In John Home’s Douglas and James Macpherson’s Fingal, the inheritance of war from fathers to sons, infighting between brothers, and a warrior’s incessant craving for glory, induce distress to those left after the battles have ceased. In the finale of both texts, Lady Randolph and Ossian are left feeling dejected and solitary, albeit Ossian still has the ability to recite the songs of his heroes, allowing them to persist. Lady Randolph’s situation, on the other hand, is truly hopeless as she finds no reason to live after Douglas’ death, so she kills herself. These endings are unequivocally caused by conflict, and although it may seem like there—because of the woe felt by Lady Randolph and Ossian—is a clear anti-war mentality in the texts, in fact there are differing, often contradictory views presented. It is crucial to first examine the views of inheritance, infighting and obtaining glory in order to comprehend the effects upon Lady Randolph and Ossian. Only after an analysis of these topics will it be shown that conflict, ultimately, is a destructive force, inflicting pain upon Lady Randolph and Ossian.
Inheritance is not always predicated on something tangible. Instead, as both texts exhibit, a father’s fate is to be his son’s as well, a concept first encountered in the preface of Douglas when the narrator states, “And ev’ry hero was a hero’s sire. / When powerful fate decreed one warrior’s doom” (Home 157). Society has constructed the belief that war is the highest social position possible, so those whose fathers were of military glory also wish for the same glory. Conflicts are transferred from father to son, illustrated infallibly in this passage from Fingal: “My soul brightens in danger . . . I am of the race of steel; my fathers never feared” (Macpherson 242). Lady Randolph also discusses inheritance by explaining how after their marriage, Douglas “was call’d / To fight his father’s battles” (Home 164). Young Douglas, although not known initially, has also inherited his father’s lust for conflict and even though he was raised by a shepherd, he longs for the thrill of war. Battle is a family affair illuminated in Fingal as his sons fight alongside him, including Ossian. Glenalvon pushes the idea of inheritance further when he claims, “The children of the slain / Come, as I hope, to meet their father’s fate” (Home 182). He is suggesting that sons will fundamentally meet their father’s fates. Engaging in battle with your fellow countrymen is a fraternity as is indicated when Lord Randolph expresses, “An army knit like ours would pierce it through: / Brothers, that shrink not from each other’s side (Home 184). Fingal addresses his troops as “sons of war” making them brothers in battle, fighting for mother Caledonia (Macpherson 225). After Young Norval learns he is Douglas’ heir, he is eager to rush into battle declaring:
My country’s foes must witness who I am.
On the invaders’ heads I’ll prove my birth,
‘Till friends and foes confess...