Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER XIV.: James Macpherson introduced to Mr. Strahan. - Letters of David Hume to William Strahan
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LETTER XIV.: James Macpherson introduced to Mr. Strahan. - David Hume, Letters of David Hume to William Strahan 
Letters of David Hume to William Strahan, ed. G. Birkbeck Hill (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888).
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James Macpherson introduced to Mr. Strahan.
I cannot give you a better Return for your obliging Letter than by introducing to your Acquaintance, the Bearer, Mr. Mcpherson, who translated some Fragments of Highland Poetry, which have been extremely well receivd by the Public, and have probably come to your Hands. He has also translated a larger Work, a narrative Poem of great Antiquity, which lay in Obscurity, & woud probably have been bury’d in oblivion, if he had not retrievd it. He proposes to print it by Subscription, and his Friends here are already very busy in procuring him Encouragement. He goes up to London with the same Intention; and you may readily believe, that I advis’d him to think of nobody but our Friend, Mr. Millar, in disposing of the Copy. He will probably need your Advice in several Particulars, and as he is an entire Stranger in London, you will naturally of yourself be inclind to assist him. He is also very worthy of your Friendship; being a sensible, modest young Fellow, a very good Scholar, and of unexceptionable Morals. I have advis’d him to be at first on a Footing of Confidence with you; and hope you will receive him as one who merits your Friendship1. .
I am Dear Sir Your most obedient Servant
EDINBURGH2. , 9 Feby. 1761.
[1.]Note 1. James Macpherson, in the summer of 1760, published Fragments of Ancient Poetry collected in the Highlands. Gray, who had seen some of them in manuscript, wrote:—’I am gone mad about them ; they are said to be translations (literal and in prose) from the Erse tongue, done by one Macpherson, a young clergyman in the Highlands … I was so struck with their beauty that I writ into Scotland to make a thousand inquiries; the letters I have in return are ill-wrote, ill-reasoned, unsatisfactory, calculated (one would imagine) to deceive, and yet not cunning enough to do it cleverly. In short the whole external evidence would make one believe these fragments counterfeit; but the internal is so strong on the other side that I am resolved to believe them genuine spite of the Devil and the Kirk…. In short this man is the very demon of poetry, or he has lighted on a treasure hid for ages.’ Mason's Gray, ed. 1807, ii. 163. He reproached Mason with‘the affectation of not admiring,’ who says in a note:—’It was rather a want of credulity than admiration that Mr. Gray should have laid to my charge.’ Ib. p. 170. Hume, in a letter dated Aug. 16, 1760, which was shown to Gray, says:—’Certain it is that these poems are in every body's mouth in the Highlands, have been handed down from father to son, and are of an age beyond all memory and tradition … Everybody in Edinburgh is so convinced of this truth, that we have endeavoured to put Mr. Macpherson on a way of procuring us more of these wild flowers. He is a modest, sensible, young man, not settled in any living…. We have therefore set about a subscription of a guinea or two guineas a-piece, in order to enable him to undertake a mission into the Highlands, where he hopes to recover more of these fragments.’ Burton's Hume, i. 463. Dr. A. Carlyle (Auto, p. 276) told Hume that he had met but two people in Scotland who doubted their authenticity. Gibbon even so late as 1776 quotes Ossian in the first volume of the Decline and Fall, ch. vi, though he admits that‘something of a doubtful mist still hangs over these Highland traditions.’ Horace Walpole at first was a believer. On April 14, 1761, he wrote:—’My doubts of the genuineness are all vanished.’ Letters, iii. 395. Eight months later, when the first volume of Ossian was published, his doubts returned as convictions :—’Fingal is come out; I have not yet got through it; not but it is very fine—yet I cannot at once compass an epic poem now. It tires me to death to read how many ways a warrior is like the moon, or the sun, or a rock, or a lion, or the ocean. Fingal is a brave collection of similes, and will serve all the boys at Eton and Westminster for these twenty years. I will trust you with a secret, but you must not disclose it; I should be ruined with my Scotch friends; in short I cannot believe it genuine.’ Ib. p. 466. In a long review of this volume in the Annual Register for 1761, ii. 276, we are told that‘the venerable author and his elegant translator have mutually conferred immortality on each other.’ The reviewer perhaps was Burke. The following passage is not unworthy of his pen.‘The editor has recovered from the obscurity of barbarism, the rust of fifteen hundred years, and the last breath of a dying language, these inestimable relics of the genuine spirit of poetry.’ Johnson from the first scorned them as forgeries and as froth.‘Sir,’ he said,‘a man might write such stuff for ever, if he would abandon his mind to it.’ Boswell's Johnson, i. 396, n. 3. To Macpherson, who had threatened him in‘a foolish and impudent letter,’he wrote:—’I hope I shall never be deterred from detecting what I think a cheat by the menaces of a ruffian.’ Ib. ii. 298. Blair foolishly flattered himself at one time that he had convinced Johnson. He wrote to Hume on July 1, 1765:—’Have not I silenced all infidelity and even scepticism concerning Fingal in the Appendix to my Dissertation … I have converted even that barbarian Sam. Johnson by it, who as L[ord] Elibank tells me owns himself now convinced. Will you still have any scruples?’ M. S. R. S. E.
[2.]Note 2. A MS. letter of Hume of this time that I have seen is dated‘Edinburgh, Jacksland, 1st Jany. 1761.’‘Jack's Land,’ says Dr. Burton,’ was a tenement in the Canongate, right opposite to a house in which Smollett occasionally resided with his sister. The term “Land” applied to one of those edifices—some of them ten or twelve stories high—in which the citizens of Edinburgh, pressed upwards as it were by the increase of the population within a narrow circuit of walls, made stair-cases supply the place of streets, and erected perpendicular thoroughfares. A single floor was a century ago [written in 1846] sufficient to accommodate the family of a Scottish nobleman.’ Life of Hume, i. 343.