Thursday, 5 February 2015

I thought your book an imposture...

The following is an excerpt from "A Reader's Book of Days" which my friend Zarinah Hayes gave me for Christmas. I found it amusing and thought I should share it with you guys.

1775: Samuel Johnson had long been an irascible skeptic of the "Ossian" poems then taking Europe by storm, which the Scottish poet James Macpherson claimed he had translated from the work of a third-century Gaelic bard. Asked in 1763 whether any modern man could have composed such poetry he growled, "Yes, Sir, many men, many women, and many children." And his final reply in his exchange with the equally fractious Macpherson is legendary: "You want me to retract. What shall I retract? I thought your book an imposture from the beginning...Your rage I defy...and what I have heard of your morals disposes me to pay regard not to what you shall say, but what you can prove." But though most came to agree with Johnson that the poems were a fraud, their popularity only increased, gaining admirers from Goethe and Wordsworth to Jefferson and Napoleon.

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