Sunday 6th March saw the Society’s first gathering of 2016, with a very successful lunch event at the New Club in Edinburgh.
Organised by Council member Sir Iain Fraser, members and their guests travelled the length and breadth of Scotland to meet together, on this occasion to discuss the poet James Macpherson and his controversial works.
Our guest speaker was Dr Kristin Lindfield-Ott of the University of the Highlands and Islands. Originally from Germany, Kristin studied English Literature at the University of Bonn, where her imagination was first fired by the Ossian poems of James Macpherson, whose works inspired such giants of German arts as Goethe, Mendelssohn and Schubert.
Kristin first came to Scotland to read for a MLitt degree at the University of St Andrews, focussing on 18th century literature, before completing a PhD with a thesis on Macpherson and Scottish identity. She is now one of our leading authorities in the field and she led a stimulating discussion on the theme.
Her lecture took us through Macpherson’s fascinating life story, from its beginnings in a black house in Ruthven, Inverness, to its end in the magnificent Georgian mansion he built for himself, not far from the place of his birth. Along the way, he attended the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh (although the record is uncertain as to what he actually did there), becoming part of the literati of Edinburgh and London and eventually serving as a Member of Parliament.
It is, of course, for his Highland poetry that Macpherson is remembered today, particularly for the Ossianic literature which continues to attract such heated debate. Kristin is scathing, though, about those who claim Macpherson was simply a forger who made the whole lot up, pointing out those who take that simplistic view do not understand Gaelic culture and the importance of oral tradition within it. She acknowledges, however, that Macpherson increasingly resorted to invention as his success grew, which turned his erstwhile supporters, notably David Hume, against him.
We are grateful to Kristin for a most enlightening afternoon. As the President, Lady Noble, said in her vote of thanks, the Society looks forward to welcoming her again.
The Society’s next gathering will be a day out at Newtonmore, where we will visit the award winning Highland Folk Museum, Britain’s oldest open air museum, before going on to the Clan Macpherson Museum, which the Society supports with an annual grant. Council member Angus Macpherson of Biallid and his wife Valerie have, most generously, invited us to their house for lunch, after which we will explore the Coffin Road. This is the ancient route by which the dead were taken across the River Spey to the cemetery, which stands on the site of a very early Christian cell. The Society funded new signage for the Coffin Road in 2014. Details will be circulated later in the Spring.