‘See SCOT and SAXON coalesc'd in one’ : James Macpherson's 'The Highlander' in its intellectual and cultural contexts, with an annotated text of the poem
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This thesis explores James Macpherson’s The Highlander (1758) in relation to originality, Scottish identity and historiography. It also situates the Ossianic Collections in the context of Macpherson’s earlier poetical and later historical works. There are three parts to it: a biographical sketch of Macpherson’s early life, the annotated edition of The Highlander, and discursive commentary chapters. By examining The Highlander in detail this thesis questions the emphasis of other Macpherson criticism on the Ossianic Collections, and allows us to see him as a writer who is historically minded, very aware of sources, well versed in established forms of poetry and thoroughly, and positively, British. The Highlander stands out among the corpus of his works not because it can give us insights into the Ossianic Collections, which is its usual function in Macpherson criticism, but because it can help us understand what it is that connects Macpherson’s earlier and later works with the Ossianic Collections: history, Britishness, tradition. Macpherson’s poetical works are united by a desire to translate Scotland’s factual past into sentimental British poetry. In the Ossianic Collections he does so without particular faithfulness to his sources, but in The Highlander he converts historical sources directly into neo-classic verse. This is where Macpherson’s originality lies: his ability to adapt history. In different styles and genres, and based on different sources, Macpherson’s works are early examples of Scotland’s great literary achievement: historical fiction. Instead of accusing him of forgery or trying to trace his knowledge of Gaelic ballads, this thesis presents Macpherson as a genuine historian who happened to write in a variety of genres.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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