MACPHERSON – HUGH BLAIR. Autograph letter signed by Hugh Blair, to "Dear Sir" [probably his publisher Thomas Becket, or his partner Peter Abraham De Hondt], 1763

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Lot 65*
MACPHERSON – HUGH BLAIR

Sold for £ 1,625 (US$ 2,093) inc. premium
MACPHERSON – HUGH BLAIR
Autograph letter signed by Hugh Blair, to "Dear Sir" [probably his publisher Thomas Becket, or his partner Peter Abraham De Hondt], expressing delight at the newly-published Temora which he thinks should boost sales of his own Dissertation on Ossian: "I have now Read Temora, from which I Expect Ossian will reap additional Honour & You, some profit. It is in Several respects Superior to Fingal; it is more full & particular, it is a more Complete Story, and it is Still more tender & Affecting. It is truly an Admirable performance; and by the People of Taste here very much Esteemed. Mr Macphersons Notes too are many of them very Useful & many of them amusing. You writ me, You was to send me a Copy; which Mr Macpherson did also; but through some Mistake or other Mr Balfour told me, he had none that was intended for me"; adding that he is glad to learn from his last two letters that "the Sale of my dissertation has been quicken'd by Temora. Here, it has gone off fast enough. Most of the Copies you Sent down last I am told are already disposed off. I am perfectly well Satisfied with the Treatment I have received from both the Reviews: and in general I have got Encouragement enough for a New Author"; finally, he looks forward to seeing him when he goes to London in about a fortnight's time, with the hopes that Macpherson may have returned from Holland by then: "Mr Macpherson's absence is an unlucky Circumstance for me, as I am quite a Stranger to the Town... I may have the pleasure of seeing him before I Leave London"; integral blank with recipient's endorsement, 2 pages, leaves detached, browned overall and silked, 4to, Edinburgh, 17 March 1763

Footnotes

  • HUGH BLAIR GREETS PUBLICATION OF MACPHERSON'S OSSIANIC EPIC, TEMORA, AND DISCUSSES HIS OWN DISSERTATION ON OSSIAN.

    It had been Blair who had arranged Macpherson's very first publication, Fragments of Ancient Poetry, Collected in the Highlands of Scotland in 1760; and it was Macpherson's Fingal of 1761 that prompted Blair to deliver the lectures that he expanded into A Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian, the Son of Fingal, published in London by T. Becket & P.A. De Hondt. This was the work that made Blair's international reputation as a literary critic, establishing a career that many have seen as helping to establish the study of English Literature in universities (see Alistair Fowler, 'The Leavis of the North: the Role of Hugh Blair in the Foundation of English Literature as an Academic Discipline', Times Literary Supplement, 14 August 1998). The same publishers, Becket & De Hondt, brought out Macpherson's second and final Ossianic epic, Temora, that March.

    At the end of our letter, Blair nervously anticipates a forthcoming visit to London, anxious as he is that Macpherson will not be there to receive him. In the event another fellow countryman, James Boswell, acted as his guide. Both of them called on Samuel Johnson on 24 May, this being the first time that Boswell had called upon his hero: 'Dr Blair had been presented to him by Dr James Fordyce. At this time the controversy concerning the pieces published by Mr James Macpherson, as translations of Ossian, was at its height. Johnson had all along denied their authenticity... Dr Blair, relying on the internal evidence of their antiquity, asked Dr Johnson whether he thought any man of a modern age could have written such poem? Johnson replied, "Yes, Sir, many men, many women, and many children." Johnson at this time, did not know that Dr Blair had just published a Dissertation, not only defending their authenticity, but seriously ranking them with the poems of Homer and Virgil' (Life of Samuel Johnson, Everyman edition, p. 249).

    Worried at the increasing scepticism evinced by the likes of Johnson and Hume (originally a supporter), Blair issued a second edition of his Critical Dissertation in 1765, to which he added a commentary on Temora and an appendix which he vainly hoped would settle the question of authenticity. This, without the appendix, was reissued in 1772, 1784–5, 1790, and 1796, and was included in most editions of the poems of Ossian, being translated into several European languages.

    Letters by Blair are scarce, only two being recorded as sold at auction by ABPC.
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