restricted access A Brief Biography of James Macpherson
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ix A Brief Biography of James Macpherson James Macpherson was born in Ruthven in Badenoch, Scotland, in 1736. He was educated at King’s College and Marischal College, Aberdeen, where he would have come under the influence of the noted classicist Thomas Blackwell Jnr, whose Enquiry into the Life and Writings of Homer (1735) is taken to have been a key influence on The Poems of Ossian. He also studied at Edinburgh University, where he had a number of poems published, including two neoclassical epics on Highland themes, before gaining employment as a teacher and tutor, most notably to the son of Graham of Balgowan. It was in this capacity that he was visiting the border spa town of Moffat when he met the Edinburgh-based John Home, famous as the author of Douglas (1756), a meeting which would provide him with an introduction to the great and the good of the Scottish Enlightenment and the wherewithal to bring The Poems of Ossian to life. The Ossianic phase of Macpherson’s career was surprisingly short relative to its impact on Macpherson and, indeed, European literature. Fragments of Ancient Poetry Collected in the Highlands of Scotland appeared in 1760 followed by Fingal: An Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books; Together with Several Other Poems, Composed by Ossian the Son of Fingal in 1761/2 and Temora: An Ancient Epic Poem in Eight Books; Together with Several Other Poems, Composed by Ossian the Son of Fingal in 1763. These were collected together into the Works of Ossian in 1765 and were revised by Macpherson for a new edition nearly ten years later in 1773. 1773 also saw the publication of Macpherson’s ‘Ossianic’ translation of Homer’s Iliad. Macpherson had an obvious flair for controversial historiography, and through the 1770s this was the major focus of his written output. His Introduction to the History of Great Britain and Ireland was published in 1771, but his attention soon turned to more contemporary matters. x 1775 saw the Papers Containing the Secret History of Great Britain followed by The History of Great Britain from the Restoration to the Accession of the House of Hanover. His writing, which has always been politically loaded, took an ever more partisan turn. This can be seen in his Rights of Great Britain asserted against the claims of America (1776); the Short History of the Opposition during the Last Session of Parliament (1779); and The History and Management of the East India Company (also 1779). He also wrote extensively for the government in the pages of the Private Advertiser. From 1780 Macpherson was MP for Camelford in Cornwall (though he apparently never visited ‘his’ constituency or spoke in the Commons). He died in February 1796 at the Highland Estate he purchased through the proceeds of his eventful and lucrative career. a brief biography of james macpherson ...