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Collected in the Highlands of Scotland, And
Translated from theGALic or Erse Language.
Vos quoque, qui fortes mamas lelloque ftrerxptes
First Printed in the Year 1760.
TH E Public may depend on the following Fragments as genuine Remains of ancient Scottish Poetry. The Date of their Composition cannot be exactly ascertained. Tradition, in the Country where they were written, refers them to an Æra of the most remote Antiquity: And this Tradition is supported by the Spirit and Strain of the Poems themselves; which abound with those Ideas, and paint those Manners, that belong to the most early State of Society. The Diction too, in the Original, is very obsolete; and differs widely from the Style of such Poems as have been written in the fame Language two or three Centuries ago. They were certainly composed before the Establishment of Clanship in the Northern Part of Scotland, which is itself very Ancient; for had Clans been then formed and known, they must have made a considerable Figure in the Work of a Highland Bard > whereas there is not the least Mention of them in these Poems. It is remarkable that there I 4 are are found in them no Allusions to the Christian Religion or Worship; indeed, few Traces of Religion of any Kind. One Circumstance seems to prove them to be coeval with the very Infancy of Christianity in Scotland. In a Fragment of the fame Poems, which the Translator has seen, a Culdee or Monk is represented as desirous to take down in Writing from the Mouth of Oscian, who is the principal Personage in several of the following Fragments, his Warlike Atchievemenrs and those of his Family. But Oscian treats the Monk and his Religion with Disdain, telling him, that the Deeds of such great Men were Subjects too high to be recorded by him, or by any of his Religion: A full Proof that Christianity was not as yet established in the Country.
Though the Poems now published appear as detached Pieces in this Collection, there is Ground to believe that most of them were originally Episodes of a greater Work which related to the Wars of Fingal. Concerning this Hero innumerable Traditions remain, to this Day, in the Highlands of Scotland. The Story of Oscian, his Son, is so generally known, that to describe one in whom the Race of a great Family ends, it has passed into a Proverb j " Ostian the last of the Heroes."
There can be no Doubt that these Poems are to be ascribed to the Bards; a Race of Men well known to have continued throughout many Ages in Ireland and the North of Scotland. Every Chief or great Man had in his Family a Bard or Poet, whose Office it was to record in Verse, the illustrious Actions of that Family. By the Succession of these Bards, such Poems were handed down from Race to Race some in Manuscript, but more by oral Tradition. And Tradition, in a Country so free of Intermixture with Foreigners, and among a People so strongly attached to the Memory of their Ancestors, has preserved many of them, in a great measure, incorrupted to this Day.
They are not set to Music, nor sung. The Versification in the Original is simple; and to such as understand the Language, very smooth and beautiful. Rhyme is seldom used: But the Cadence, and the Length of the Line varied, so as to suit the Sense. The Tranflation is extremely literal. Even the Arrangement of the Words in the Original has been imitated;