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The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 69

Was MacPherson's a genuine Celtic epic unearthed by him and by no one else? No mortal eye save his has ever seen the original, but no one who knows anything of the contents of the saga can deny that much of his work is based on materials collected by him. He knew some of the tales and ballads current among the folk, possibly also some of the Irish MS. versions. He saw that there was a certain unity among them, and he saw that it was possible to make it more evident still. He fitted the floating incidents into an epic framework, adding, inventing, altering, and moulding the whole into an English style of his own. Later he seems to have translated the whole into Gaelic. He gave his version to the world, and found himself famous, but he gave it as the genuine translation of a genuine Celtic epic. Here was his craft; here he was the "charlatan of genius." His genius lay in producing an epic which people were willing to read, and in making them believe it to be not his work but that of the Celtic heroic age. Any one can write an epic, but few can write one which thousands will read, which men like Chateaubriand, Goethe, Napoleon, Byron, and Coleridge will admire and love, and which will, as it were, crystallise the aspirations of an age weary with classical formalism. MacPherson introduced his readers to a new world of heroic deeds, romantic adventure, deathless love, exquisite sentiments sentimentally expressed. He changed the rough warriors and beautiful but somewhat unabashed heroines of the saga into sentimental personages, who suited the taste of an age poised between the bewigged and powdered formalism of the eighteenth century, and the outburst of new ideals which was to follow. His Ossian is a cross between Pope's Homer and Byron's Childe Harold. His

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