Activity: Participating in or organising an event types › Participation in conference
Conference paper given: "‘Much Curious Knowledge’ – an English Quaker in Search of Ossian"
The English antiquarian Thomas Ford Hill travelled in the Scottish Highlands in 1780 intending to ascertain the truth behind Macpherson’s Ossian. His findings appeared first in the Gentleman’s Magazine and then in a privately published pamphlet. In his account, he reveals himself as a precise and well-informed observer who approaches his task with both curiosity and impartiality. Although Hill himself spoke no Gaelic he went to considerable lengths to acquire Gaelic ballad texts mainly from oral sources, and to have some of them translated for him; in some instances, where he was not able to obtain the original Gaelic, he provides a summary or a translation only.
These texts, all dealing with Fionn mac Cumhaill and his companions, are comparable to other versions preserved in the manuscript record of the eighteenth century. Hill is careful to give at least some background information on the ballad singers he encountered, notably his main source Alexander MacNab, the blacksmith of Dalmally. In his assessment of the texts and lore he encountered on his travels, Hill shows himself as a careful observer who is determined not to let himself be drawn unquestioningly into the entrenched positions of the Ossianic controversy. Not all of his observations and conclusions stand up to close scrutiny today but on the whole his is a clear and independent voice in the debate.