Today in 1736, James Macpherson was born in Inverness, Scotland. He became a poet and politician, but what Frances Rolleston knew him for, and what he is best remembered for even today, was a deception.
Macpherson collected old Gallic poetry manuscripts, and his collection was impressive enough that money was raised to help him with his research. Then at age 25 he announced the discovery of an epic from the 3rd century. He published his own translation of this epic which he called Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books, together with Several Other Poems composed by Ossian, the Son of Fingal, translated from the Gaelic Language.
Since there was no other Gallic work earlier than the 10th century, it gained attention and became an immediate controversy. The Irish historian Charles O'Conor, among others, noted technical errors in chronology and in the forming of Gaelic names, among other questionable things, which Macpherson could not defend. He never produced the "manuscripts" in question.
However, at least one child enjoyed Macpherson's book. Ten-year-old Frances Rolleston discovered the epic in her old cousin's library (she had been sent to her cousin for three years after the death of her mother), and it made a great, impression on her young mind. She "devoured it," she said, for after all, there she was living in Ossianic country (Yorkshire). But her cousin's daughter took the book away from her, saying that the child was too romantic already.
October 20, 1853 an article or a letter by Frances Rolleston about William Blake appeared in London's Patriot newspaper. I would like to have a copy of what she wrote. (Although the source is searchable, I haven't the time today to search.) Blake was a most interesting artist, writer, and poet, considered a lunatic by some, and unappreciated during most of his lifetime. He died in 1827. What did Frances really think of his work? Click on the image for a link to others of his work.
This week in 1861, Frances at 80 years of age was suffering from "excited nerves." This condition prevented her from working on her book—or doing much of anything. Two days later she was completely revived.
This experience was due to a personality trait which Frances called the “poet-element.” To a friend who suffered similarly she wrote, “I cannot tell you what your sympathy is to me, you alone enter into the poet-element which so intensifies reality, every-day life, into over excitement, over depression.” She often gave in to the intense feelings of this poet-element, and found it too difficult to act apart from them.
This particular October, she suffered from “excited nerves,” received “a bracing affusion” from a friend’s note, and had “a complete bath of reviving influence” from a friend’s visit—all in one weekend.
November brought a sudden resumption of work. By December, she was working herself very hard, and believing it the best thing for her. However, before the month was out her spirits were again sinking and her nerves irritated. Every exertion seemed too much.
The Keswick doctor told her that he did not see why she should not live nine or ten years longer, and Frances herself pointed out that many painters, and more Bible students, lived and worked longer than she had. But in spite of this affirmation, Frances seemed unable to overcome that trait which carried her in a cycle from hard work to fatigue to discouragement—sometimes illness—and inability to work, to rest and encouragement and back to hard work.