This ballad only appears once in the archive, on a sheet of several Scottish songs. The lyrics that appear on the sheet are:
OSCAR'S GHOST A favourite Scottish song. O see that form that faintly gleams! Tis Oscar come to cheer my dreams; On wings of wind he flies away, O stay my lovely Oscar, stay! Wake Ossian, last of Fingal’s line, And mix thy sighs and tears with mine. Awake the Harp to doleful lays, And soothe my soul with Oscar's praise. The Shell is ceas'd in Oscar's hall. Since gloomy Cairbar wrought thy fall: The roe on Morven lightly bounds, Nor hears the cry of Oscar's hounds.
The broadsheet gives no author or context to the song.
A google search for parts of the lyrics led to the 1843, slightly pretentiously titled, book, ‘The Book of Scottish Song’ by Alexander Whitelaw. In this book the song is attributed to Anne Murray Keith. And the lyrics are given as:
O, SEE that form that faintly gleams! 'Tis Oscar come to cheer my dreams! On wings of wind he files away; O stay, my lovely Oscar, stay ! Wake, Ossian, last of Fingal's line. And mix thy tears and sighs with mine; Awake the harp to doleful lays. And soothe my soul with Oscar's praise. The shell is ceased in Oscar's hall. Since gloomy Kerbar wrought his fall; The roe on Morven lightly bounds, Nor hears the cry of Oscar's hounds.
The only difference from the broadside is the spelling of ‘Kerbar’ and some minor grammatical changes. The description of the song links Anne Keith to Sir Walter Scott and says that she lived from 1736 until 1818.
William Gilpin, a priest, published a tourist guide which included a visit to Dunkeld in Scotland that took place in 1776 (published in 1789). Gilpin describes a visit to Ossian’s cave (which he calls a Hermitage), where he found the following inscription:
Oh! see the form, which faintly gleams: Tis Oscar, come to cheer my dreams, On wreaths of mist it glides away: Oh! Stay, my lovely Oscar, stay. Awake the harp to doleful lays, And soothe my soul with Oscar's praise. Wake, Oscian, last of Fingal's line; And mix thy sighs, and tears with mine. The shell is ceased in Oscar's hall, Since gloomy Cairbar saw thee fall. The roe o'er Morven playful bounds, Nor fears the cry of Oscar's hounds. Thy four grey stones the hunter spies, Peace to the hero's ghost he cries.
These are the lyrics I used for my recording.
Modern tourist guides to Ossians Cave indicate that the existence of the inscription is known, but that it is no longer there. The addition of a final half-stanza and (to my mind) more poetic language in the inscription may suggest that the version in the 1843 was an attempt to recall something heard or read before and the inscription is the original.
The song is undoubtedly about the Poems of Ossian, by James Macpherson. With the characters of Oscar, Ossian and Fingal all parts of what is now mostly accepted as a work of re-imagined Celtic mythology. The entry at the top of this page clearly inspires the final half-stanza about grey stones and hunters:
If fall I must in the field, raise high my grave, Vinvela. Grey stones, and heaped-up earth,
shall mark me to future times. When the hunter shall sit by the mound, and produce his food at noon,
“Some warrior rests here,” he will say ; and my fame shall live in his praise. Remember me, Vinvela, when low on earth I lie.
– (Fingal, James Macpherson, 1762)
The controversy around Fingal and James Macpherson is a whole different subject, but it appears that he presented the 1762 publication as a work of scholarly translation from Gaelic, rather than a work of pure invention.
There is a tantalizing inference here (no longer online, but cached by Google) in a summary of the Keith ancestry, that Anne had converted much more of Ossian into verse.
Sir Walter Scott told me that Miss Anne Keith amused herself in the latter years of her life by translating Macpherson’s "Ossian" into verse.’ She was the authoress also of a song entitled ‘Oscar’s Ghost,’ inserted in Johnson’s ‘Scots’ Musical Museum.’
Anne would have been 40 by 1776 and would have been able to read Fingal when she was 26. Had she began composing poems inspired by Ossian and at some point and graffitied one of them during a pilgrimage to Ossian’s Cave?
The Keith family record also suggests that Walter Scott based his story ‘The Highland Window’ on stories he had been told by Anne and that she was the model for Bethune Baliol.
One of the interesting aspects of these multiple versions is that the spellings of Cairbrie are so different. Macpherson was clearly using known Gaelic historical/mythical figures, but ‘Kerbar’ suggests an attempt to write an unfamiliar word phonetically and ‘Cairbar’ suggests someone who has read Cairbre in Fingal, but forgotten how to spell it.
There is a good chance that other poems and songs by Anne, based on Ossian exist somewhere.