycle is, in a literary sense, later than the Cucliulinn 
cycle. The manneis and customs are changed in a most marked 
degi-ee. In the Cuchulinn cycle, the individual comes to the 
front ; it is champion against champion, and the armies count for 
little. Indeed Cuchulinn is, like Hercules and the demi-gods, 
alone in his feats and labours. But in the Ossianic cycle we have 
a body of heroes ; they are indeed called in the chi'onicles the Irish 
" Militia." Fionn is the head and king, but he by no means too 
much outshines the rest in valour and strength. Some of the 
Feni are indeed bi-aver champions than he. However, he alone 
possesses divine wisdom. And, again, in the Fenian cycle, we no 
longer have chariots and war-horses. Cow-spoils disappear com- 
pletely, and their place is taken up with hunting and the chase. 
On the whole the Fenian cycle has more of a historic air ; that is, 
the history in it can be more eaf'ily kept apart from the super- 
natural ; though, again, there are more tales of supernatural 
agencies by far in it than in the Cuchulinn cycle — fairy tales 
which have no historical basis. It will be better, therefore, to 
look at Fionn first as a possibly historical character, and then 
consider him as the fairy-tale hero. 

The literary and historical account of Fionn and the Feine is 
briefly this. The Feine was the militia or standing army of the 
Irish kings in the third century. They fought the battles and 
and defended the kingdom from invasion. There were seven bat- 
talions of them. Their privileges were these : — From Samhain 
(Hallowe'en) till Beltane (May -day) they were billeted on the 
inhabitants ; from Beltane till Samhain they lived on the products 
of the chase, for the chase was all their own. Again, no man 
could settle his daughter in marriage without first asking if one 
of the Feine wished her as wife. But the qualifications of Fenian 



14 

soldiers were high. : he must, first, give security that no eric, or 
revenge, must be required for his death ; second, he must be a 
poet — at least compose a war song ; third, he must be a perfect 
master of his weapons ; fourth, his running and fighting qualities 
must pass test by the band ; fifth, he must be able to hold out his 
weapon by tlie smaller end without a tremble ; sixth, in the 
chase through plain and wood, his hair must continue tied up— 
if it fell, he was rejected ; seventh, he must be so liglit and swift 
as not to break a rotten stick by standing on it ; eighth, he must 
leap a tree as Ligh as his forehead, and get under a tree no higher 
than his knees ; ninth, without stopping, he must be able to draw 
a thorn from his foot ; also, he must not refuse a woman without 
a dowry, offer violence to no woman, be charitable to the poor and 
weak, and he must not refuse to fight nine men of any other nation 
that might set upon him. Cumal . son of Trenraor O'Baisgne, 
was Fionn's father, and he was head of the militia in King Conn 
Ced-cathach's time (122-157, a.d.). Tadiig, or Teague, chief 
Druid of Conn, lived at Almu, or Almhinn (Allen in Kildare), 
and he had a beauty of a daughter named Muirne. She was 
asked in marriage by ever so many princes, and amongst others by 
Cumal. Her father i-efused her to (3umal, because his magic know- 
ledge told him the marriage would force him to leave Almhinn. 
Cumal took Muirne by force and married her. The druid ap- 
pealed to Conn, who sent his forces against Cumal. Cumal was 
killed in battle at Cnucha by Aed, son of Moi'na, and Aed him- 
self was wounded in the eye, whence his name of Goll, or one-eyed. 
This is the celebrated champion and Fenian rival of Fionn — Goll 
Mac Morna. Her father wished to burn Muirne, evidently 
because of his prophetic knowledge of personal disaster, but she 
escaped to Cumal's sister. Here she gave birth to Fionn or Demni, 
as he was first named. He, when he grew up, forced Tadhg to 
give him Almhinn as eric for his father, and he also got eric from 
Goll, witli whom he made peace. Another fact, historically 
recognisable, is Fionn's marriage to Grainne, daughter of Cormac, 
son of Art and king of Ireland, She eloped with Diarmad ; 
Fionn pursued them, and after various vicissitudes captured 
them, but the Feine would not permit him to punish the runaways 
in any way. Their privileges made the Feine troublesome, and 
King Cairbre, son of Cormac, tried to disband them, owing more 
immediately to dynastic troubles, and in any case the Clan Morna, 
headed l)y Goll, were at daggers drawn with the Clan Baisgne, 
I Fionn's fiiraily. Cairbre, aided by the Clan Morna, met the Clan 
I Baisgne at Gabhra in 284, and a great fight was fought. Oscar 



1.5 

commanded the Clan Baisgne ; there was great slaughter and 
almost extinction for Oscar's side. Cairbre and he mutually slew 
each other. Ossian and Caoilte were the only survivors of note. 
The historical accounts place Fionn's death in the year before this 
battle, though the ballads and popular tradition are distinctly 
against such a view. Fionn was slain, it is said, at Rath-breagha, 
on the Boyne, by a treacherous fisherman named Athlach, who, 
wished to become famous as the slayer of Fionn. Fionn had 
retired there in his old age. 

Both in Scotland and Ireland there are some historical ballads 
that connect Fionn with the invasions of the ISTorsemen, but these 
can liardly be sei'iously considered as containing historical truth, 
that is, if we trust the above account, which places the Feine in 
the 3rd century. The Norsemen made no invasions into Ireland 
sooner than the 8th century ; that is a historical fact. The period 
of the Norse and Danish invasions are, roughly, from 800 to close 
on 1300. The ballads of Manus and Earragon may have a his 
torical basis ; there is little supernatural or impossible in them 
Manus is a well-known name in both Scotland and Ii-eland, and 
without a doubt, the great Magnus Barefoot, who was killed 
Ireland in 1103, is meant. At the same time, the ballad must 
rejected as history ; it is a popular tale, where St Patrick, Ossian, 
and Magnus appear as nigh well contemporaries. The popular 
hero of the romantic tale is Fionn, and hence anything heroic and 
national that is done, be it in an early age or in a late, is attri- 
buted, by the popular imagination, to the popular hero. Manus, 
a historical character, stuck to the popular fancy, because he was 
the last important invader of Ireland. It could not be expected 
that our romantic ballads would not receive both additions and 
local colouring in coming through the ages of Norse invasion. 
Fionn and his heroes are lay figures, to which were attached any 
striking or exciting events that the nation may have had to go 
through. 

So much for the Fionn of history. Let us now turn to the hero 
of the romantic and fairy tales. Fionn in history, such as it is, 
is merely a great warrior and champion, but in the popular 
imagination he belongs to the race of the giants, and has kin- 
ship with the supernatural powers. He is in fact a mortal 
champion moving in a fairy atmosphere. Nor is the popular 
notion of Fionn of late growth ; we shall, indeed, find reason to 
suspect that it anteceded the historical conception — that what is 
historical is merely rationalised myth. A charter of the reign of 
Alexander the Second in the eai-ly part of the 13th century 



is- 
m.\ 
d, \ 
m I 
be > 



16 

speaks of Tuber na Fein, which is glossed by " feyne, of the grett 
or kempis men callit ffenis, is ane well." This, which is only a 
hundred years later than the oldest Irish MS. account of Fionn, 
is exactly the present day popular notion of the Feine. They 
were giants. About ISj^OJBe ctor Boec e can thus write of Fyn 
Mak Coul : — " Virum uti ferunt immafii statura, septenum enini 
cubitorum hominem fuisse narrant, Scotici sanguinis omnibusque 
insolita corporis mole formidolosiim." Thus, much to the disgust 
of Keating, the Irish historian, he makes him a giant some seven 
cubits high, makes him also a Scotchman, and fixes his date about 
450 A.D.; and he further tells us that Fyn was renowned in stories, 
such as was told of King Arthur. Bishop Leslie in the same 
century says that Fynmacoul was a "man of huge size and 
sprung, as it were, from the race of the giants." Gavin Douglas, 
about 1500, also speaks of 

" Greit Gow Macmorne and Fyn Mac Cowl, and how 
They suld be goddis in Ireland as they say." 
Dunbar, the contemporary 2>oet, says : — 

" My fore grandsyr, hecht Fyn Mac Cowl, 
That dang the deil and gart him yowll. 
The skyis rained when he wald scouU, 
He trublit all the air : 

He got my grandsyr Gog Magog ; 
Ay whan he dansit the warld wald schog ; 
Five thousand ellis gaed till his frog. 
Of Hieland pladdis, and mair." 

The world shook when Fionn danced ! Martin, in his " Western 
Isles," calls him a " gigantic man. " And in Ireland also, as in 
Scotland, Fionn and his heroes ai'e among the people considered 
to be giants, " the great joiant Fann Mac Cuil," as Kennedy calls 
him, after the style of the peasantry who relate tales of Fionn. 
Mr Good, a priest at Limerick in 156G, speaks of the popular 
" giants Fion Mac Hoyle, and Oshin (read Osgur) Mac Oshin." 
Standish O' Grady, in his lately published History of Ireland, 
places the Fianna back in the dawn of Irish history — gigantic 
figures in the dusky air. " Ii'eland is their playground. They 
set up their goals in the North and South in Titanic hurling 
matches, they drive their balls through the length and breadth of 
it, storming through the pi'ovinces." Macpherson found the 
ballads and stories full of this, and as usual, he stigmatises them 
as Irish and middle-age. He quotes as Irish this verse : — 



17 

" A chos air Gromleach, ch'uim-ard, 
Chos eile air Crom-meal dubh, 
Thoga Fion le lamh mhoir 
An d' uisge o Lubhair na sruth." 

With one foot on lofty Cromlech, and the other on black Crom- 
meal, Fionn conld take up the water in his hand from the river 
Lubar ! Yet the hills can still be pointed out in Macphcrson's 
native Badenoch where Fionn did this ; but Macpherson, as 
usual, gives them his own poetic names. Carn Dearg and Scorr 
Gaoithe, at the top of Glen-Feshie, are the hills, and the Fionn- 
tag, a tributary of the Feshie, is the poetic " Lubhar." He has 
therefore to reduce the Fionn of the i)opular tales and ballads, to 
proper epic dimensions — to divorce him, as he says himself, from 
the " giants, enchanted castles, dwarfs, palfreys, witches, and 
magicians," which he thinks were imposed on the Fionn epic in 
the fifteenth century, and continued still to be the popular idea 
of Fionn and his heroes. 

The popular imagination accounts for this talliiess in a ration- 
alistic manner worthy of any euhe merist historian. In Campbell's 
Popular Tales, this is how the Een was set iip. An old King of 
Erin, hard pressed by the Lochlinn(;rs, consults his seneschal as to 
the best course to pursue. The latter advises hiai to marry 100 of 
the tallest men in the kingdom to the same number of the tallest 
women ; then again to intermarry 1 00 of each sex of the tallest of 
their descendants, and so on to the third generation. This would 
give him a gigantic race able to cope with any foe. The thing was 
done. And in the thii-d generation a gigantic race was the result. 
Their capt?in and king was Cumal, and he defeated the Lochlinners 
and forced them to terms of peace. 

There are various turns given to the story of Fionn's birth, 
but they all agree that his father was killed before his birth, that 
he was carried off and reared in secret, that he did great youthful 
fea*s, that his first name was Demni, and that he was called Fionn 
fvny p Trig \ y j jitp! h p.n.d. Most tales also tell liow he ate the salmon 
of knowledgeT ~The best form of the whole tale is this. Cumhal 
was going to battle, and in passing a smithy, while his horses 
were being shod, he went in to see the smith's daughter. The 
smith on learning what happened cursed the king, and hoped he 
would not return safe from the fight. Smiths and druids were 
uncanny in those days, and his wish was gratified; Cumhal fell in 
the battle. The new king heard of the smith's daughter, and 
ordered her to be imprisoned. If she gave birth to a daughter, 

3 



18 

the daughter might be allowed to live, but a son must be put to 
death, for he would be the true heir to the throne. She brought 
forth a daughter, and all his watch rushed to tell the King ; but, 
before the night was through, she also brought a boy into the 
world. The nurse, Luas Lurgann, rolled the child up in the end of 
her gown and rushed off to the woods, where she brought him up 
in secret. She exercised him in all kinds of feats — running, 
cleasa of all kinds, and arms. She took him one day to play 
hurley — shinty — with the boys of the King's town. He beat 
everybody and then began to maul and kill right and left. The 
king heard of it and came out ; " Co e an gille Fiotin ud," said 
he, " tha mortadh nan daoine T (who is that Fair lad killing the 
people'?) The nu)-se clapped her hands for joy and said : — 
" Long hast thou wanted to be baptized, but to-day thou art indeed 
baptized, and thou art Fionn son of Cumhal son of Trenmor, and 
rightful king of Erin." With this she rushed away, taking the 
boy on her shoulders. They were hotly pursued ; Luas Lurgann's 
swiftness of old was failing her. Fionn jumped down, and 
cai'ried her in turn. He rushed thiough the woods, and when he 
halted in safety he found he had only the two legs of his nurse 
left over his shoulders — the rest of lier body had been torn away 
in the wood. After some wanderings he came to Essroy, famous 
for its mythic salmon — the salmon of all knowledge. Here he 
found a fisher fishing for the king, and he asked for a fish to eat. 
The fisher never yet had caught fish though he had fished for years. 
A prophecy said that no fish would be got on it till Fionn came. 
The fisher cast his line in Fioun's name and caught a, large salmon 
— it was too large for Fionn, he said, and he put him oflf each time. 
Fionn got the rod himself and landed a bigger salmon still. The 
fisher, who had recognised who he was, allowed him to have a small 
fish of his lot, but he must roast it with the fire on one side tlie 
stream and the fish on the other, nor must he use any wood in the 
process. He set fire to some sawdust, and the wind blew a wave of 
fire over to the fish and burned a spot on it. Fionn put 
his thumb on the black spot ; it burnt him and he put the thumb 

I in his mouth. Then he knew everything ; the fisher was Black 
Arcan wh o sle w his father. He seized Arcan's sword, and killed 

1 him". I'll this way he got his father's sword, and also the dog 
Bran, both of which the fisher had. And, further, by bruising 
his thumb in his mouth, the past and the [)resent were always 
revealed to him. He then went in secret to his grand- 
father's house — tlie smith's house. Tliereafter he appeared in the 
king's court ; the king gave wrong judgment, and if one of royal 



19 

blood did this, Temra the palace (?) fell ; and if one of royal blood 
gave the right jiulfj;ment, it rose again. Temra fell ; but on 
Fionn giving the judgment riglitlv, Temra was restored again. 
He was at once recognised, and again pursued. The king then 
hunted every place' in Erin for him, and at last found him as 
steward with the king of Colla. Colla and Fionn rose together 
against Cairbre, and slew him, and so Fionn recovered his patri- 
mony and kingdom. 

Besides Fionn's powers in knowing present and past 
events, he was also a great medicine man. He possessed the 
magic cup, a drink from which could heal any wound, unless 
from a poisoned weapon. The Dord Fionn was again a kind of 
wail or music raised when Fionn was in distress. His men, when- 
ever they heard it, came to his help. 

The leading heroes among the Feine were: — 
Fionn himself. 

Gaul Mac Morna, leader of the Clann Morna. He served 
under Fionn, but as Goll Imd killed Fionn's father, they 
had no great love for each other. Yet Fionn's praise 
of Goll is one of the best of the ballads ; more especially 
as showing us what characteristics pleased best the Feine, 
or rather the Gaelic people. 
Ossian, son of Fionn, the renowned hero-poet. 
Oscar, his son, the bi-avest of the Feine, youthful, handsome, 

and kind-hearted. 
Diarmad O'Duinn, the handsomest of the Fein^, the darling 
of the women, "the Adonis of Fenian mythology, whose 
slaughter by a wild boar is one of the most widely 
scattered myths of the Ossianic Cycle." He had a 
beauty spot — " ball-seirc " — which if any woman saw, 
she fell in love with him at once. 
Caoilte MacRonan, Finn's nephew ; he was the swiftest of 
the Feine. They had always to keep a speiteach (1) on 
his foot, for otherwise he would go too fast for the rest. 
Fergus Finn-vel, son of Fionn, a poet, warrior, and adviser. 
Conan Maol, the Thersites or fool of the Feine. He is the 
best Jharked character of the whole. He was large- 
bodiecl, gluttonous, and most cowardly. Everybody has 
a fling at Conan, and he at them. 
The story of the Feine may be considered under the following 
heads : — 

(1) Foreign Messengers. 

(2) Distressed people, especially women. 



20 

(3) Foreign combatants and invaders. 

(4) Enchantments — by far the largest class. 

(5) Fights with beasts. 

(6) Battles and internal strifes. 

(7) Ossian after the Feine. 

Messengers from Lochlinn play an important part in the bal- 
lads. They are called "athachs"; there is one eye in the middle 
of their forehead, and one hand which comes from the breast, 
and they have one foot. It may be noted that the god Odin himself 
api)eai's in the Norse tales in an almost equally monstrous form. 
The " athach," on one occasion, invited Fionn and his men to 
Lochlinn ; the king's daughter was much in love with Fionn. 
Before they set sail, they provided themselves with daggers, be- 
sides their other arms. They went ; their arms were piled in an 
outhouse, but their daggers they secretly kept. At the feast, they 
were so arranged that one of Fionn's men was between two Loch- 
linners. Loch linn's king began asking the heroes uncomfortable ques- 
tions — who slew tliis son and that son of his. Each hero answered 
as the case was. Finally, there was a rush to arms, but the 
Feine with the secret daggers slew their men. The Feine escaped 
safely home, taking " nighean Lochlinn " with them. This story 
is the foundation of the episode of Agandecca in Macpherson's 
Fingal, Book III. 

The Muileartach is a sort of female counterpart to the 
"athach." She is Manus' foster-mother, and she came to fight the 
Fein6 ; and they had a tough job conquering her. She seems to 
be a personification of the Atlantic sea. 

An " athach" appears also another day: — 

•' Chunncas tighinn o'n mhagh 
An t-oglach mor is e air aon chois, 
Le chochal dubh ciar dubh craicionn, 
Le cheann-bheirt lachduinn is i ruadh-mheirg." 

They asked his name. He told them he was Lun Mac Liobhain, 
smith to the king of Lochlinn, and he put them under geasa to 
follow him to his smithy. 

" Ciod am ball am beil do Cheardach 1 

Na'm fearrda sinne g'a faicsinn T 
" Faiceadh sibhse sin ma dh' fhaodas, 
Ach ma dh' fhaodas mise, chan fhaic sibli." 

They set after him, and Daorghlas kept pace with him, and when, 
on reaching the smithy, one of the smiths asked, in reference to 



21 

Daorghlas, who this /ear caol was, Fionn answered that his name 
was now Caoilte. Here they got victorious arms, but they had to 
be tem])ered in human blood. Fionn, by a stratagem, got the 
smith's mother to take the place that fell to him by lot, and she 
was unwittingly killed. And Fionn's own sword was tempered in 
the smith's own blood. 

" B'e Mac an Luin lann Mhic Cumhail, 
Gum be Drithleannach lann Oscar, 
'S b'i Chruaidh Chosgarrach lann Chaoilte, 
Gum b'i an Liomharrach lann Dhiarmad, 
Agam fein bha Gearr-nan-colann." 

Every hero's sword had a name, as we see from this. 

Disti'essed people came to the Feine for protection. In Mac- 
pherson, nearly every other poem presents such, but in the ballads, 
there is only one good Macphersonic case. This is found in 
" Duan na h-Inghinn,'' or Essroy of the Dean of Lismore. The 
daughter of the King of Under-waves Land flies from the love of 
the son of the King of the Land of Light (Sorcha). She comes in 
a gold " curach" to Fionn. Her lover follows on his steed riding on 
the waves. He tights the heroes and falls. Some ballads 
represent him as killing the Nighean, others that she was with 
Fionn in the Feine a year. This is nearly exactly the same as 
Macpherson's Maid of Craca and Faine-soluis. It is the only 
poem of his that agrees with the ballads in any satisfactory 
respect. But his language ditfers widely, though the plot is the 
same. 

Foreign invaders are numerous. Sometimes they are single- 
handed, as in the case of Dearg, and his son Conn after him. 
Other times there is a regiilar invasion. The stories of single 
invaders are all of a type ; he comes, challenges the champions 
and lays them low in ones, twos, tens, and hundreds. Then Goll 
or Oscar goes, and after a stiff fight annihilates him. Their 
wounds are healed by Fionn. The Kings of Lochlinn are the 
chief invaders. Manus we have already considered. Earragon, 
another Lochlinn king, got his wife stolen by Aide, one of 
Fionn's men, and came to Scotland to fight them over it. The 
ballad is called " Teanntachd Mhor Na Fein6," and forms the 
groundwork of Macpherson's Battle of Lora, or as he says him- 
self, calling it Irish of course — " It appears to have been founded 
on the same story with the ' Battle of Lora,' one of the poems of 
the genuine Ossian" ! A most serious invasion of Ireland was 
made by Dare Donn or Darius, King of the World, helped by all 



the rest of the world. The scene was Ventry Harhour. The 
battle went on for a year and a day. In some version.s, it is a 
Kilkenny cat business, where everybody is killed and some 
others besides ; for Fionn and his Feine are rejiresented aW as 
falling, though they were helped even by the Tuatha-De. Other 
forms of it represent the heroes as finally victorious. The ballad 
in the Dean of Lismore's book is the only Scotch representative 
of this tale. 

Enchantments form the largest class of these poems and 
tales. There are various " Chases," where the Feine, singly or 
altogether, get lost and enchanted. Again, they may be enchanted 
in a house, as in "Tigh Bhlair Bhuidhe" and the "Rowan-tree 
Booth." Then some of them may be tricked away, as in the story 
of the " Slothful Fellow " — An Gille Deacair. Here they land 
in Tir-fo-Tliuinn, and the Happy Land. These stories display 
the highest degree of imaginative power : they are humourous, 
pathetic, and at times tragic. 

Another class of legends is that relating to the killing of 
dragons and like monsters. There is scai'cely a lake in Ireland 
but there is some legend there about a dragon, or Mast, which 
Fionn, or one of his heroes, or one of tlie Saints, destroyed. Fionn 
had some tough fights with these tei'rible animals, and his 
grandson, Oscar, was likt;wise often engaged in the same work. 
On one occasion, as an old Lewisman used to tell, Oscar was 
fighting with a huge binst that came open-mouthed towards 
him. He jumped down its throat at once, and cut his way out, 
and thus killed the brute. We have read of Odin being thus swal- 
lowed by the wolf, but have never heard of his appearing after- 
wards. 

Internal dissension is seen in the armed neutrality maintained 
between Fionn and Goll. They at times have open strife. But 
the most serious defection is that of Diarmad, who ran away with 
Fionn's wife. Of course he refused her at first, but she laid liim 
under geasa to take her. This he did. The punsuit began soon 
after, and they went round Erin. Many feats were performed, 
some of which were of a magic and supernatural nature. They 
were caught at last, but Fionn was forced to spare them, because 
Oscar would not allow him to wreak vengeance at the time. 
Fionn, however, revenged himself at the hunt of the magic boar. 
Diarmad killed the boar, escaping unscathed ; Fionn was dis- 
appointed at this, so he asked Diarmad to measui'e the boar ; he 
did. Fionn then asked him to measure it against the bristles. His 
foot, which was the only vulnerable part of his body, was stabbed in 



23 

the process by the bristles, and as the beast was a magic and 
poisonous animal — a Tore Nimhe — he was fatally wounded. Nor 
would Fionu cure him though he could. So Diarmad died. 

^■A sad event happened just before the close of the Feine's 
career. The men went off to hunt, leaving Garaidh at home with 
the women. The prose tales say that he stayed purposely to find 
out what the ladies took to eat and drink that always left them 
so rosy and youthful. In watching for this, he fell asleep, and 
they pinned his long hair to the bench. Then they raised a battle 
shout. He got u]) in furious haste, but, if he did, he left his scalp 
behind him. Mad with rage, he rushed out, went tc the woods 
and brought home i)lenty fuel. He locked the women in, and 
then set tire to the house. The flames weie seen by those that 
were hunting, and they rushed home. If the speirench were ott' 
Caoilte, he might have been in time to save the house. They 
jumped K^^e-rheii on their spears, but one of them, Mac-Reatha, 
fell into the'lK^yle) and hence the name. Wives and children were 
lost, and the race of great men left alone in the world. Fionn, by 
bruising liis thumb in his mouth, knew it was Garaidh tliat did 
the deed. Thev found him hid in a cave, but he would not come 
out until he was allowed to choose the manner of his own death. 
Tliey allowed him. He asked to be beheaded by Oscar on Fionn's 
knee. ISTow Oscar never could stop his sword from going through 
anything he drew the sword upon, and they had to bury Fionn's 
knee under seven feet of earth, and even then it was wounded. 
Fionn then journeyed to Rome to get it healed. 

When Fionn was away, King Cairbre thought he might as 
well get rid of the Feine. He invited Oscar to a feast. There he 
wished to exchange spear-heads with him, which was considered 
an insult in those days : 

" Ach malairt cinn gun mhalaii't crainn, 
Bu eucorach sud iarraidh oirnn." 

They quarrelled ; their troops were got ready and a battle engaged 
in. Both leaders fell by each other's hands. Ossian and Fionn 
just arrived frem Rome to receive Oscai-'s dying words. The 
battle of Gabhra ended the reign of the Feine. 

Fionn himself was killed by a treacherous person who invited 
him to jump on to an island, in the way he did. Fionn did the 
jump. Then the man juioped the same backways, and challenged 
Fionn to do so. Fionn tried it, but fell up to his head in the 
water. The man, finding him thus immersed, and with his back to 
him, cut off his head. 



24 

Ossian had, however, before this, run away with the fairy Niam 
to Tir-nan-og, the Land of the Ever-young. Here he remained two 
hundred years. He returned, a great giant, still youthful, on a 
white steed, from which he was cautioned not to dismount, if he 
wished to return again to Tir-nan-og. He found eveiything 
changed ; instead of the old temples of the gods, now there were 
Christian churches. And the Feine were only a memory. He 
saw some puny men raising a heavy block of stone. They could 
not manage it ; so he put his hand to it and lifted it up on its 
side ; but in so doing he slipped otf his horse, and fell to earth a 
withered and blind old man. The steed at once rushed off. 
Ossian was then brought to St Patrick, with whom he lived for 
the I'est of his life, ever and anon recounting the tales of the 
Feine to Patrick, the son of Calphurn, and disputing with him as 
to whether the Feine were in heaven or not. 

He tried once by magic means to recover his strength and 
sight. The Gille Ruadh and himself went out to hunt, and he 
brought down three large deer and carried them home. The old 
man had a belt round his stomach with three skewers in it, so as 
that he should not need so much food. The deer were set a- 
cooking in a large cauldron, and the Gille Ruadh was watching it, 
with strong injunctions not to taste anything of the deer. But 
some of the broth spurted out on his hand and he put it to his 
mouth. Ossian ate the deer one after the other, letting out a 
skewer each time ; but his youth did not return, for the spell had 
been broken by the Gille in letting the broth near his mouth. 

Are the actors in these cycles- — those of Cuchulinn and Fionn 
— historical personages 1 Is it history degenerated into myth, 
or myth rationalised into history 1 The answer of the native 
historian is always the same ; these legends and tales contain 
real history. And so he proceeds to euhemerise and rationalise 
the mythic incidents — a process which has been going on for the 
last thousand years; mediteval monk and "ollamh," the seventeenth 
century historians, the nineteenth century antiquarian and philo- 
logist — all believe in the historical character and essential truth of 
these myths. The late Eugene O'Curry considered the existence of 
Fionn as a historical personage, as assured as that of Julius Csesar. 
Pr-ofessor Windisch even is led astray by the vraisemblance of these 
stories, and he looks on the mythic incidents of the Fionn Cycle 
as borrowed from the previous Cuchulinn Cycle, and the myths 
of the latter, especialy the birth incidents, he thinks drew upo.i 
Christian legend. As a consequence, the myths and legends are 
refined away, when presented as history, to such an extent that 



25 

their mythic character does not immediately appear. But hickily 
alongside of the literary presentment of them and before it, there 
runs the continuous stream of popular tradition, which keeps the 
mythic features, if not in their pristine purity, yet in such a state 
of preservation that they can be compared with the similar myths 
of kindred nations, and thus to some extent rehabilitated. This 
comparison of the Gaelic mythic cycles with those of other Indo- 
European nations shows in a startling degree how little of the 
Fionn Cycle, for instance, can be historical fact. 

The incidents in the lives of the mythic and fairy heroes of 
the Aryan nations have been analysed and reduced to a tabulated 
formula. Von Hahn examined 14 Aryan stories — -7 Greek, 1 
Roman, 2 Teutonic, 2 Persian, and 2 Hindoo — and from these 
constructed a formula, called the "Expulsion and Return" formula, 
under 16 heads. And Mr Alfred Nutt examined the Celtic tales 
and brought them under the range of Von Hahn's headings, adding 
however, at heading 9, two more of his own. Mr Nutt's table 
is as follows :— 

I. Hero, born out of wedlock, or posthumously or super- 
naturally. 
II. Mother, princess residing in her own country. [Cf. 
beena marriage.] 

III. Father, god or hero from afar. 

IV. Tokens and warnings of hero's future greatness. 
V. He is in consequence driven forth from home. 

VI. Is suckled by wild beasts, 
VII. Is brought up by a childless (shepherd) couple, or by 

a widow. 
VIII. Is of passionate and violent disposition. 
IX. Seeks service in foreign lands. 
IX. A He attacks and slays monsters. 

IX. B He acquires supernatural knowledge through eating 
a magic fish. 
X, He returns to his own country, retreats, and again 
returns. 
XI. Overcomes his enemies, frees his mother, and seats 

himself on the throne. 
XII. He founds cities. 

XIII. The manner of his death is extraoi'dinary. 

XIV. He is accused of incest ; he dies young. 

XV. He injures an inferior, who takes revenge upon liini 

or upon his children. 
XVI. He slays his younger brother. 

4 



26 



We give the incidents of the Fionn Cycle in this tabulated form, 
placing side by side the Fionn of histoiy and th« Fionn of popular 
fancy : 



History. 
I. Iq marriage (?), posthumously. 

II. Muirne, daughterof Chief Druid 



be 



III. Cumal, leader of Militia. 

IV. Ta'ig, Druid, knows he wi 

ejected by hero. 

V. Driven to an aunt's house. 
VI. 

VII. By Ills mother or aunt (') 
VIII. 



IXa. 

IXb. 
X. 

XL Forces Tadg to abandon Almu. 
Gets headship <if Fein6 
XII. 

XIII. Slain liy a fisherman for sake 

of fame. 
XIV. 
XV. 
XVI. 



Tradition. 
Out of marriage, posthumously, and 

one of twins. 
Muirne (?), daughter of a smith. 

Lives with her father. 
King Cumhal : is passing house. 
Greatness foretold by a prophet, and 

known to he rightful heir to 

thione. 
Into the wdderness. 
Nourished by fat and marrow in a 

hole made in a tree. 
By his nurse, Luas Lurgann. 
Drowns the schoolboys or overcomes 

them at shinty, or both. Causes 

his nurse's death. 
Serves as house steward. [Scholar 

to Fionn, the Druid.] 
Slays the Boar Beo ; iii'ls lake mon- 

stei'S (biasfa). 
Eats of the magic Salmon. 
Wanders backwards and forwards 

over Erin. 
Kills father's murderer. Overcomes 

Cairbre and gets throne. 
Builds forts, dunes, &c. ; founds a 

great kingdom. 
Dies, mysteriously slain in jumping 

lake. 



A candid examination of these tabulated results must con- 
vince one that the historic account is merely the myth in a re- 
spectable and rationalised form. The historic account of Fionn 
and his men is poor and shadowy. In fact, outside tho " birth " 
incidents of Fionn himself, there are only three historical facts, 
such as they are : (1) The Feine were an Irish militia (!) in the 
thii-d century ; (2) they were overthrown in the battle of Gabhra, 
where also King Cairbre, a real personage without a doubt, fell in 
284 ; (3) Fionn himself married Oormac's daughter, and Cailte 
killed Cairbre's successor, Fothaidh Airgtheach, in 2'^[). Evidently 
some difficulty was found in fitting the heroes of the mythic tales 
into history, a difficulty which also exists in Arthur's case. He, 
like Fionn, is not a king in history — there is no place for him — 



27 

but he is a " dux belli " or " militia " leader. Yet the popular 
imagination is distinctly in favour of the idea that these heroes 
were also kings. 

The further question as to the origin and meaning of these 
mythic and heroic tales is as can be seen, one of Aryan width : 
the Celtic tales ai'e explained when we explain those of the other 
Indo-European nations. Until scientists agree as to the meaning 
of these heroic myths, we may satisfy ourselves with adding our 
stone to the cairn — adding, that is to say, Cuchulinn and Fionn to 
the other national heroes of Aiyan mytholog}'. Yet this we may 
say : Fionn son of Cumal ( Camulus, the Celtic war-god 1) is 
l)robably the incarnation of the chief deity of the Gaels — the 
Jupiter spoken of by Caesar and the Dagda of Irish myth. His 
(jualities are king-like and majestic, not sun-like, as those of 
Cuchulinn. He is surrounded by a band of heroes that make a 
terrestrial Olymjius, composed of counterparts to the chief deities. 
There is the fiery Oscar ((ud-scar, utter-cutter X) a sort of war-god ; 
Ossian, the poet and warrior, corresponding to Hercules Ogmius ; 
Diarmad, of the shining face, a reflection of the sun god ; Caelte, 
the wind-swift runner ; and so on. 

The next question is as to the transmission and formation of 
these mythic tales. Oral tradition is evidently continuous, and is 
thus unlike literature and history. They are fixed with the times ; 
but popular tales and traditions are like a stream moving along, 
and, if we fancy the banks are the centuries and years, with their 
tale of facts and incidents, then naturally enough the stream will 
carry with it remembrances of it : previous, more especially of its 
inmiediately previous, history. Hence it is that though these tales 
are old as the source of time, yet they are new and fresh because 
they get tinged with the life they have just come through. Hence 
we may meet with the old heroes fighting against the Norsemen, 
though the Noj'semen appear late in the history of the people. 

The Irish literature takes us back over a thousand years at 
least, and it shows us very clearly how a heroic literature does 
arise. The earliest Irish literature is of this nature. The narra- 
tive is in prose, but the speeches and sayings of the chief charac- 
ters ax-e put in verse. That is the general outline of the literary 
method. Of course all the speeches are not in verse ; descriptive 
speeches are often not. Narrative, too, may appear in verse, 
especially as a summary of a foregoing prose recital. It is a mis- 
take to think that the oldest literature was in verse. Narrative 
and verse always go together in the oldest forms. But as time 
goes on and contact with other literatures exists, the narrative too 



is changed to verse. Hence our ballads are in their narrative part, 
as a rule, but rhymed pi'ose, done in late times, three or four 
liundred years ago, more or less — probably more. These tales and 
verses have no authors ; they are all anonymous. Poets and 
singers were numerous as a guild in Ireland and Scotland, and 
were highly honoured ; they were the abstracts and chronicles of 
the time — newspapers, periodicals, and especially novels, all in one. 
But they were a guild where the work of the individual was not 
individually claimed. We hear of great bards, but we never hear 
of their works, unless, indeed, they are introduced as saying or 
singing something after a narrative or within a prose tale. This 
literary style remained till veiy late, and it produced among other 
things those remarkable colloquies between Ossian and Patrick so 
well known in later Irish and in Gaelic literature. Patrick asks 
questions and Ossian answers, going on to tell a tale in verse. 
But it was not imagined for a moment that Ossian composed the 
poem ; he only said those verses --the poet put them in his mouth, 
nor did Patrick compose his share of the dialogue. The anony- 
mous poet alone is responsible for his puppets. The Dean of Lis- 
more is the first that attributes the authorship of the poetry to 
those who merely say the poetry. Thus he introduces as authors 
of the poems Fergus, Caoilte, Ossian, and others. In this way 
Conall Cernach is made responsible for " Laoidh nan Ceann " 
though Emer bears her share of the dialogue. The figui-e of Ossian 
relating his tales to Patrick took hold of the popular imagination, 
and Macpherson, in an unfortunate hour, jumped to the con- 
clusion that here was a great poet of antiquity. Immediately 
the world resounded with the old hero's name, though he was no 
more a poet, nor less so, than any others of his heroic com- 
panions. It was merely because he happened, so the tales said, 
to survive till Christian times, that he was responsible for tell- 
ing those tales. Curiously enough the Gaelic mind, in its 
earlier literature, always made responsible some such survivor 
from past times, for the history of those times. Thus, Finn- 
tan told the history anterior to and after the Deluge, for he 
lived on from before the Deluge till the sixth century. Fe)-- 
gus Mac Roich, Cuchulinn's friend, was raised from the 
dead to repeat the Tain Bo Chualgne in the sixth century. 
And Ossian came back from Tir-nan-Og to tell the Fenian epos to 
Patrick. 

The construction of the verse in these ballads must be noted. 
The true ballad is made up of verses of four lines : four is always 
the number of lines in the verse of the hei'oic poetry. The second 



29 

and fourth lines end in a rliynie word, and there are four feet in 
each line. That is the old heroic measure. At times consecutive 
line.s rhyme, and in lyrical passages other measures come in, as, for 
instance, in Fionn's " Praise of Goll." The feet are now-a-days 
measured by four accented syllables, but it was quite different in old 
Goidelic poetry. The rules there were these: — Every line must 
consist of a certain number of syllables. As a rule the last word 
was a rhyme- word corres[)onding to one in the next or in the third 
line. These rhyme-words bound the lines into either couplets or 
quatrains. Every line had a pause or cesura in it, and the words 
before 'this cesura might rhyme with each other. Accent or stress 
was disregarded, and this accounts for some of the irregularities 
in our old ballads in regard to rhyme and metre. Thus, some 
make the last or unaccented syllable of a dissyllable rhyme with 
an accented monosyllable. On the whole, the ballads have recti- 
fied themselves to suit the modern style of placing the accent or 
stress on the rhymed syllables, and of having a certain number (4) 
of accents in the line. 

A word as to Macpherson's heroic Gaelic poetry. He has at 
times the old heroic quatrain, but as often as not his lines are mere 
measured prose. The lines are on an average from seven to eight 
syllables in length. Sometimes rhyme binds them together, some- 
times not. Evidently three things swayed his mind in adopting 
this measin-e or i-ather no-measure. It was easy, this measured 
prose; and his English is also measured prose that can be put in 
lines of like length with the Gaelic. Secondly, he had a notion, 
from the researches of Dr Lowth on Hebrew poetry, that primitive 
poetry was measured prose. Hebrew poetry consists of periods, 
divided into two or more corresponding clauses of the same 
structure and of nearly the same length ; the second clause contains 
generally a repetition, contrast, or explanation of the sentiment 
exjiressed by the first. The result of these responses or parallelisms 
is a sententious harmony or measured prose, which also appears 
ever, ic the English Bible. Macpherson was a divinity student 
when he began his Ossianic work, and not merely does the form of 
the English translation and Gaelic original show his study of 
Hebrew poetry, but his iioems show distinct imitations — even 
plagiarisms — from the Bible. Notably is this the case in the poem 
Comala. Macpherson, thirdly, had an idea that rhyme was a 
mcdern invention, probably non-existent in Ossianic times. Un- 
fortunately he did not know that rhyme is a Celtic invention, and 
possibly much older than the period of Ossian and his compeers, 
if they lived in the 3rd century. Had he known this, we might 



30 

now possess heroic Gaelic poetry of the proper type in quatrains 
and with rhymes ; but, instead of this, Macphei-son's Gaelic 
" original " is merely poetic prose— a halt between the Hebrew 
Psalms and Pope's rhymes. It is an irritating compromise, with 
good quatrains stuck mid wastes of prose to i.-emind us of " what 
might have been," and its mere structure is enough to disprove 
both its antiquity and authenticity. 

The consideration of the heroic literature of the Gael cannot 
be closed without a reference to Macpherson's " Ossian." A mere 
summary of his position in regard to the heroic cycles is all that 
need be given. Macpherson always aimed at the anti(|ue, but 
everywhere ended in sham-antique, for, last century, the ideas pre- 
valent in regard to the primitive stages of society were highly 
Utopian, poetical, and vague — totally unlike the reality which this 
century has proved such states of society to be. The ultra-natu- 
ralism of his time led Macpherson to confine his prisoners in caves, 
to make his heroes drink from shells, and to cause them to use the 
bosses of their shields for drums and war-signalling —a piece of 
gross ai'cha^ological nonsense. The whole life of the heroes is 
open air, with vague refei*ence to halls. Now what did they eat 
or drink, or how were they dressed or housed 1 We know, in the 
real tales, this often in too minute a fashion ; but in Macpherson 
everything is vague and shadowy. And when he does condescend 
on such details, he falls into gross errors. He arms his heroes 
in mail and helmet ; now, the real old tales speak of neither, 
and it is undoubtedly the fact that defensive armour was not 
used by the Gaelic Insular Celts. Bows and arrows fill a pro- 
minent place in his plots ; yet bows and arrows were not used by 
the ancient Gael, nor, indeed, by the ancient Celt. Again, his 
mythology is unspeakably wrong ; ghosts appear everywhere, 
in daylight or night-time ; they are a nuisance in fact. Yet 
ghosts have no place at all in the real ballads and tales. True, 
Cuchulinn's ghost is raised by Patrick, and Fergus MacRoich's 
by some saints later on ; but those ghosts are as substantial 
as when alive, and as gorgeous and glorious. Macpherson's 
heaven is a mixture of classical reminiscences, with some Norse 
mythology, and a vague, windy place in cloudland is faintly pic- 
tured. And his references to religous rites show that he 
believed Toland's theories as to the Druids and their altars 
and circles. Then, the machineiy of his poetry is all modern : 
fogs and mists, locks flowing on the wind, green meteors, clouds, 
and mountains, storms and ghosts, those eternal ghosts ! — maids 
in armour — always love-sick — and always dying on their lovers' 



31 

bodies. And there are further his addi'esses to natural objects, 
such as the sun and moon; and his sympathy with nature, and 
description of lone niuuntains and moors, have no counterpart in 
the real ballads. Descriptions we do have in the ballads, minute 
and painstaking, but they are of persons, dress, houses, arms, or 
of human interests of some kind. Then his similes and metaphors 
are done to excess ; both are rare, indeed full-blown similes are 
absent, in the grave directness of the original ballads. Some of 
his similes sin against the laws of their use, as comparing things 
to things unknown or imagined, as actions of men illustrated 
by actions of ghosts riding on winds. Then, thinking that he was 
at liberty to play any tricks with the history which these myths 
pretend to hold, and thinking, too, that he had an open field for 
any vagaries in regard to pre-Christian Irish and Scotch history, 
he has manufactured history on every hand. Bringing the Scan- 
dinavians upon Ireland in the third century is but a small part 
of his sins. The whole of "Temora," save the death of Oscar, is 
manufactured in history and plot. " Fingal" is founded distantly on / 
the ballad of Manus, but its history of Ireland is again manufac- ' 
tured, and the terrible blunder of bringing Cuchuliun and Fionn | 
togetlier, though always separate in the tales by years and cus- | 
toms, is enough itself to prove want of authenticity. Most of ' 
the poems are his own invention pure and simple, while those 
whose kernel of plot he imitated, are changed in their epic dress 
so far as to be scarcely recognisable. In fact, there are scarcely 
a dozen places where the old ballads can at all be compared to his 
work. These are the opening of " Fingal " (slightly), Cuchulinn's 
Chariot, Episodes of Ferda, Agandecca (slightly), and Faine-soluis, 
Ossian's Courtship, Fight of Fingal and Swaran (Manus), Death 
of Oscar in Temora, plots of Battle of Lora, Darthula, and Carhon 
(founded on the Cuchulinn and Conloch story), and these are all 
that can be correlated in the present editions. There is not a line jv/ 
of the Gaelic given the same as the Gaelic of the ballads. Indeed, \^ 
Macpherson rejected the ballads as " Irish," and Dr Clei'k says . 
that they cannot be of the same authorship as Macpherson's Ossian. 
And he is right. Yet these ballads were the only poetry known 
among the people as Ossian's, and it is to them that the evidence 
taken by the Highland Society always refers as basis for the parts 
the people thought they recognised of Macpherson's Ossian. Gallie 
and Ferguson actually quoted them in support of the authen- 
ticity, and others named or described them specially. Yet Mac 
pherson and Clerk reject them as non-Ossianic. Macpher- 
son's Gaelic was written after the English, often long after. 



f 



/ 



for, in one place, he gives Gaelic in his 1763 edition in a note 
(Teraora, VIII. 383-5) quite different from what he gave when he 
came to write the poem consecutively. The Gaelic is very modern, 
its idiom is tinctured strongly with English, while out of its 
seventeen hundred words, fifty at least are borrowed, and some 
forty more are doubtful. The conclusion we come to is simply 
this: — Macpherson is as truly the author of "Ossian" as Milton 
is of " Paradise Lost." Milton is to the Bible in even nearer 
relation than Macpherson is to the Ossianic ballads. Milton 
retained the essential outlines of Biblical narrative, but Macpher- 
son did not scruple to change even that. Macpherson's Ossian is 
therefore his own poetry; it is pseudo-antique of the type of 
Virgil's ^neid, and, in excellence of poetry, far superior to the 
work of the Roman, though in its recklessness of imagery and 
wildness of imagination, Macpherson wants the classic chasteness 
and repose that marks Virgil. He deserved the place he appro- 
priated in Westminster Abbey; he knew it was his and not 
Ossian's. Tliis last act of his, therefore, eloquently proves that he 
was in his own eyes the real author of the Ossian which he gave to 
the world, and which he hesitatingly, though tacitly, claimed in 
liis 1773 preface.