Introduction
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1 Introduction Dafydd Moore James Macpherson was born in 1736 in Ruthven and died sixty years later only a few miles down the road on his estate outside Kingussie. But the story of the son of a tenant farmer who ended his days at the house built for him by the Adams brothers and who was buried in Westminster Abbey at his own expense is as unusual as that trajectory suggests. As a child Macpherson may have witnessed the firing of Ruthven barracks by the Jacobite army in early 1746 and the final dispersal of the same after the catastrophe at Culloden later that spring. The Macphersons of Cluny were ‘out’ during the Rising of 1745 and suffered the indignities (and worse) of confiscation as the Government sought to break the power of the clans forever. Macpherson’s uncle, Ewan Macpherson of Cluny, (Macpherson’s father Andrew being an illegitimate son of the chief) was on the run in the Highlands for much of Macpherson’s teenage years. His university education between 1752 and 1755 was marked by the necessity of moving from King’s to Marischal College Aberdeen (the two institutions that would in the following century merge to form Aberdeen University), almost certainly as a result of changes in the length of the academic year that led to Marischal becoming cheaper to attend. Yet when he retired to the Highlands, he was able to restore the clan lands to the rightful heir (after he was himself offered them in return for his government service) and live himself the life of the beneficent laird on his own estate, supported by the proceeds of a lucrative career as a writer and, if not exactly politician, then political fixer. While some of the starker apparent paradoxes in this career (scion, albeit illegitimate, of a Jacobite clan who grows up to be Hanoverian political lackey) owe more to over-simplistic (and increasingly outdated) assumptions about the political and social landscape of the age than they do to genuinely insoluble contradictions within his character, nevertheless they do describe a remarkable path through eighteenth-century Britain and the British state as it emerges as a modern global power. 2 This volume gives an insight into all facets of Macpherson’s career and, while considerations of The Poems of Ossian dominate the collection , it also seeks to cast light on those corners of it less frequently understood or even considered. This introduction sets the scene in three ways. Firstly, it offers a simple overview of Macpherson’s career. Its Ossianic phase has garnered so much attention and been subject to so much discussion (at least relative to the rest of it) that it has had a tendency to overshadow what followed. The reception of (and storm about) The Poems of Ossian was, it goes without saying, a key determining factor in the future course of Macpherson’s life, if only because it made his name (literally given that, following the fashion of the age, he was known as ‘Fingal’ Macpherson). On the other hand, there is much to be gained from laying out that course from beginning to end and appreciating the full contours of his career. Secondly, this introduction highlights the key features of Macpherson – by which it is soon clear one means Ossian – studies. It is not a literature survey (a synoptic bibliography of key texts is provided at the end) so much as an introduction to the key areas of debate and scholarly endeavour. Thirdly, the introduction sets the scene for the chapters that follow. Macpherson: Life and Works Macpherson was educated in Aberdeen and (for the clergy) Edinburgh University, though he seems to have left both, as was common at the time, without taking a degree. While in Edinburgh he tried his hand as a poet, having a number of pieces published in the Edinburgh Review (though not all the attributions are especially secure) and producing two epic poems, The Hunter and The Highlander, neither of which, it is safe to say, had the desired impact on the world of letters. He had a spell as a schoolmaster in Ruthven, but by 1758 was working as a family tutor to the son of Graham of Balgowan. In this capacity he met moral and social philosopher Adam Ferguson, who in turn provided him with an introduction to John Home, a fellow member of the Edinburgh literati, best known as the author of the play Douglas (1756), a neoclassical tragedy set in medieval...


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