Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dr. Blair Passes

Dr. Hugh Blair passed on December 27th, 1800.  Blair’s fame was widespread in his day, though he was taken in by James Macpherson’s “Ossian” poems.  A dispute over authenticity of these poems took some time to settle.  As Arthur Herman says in his “How the Scots Invented the Modern World”:

‘Things might have turned out better if Macpherson had stopped with that first volume.  But he insisted in finding and “translating” more and longer sections, finishing up with Temora: An Ancient Epic Poem in eight books, which he published in 1763.  By then critics wondered aloud if he was not in fact making the whole thing up as he went along.  The battle over Ossian’s authenticity grew to an incessant clamor; thirty years later, the young Walter Scott was still writing an essay for Dugald Stewart n it.  On one side stood Macpherson, Blair, and those who insisted the poems were genuine and the Gaelic equivalent of the Iliad or the Odyssey, true masterpieces of primitive genius.  But the very fact that the poems were so carefully crafted made critics such as Horace Walpole, David Hume, and Dr. Johnson suspicious.  Others, such as Thomas Gray and Edward Gibbon, wavered back and forth…’

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