Skip to main content
Select Source:

Macpherson, James

James Macpherson, 1736–96, Scottish author. Educated at Aberdeen and Edinburgh, he spent his early years as a schoolmaster. In later life he held a colonial secretaryship in West Florida (1764–66), and he was a member of Parliament from 1780 until his death. In 1760, at the insistence of John Home and others, he published Fragments of Ancient Poetry Collected in the Highlands of Scotland, supposedly his own translations of ancient Gaelic poems. Later he published translations of two epic poems, Fingal (1761) and Temora (1763), which were represented as the work of a 3d-century Irish bard named Ossian. A collection, The Works of Ossian, appeared in 1765. Samuel Johnson and others heatedly challenged the authenticity of the poems. After Macpherson's death an investigating committee of scholars agreed that he had used some ancient Gaelic poems and traditions, but composed most of the supposedly ancient poetry himself. His prose poems, written in a loose, rhythmical style, filled with supernaturalism and melancholy, influenced powerfully the rising romantic movement in literature, especially German literature. Macpherson also wrote several histories.

See T. B. Saunders, Life and Letters of James Macpherson (1894, repr. 1969); study by D. S. Thomson (1951); I. Haywood, The Making of History: A Study of the Literary Forgeries of James Macpherson and Thomas Chatterton in Relation to 18th Century Ideas of History and Fiction (1987).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Macpherson, James." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Macpherson, James." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/macpherson-james

"Macpherson, James." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved February 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/macpherson-james

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

MacPherson, James

MacPherson, James (1738–93). Man of letters, and the moving force behind the discovery of the Poems of Ossian. Taken up by the Edinburgh literati in 1760 as a Gaelic speaker with a taste for bardic verse, he was sent to the Highlands to search for more substantial works. These were quickly discovered, translated, and published 1762–5, prefaced by long and influential essays by MacPherson and the critic Hugh Blair. MacPherson was immediately accused of forgery, a charge which he resented, but never tried to rebut. His literary career faltered although his free version of the Illiad (1773) is not without interest and his History of Great Britain from the Restoration to the Accession of the House of Hanover (1775) achieved a limited success. He died in 1790, having made a living as a government propagandist and a fortune as agent of the nabob of Arcot.

Nicholas Phillipson

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"MacPherson, James." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"MacPherson, James." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/macpherson-james

"MacPherson, James." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved February 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/macpherson-james

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.