MACPHERSON – EWEN CAMERON'S FINGAL. Autograph manuscript of Ewen Cameron's verse rendition of The Fingal of Ossian, [c.1776]

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Lot 62*

Sold for £ 8,750 (US$ 11,230) inc. premium
Autograph manuscript of Ewen Cameron's verse rendition of The Fingal of Ossian, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books, translated from the Original Galic Language by Mr James Macpherson; and now Rendered into Heroic Verse, by Ewen Cameron, comprising the six books of Fingal on 326 numbered pages, together with a substantial portion of Cameron's 'Preface' (paginated from 27 to 79 with several pages of additional material on unnumbered sheets, plus extensive deleted sections); with half-title but without the title-page identifying the author, in all some 380 pages, on paper with the royal GR cipher and crowned Britannia watermarks, in eight-page gatherings, disbound with remains of stitching, early twentieth century half morocco buckram case, 4to, [published 1776]


  • THE PRINTER'S MANUSCRIPT OF AN EARLY VERSE RENDITION OF FINGAL, WITH A PREFACE ATTACKING JOHNSON'S JOURNEY TO THE WESTERN ISLANDS. The poems of Ossian, the 'Homer of the North', were discovered – or invented – by the sometime Scottish MP James Macpherson and published in 1760 as Fragments of ancient poetry, collected in the Highlands of Scotland, and translated from the Gaelic or Erse language; to which were added the verse epic Fingal in 1762; the whole being collected as The Works of Ossian in 1765 (see the previous lot). While Macpherson rendered what he claimed to be Gaelic originals in prose, his undertaking naturally gave rise to several attempts in verse, of which Cameron's is a prominent if not particularly distinguished example. Although Macpherson claimed merely to be the translator, much scepticism ensued as to whether the originals ever existed, not least from Dr Johnson who denounced the poems in his Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland published in January 1775, which in its turn gave rise to Cameron's impassioned defence of their authenticity in the present manuscript, which was to be published in 1776.

    The traces of printer's ink on this manuscript indicate that it is the copy used by the compositors employed by William Eyres of Warrington when publishing the poem and accompanying Preface in 1776. This is confirmed by such indicators as the note on p. 181 "The follow.g in Eng Type", as well as by comparison with the printed text, which follows the final version of the text as established by our manuscript (which is expanded in many places by material inserted on additional leaves, making it not always easy to follow). This edition was to be reissued with cancel title-page the following year by J. Robson, B. Law and E. & C. Dilley of London. William Eyres was an eminent nonconformist publisher whose productions were distinguished by fine typography, among his authors being Joseph Priestley and John Howard, whose State of the Prisons he published in 1777. The manner in which our manuscript has been reworked – especially in the Preface – leaves little doubt that it is in Ewen Cameron's hand. As such, this is a scare survival; it being common practice, well into the nineteenth century, to discard printer's 'copy' once a work had been set in print (witness the disappearance of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters' manuscripts).

    The manuscript appears to be complete as far as the poem goes: see the facsimile of the first edition published online by the National Library of Scotland ('Early Gaelic Book Collections: Ossian Collections: Fingal of Ossian'; http: // 82603733; the text has recently been republished by Gale). It however lacks the first twenty-two and a half pages of the prefatory material as published (running from pp. 3-25 and the first part of p. 26 in the printed text), most of which is taken up with 'Attestations' in favour of the poems' authenticity (pp. 3-18; the Preface itself runs from p. 19). Our version begins halfway down p. 26 of the printed version. Fortunately however it includes all of Cameron's attack on Dr Johnson, probably the best-known feature of the work. He launches his attack on the first page of manuscript as it survives. He has made numerous extensive deletions and lengthy additions, so it is not always easy to follow, but the manuscript seems to be complete from here onwards.

    Cameron opens his counterblast: "The Names of so many credible Witnesses silenced for a Time the Enemies of Ossian; till Dr. Johnson's Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland coming out last Year, renewed the Dispute, and set again all the Scribblers in an Uproar; who, under their worthy Leader, aspersed not only the Translator, but likewise his Countrymen, with every illiberal Taunt that Envy and Malice could invent. We shall leave the Doctor to enjoy the Satisfactions arising from the Applause of such Admirers, and proceed to examine his Arguments against the Authenticity of Ossian's Poems". Not surprisingly, Cameron's antiquarian and archaeological preoccupations were rooted in his sense of Scottish identity, as witness p. 28 of our manuscript with its accompanying note (p. 30 of the printed version): "Though Johnson at the first setting out, confesses he knows Nothing of the Earse, yet this daring self sufficient Man, in the same Breath pronounces it the rude Speech of a Barbarous People.* *Notwithstanding the Greeks, and after them the Romans, had the Vanity to call other Nations Barbarians; it must appear very ridiculous in a Descendant of the Saxons, a Branch of the savage Sarmatae, to stigmatize with that Appellation the undoubted Remains of the Celtae, a celebrated People who once possessed all the Kingdoms from the Pillars of Hercules to the Banks of the Vistula, and from the Hellespont to the Shores of the Baltic. With Respect to the Highlanders we boldly assert the Imputation to be injurious and false".
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