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In eighteenth-century Britain, Samuel Johnson famously denounces James Macpherson’s Ossian poems as forgeries, but his friend and biographer, Scotsman James Boswell, evinces greater sympathy for the poems. Johnson and Boswell's divergence in opinion not only reproduces the Ossian controversy in miniature but also exposes a fracture in what we tend to think of as the hegemonic empiricism of the eighteenth century. Thus, in contrast to the dominant narrative about the Age of Enlightenment, Walle examines the possibility that Ossian's appeal lies in a resistance to empiricism and reveals a new (or old) way of knowing that Boswell locates in the oral tradition from which Ossian is supposed to have sprung.
Taylor Walle is a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA in the Department of English. Her dissertation, entitled “Viva Voce: The Living Voice in Literature of the Long Eighteenth Century,” analyzes the perseverance of orality and oral modes of communication in British literature of the 18th century. She is the recipient of the the Chawton House Library Fellowship and the co-coordinator of the Southern California Eighteenth-Century Group. Her work on British literature of the long Eighteenth Century has included discussions of Boswell, Jane Austen, and the epistolary novels of Samuel Richardson and Eliza Haywood.