29 October 2015

Query

I read somewhere recently ... it may have been in one of the reviews of the current London exhibition on the 'Celts' ...  that the eighteenth century Scotch forgery The Poems of Ossian (through which Dr Johnson so memorably saw: "But Dr Johnson: could any man have forged such sublime poetry?" "Yes, Sir; any man ... and any woman ... and any child ... "), was credulously praised as some of the greatest literature ever written, by Napoleon and Jefferson and by quite a lot of other easily duped fools.

Napoleon I have heard of, because I have visited, and, by kind permission of Father Abbot, said Mass in the splendid Church at Farnborough Abbey where members of his family are buried. I have even enjoyed a biography of the Empress Eugenie, his relative by marriage, and admired some of the superb benefactions she made to cathedrals and churches.

I gather Napoleon himself, however, was an opinionated foreigner, self-absorbed, who fancied himself enough to compose 'Constitutions' which expressed what his admirers considered his greatness as a political philosopher; who created problems from which the world is still suffering. I gather he was sexually incontinent and made himself unpleasant to Catholic clergy.

But who is this Jefferson?

22 comments:

Philothea said...

Thomas Jefferson, American President?

FrKing said...

On this side of the Atlantic, we would assume that the reference is to Thomas Jefferson, revolutionary, President, author of Constiutional Law, and founder of the University of Virginia.
Infamous amongst Christians for the "Jefferson Bible -- an Authorized Version from which he snipped any miraculous bits.

Liam Ronan said...

I believe it is Thomas Jefferson, a US statesman and President.

Titus said...

Well, whatever else he might have been, he was not incontinent.

Belfry Bat said...

Is Fr. rhetoricizing? For the Jefferson that comes to mind was an opinionated... foreign-enough a fellow... perhaps may have been self-absorbed, certainly fancied himself enough to compose 'Constitutions' but more: insited every Constitution must be torn up after a generation! On his eternal authority, there shall be NO Traditions! And yes, he may very well have been unpleasant to Catholic clergy. I don't recall re. continence (merely of the Continental Congresses...)

Sadie Vacantist said...

Thomas of that ilk but the Americans will provide lower level knowledge. They might wish to clarify if it was Andrew Jackson who claimed that America's constitution (of which TJ was the main author) was flawed because it was predicated on its adherents being Christian.

Paulusmaximus said...

The Jefferson in question is Thomas Jefferson the 3rd US President. Dr Johnson said of MacPherson's 'translations' of tales from old Gaelic sources (i.e. Irish and highland Scots) that: 'Any man could write this stuff -- if he would stoop to it'

Pax Britannica said...

I think it is more than slightly disingenuous to describe the Emperor Napoleon III as being merely the 'family' of his uncle, being a most illustrious successor and despite some errors and some misfortunes (which is why he, his Empress, and his son now rest at Farnborough) was perhaps the most successful and competent ruler of France since Louis XIV, without the severe over-reach and magalomania of his uncle.

Thomas said...

Thomas Jefferson the second President of the United States.

"Thomas Jefferson did not write many poems, although he had a great appreciation for poetry. He read and quoted widely from poets such as Homer, Virgil, John Dryden, and John Milton. Ossian was a special source of pleasure." (http://loc.gov/rr/program/bib/prespoetry/tj.html)

He was tutored by a Scots Presbyterian minster as a boy - hence the "Celtic" connection.

Seamus said...

I believe he's that fellow who's often cited about a "wall of separation between church and state," as if that remark, in a private letter, was an infallible statement ex cathedra regarding the proper interpretation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but who as president sent to the U.S. Senate for ratification a treaty that provided for a stipend to be paid by the U.S. government to a Catholic priest who was ministering to the Kaskaskia Indians: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2011/04/19/david-barton-on-thomas-jefferson-the-kaskaskia-indians/

Tony V said...

All wrong. Clearly the reference is to Jefferson Davis, the first and so far only president of the CSA.

GOR said...

I think Father was being rhetorical, people.

I’m sure he was not thinking of Jefferson Airplane – a sometime rock band which also performed in Britain - and none of whose ‘hits’ I can now recall, if I ever knew of them…

Romulus said...

For what it's worth, in the summer of 1804 there was an exchange of letters between President Jefferson and Sr. Therese de St. Xavier Farjon, superior of the Ursuline nuns in the recently-acquired city of New Orleans. In his reply, President Jefferson assures the Ursulines that their rights would be "preserved to you sacred and inviolate... without interference from the civil authority." The civil authority in these parts is no longer what it used to be. Neither for that matter are the Ursulines.

J said...

We have a school here under that name: Colegio Thomas Jefferson. I wonder if they have a Juan Domingo Perón College in the States. I hope not!
Anyway, I just wonder how many time we have to wait to see a Colegio Barack Hussein Obama here. We have a fancy for that sort of things.

Titus said...

Thomas Jefferson was not the primary author of the United States Constitution. The work of James Madison was a far more substantial contribution. Indeed, Jefferson was not even in the country at the time the Constitution was drafted and ratified, as he was serving as minister to France for United States government under the country's first constitution, the Articles of Confederation.

Jefferson was the primary draftsman of the Declaration of Independence, an earlier and substantially different document.

As for the question of his incontinence vel non, Jefferson gained widespread posthumous notoriety some years ago in the U.S. (in addition to his longstanding, much more favorable fame as a "founding father") when it was demonstrated via DNA tests that there are numerous people living who are descendants of both Jefferson and one of his female slaves.

CE Lathrop said...

According to Robert Sobel's history of North America from the failed colonial rebellion of 1775-1778, Jefferson was one of the intellectual leaders of the American rebellion, having had a major hand in the drafting of what the rebels called "The Declaration of Independence." Of the 56 signers of that document, Jefferson was one of seven who were tried, convicted, and executed in London.

Robert Sobel, For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga (London: Greenhill, 1973).

Figulus said...

This Jefferson too was an opinionated alienator, self-absorbed, who fancied himself extremely highly, enough to bowdlerize the Bible and to compose a Constitution which expressed what his admirers consider his greatness as a political philospher, who created problems from which the world is still suffering. He too was sexually incontinent. But he made himself the opposite of unpleasant to Roman Catholic clergy in his home state of Virginia by authoring the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which gave relief to Roman Catholics and many others from the harsh legal penalties which had been imposed on them.

In his charming little country home of Montecello, this Jefferson, oddly enough, kept a bust of Napoleon opposite his cherished bust of Alexander of Russia. The good Tsar represented virtue to Jefferson; Napoleon, its opposite. So you see, this Jefferson wasn't all bad.

(If you are ever in Virginia, do stop by the old place and see them. They are still there and well worth seeing, as is the rest of the estate.)

As for his well known and quite extreme love for Ossian, I have little to say, being still unfamiliar with the bard myself. But the expsoure of the forgery hardly diminished his great love for the poems themselves, however un-ancient they turned out to be. It did however, diminish his zeal for learning Gaelic so to dive into the non-existent "originals". So far as I know he never added that language to his lengthy resume. Jefferson may, however, have enjoyed reading Ossian in his beloved Italian; they say that Melchiore Cesarotti's translation from the English improved upon the original.

Sadie Vacantist said...

The whole Church v State issue is the reason for the American failure in the ME, North Africa and Mesopotamia. Of couse, the West German experiment is the template for all of this and the Catholic Church has been in the firing line ever since. With German "feologians" acting as agents for this American century project, it is baffling how none of the popes have made the link. A little self-irony from the German hierarchy might assist them of course but seventy years after being bombed to bits it is too soon for that, I guess.

Tony V said...

Romulus, but surely the South will rise again? Don't know about the Ursulines.

CE Lathrop said...

Titus is spot-on. I never cease to marvel at how many people think Jefferson had a hand in the formulation of the American Constitution....it was actually a good thing he was out of the country at the time..

Belfry Bat said...

Dear GOR,
"When the truth is found to be lies/And all the joy within you dies..."

Banshee said...

A lot of people liked Ossian. I've read a little of it, and it isn't bad as 18th century Celtic story collections go. It does accurately reproduce the tone of a lot of real 18th century translations of Gaelic, and it does sorta follow the real Fenian stuff. Also it helps with a lot of references in literature.

Of course, the really hard work is to collate between the Fenian names we are familiar with, and the bizarre spellings that Macpherson chose to use.

So if you're the kind of person who doesn't mind reading reprints of the 18th and 19th century, pre-Tolkien fantasy in the old Ace Adult Fantasy collection, Ossian is probably up your alley.