This is the last of four volumes of Campbell's collection of Scottish folklore. This volume is essentially an extended appendix to the previous three volumes, containing commentary, documentation, and analysis, particularly a rousing defense of Scottish poetry, art, music, dress, and the Gaelic language. At the time had Scotland been subdued by Britain for several centuries, and was considered a backwards, peripheral area without much in the way of culture, and one of Campbell's goals was to provide a counterweight to this chauvinism. He has only dropped hints about this in the previous three volumes--now the gloves come off.
A large part of this volume is focused on a passionate (and sometimes cranky) defense of the Scottish Ossian myth-cycle; if not Macpherson and his best-selling poem per se. (An electronic text of Macpherson's Ossian is also available at sacred-texts at this location.) An undertone of the backlash to Macpherson's Ossian was a mean-spirited attack on Scottish culture in general; Campbell uses a counterattack on this as the keystone of the entire work. After an extensive review of the literature, Campbell establishes that many of the Ossianic characters, themes and verses were well-known in Scotland prior to Macpherson. So by Campbell's reckoning, Macpherson is not as much a forger, than a plagiarist.
Admittedly, Ossian is no longer the inflammatory issue that it once was, (and even at the time Campbell wrote, it was considered a settled argument), so the modern reader at times may feel a bit put off. However, the volume is not all polemics. There is an excellent review of Scottish poetic literature, a timeline of Scottish culture, and a somewhat dated, but fascinating, article on the Scots Gaelic language. The many details Campbell provides on all things Scottish and accomplishments that bolster Scottish pride make the effort to wade through the minutiae of the Ossian controversy well worth one's time.
--John Bruno Hare, May 22nd, 2004
A Plea for Gaelic