On this day 1796: Poet James MacPherson dies

Engraving of Scottish poet James Macpherson (1736 - 1796) by J K Sherwin after a painting by Joshua Reynolds. Picture: Getty

Engraving of Scottish poet James Macpherson (1736 - 1796) by J K Sherwin after a painting by Joshua Reynolds. Picture: Getty

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ON THIS day in 1796, the poet involved at the centre of the so-called ‘Ossian controversy’, James MacPherson, passed away.

Creator of the works of Ossian, Fingal and Temora, MacPherson gained international fame through his translations of early Gaelic poems. For a while Ossian’s adventures were hailed as Scotland’s version of Homer’s the Iliad.

Alexander Stoddart's bronze head of Ossian. Picture: TSPL

Alexander Stoddart's bronze head of Ossian. Picture: TSPL

Schubert and Brahms composed pieces of music inspired by his stories, and his influence is to be found in the work of a number of writers including Blake and Sir Walter Scott. Napoleon was also a fan, and is said to have had a book of Ossian with him when he marched his Grande Armee into Russia in 1812.

MacPherson was later challenged by historians and poets who claimed the Scot had fabricated the works. MacPherson was plagued by the accusations for most of his life and never produced the original pieces of literature that he is said to have discovered.

The true story behind the poems has never been resolved.

Though his life was steeped in controversy, it is clear that few others had such a profound effect in bringing about the European romantic movement.

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