On ”The Poems of Ossian” and Baltic German Ossianism. Part 1

Keywords: Baltic German, Ossianism, Estonia, collections, literary history, James Macpherson

This paper takes a look at the Baltic German reception of “The Poems of Ossian”. For the Baltic Germans, it seems to have been the most important work of lyrical literature written in English. First, a short summary of Macpherson’s project, its literary innovations and reception in Europe is given, which is followed by an overview of the preserved editions in the cultural historical collections of Estonian research libraries. As Baltic Germans mostly read in German, the greatest focus lies on German editions, but also some French and Italian translations can be found. Of course, the text was read in the original language as well. The Baltic German reception seems to have begun in the 1770s and it continued until the Umsiedlung (departure of Baltic Germans from Estonia and Latvia, 1939–1941). At the beginning of the reception stood not the work of Macpherson himself, but some examples of German Barden­dichtung. Also, a few Macpherson-epigones such as Edmund von Harold were popular. Another influential person was Herder with his concept of popular song (Volks­lied), which was based on his reading of “The Poems of Ossian”. The work was read by lawyers, estate owners, pastors, teachers and professors, but it was also found in public and school libraries, as well as libraries of student fraternities. Part two of the article concentrates on the Ossianistic works by Baltic Germans themselves.


Kairit Kaur (b. 1978), PhD, Academic Library of Tallinn University, Research Fellow (Rävala pst 10, 15042 Tallinn); Chair of Comparative Literature of the University of Tartu, Research Fellow,,