James Macpherson

1736 - 1796


The Poems of Ossian








A critical dissertation

on the poems of Ossian,

the son of Fingal.

by Hugh Blair, D. D.

One of the Ministers of the High Church

and Professor of Rhetoric and

Belles Lettres, Edinburgh.


AMONG the monuments remaining of the ancient ſtate of nations, few are more valuable than their poems or ſongs. Hiſtory, when it treats of remote or dark ages, is ſeldom very inſtructive. The beginnings of ſociety, in every country, are involved in fabulous confuſion; and though they were not, they would furniſh few events worth recording. But, in every period of ſociety, human manners are a curious ſpectacle; and the moſt natural pictures of ancient manners are exhibited in the ancient poems of nations. Theſe preſent to us what is much more valuable than the hiſtory of ſuch tranſactions as a rude age can afford—the hiſtory of human imagination and paſſion. They make us acquainted with the notions and feelings of our fellow creatures in the moſt artleſs ages; Diſcovering what objects they admired, and what pleaſures they purſued, before thoſe refinements of ſociety had taken place, which enlarge, indeed, and diverſify the tranſactions, but diſguiſe the manners of mankind. Beſides this merit which ancient poems have with philoſophical obſervers of human nature, they have another with perſons of taſte. They promiſe ſome of the higheſt beauties of poetical writing. Irregular and unpoliſhed we may expect the production of uncultivated ages to be; but abounding, at the ſame time, with that enthuſiaſm, that vehemence and fire, which are the ſoul of poetry: for many circumſtances of thoſe times which we call barbarous, are favorable to the poetical ſpirit. That ſtate, in which human nature ſhoots wild and free, though unfit for other improvements, certainly encourages the high exertions of fancy and paſſion.

In the infancy of ſocieties, men live ſcattered and diſperſed in the midſt of ſolitary rural ſcenes, where the beauties of nature are their chief entertainment. They meet with many objects to them new and ſtrange; their wonder and ſurpriſe are frequently excited; and by the ſudden changes of fortune occurring in their unſettled ſtate of life, their paſſions are raiſed to the utmoſt; their paſſions have nothing to reſtrain them, their imagination has nothing to check it. They diſplay themſelves to one another without diſguiſe, and converſe and act in the uncovered ſimplicity of nature. As their feelings are ſtrong, ſo their language, of itſelf, aſſumes a poetical turn. Prone to exaggerate, they deſcribe everything in the ſtrongeſt colors; which of courſe renders their ſpeech pictureſque and figurative. Figurative language owes its riſe chiefly to two cauſes; to the want of proper names for objects, and to the influence of imagination and paſſion over the form of expreſſion. Both theſe cauſes concur in the infancy of ſociety. Figures are commonly conſidered as artificial modes of ſpeech, deviſed by orators and poets, after the world had advanced to a refined ſtate. The contrary of this is the truth. Men never have uſed ſo many figures of ſtyle as in thoſe rude ages, when, beſides the power of a warm imagination to ſuggeſt lively images, the want of proper and preciſe terms for the ideas they would expreſs, obliged them to have recourſe to circumlocution, metaphor, compariſon, and all thoſe ſubſtituted forms of expreſſion, which give a poetical air to language. An American chief, at this day, harangues at the head of his tribe in a more bold and metaphorical ſtyle than a modern European would adventure to uſe in an epic poem.

In the progreſs of ſociety, the genius and manners of men undergo a change more favorable to accuracy than to ſprightlineſs and ſublimity. As the world advances, the underſtanding gains ground upon the imagination; the underſtanding is more exerciſed; the imagination, leſs. Fewer objects occur that are new or ſurpriſing. Men apply themſelves to trace the cauſes of things; they correct and refine one another; they ſubdue or diſguiſe their paſſions; they form their exterior manners upon one uniform ſtandard of politeneſs and civility. Human nature is pruned according to method and rule. Language advances from ſterility to copiouſneſs, and at the ſame time from fervor and enthuſiaſm, to correctneſs and preciſion. Style becomes more chaſte, but leſs animated. The progreſs of the world in this reſpect reſembles the progreſs of age in man. The powers of imagination are moſt vigorous and predominant in youth; thoſe of the underſtanding ripen more ſlowly, and often attain not to their maturity till the imagination begins to flag. Hence poetry, which is the child of imagination, is frequently moſt glowing and animated in the firſt ages of ſociety As the ideas of our youth are remembered with a peculiar pleaſure, on account of their livelineſs and vivacity, ſo the moſt ancient poems have often proved the greateſt favorites of nations. Poetry has been ſaid to be more ancient than proſe; and, however paradoxical ſuch an aſſertion may ſeem, yet, in a qualified ſenſe, it is true. Men certainly never converſed with one another in regular numbers; but even their ordinary language would, in ancient times, for the reaſons before aſſigned, approach to a poetical ſtyle; and the firſt compoſitions tranſmitted to poſterity, beyond doubt, were, in a literal ſenſe, poems; that is, compoſitions in which imagination had the chief hand, formed into ſome kind of numbers, and pronounced with a muſical modulation or tone. Muſic or ſong has been found coeval with ſociety among the moſt barbarous nations. The only ſubjects which could prompt men, in their firſt rude ſtate, to utter their thoughts in compoſitions of any length, were ſuch as naturally aſſumed the tone of poetry; praiſes of their gods, or of their anceſtors; commemorations of their own warlike exploits, or lamentations over their miſfortunes. And, before writing was invented, no other compoſitions, except ſongs or poems, could take ſuch hold of the imagination and memory, as to be pre. ſerved by oral tradition, and handed down from one race to another.

Hence we may expect to find poems among the antiquities of all nations. It is probable, too, that an extenſive ſearch would diſcover a certain degree of reſemblance among all the moſt ancient poetical productions, from whatever country they have proceeded. In a ſimilar ſtate of manners, ſimilar objects and paſſions, operating upon the imaginations of men, will ſtamp their productions with the ſame general character. Some diverſity will, no doubt, be occaſioned by climate and genius. But mankind never bear ſuch reſembling features as they do in the beginnings of ſociety. Its ſubſequent revolutions give riſe to the principal diſtinctions among nations; and divert, into channels widely ſeparated, that current of human genius and manners which deſcends originally from one ſpring. What we have been long accuſtomed to call the oriental vein of poetry, becauſe ſome of the earlieſt poetical productions have come to us from the eaſt, is probably no more oriental than Occidental: it is characteriſtical of an age rather than a country, and belongs, in ſome meaſure, to all nations at a certain period. Of this the works of Oſſian ſeem to furniſh a remarkable proof.

Our preſent ſubject leads us to inveſtigate the ancient poetical remains, not ſo much of the eaſt, or of the Greeks and Romans, as of the northern nations, in order to diſcover whether the Gothic poetry has any reſemblance to the Celtic or Gaelic, which we are about to conſider. Though the Goths, under which name we uſually comprehend all the Scandinavian tribes, were a people altogether fierce and martial, and noted, to a proverb for their ignorance of the liberal arts, yet they too, from the earlieſt times, had their poets and their ſongs. Their poets were diſtinguiſhed by the title of Scalders, and their ſongs were termed Vyſes. Saxo Grammaticus, a Daniſh hiſtorian of conſiderable note, who flouriſhed in the thirteenth century, informs us, that very many of theſe ſongs, containing the ancient traditionary ſtories of the country, were found engraven upon rocks in the old Runic character, ſeveral of which he, has tranſlated into Latin, and inſerted into his hiſtory. But his verſions are plainly ſo paraphiaſtical, and forced into ſuch an imitation of the ſtyle and the meaſures of the Roman poets, that one can form no judgment from them of the native ſpirit of the original. A more curious monument of the true Gothic poetry is preſerved by Olaus Wormius in his book de Literatura Runica. It is an epicedium, or funeral ſong, compoſed by Regner Lodbrog, and tranſlated by Olaus, word for word, from the original. This Lodbrog was a king of Denmark, who lived in the eighth century, famous for his wars and victories; and at the ſame time an eminent ſcalder, or poet. It was his miſfortune to fall at laſt into the hands of one of his enemies, by whom he was thrown into priſon, and condemned to he deſtroyed by ſerpents. In this ſituation he ſolaced himſelf with rehearſing all the exploits of his life. The poem is divided into twenty-nine ſtanzas, of ten lines each; and every ſtanza begins with theſe words, “Pugnavimus enſibus,” We have fought with our ſwords. Olauſ's verſion is in many places ſo obſcure as to be hardly intelligible. I have ſubjoined the whole below, exactly as he has publiſhed it 1); and ſhall tranſlate as much as may give the Engliſh reader an idea of the ſpirit and ſtrain of this kind of poetry.

“We have fought with our ſwords. I was young. when, towards the eaſt, in the bay of Oreon, we made torrents of blood flow, to gorge the ravenous beaſt of prey, and the yellow-footed bird. There reſounded the hard ſteel upon the lofty helmets of men. The whole ocean was one wound. The crow waded in the blood of the ſlain. When we had numbered twenty years, we lifted our ſpears on high, and everywhere ſpread our renown. Eight barons we overcame in the eaſt, before the port of Diminum; and plentifully we feaſted the eagle in that ſlaughter. The warm ſtream of wounds ran into the ocean. The army fell before us. When we ſteered our ſhips into the mouth of the Viſtula, we ſent the Helſingians to the hall of Odin. Then did the ſword bite. The waters were all one wound. The earth was dyed red with the warm ſtream. The ſword rung upon the coats of mail, and clove the bucklers in twain. None fled on that day, till among his ſhips Heraudus fell. Than him no braver baron cleaves the ſea with ſhips; a cheerful heart did he ever bring to the combat. Then the hoſt threw away. their ſhields, when the uplifted ſpear flew at the breaſt of heroes. The ſword bit the Scarflan rocks; bloody was the ſhield in battle, until Rafno the king was ſlain. From the heads of warriors the warm ſweat ſtreamed down their armor. The crows around the Indirian iſlands had an ample prey. It were difficult to ſingle out one among ſo many deaths. At the riſing of the ſun I beheld the ſpears piercing the bodies of foes, and the bows throwing forth their ſteel-pointed arrows. Loud roared the ſwords in the plains of Lano.—The virgin long bewailed the ſlaughter of that morning.”—In this ſtrain the poet continues to deſcribe ſeveral other military exploits. The images are not much varied: the noiſe of arms, the ſtreaming of blood, and the feaſting the birds of prey often recurring. He mentions the death of two of his ſons in battle; and the lamentation he deſcribes as made for one of them is very ſingular. A Grecian or a Roman poet would have introduced the virgins or nymphs of the wood bewailing the untimely fall of a young hero. But, ſays our Gothic poet, “When Rogvaldus was ſlain, for him mourned all the hawks of heaven,” as lamenting a benefactor who had ſo liberally ſupplied them with prey; “for boldly,” as he adds, “in the ſtrife of ſwords did the breaker of helmets throw the ſpear of blood.”

The poem concludes with ſentiments of the higheſt bravery and contempt of death. “What is more certain to the brave man than death, though amidſt the ſtorm of ſwords he ſtands always ready to oppoſe it? He only regrets this life who hath never known diſtreſs. The timorous man allures the, devouring eagle to the field of battle. The coward, wherever he comes, is uſeleſs to himſelf. This I eſteem honorable, that the youth ſhould advance to the combat fairly matched one againſt another; nor man retreat from man. Long was this the warrior's higheſt glory. He who aſpires to the love of virgins, ought always to be foremoſt in the roar of arms. It appears to me, of truth, that we are led by the Fates. Seldom can any overcome the appointment of deſtiny. Little did I foreſee that Ella was to have my life in his hands, in that day when fainting I concealed my blood, and puſhed forth my ſhips into the waves; after we had ſpread a repaſt for the beaſts of prey throughout the Scottiſh bays. But this makes me always rejoice, that in the halls of our father Balder [or Odin] I know there are ſeats prepared, where, in a ſhort time, we ſhall be drinking ale out of the hollow ſkulls of our enemies. In the houſe of the mighty Odin, no brave man laments death. I come not with the voice of deſpair to Odin's hall. How eagerly would all the ſons of Aſlauga now ruſh to war, did they know the diſtreſs of their father, whom a multitude of venomous ſerpents tear! I have given to my children a mother who hath filled their hearts with valor. I am faſt approaching to my end. A cruel death awaits me from the viper's bite. A ſnake dwells in the midſt of my heart. I hope that the ſword of ſome of my ſons ſhall yet be ſtained with the blood of Ella. The valiant youths will wax red with anger, and will not ſit in peace. Fifty and one times have I reared the ſtandard in battle. In my youth I learned to dye the ſword in blood: my hope was then that no king among men would be more renowned than me. The goddeſſes of death will now ſoon call me; I muſt not mourn my death. Now I end my ſong. The goddeſſes invite me away; they whom Odin has ſent to me from his hall. I will ſit upon a lofty ſeat, and drink ale joyfully with the goddeſſes of death. The hours of my life are run out. I will ſmile when I die.”

This is ſuch poetry as we might expect from a barbarous nation. It breathes a moſt ferocious ſpirit. It is wild, harſh, and irregular; but at the ſame time animated and ſtrong; the ſtyle in the original, full of inverſions, and, as we learn from ſome of Olauſ's notes, highly metaphorical and figured.

But when we open the works of Oſſian, a very different ſcene preſents itſelf. There we find the fire and enthuſiaſm of the moſt early times, combined with an amazing, degree of regularity and art. We find tenderneſs, and even delicacy of ſentiment, greatly predominant over fierceneſs and barbarity. Our hearts are melted with the ſofteſt feelings, and at the ſame time elevated with the higheſt ideas of magnanimity, generoſity, and true heroiſm. When we turn from the poetry of Lodbrog to that of Oſſian, it is like paſſing from a ſavage deſert into a fertile and cultivated country. How is this to be accounted for? or by what means to be reconciled with the remote antiquity attributed to theſe poems? This is a curious point, and requires to be illuſtrated.

That the ancient Scots were of Celtic original, is paſt all doubt. Their conformity with the Celtic nations in language, manners, and religion, proves it to a full demonſtration. The Celtæ, a great and mighty people, altogether diſtinct from the Goths and Teutones, once extended their dominion over all the weſt of Europe; but ſeem to have had their moſt full and complete eſtabliſhment in Gaul, Wherever the Celtæ or Gauls are mentioned by ancient writers, we ſeldom fall to hear of their Druids and their Bards; the inſtitution of which two orders was the capital diſtinction of their manners and policy. The druids were their philoſophers and prieſts; the bards their poets and recorders of heroic actions; and, both theſe orders of men ſeem to have ſubſiſted among them, as chief members of the ſtate, from time immemorial. We muſt not therefore imagine' the Celtæ to have been altogether a groſs and rude nation. They poſſeſſed from very remote ages a formed ſyſtem of diſcipline and manners, which appears to have had a deep and laſting influence Ammianus Marcellinus gives them this expreſs teſtimony, that there flouriſhed among them the ſtudy of the moſt laudable arts, introduced by the bards, whoſe office it was to ſing in heroic verſe the gallant actions of illuſtrious men; and by the druids, who lived together in colleges, or ſocieties, after the Pythagorean manner, and, philoſophizing upon the higheſt ſubjects, aſſerted the immortality of the human ſoul. Though Julius Cæſar, in his account of Gaul, does not expreſſly mention the bards, yet it is plain that, under the title of Druids, he comprehends that whole college or order; of which the bards, who, it is probable, were the diſciples of the druids, undoubtedly made a part. It deſerves remark, that, according to his account, the druidical inſtitution firſt took riſe in Britain, and paſſed from thence into Gaul; ſo that they who aſpires to be thorough maſters of that learning, were wont to reſort to Britain. He adds, too, that ſuch as were to be initiated among the druids, were obliged to commit to their memory a great number of verſes, inſomuch that ſome employed twenty years in this courſe of education; and that they did not think it lawful to record thoſe poems in writing, but ſacredly handed them down by tradition from race to race.

So ſtrong was the attachment of the Celtic nations to their poetry and bards, that, amidſt all the changes of their government and manners, even long after the order of the druids was extinct, and the national religion altered, the bards continued to flouriſh; not as a ſet of ſtrolling ſongſters, like the Greek Αοιδοι, or Rhapſodiſts, in Homer's time, but as an order of men highly reſpected in the ſtate, and ſupported by a public eſtabliſhment. We find them, according to the teſtimonies of Strabo and Diodorus, before the age of Auguſtus Cæſar; and we find them remaining under the ſame name, and exerciſing the ſame functions as of old, in Ireland, and in the north of Scotland, almoſt down to our own times. It is well known, that in both theſe countries every regulus or chief had his own bard, who was conſidered as an officer of rank in his court; and had lands aſſigned him, which deſcended to his family. Of the honor in which the bards were held, many inſtances occur in Oſſian's Poems. On all important occaſions they were the ambaſſadors between contending chiefs; and their perſons were held ſacred. “Cairbar feared to ſtretch his ſword to the bards, though his ſoul was dark. 'Looſe the bards,' ſaid his brother Cathmor, 'they are the ſons of other times. Their voice ſhall be heard in other ages, when the kings of Temora have failed.'”

From all this, the Celtic tribes clearly appear to have been addicted in ſo high a degree to poetry, and to have made it ſo much their ſtudy from the earlieſt times, as may remove our wonder at meeting with a vein of higher poetical refinement among them, than was at firſt to have been expected among nations whom we are accuſtomed to call barbarous. Barbarity, I muſt obſerve, is a very equivocal term; it admits of many different forms and degrees; and though, in all of them, it excludes poliſhed manners, it is, however, not inconſiſtent with generous ſentiments and tender affections. What degrees of friendſhip, love, and heroiſm may poſſibly be found to prevail in a rude ſtate of ſociety, no one can ſay. Aſtoniſhing inſtances of them we know, from hiſtory, have ſometimes appeared; and a few characters, diſtinguiſhed by thoſe high qualities, might lay a foundation for a ſet of manners being introduced into the ſongs of the bards, more refined, it is probable, and exalted, according to the uſual poetical licenſe, than the real manners of the country.

In particular, with reſpect to heroiſm; the great employment of the Celtic bards was to delineate the characters, and ſing the praiſes of heroes. So Lucan—

Vos quoque qui fortes animos, belloque peremptos,

Laudibus in longum vates diffunditis ævum

Plurima ſecuri fudiſtis carmina bardi.—Phars. l. 1.

Now when we conſider a college or order of men, who, cultivating poetry throughout a long ſeries of ages, had their imaginations continually employed on the ideas of heroiſm; who had all the poems and panegyrics, which were compoſed by their predeceſſors, handed down to them with care; who rivalled and endeavored to outſtrip thoſe who had gone before them, each in the celebration of his particular hero; is it not natural to think, that at length the character of a hero would appear in their ſongs with the higheſt luſtre, and be adorned with qualities truly noble? Some of the qualities indeed which diſtinguiſh a Fingal, moderation, humanity, and clemency, would not probably be the firſt ideas of heroiſm occurring to a barbarous people: but no ſooner had ſuch ideas begun to dawn on the minds of poets, than, as the human mind eaſily opens to the native repreſentations of human perfection, they would be ſeized and embraced; they would enter into their panegyrics; they would afford materials for ſucceeding bards to work upon and improve; they would contribute not a little to exalt the public manners. For ſuch ſongs as theſe, familiar to the Celtic warriors from their childhood, and, throughout their whole life, both in war and in peace, their principal entertainment, muſt have had a very conſiderable influence in propagating among them real manners, nearly approaching to the poetical; and in forming even ſuch a hero as Fingal. Eſpecially when we conſider, that among their limited objects of ambition, among the few advantages which, in a ſavage ſtate, man could obtain over man, the chief was fame, and that immortality which they expected to receive from their virtues and exploits, in ſongs of bards.

Having made theſe remarks on the Celtic poetry and bards in general, I ſhall next conſider the particular advantages which Oſſian poſſeſſed. He appears clearly to have lived in a period which enjoyed all the benefit I juſt now mentioned of traditionary poetry. The exploits of Trathal, Trenmor, and the other anceſtors of Fingal, are ſpoken of as familiarly known. Ancient bards are frequently alluded to. In one remarkable paſſage Oſſian deſcribes himſelf as living in a ſort of claſſical age, enlightened by the memorials of former times, which were conveyed in the ſongs of bards; and points at a period of darkneſs and ignorance which lay beyond the reach of tradition. “His words,” ſays he, “Came only by halves to our ears; they were dark as the tales of other times, before the light of the ſong aroſe.” Oſſian himſelf appears to have been endowed by nature with an exquiſite ſenſibility of heart; prone to that tender melancholy which is ſo often an attendant on great genius: and ſuſceptible equally of ſtrong and of ſoft emotion. He was not only a profeſſed bard, educated with care, as we may eaſily believe, to all the poetical art then known, and connected, as he ſhows us himſelf, in intimate friendſhip with the other contemporary bards, but a warrior alſo; and the ſon of the moſt renowned hero and prince of his age. This formed a conjunction of circumſtances uncommonly favorable towards exalting the imagination of a poet. He relates expeditions in which he had been engaged; he ſings of battles in which he had fought and overcome; he had beheld the moſt illuſtrious ſcenes which that age could exhibit, both of heroiſm in war and magnificence in peace. For however rude the magnificence of thoſe times may ſeem to us, we muſt remember, that all ideas of magnificence are comparative; and that the age of Fingal was an æra of diſtinguiſhed ſplendor in that part of the world. Fingal reigned over a conſiderable territory; he was enriched with the ſpoils of the Roman province; he was ennobled by his victories and great actions; and was in all reſpects a perſonage of much higher dignity than any of the chieftains, or heads of clans, who lived in the ſame country, after a more extenſive monarchy was eſtabliſhed,

The manners of Oſſian's age, ſo far as we can gather them from his writings, were abundantly favorable to a poetical genius. The two diſpiriting vices, to which Longinus imputes the decline of poetry, covetouſneſs and effeminacy, were as yet unknown. The cares of men were few. They lived a roving indolent life; hunting and war their principal employments; and their chief amuſements, the muſic of bards, and the feaſt of ſhells.” The great objects purſued by heroic ſpirits, was “to receive their fame;” that is, to become worthy of being celebrated in the ſongs of bards; and “to have their name on the four gray ſtones.” To die unlamented by a bard, was deemed ſo great a miſfortune as even to diſturb their ghoſts in another ſtate. They wander in thick miſts beſide the reedy lake but never ſhall they riſe, without the ſong, to the dwelling of winds.” After death, they expected to follow employments of the ſame nature with thoſe which had amuſed them on earth; to fly with their friends on clouds, to purſue airy deer, and to liſten to their praiſe in the mouths of bards. In ſuch times as theſe, in a country where poetry had been ſo long cultivated, and ſo highly honored, is it any wonder that, among the race and ſucceſſion of bards, one Homer ſhould ariſe: a man, who, endowed with a natural happy genius, favored with peculiar advantages of birth and condition, and meeting, in the courſe of his life, with a variety of incidents proper to fire his imagination, and to touch his heart, ſhould attain a degree of eminence in poetry, worthy to draw the admiration of more refined ages?

The compoſitions of Oſſian are ſo ſtrongly marked with characters of antiquity, that although there were no external proof to ſupport that antiquity, hardly any reader of judgment and taſte could heſitate in referring them to a very remote æra. There are four great ſtages through which men ſucceſſively paſs in the progreſs of ſociety. The firſt and earlieſt is the life of hunters; paſturage ſucceeds to this, as the ideas of property begin to take root; next agriculture; and, laſtly, commerce. Throughout Oſſian's Poems we plainly find ourſelves in the firſt of theſe periods of ſociety; during which hunting was the chief employment of men, and the principal method of their procuring ſubſiſtence. Paſturage was not indeed wholly unknown; for we hear of dividing the herd in the caſe of a divorce; but the alluſions to herds and to cattle are not many; and of agriculture we find no traces. No cities appear to have been built in the territories of Fingal. No arts are mentioned, except that of navigation and of working in iron. Everything preſents to us the moſt ſimple and unimproved manners. At their feaſts, the heroes prepared their own repaſt; they ſat round the light of the burning oak; the wind lifted their locks, and whiſtled through their open halls. Whatever was beyond the neceſſaries of life was known to them only as the ſpoil of the Roman province; “the gold of the ſtranger; the lights of the ſtranger; the ſteeds of the ſtranger; the children of the rein.”

The repreſentation of Oſſian's times muſt ſtrike us the more, as genuine and authentic, when it is compared with a poem of later date, which Mr. Macpherſon has preſerved in one of his notes. It is that in which five bards are repreſented as paſſing the evening in the houſe of a chief, and each of them ſeparately giving his deſcription of the night. The night ſcenery is beautiful; and the author has plainly imitated the ſtyle and manner of Oſſian; but he has allowed ſome images to appear which betray a later period of ſociety. For we meet with windows clapping, the herds of goats and cows ſeeking ſhelter, the ſhepherd wandering, corn on the plain, and the wakeful hind rebuilding the ſhocks of corn which had been overturned by the tempeſt. Whereas, in Oſſian's works, from beginning to end, all is conſiſtent; no modern alluſion drops from him; but everywhere the ſame face of rude nature appears; a country wholly uncultivated, thinly inhabited, and recently peopled. The graſs of the rock, the flower of the heath, the thiſtle with its beard, are the chief ornaments of his landſcapes. “The deſert,” ſays Fingal, “is enough for me, with all its woods and deer.”

The circle of ideas and tranſactions is no wider than ſuits ſuch an age; nor any greater diverſity introduced into characters, than the events of that period would naturally diſplay. Valor and bodily ſtrength are the admired qualities. Contentions ariſe, as is uſual among ſavage nations, from the ſlighteſt cauſes. To be affronted at a tournament, or to be omitted in the invitation to a feaſt, kindles a war. Women are often carried away by force; and the whole tribe, as in the Homeric times, riſe to avenge the wrong. The heroes ſhow refinement of ſentiment indeed on ſeveral occaſions, but none of manners. They ſpeak of their paſt actions with freedom, boaſt of their exploits, and ſing their own praiſe. In their battles, it is evident, that drums, trumpets, or bagpipes, were not known or uſed. They had no expedient for giving the military alarms but ſtriking a ſhield, or raiſing a loud cry: and hence the loud and terrible voice of Fingal is often mentioned as a neceſſary qualification of a great general; like the βοην αγαθος Μενελαος of Homer. Of military diſcipline or ſkill they appear to have been entirely deſtitute. Their armies ſeem not to have been numerous; their battles were diſorderly; and terminated, for the moſt part, by a perſonal combat, or wreſtling of the two chiefs; after which, “the bard ſung the ſong of peace, and the battle ceaſed along the field.”

The manner of compoſition bears all the marks of the greateſt antiquity. No artful tranſitions, nor full and extended connexion of parts; ſuch as we find among the poets of later times, when order and regularity of compoſition were more ſtudied and known: but a ſtyle always rapid and vehement; narration conciſe, even to abruptneſs, and leaving ſeveral circumſtances to be ſupplied by the reader's imagination. The language has all that figurative caſt, which, as I before ſhowed, partly a glowing and undiſciplined imagination partly the ſterility of language and the want of proper terms, have always introduced into the early ſpeech of nations; and in ſeveral reſpects, it carries a remarkable reſemblance to the ſtyle of the Old Teſtament. It deſerves particular notice, as one of the moſt genuine and deciſive characters of antiquity, that very few general terms, or abſtract ideas, are to be met with in the whole collection of Oſſian's works. The ideas of men, at firſt, were all particular. They had not words to expreſs general conceptions. Theſe were the conſequences of more profound reflection, and longer acquaintance with the arts of thought and of ſpeech. Oſſian, accordingly, almoſt never expreſſes himſelf in the abſtract. His ideas extended little further than to the objects he ſaw around him. A public, a community, the univerſe, were conceptions beyond his ſphere. Even a mountain, a ſea, or a lake, which he has occaſion to mention, though only in a ſimile, are for the moſt part particularized; it is the hill of Cromla, the ſtorm of the ſea of Malmor, or the reeds of the lake of Lego. A mode of expreſſion which, while it is characteriſtical of ancient ages, is at the ſame time highly favorable to deſcriptive poetry. For the ſame reaſons, perſonification is a poetical figure not very common with Oſſian. Inanimate objects, ſuch as winds, trees, flowers, he ſometimes perſonifies with great beauty. But the perſonifications which are ſo familiar to later poets, of Fame, Time, Terror, Virtue, and the reſt of that claſs, were unknown to our Celtic bard. Theſe were modes of conception too abſtract for his age.

All theſe are marks ſo undoubted, and ſome of them, too ſo nice and delicate, of the moſt early times, as put the high antiquity of theſe poems out of queſtion. Eſpecially when we conſider, that if there had been any impoſture in this caſe, it muſt have been contrived and executed in the Highlands of Scotland, two or three centuries ago; as up to this period, both by manuſcripts, and by the teſtimony of a multitude of living witneſſes, concerning the uncontrovertible tradition of theſe poems, they can clearly be traced. Now, this is a period when that country enjoyed no advantages for a compoſition of this kind, which it may not be ſuppoſed to have enjoyed in as great, if not in a greater degree, a thouſand years before. To ſuppoſe that two or three hundred years ago, when we well know the Highlands to have been in a ſtate of groſs ignorance and barbarity, there ſhould have ariſen in that country a poet, of ſuch exquiſite genius, and of ſuch deep knowledge of mankind, and of hiſtory, as to diveſt himſelf of the ideas and manners of his own age, and to give us a juſt and natural picture of a ſtate of ſociety ancienter by a thouſand years; one who could ſupport this counterfeited antiquity through ſuch a large collection of poems, without the leaſt inconſiſtency; and who, poſſeſſed of all this genius and art, had, at the ſame time, the ſelf-denial of concealing himſelf, and of aſcribing his own works to an antiquated bard, without the impoſture being detected; is a ſuppoſition that tranſcends all bounds of credibility.

There are, beſides, two other circumſtances to be attended to, ſtill of greater weight, if poſſible, againſt this hypotheſis. One is, the total abſence of religious ideas from this work; for which the tranſlator has, in his preface, given a very probable account, on the footing of its being the work of Oſſian. The druidical ſuperſtition was, in the days of Oſſian, on the point of its final extinction; and, for particular reaſons, odious to the family of Fingal; whilſt the Chriſtian faith was not yet eſtabliſhed. But had it been the work of one to whom the ideas of Chriſtianity were familiar from his infancy, and who had ſuperadded to them alſo the bigoted ſuperſtition of a dark age and country, it is impoſſible. but in ſome paſſage or other, the traces of them would have appeared. The other circumſtance is, the entire ſilence which reigns with reſpect to all the great clans or families which are now eſtabliſhed in the Highlands. The origin of theſe ſeveral clans is known to be very ancient; and it is well known that there is no paſſion by which a native Highlander is more diſtinguiſhed than by attachment to his clan, and jealouſy for its honor. That a Highland bard, in forging a work relating to the antiquities of his country, ſhould have inſerted no circumſtance which pointed out the riſe of his own clan, which aſcertained its antiquity, or increaſed its glory, is, of all ſuppoſitions that can be formed, the moſt improbable; and the ſilence on this head amounts to a demonſtration that the author lived before any of the preſent great clans were formed or known.

Aſſuming it then, as well we may, for certainty, that the poems, now under conſideration, are genuine venerable monuments of a very remote antiquity, I proceed to make ſome remarks upon their general ſpirit and ſtrain. The two great characteriſtics of Oſſian's poetry are, tenderneſs and ſublimity. It breathes nothing of the gay and cheerful kind; an air of ſolemnity and ſeriouſneſs is diffuſed over the whole. Oſſian is, perhaps, the only poet who never relaxes, or lets himſelf down into the light and amuſing ſtrain which I readily admit to be no ſmall diſadvantage to him, with the bulk of readers. He moves perpetually in the high region of the grand and the pathetic. One keynote is ſtruck at the beginning, and ſupported to the end; nor is any ornament introduced, but what is perfectly concordant with the general tone of melody. The events recorded, are all ſerious and grave; the ſcenery throughout, wild and romantic. The extended heath by the ſeaſhore; the mountains ſhaded with miſt; the torrent ruſhing through a ſolitary valley; the ſcattered oaks, and the tombs of warriors overgrown with moſs; all produce a ſolemn attention in the mind, and prepare it for great and extraordinary events. We find not in Oſſian an imagination that ſports itſelf, and dreſſes out gay trifles to pleaſe the fancy. His poetry, more perhaps than that of any other writer, deſerves to be ſtyled, The poetry of the heart. It is a heart penetrated with noble ſentiments and with ſublime and tender paſſions; a heart that glows, and kindles the fancy; a heart that is full, and pours itſelf forth. Oſſian did not write,, like modern poets, to pleaſe readers and critics. He ſung from the love of poetry and ſong. His delight was to think of the heroes among whom he had flouriſhed; to recall the affecting incidents of his life; to dwell upon his paſt wars, and loves, and friendſhips: till, as he expreſſes it himſelf, “there comes a voice to Oſſian, and awakes his ſoul. It is the voice of years that are gone; they roll before me with all their deeds;” and under this true poetic inſpiration, giving vent to his genius, no wonder we ſhould ſo often hear, and acknowledge, in his ſtrains, the powerful and ever-pleaſing voice of nature.

—Arte, natura potentior omni—

Eſt Deus in nobis, agitante caleſcimus illo.

It is neceſſary here to obſerve, that the beauties of Oſſian's writings cannot be felt by thoſe who have given them only a ſingle or haſty peruſal. His manner is ſo different from that of the poets to whom we are moſt accuſtomed; his ſtyle is ſo conciſe, and ſo much crowned with imagery; the mind is kept at ſuch a ſtretch in accompanying the author; that an ordinary reader is at firſt apt to be dazzled and fatigued, rather than pleaſed. His poems require to he taken up at intervals, and to be frequently reviewed; and then it is impoſſible but his beauties muſt open to every reader who is capable of ſenſibility. Thoſe who have the higheſt degree of it will reliſh them the moſt.

As Homer is, of all the great poets, the one whoſe manner, and whoſe times, come the neareſt to Oſſian's, we are naturally led to run a parallel in ſome inſtances between the Greek and Celtic bard. For though Homer lived more than a thouſand years before Oſſian, it is not from the age of the world, but from the ſtate of ſociety that we are to judge of reſembling times. The Greek has, in ſeveral points, a manifeſt ſuperiority. He introduces a greater variety of incidents; he poſſeſſes a larger compaſs of ideas; has more diverſity in his characters; and a much deeper knowledge of human nature. It was not to be expected, that in any of theſe particulars Oſſian could equal Homer. For Homer lived in a country where ſociety was much farther advanced; he had beheld many more objects; cities built and flouriſhing; laws inſtituted; order, diſcipline, and arts, begun. His field of obſervation was much larger and more ſplendid: his knowledge, of courſe, more extenſive; his mind alſo, it ſhall be granted, more penetrating. But if Oſſian's ideas and objects be leſs diverſified than thoſe of Homer, they are all, however, of the kind fitteſt for poetry: the bravery and generoſity of heroes, the tenderneſs of lovers, the attachment of friends, parents, and children. In a rude age and country, though the events that happen be few, the undiſſipated mind broods over them more; they ſtrike the imagination, and fire the paſſions, in a higher degree; and, of conſequence, become happier materials to a poetical genius, than the ſame events when ſcattered through the wide circle of more varied action and cultivated life.

Homer is a more cheerful and ſprightly poet than Oſſian. You diſcern in him all the Greek vivacity; whereas Oſſian uniformly maintains the gravity and ſolemnity of a Celtic hero. This, too, is in a great meaſure to be accounted for from the different ſituations in which they lived—partly perſonal, and partly national. Oſſian had ſurvived all his friends, and was diſpoſed to melancholy by the incidents of his life. But, beſides this, cheerfulneſs is one of the many bleſſings which we owe to formed ſociety. The ſolitary, wild ſtate, is always a ſerious one. Bating the ſudden and violent burſts of mirth, which ſometimes break forth at their dances and feaſts, the ſavage American tribes have been noted by all travellers for their gravity and taciturnity. Somewhat of this taciturnity may be alſo be remarked in Oſſian. On all occaſions he is frugal of his words; and never gives you more of an image, or a deſcription, than is juſt ſufficient to place it before you in one clear point of view. It is a blaze of lightning, which flaſhes and vaniſhes. Homer is more extended in his deſcriptions, and fills them up with a greater variety of circumſtances. Both the poets are dramatic; that is, they introduce their perſonages frequently ſpeaking before us. But Oſſian is conciſe and rapid in his ſpeeches, as he is in every other thing. Homer, with the Greek vivacity, had alſo ſome portion of the Greek loquacity. His ſpeeches, indeed, are highly characteriſtical; and to them we are much indebted for that admirable diſplay he has given of human nature. Yet, if he be tedious any where, it is in theſe: ſome of them are trifling, and ſome of them plainly unſeaſonable. Both poets are eminently ſublime; but a difference may be remarked in the ſpecies of their ſublimity. Homer's ſublimity is accompanied with more impetuoſity and fire; Oſſian's with more of a ſolemn and awful grandeur. Homer hurries you along; Oſſian elevates, and fixes you in aſtoniſhment. Homer is moſt ſublime in actions and battles; Oſſian in deſcription and ſentiment. In the pathetic, Homer, when he chooſes to exert it, has great power; but Oſſian exerts that power much oftener, and has the character of tenderneſs far more deeply imprinted on his works. No t knew better how to ſeize and melt the heart. With regard to dignity of ſentiment, the pre-eminence muſt clearly he given to Oſſian. This is, indeed, a ſurpriſing circumſtance, that in point of humanity, magnanimity, virtuous feelings of every kind, our rude Celtic bard ſhould be diſtinguiſhed to ſuch a degree, that not only the heroes of Homer, but even thoſe of the polite and refined Virgil, are left far behind by thoſe of Oſſian.

After theſe general obſervations on the genius and ſpirit of our author, I now proceed to a nearer view and more accurate examination of his works; and as Fingal is the firſt great poem in this collection, it is proper to begin with it. To refuſe the title of an epic poem to Fingal, becauſe it is not, in every little particular, exactly conformable to the practice of Homer and Virgil, were the mere ſqueamiſhneſs and pedantry of criticiſm. Examined even according to Ariſtotle's rules, it will be found to have all the eſſential requiſites of a true and regular epic; and to have ſeveral of them in ſo high a degree, as at firſt view to raiſe our aſtoniſhment on finding Oſſian's compoſition ſo agreeable to rules of which he was entirely ignorant. But our aſtoniſhment will ceaſe, when we conſider from what ſource Ariſtotle drew thoſe rules. Homer knew no more of the laws of criticiſm than Oſſian. But, guided by nature, he compoſed in verſe a regular ſtory, founded on heroic actions, which all poſterity admired. Ariſtotle, with great ſagacity and penetration, traced the cauſes of this general admiration. He obſerved what it was in Homer's compoſition, and in the conduct of his ſtory, which gave it ſuch power to pleaſe; from. this obſervation he deduced the rules which poets ought to follow, who would write and pleaſe like Homer; and to a compoſition formed according to ſuch rules, he gave the name of an epic poem. Hence his whole ſyſtem aroſe. Ariſtotle ſtudied nature in Homer. Homer and Oſſian both wrote from nature. No wonder that among all the three, there ſhould be ſuch agreement and conformity.

The fundamental rules delivered by Ariſtotle concerning an epic poem, are theſe: that the action, which is the groundwork of the poem, ſhould be one, complete, and great; that it ſhould be feigned, not merely hiſtorical; that it ſhould be enlivened with characters and manners, and heightened by the marvellous.

But, before entering on any of theſe, it may perhaps be aſked, what is the moral of Fingal? For, according to M. Boſſu, an epic poem is no other than an allegory contrived to illuſtrate ſome, moral truth. The poet, ſays this critic, muſt begin with fixing on ſome maxim or inſtruction, which he intends to inculcate on mankind. He next forms a fable, like one of Æſop's, wholly with a view to the moral; and having thus ſettled and arranged his plan, he then looks into traditionary hiſtory for names and incidents, to give his fable ſome air of probability. Never did a more frigid, pedantic notion enter into the mind of a critic. We may ſafely pronounce, that he who ſhould compoſe an epic poem after this manner, who ſhould firſt lay down a moral and contrive a plan, before he had thought of his perſonages and actors, might deliver, indeed, very ſound inſtruction, but would find very few readers. There cannot be the leaſt doubt that the firſt object which ſtrikes an epic poet, which fires his genius, and gives him any idea of his work, is the action or ſubject he is to celebrate. Hardly is there any tale, any ſubject, a poet can chooſe for ſuch a work, but will afford ſome general moral inſtruction. An epic poem is, by its nature, one of the moſt moral of all poetical compoſitions: but its moral tendency is by no means to be limited to ſome commonplace maxim, which may be gathered from the ſtory. It ariſes from the admiration of heroic actions which ſuch a compoſition is peculiarly calculated to produce; from the virtuous emotions which the characters and incidents raiſe, whilſt we read it; from the happy impreſſions which all the parts ſeparately, as well as the whole together, leave upon the mind. However, if a general moral be ſtill inſiſted on, Fingal obviouſly furniſhes one, not inferior to that of any other poet, viz: that wiſdom and bravery always triumph over brutal force: or another, nobler ſtill: that the moſt complete victory over an enemy is obtained by that moderation and generoſity which convert him into a friend.

The unity of the epic action, which of all Ariſtotle's rules, is the chief and moſt material, is ſo ſtrictly preſerved in Fingal, that it muſt be perceived by every reader. It is a more complete unity than what ariſes from relating the actions of one man, which the Greek critic juſtly cenſures as imperfect: it is the unity of one enterpriſe—the deliverance of Ireland from the invaſion of Swaran; an enterpriſe which has ſurely the full heroic dignity. All the incidents recorded bear a conſtant reference to one end; no double plot is carried on; but the pa unite into a regular whole; and as the action is one and great, ſo it is an entire or complete action. For we find, as the critic, farther requires, a beginning, a middle, and an end; a nodus, or intrigue, in the poem; difficulties occurring through Cuthullin's raſhneſs and bad ſucceſs; thoſe difficulties gradually ſurmounted; and at laſt, the work conducted to that happy concluſion which is held eſſential to epic poetry. Unity is, indeed, obſerved with greater exactneſs in Fingal, than in almoſt any other epic compoſition. For not only is unity of ſubject maintained, but that of time and place alſo. The autumn is clearly pointed out as the ſeaſon of the action; and from beginning to end the ſcene is never ſhifted from the heath of Lena, along the ſeaſhore. The duration of the action in Fingal, is much ſhorter than in the Iliad or Æneid; but ſure there may be ſhorter as well longer heroic poems; and if the authority of Ariſtotle be alſo required for this, he ſays expreſſly, that the epic compoſition is indefinite as to the time of its duration. Accordingly, the action of the Iliad laſts only forty-ſeven days, whilſt that of the Æneid is continued for more than a year.

Throughout the whole of Fingal, there reigns that grandeur of ſentiment, ſtyle, and imagery, which ought ever to diſtinguiſh this high ſpecies of poetry. The ſtory is conducted with no ſmall art. The poet goes not back to a tedious recital of the beginning of the war with Swaran; but haſtening to the main action, he falls in exactly, by a moſt happy coincidence of thought, with the rule of Horace:

Semper ad eventum feſtinat, et in medias res,

Non ſecus ac notas, auditorem rapit—

Nec gemino bellum Trojanum orditur ab ovo.

De Arte Poet.

He invokes no muſe, for he acknowledged none. but his occaſional addreſſes to Malvina have a finer effect than the invocation of any muſe. He ſets out with no formal propoſition of his ſubject; but the ſubject naturally and eaſily unfolds itſelf; the poem opening in an animated manner, with the ſituation of Cuthullin, and the arrival of a ſcout, who informs him of Swaran's landing. Mention is preſently made of Fingal, and of the expected aſſiſtance from the ſhips of the lonely iſle, in order to give farther light to the ſubject. For the poet often ſhows his addreſs in gradually preparing us for the events he is to introduce; and, in particular, the preparation for the appearance of Fingal, the previous expectations that are raiſed, and the extreme magnificence, fully anſwering theſe expectations, with which the hero is at length preſented to us, are all worked up with ſuch ſkilful conduct as would do honor to any poet of the moſt refined times. Homer's art in magnifying the character of Achilles, has been univerſally admired. Oſſian certainly ſhows no leſs aft in aggrandizing Fingal. Nothing could be more happily imagined for this purpoſe than the whole management of the laſt battle, wherein Gaul, the ſon of Morni, had beſought Fingal to retire, and to leave him and his other chiefs the honor of the day. The generoſity of the king in agreeing to this propoſal; the majeſty with which he retreats to the hill, from whence he was to behold the engagement, attended by his bards, and waving the lightning of his ſword; his perceiving the chiefs overpowered by numbers, but, from unwillingneſs to deprive them of the glory of victory by coming in perſon to their aſſiſtance, firſt ſending Ullin, the bard, to animate their courage, and at laſt, when the danger becomes more preſſing, his riſing in his might, and interpoſing, like a divinity, to decide the doubtful fate of the day; are all circumſtances contrived with ſo much art, as plainly diſcover the Celtic bards to have been not unpractiſed in heroic poetry.

The ſtory which is the foundation of the Iliad, is in itſelf as ſimple as that of Fingal. A quarrel ariſes between Achilles and Agamemnon concerning a female ſlave; on which Achilles, apprehending himſelf to be injured, withdraws his aſſiſtance from the reſt of the Greeks. The Greeks fall into great diſtreſs, and beſeech him to be reconciled to them. He refuſes to fight for them in perſon, but ſends his friend Patroclus; and upon his being ſlain, goes forth to revenge his death, and kills Hector. The ſubject of Fingal is this: Swaran comes to invade Ireland; Cuthullin, the guardian of the young king, had applied for his aſſiſtance to Fingal, who reigned in the oppoſite coaſt of Scotland. But before Fingal's arrival, he is hurried by raſh counſel to encounter Swaran. He is defeated; he retreats, and deſponds. Fingal arrives in this conjuncture. The battle is for ſome time dubious; but in the end he conquers Swaran; and the remembrance of Swaran's being the brother of Agandecca, who, had once ſaved his life, makes him diſmiſs him honorably. Homer, it is true, has filled up his ſtory with a much greater variety of particulars than Oſſian; and in this has ſhown a compaſs of invention ſuperior to that of the other poet. But it muſt not be forgotten that though Homer be more circumſtantial, his incidents, however, are leſs diverſified in kind than thoſe of Oſſian. War and bloodſhed reign throughout the Iliad; and, notwithſtanding all the fertility of Homer's invention, there is ſo much uniformity in his ſubjects, that there are few readers, who, before the cloſe, are not tired with perpetual fighting. Whereas in Oſſian, the mind is relieved by a more agreeable diverſity. There is a finer mixture of war and heroiſm, with love and friendſhip—of martial, with tender ſcones, than is to be met with, perhaps, in any other poet. The epiſodes, too, have great propriety—as natural, and proper to that age and country: conſiſting of the ſongs of bards, which are known to have been the great entertainment of the Celtic heroes in war, as well as in peace. Theſe ſongs are not introduced at random; if you except the epiſode of Duchommar and Morna, in the firſt book, which, though beautiful, is more unartful than any of the reſt, they have always ſome particular relation to the actor who is intereſted, or to the events which are going on; and, whilſt they vary the ſcene, they preſerve a ſufficient connection with the main ſubject by the fitneſs and propriety of their introduction.

As Fingal's love to Agandecca influences ſome circumſtances of the poem, particularly the honorable diſmiſſion of Swaran at the end; it was neceſſary that we ſhould be let into this part of the hero's ſtory. But as it lay without the compaſs of the preſent action, it could be regularly introduced nowhere except in an epiſode. Accordingly, the poet, with as much propriety as if Ariſtotle himſelf had directed the plan, has contrived an epiſode for this purpoſe in the ſong of Carril, at the beginning of the third book.

The concluſion of the poem is ſtrictly according to rule, and is every way noble and pleaſing. Th reconciliation of the contending heroes, the conſolation of Cuthullin, and the general felicity that crowns the action, ſoothe the mind in a very agreeable manner, and form that paſſage from agitation and trouble, to perfect quiet and repoſe, which critics require as the proper termination of the epic work. “Thus they paſſed the night in ſong, and brought back the morning with joy. Fingal aroſe on the heath; and ſhook his glittering ſpear in his hand. He moved firſt towards the plains of Lena; and we followed like a ridge of fire. Spread the ſail, ſaid the king of Morven, and catch the winds that pour from Lena. We roſe on the waves with ſongs; and ruſhed with joy through the foam of the ocean.” So much for the unity and general conduct of the epic action in Fingal.

With regard to that property of the ſubject which Ariſtotle requires, that it ſhould be feigned, not hiſtorical, he muſt not be underſtood ſo ſtrictly is if he meant to exclude all ſubjects which have any foundation in truth. For ſuch excluſion would both be unreaſonable in itſelf, and what is more, would be contrary to the practice of Homer, who is known to have founded his Iliad on hiſtorical facts concerning the war of Troy, which was famous throughout all Greece. Ariſtotle means no more than that it is the buſineſs of a poet not to be a more annaliſt of facts, but to embelliſh truth with beautiful, probable, and uſeful fictions; to copy nature as he himſelf explains it, like painters, who preſerve a likeneſs, but exhibit their objects more grand and beautiful than they are in reality. That Oſſian has followed this courſe, and building upon true hiſtory, has ſufficiently adorned it with poetical fiction for aggrandizing his characters and facts, will not, I believe, be queſtioned by moſt readers. At the ſame time, the foundation which thoſe facts and characters had in truth, and the ſhare which the poet had himſelf in the tranſactions which he records, muſt be conſidered as no ſmall advantage to his work. For truth makes an impreſſion on the mind far beyond any fiction; and no man, let his imagination be ever ſo ſtrong, relates any events ſo feelingly as thoſe in which he has been intereſted; paints any ſcene ſo naturally as one which he has ſeen; or draws any characters in ſuch ſtrong colors as thoſe which he has perſonally known. It is conſidered as an advantage of the epic ſubject to be taken from a period ſo diſtant, as, by being involved in the darkneſs of tradition, may give licenſe to fable. Though Oſſian's ſubject may at firſt view appear unfavorable in this reſpect, as being taken from his own times, yet, when we reflect that he lived to an extreme old age; that he relates what had been tranſacted in another country, at the diſtance of many years, and after all that race of men who had been the actors were gone off the ſtage; we ſhall find the objection in a great meaſure obviated. In ſo rude an age, when no written records were known, when tradition was looſe, and accuracy of any kind little attended to, what was great and heroic in one generation, eaſily ripened into the marvellous in the next.

The natural repreſentation of human character in an epic poem is highly eſſential to its merit; and, in reſpect of this, there can be no doubt of Homer's excelling all the heroic poets who have ever wrote. But though Oſſian be much inferior to Homer in this article, he will be found to be equal at leaſt, if not ſuperior to Virgil; and has, indeed, given all the diſplay of human nature, which the ſimple occurrences of his times could be expected to furniſh. No dead uniformity of character prevails in Fingal; but, on the contrary, the principal characters are not only clearly diſtinguiſhed, but ſometimes artfully contraſted, ſo as to illuſtrate each other. Oſſian's heroes are like Homer's, all brave; but their bravery, like thoſe of Homer's too, is of different kinds. For inſtance: the prudent, the ſedate, the modeſt and circumſpect Connal, is finely oppoſed to the preſumptuous, raſh, overbearing, but gallant and generous Calmar. Calmar hurries Cuthullin into action by his temerity; and when he ſees the bad effects of his counſels, he will not ſurvive the diſgrace. Connal, like another Ulyſſes, attends Cuthullin to his retreat, counſels and comforts him under his miſfortune. The fierce, the proud, and the high-ſpirited Swaran, is admirably contraſted with the calm, the moderate, and generous Fingal. The character of Oſcar is a favorite one throughout the whole poems. The amiable warmth of the young warrior; his eager impetuoſity in the day of action; his paſſion for fame; his ſubmiſſion to his father; his tenderneſs for Malvina; are the ſtrokes of a maſterly pencil: the ſtrokes are few; but it is the hand of nature, and attracts the heart. Oſſian's own character, the old man, the hero, and the bard, all in one, preſents to us, through the whole work, a moſt reſpectable and venerable figure, which we always contemplate with pleaſure. Cuthullin is a hero of the higheſt claſs: daring, magnanimous, and exquiſitely ſenſible to honor. We become attached to his intereſt, and are deeply touched with his diſtreſs; and after the admiration raiſed for him in the firſt part of the poem, it is a ſtrong proof of Oſſian's maſterly genius, that he durſt adventure to produce to us another hero, compared with whom, even the great Cuthullin ſhould be only an inferior perſonage; and who ſhould riſe as far above him, as Cuthullin riſes above the reſt.

Here, indeed, in the character and deſcription of Fingal, Oſſian triumphs almoſt unrivalled; for we may boldly defy all antiquity to ſhow us any hero equal to Fingal. Homer's Hector poſſeſſes ſeveral great and amiable qualities; but Hector is a ſecondary perſonage in the Iliad, not the hero of the work. We ſee him only occaſionally; we know much leſs of him than we do of Fingal; who, not only in this, epic poem, but in Temora, and throughout the reſt of Oſſian's works, is preſented in all that variety of lights, which give the full diſplay of a character. And though Hector faithfully diſcharges his duty to his country, his friends, and his family, he is tinctured, however, with a degree of the ſame ſavage ferocity which prevails among all the Homeric heroes: for we find him inſulting over the fallen Patroclus with the moſt cruel taunts, and telling him, when he lies in the agonies of death, that Achilles cannot help him now; and that in a ſhort time his body, ſtripped naked, and deprived of funeral honors, ſhall be devoured by the vultures. Whereas, in the character of Fingal, concur almoſt all the qualities that can ennoble human nature; that can either make us admire the hero, or love the man. He is not only unconquerable in war, but he makes his people happy by his wiſdom in the days of peace. He is truly too father of his people. He is known by the epithet or “Fingal of the mildeſt look;” and diſtinguiſhed on every occaſion by humanity and generoſity. He is merciful to his foes; full of affection to his children; full of concern about his friends; and never mentions Agandecca, his firſt love, without the utmoſt tenderneſs. He is the univerſal Protector of the diſtreſſed; “None ever went ſad from Fingal.”—“O, Oſcar! bend the ſtrong in arms; but ſpare the feeble hand. Be thou a ſtream of mighty tides againſt the foes of thy people; but like the gale that moves the graſs to thoſe who aſk thine aid. So Trenmor lived; ſuch Trathal was; and ſuch has Fingal been. My arm was the ſupport of the injured; the weak reſted behind the lightning of my ſteel.” Theſe were the maxims of true heroiſm, to which he formed his grandſon. His fame is repreſented as everywhere ſpread; the greateſt heroes acknowledge his ſuperiority; his enemies tremble at his name; and the higheſt encomium that can be beſtowed on one whom the poets would moſt exalt, is to ſay, that his ſoul was like the ſoul of Fingal.

To do juſtice to the poet's merit, in ſupporting ſuch a character as this, I muſt obſerve, what is not commonly attended to, that there is no part of poetical execution more difficult, than to draw a perfect character in ſuch a manner as to render it diſtinct, and affecting to the mind. Some ſtrokes of human imperfection and frailty, are what uſually give us the moſt clear view, and the moſt ſenſible impreſſion of a character; becauſe they preſent to us a man, ſuch as we have ſeen; they recall known features of human nature. When poets attempt to go beyond this range, and deſcribe a faultleſs hero, they for the moſt part ſet before us a ſort of vague, undiſtinguiſhable character, ſuch as the imagination cannot lay hold of, or realize to itſelf as the object of affection. We know how much Virgil has failed in this particular. His perfect hero, Æneas, is an unanimated, inſipid perſonage, whom we may pretend to admire, but whom no one can heartily love. But what Virgil has failed in, Oſſian, to our aſtoniſhment, has ſucceſſfully executed. His Fingal, though exhibited without any of the common human failings, is, nevertheleſs, a real man; a character which touches and intereſts every reader. To this it has much contributed that the poet has repreſented him as an old man; and by this has gained the advantage of throwing around him a great many circumſtances, peculiar to that age, which paint him to the fancy in a more diſtinct light. He is ſurrounded with his family; he inſtructs his children in the principles of virtue; he is narrative of his paſt exploits he is venerable with the gray locks of age; he is frequently diſpoſed to moralize, like an old man, on human vanity, and the proſpect of death. There is more art, at leaſt more felicity, in this, than may at firſt be imagined. For youth and old are the two ſtates of human life, capable of being placed in the moſt pictureſque lights. Middle age is more general and vague; and has fewer circumſtances peculiar to the idea of it. And when any object is in a ſituation that admits it to be rendered particular, and to be clothed with a variety of circumſtances, it always ſtands out more clear and full of poetical deſcription.

Beſides human perſonages, divine or ſupernatural agents are often introduced into epic poetry, forming what is called the machinery of it; which moſt critics hold to be an eſſential part. The marvellous, it muſt he admitted, has always a great charm for the bulk of readers. It gratifies the imagination, and affords room for ſtriking and ſublime deſcription. No wonder, therefore, that all poets ſhould have a ſtrong propenſity towards it. But I muſt obſerve, that nothing is more difficult than to adjuſt properly the marvellous with the probable. If a poet ſacrifice probability, and fill his work with extravagant ſupernatural ſcenes, he ſpreads over it an appearance of romance and childiſh fiction; he tranſports his readers from this world into a fantaſtic viſionary region; and loſes that weight and dignity which ſhould reign in epic poetry. No work from which probability is altogether baniſhed, can make a laſting or deep impreſſion. Human actions and manners are always, the moſt intereſting objects which can be preſented to a human mind. All machinery, therefore, is faulty, which withdraws theſe too much from view, or obſcures them under a cloud of incredible fictions. Beſides being temperately employed, machinery ought always to have ſome foundation in popular belief. A poet is by no means at liberty to invent what ſyſtem of the marvellous he pleaſes; he muſt avail himſelf either of the religious faith, or the ſuperſtitious credulity of the country wherein he lives; ſo as to give an air of probability to events which are moſt contrary to the common courſe of nature.

In theſe reſpects, Oſſian appears to me to have been remarkably happy. He has, indeed, followed the ſame courſe with Homer. For it is perfectly abſurd to imagine, as ſome critics have done, that Homer's mythology was invented by him “in conſequence of profound reflection on the benefits it would yield to poetry.” Homer was no ſuch refining genius. He found the traditionary ſtories, on which he built his Iliad, mingled with popular legends concerning the intervention of the gods; and he adopted theſe becauſe they amuſed the fancy. Oſſian, in like manner, found the tales of his country full of ghoſts and ſpirits; it is likely he believed them himſelf; and he introduced them, becauſe they gave his poems that ſolemn and marvellous caſt which ſuited his genius. This was the only machinery he could employ with propriety; becauſe it was the only intervention of ſupernatural beings which agreed with the common belief of the country. It was happy; becauſe it did not interfere in the leaſt with the proper diſplay of human characters and actions; becauſe it had leſs of the incredible than moſt other kinds of poetical machinery; and becauſe it ſerved to diverſify the ſcene, and to heighten the ſubject by an awful grandeur, which is the great deſign of machinery.

As Oſſian's mythology is peculiar to himſelf, and makes a conſiderable figure in his other poems, as well as in Fingal, it may be proper to make ſome obſervations on it, independent of its ſubſerviency to epic compoſition. It turns, for the moſt part, on the appearances of departed ſpirits. Theſe, conſonantly to the notions of every rude age, are repreſented not as purely immaterial, but as thin airy forms, which can be viſible or inviſible at pleaſure; their voice is feeble, their arm is weak; but they are endowed with knowledge more than human. In a ſeparate ſtate, they retain the ſame diſpoſitions which animated them in this life. They ride on the wind; they bend their airy bows; and purſue deer formed of clouds. The ghoſts of departed bards continue to ſing. The ghoſts of departed heroes frequent the fields of their former fame. “They reſt together in their caves, and talk of mortal men. Their ſongs are of other worlds. They come ſometimes to the ear of reſt, and raiſe their feeble voice.” All this preſents to us much the ſame ſet of ideas concerning ſpirits, as we find in the eleventh book of the Odyſſey, where Ulyſſes viſits the regions of the dead; and in the twenty-third book of the Iliad, the ghoſt of Patroclus, after appearing to Achilles, vaniſhes preciſely like one of Oſſian's, emitting a ſhrill, feeble cry, and melting away like ſmoke.

But though Homer's and Oſſian's ideas concerning ghoſts were of the ſame nature, we cannot but obſerve, that Oſſian's ghoſts are drawn with much ſtronger and livelier colors than thoſe of Homer. Oſſian deſcribes ghoſts with all the particularity of one who had ſeen and converſed with them, and whoſe imagination was full of the impreſſion they had left upon it. He calls up thoſe awful and tremendous ideas which the

—Simulacra modis pallentia miris

are fitted to raiſe in the human mind; and which, in Shakſpeare's ſtyle, “harrow up the ſoul.” Crugal's ghoſt, in particular, in the beginning of the ſecond book of Fingal, may vie with any appearance of this kind, deſcribed by any epic or tragic poet whatever. Moſt poets would have contented themſelves, with telling us, that he reſembled, in every particular, the living Crugal; that his form and dreſs were the ſame, only his face more pale and ſad; and that he bore the mark of the wound by which he fell. But Oſſian ſets before our eyes a ſpirit from the inviſible world, diſtinguiſhed by all thoſe features which a ſtrong, aſtoniſhed imagination would give to a ghoſt. “A dark red ſtream of fire comes down from the hill. Crugal ſat upon the beam; he that lately fell by the band of Swaran, ſtriving in the battle of heroes. His face is like the beam of the ſetting moon. His robes are of the cloud of the hill. His eyes are like two decaying flames. Dark is the wound of his breaſt.—The ſtars dim twinkled through his form; and his voice was like the ſound of a diſtant ſtream.” The circumſtance of the ſtars being beheld “dim twinkling through his form,” is wonderfully pictureſque, and convoys the moſt lively impreſſion of his thin and ſhadowy ſubſtance. The attitude in which he is afterward placed, and the ſpeech put into his mouth, are full of that ſolemn and awful ſublimity, which ſuits the ſubject. “Dim, and in tears he ſtood, and he ſtretched his pale hand over the hero. Faintly he raiſed his feeble voice, like the gale of the reedy Lego.—My ghoſt, O Connal! is on my native hills; but my corſe is on the ſands of Ulla. Thou ſhalt never talk with Crugal, or find his lone ſteps in the heath. I am light as the blaſt of Cromla; and I move like the ſhadow of miſt. Connal, ſon of Colgar! I ſee the dark cloud of death; it hovers over the plains of Lena. The ſons of green Erin Shall fall. Remove from the field of ghoſts.—Like the darkened moon, he retired in the midſt of the whiſtling blaſt.”

Several other appearances of ſpirits might be pointed out, as among the moſt ſublime paſſages of Oſſian's poetry. The circumſtances of them are conſiderably diverſified, and the ſcenery always ſuited to the occaſion. “Oſcar ſlowly aſcends the hill. The meteors of night ſet on the heath before him. A diſtant torrent faintly roars. Unfrequent blaſts ruſh through aged oaks. The half enlightened moon ſinks dim and red behind her hill. Feeble voices are heard on the heath. Oſcar drew his ſword—.”Nothing can prepare the fancy more happily for the awful ſcene that is to follow. “Trenmor came from his hill at the voice of his mighty ſon. A cloud, like the ſteed of the ſtranger, ſupported his airy limbs. His robe is of the miſt of Lano, that brings death to the people. His ſword is a green meteor, half extinguiſhed. His face is without form, and dark. He ſighed thrice over the hero; and thrice the winds of the night roared around. Many were his words to Oſcar.—He ſlowly vaniſhed, like a miſt that melts on the ſunny hill.” To appearances of this kind, we can find no parallel among the Greek or Roman poets. They bring to mind that noble deſcription in the book of Job: “In thoughts from the viſion of the night, when deep ſleep falleth on men, fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to ſhake. Then a ſpirit paſſed before my face: the hair of my fleſh ſtood up It ſtood ſtill: but I could not diſcern the form thereof. An image was before mine eyes. There was ſilence; and I heard a voice—Shall mortal man be more juſt than God?”

As Oſſian's ſupernatural beings are deſcribed with a ſurpriſing force of imagination, ſo they are introduced with propriety. We have only three ghoſts in Fingal: that of Crugal, which comes to warn the hoſt of impending deſtruction, and to adviſe them to ſave themſelves by retreat; that of Evir-allen, the ſpouſe of Oſſian, which calls on him to riſe and reſcue their ſon from danger; and that of Agandecca, which, juſt before the laſt engagement with Swaran, moves Fingal to pity, by mourning for the approaching deſtruction of her kinſman and people. In the other poems, ghoſts ſometimes appear, when invoked, to foretell futurity; frequently, according to the notions of theſe times, they come as forerunners of miſfortune or death, to thoſe whom they viſit; ſometimes they inform their friends at a diſtance of their own death; and ſometimes they are introduced to heighten the ſcenery on ſome great and ſolemn occaſion. “A hundred oaks burn to the wind; and faint light gleams over the heath. The ghoſts of Ardven paſs through the beam, and ſhow their dim and diſtant forms. Comala is half unſeen on her meteor; and Hidallan is ſullen and dim.”—“The awful faces of other times looked from the clouds of Crona.”—“Fercuth! I ſaw the ghoſt of night. Silent he ſtood on that bank; his robe of miſt flew on the wind. I could behold his tears. An aged man he ſeemed, and full of thought.”

The ghoſts of ſtrangers mingle not with thoſe of the natives. “She is ſeen: but not like the daughters of the hill. Her robes are from the ſtrangerſ' land; and ſhe is ſtill alone.” When the ghoſt of one whom we had formerly known is introduced, the propriety of the living character is ſtill preſerved. This is remarkable in the appearance of Calmar's ghoſt, in the poem entitled, The death of Cuthullin. He ſeems to forebode Cuthullin's death, and to beckon him to his cave. Cuthullin reproaches him for ſuppoſing that he could be intimidated by ſuch prognoſtics. “Why doſt thou bend thy dark eyes on me, ghoſt of the car-borne Calmar? Wouldſt thou frighten me, O Matha's ſon! from the battles of Cormac? Thy hand was not feeble in war; neither was thy voice for peace. How art thou changed, chief of Lara! if thou now doſt adviſe to fly! Retire thou to thy cave thou art not Calmar's ghoſt; lie delighted in battle and his arm was like the thunder of heaven.” Calmar makes no return to this ſeeming reproach: but “he retired in his blaſt with joy; for he had heard the voice of his praiſe.” This is preciſely the ghoſt of Achilles in Homer; who, notwithſtanding all the diſſatiſfaction he expreſſes with his ſtate in the region of the dead, as ſoon as he had heard his ſon Neoptolemus praiſed for his gallant behavior, ſtrode away with ſilent joy to rejoin the reſt of the ſhades.

It is a great advantage of Oſſian's mythology, that it is not local and temporary, like that of moſt other ancient poets; which of courſe is apt to ſeem ridiculous, after the ſuperſtitions have paſſed away on which it is founded. Oſſian's mythology is, to ſpeak ſo, the mythology of human nature; for it is founded on what has been the popular belief, in all ages and countries, and under all forms of religion, concerning the appearances of departed ſpirits. Homer's machinery is always lively and amuſing; but far from being always ſupported with proper dignity. The indecent ſquabbles among his gods ſurely do no honor to epic poetry. Whereas Oſſian's machinery has dignity upon all occaſions. It is indeed a dignity of the dark and awful kind; but this is proper; becauſe coincident with the ſtrain and ſpirit of the poetry. A light and gay mythology, like Homer's, would have been perfectly unſuitable to the ſubjects on which Oſſian's genius was employed. But though his machinery be always ſolemn, it is not, however, always dreary or diſmal; it as enlivened, as much as the ſubject would permit, by thoſe pleaſant and beautiful appearances, which he ſometimes introduces, of the ſpirits of the hill. Theſe are gentle ſpirits: deſcending on ſunbeams, fair moving on the plain; their forms white and bright; their voices ſweet; and their viſits to men propitious. The greateſt praiſe that can be given to the beauty of a living woman, is to ſay, “She is fair as the ghoſt of the hill, when it moves in a ſunbeam at noon, over the ſilence of Morven.” “The hunter ſhall hear my voice from his booth. He ſhall fear, but love my voice. For ſweet ſhall my voice be for my friends; for pleaſant were they to me.”

Beſides ghoſts, or the ſpirits of departed men, we find in Oſſian ſome inſtances of other kinds of machinery. Spirits of a ſuperior nature to ghoſts are ſometimes alluded to, which have power to embroil the deep; to call forth winds and ſtorms, and pour them on the land of the ſtranger; to overturn foreſts, and to ſend death among the people. We have prodigies too; a ſhower of blood; and when ſome diſaſter is befalling at a diſtance, the ſound of death is heard on the ſtrings of Oſſian's harp: all perfectly conſonant, not only to the peculiar ideas of northern nations, but to the general current of a ſuperſtitious mention in all countries. The deſcription of Fingal's airy hall, in the poem called Errathon, and of the aſcent of Malvina into it, deſerves particular notice, as remarkably noble and magnificent. But, above all, the engagement of Fingal with the ſpirit of Loda, in Carric-thura, cannot be mentioned without admiration. I forbear tranſcribing the paſſage, as it muſt have drawn the attention of every one who has read the works of Oſſian. The undaunted courage of Fingal, oppoſed to all the terrors of the Scandinavian god; the appearance and the ſpeech of that awful ſpirit; the wound which he receives, and the ſhriek which he ſends forth, “as, rolled into himſelf, he roſe upon the wind;” are full of the moſt amazing and terrible majeſty. I know no paſſage more ſublime in the writings of any uninſpired author. The fiction is calculated to aggrandize the hero; which it does to a high degree: nor is it ſo unnatural or wild a fiction as might at firſt be thought. According to the notions of thoſe times, ſupernatural beings were material, and, conſequently, vulnerable. The ſpirit of Loda was not acknowledged as a deity by Fingal; he did not worſhip at the ſtone of his power; he plainly conſidered him as the god of his enemies only; as a local deity, whoſe dominion extended no farther than to the regions where he was worſhipped; who had, therefore, no title to threaten him, and no claim to his ſubmiſſion. We know there are poetical precedents of great authority, for fictions fully as extravagant; and if Homer be forgiven for making Diomed attack and wound in battle the gods whom that chief himſelf worſhipped, Oſſian ſurely is pardonable for making his hero ſuperior to the god of a foreign territory.

Notwithſtanding the poetical advantages which I have aſcribed to Oſſian's machinery, I acknowledge it would have been much more beautiful and perfect had the author diſcovered ſome knowledge of a Supreme Being. Although his ſilence on this head has been accounted for by the learned and ingenious tranſlator in a very probable, manner, yet ſtill it muſt be held a conſiderable diſadvantage to the poetry. For the moſt auguſt and lofty ideas that can embelliſh poetry are derived from the belief of a divine adminiſtration of the univerſe; and hence the invocation of a Supreme Being, or at leaſt of ſome ſuperior powers, who are conceived as preſiding over human affairs, the ſolemnities of religious worſhip, prayers preferred, and aſſiſtance implored on critical occaſions, appear with great dignity in the works of almoſt all poets, as chief ornaments of their compoſitions. The abſence of all ſuch religious ideas from Oſſian's poetry is a ſenſible blank in it; the more to be regretted, as we can eaſily imagine what an illuſtrious figure they would have made under the management of ſuch a genius as his; and how finely they would have been adapted to many ſituations which occur in his works.

After ſo particular an examination of Fingal, it were needleſs to enter into as full a diſcuſſion of the conduct of Temora, the other epic poem. Many of the ſame obſervations, eſpecially with regard to the great characteriſtics of heroic poetry, apply to both. The high merit, however, of Temora, requires that we ſhould not paſs it by without ſome remarks.

The ſcene of Temora, as of Fingal, is laid in Ireland; and the action is of a poſterior date. The ſubject is, an expedition of the hero to dethrone and puniſh a bloody uſurper, and to reſtore the poſſeſſion of the kingdom to the poſterity of the lawful prince: an undertaking worthy of the juſtice and heroiſm of the great Fingal. The action is one, and complete. The Poem opens with the deſcent of Fingal on the coaſt, and the conſultation held among the chiefs of the enemy. The murder of the young prince Cormac, which was the cauſe of the war, being antecedent to the epic action, is introduced with great propriety as an epiſode in the firſt book. In the progreſs of the poem, three battles are deſcribed, which riſe in their importance above, one another; the ſucceſs is various, and the iſſue for ſome time doubtful; till at laſt, Fingal, brought into diſtreſs, by the wound of his great general Gaul, and the death of his ſon Fillan, aſſumes the command himſelf; and, having ſlain the Iriſh king in ſingle combat, reſtores the rightful heir to his throne.

Temora has perhaps leſs fire than the other epic poem; but in return it has more variety, more tenderneſs, and more magnificence. The reigning idea, ſo often reſented to us, of “Fingal, in the laſt of his fields, is venerable and affecting; nor could any more noble concluſion be thought of, than the aged hero, after ſo many ſucceſſful achievements, taking his leave of battles, and, with all the ſolemnities of thoſe times, reſigning his ſpear to his ſon. The events are leſs crowded in Temora than in Fingal; actions and characters are more particularly diſplayed: we are let into the tranſactions of both hoſts, and informed of the adventures of the night as well as of the day. The ſtill, pathetic, and the romantic ſcenery of ſeveral of the night adventures, ſo remarkably ſuited to Oſſian's genius, occaſion a fine diverſity in the poem; and are happily contraſted with the military operations of the day.

In moſt of our author's poems, the horrors of war are ſoftened by intermixed ſcenes of love and friendſhip. In Fingal theſe are introduced as epiſodes: in Temora we have an incident of this nature wrought into the body of the piece, in the adventure of Cathmor and Sulmalla. This forms one of the moſt conſpicuous beauties of that poem. The diſtreſs of Sulmalla, diſguiſed and unknown amongſt ſtrangers, her tender and anxious concern for the ſafety of Cathmor, her dream, and her melting remembrance of the land of her fathers; Cathmor's emotion when he firſt diſcovers her, his ſtruggles to conceal and ſuppreſs his paſſion, leſt it ſhould unman him in the midſt of war, though “his ſoul poured forth in ſecret, when he beheld her fearful eye,” and the laſt interview between them, when, overcome by her tenderneſs, he lets her know he had diſcovered her, and confeſſes his paſſion; are all wrought up with the moſt exquiſite ſenſibility and delicacy.

Beſides the characters which appeared in Fingal, ſeveral new ones are here introduced; and though, as they are all the characters of warriors, bravery is the predominant feature, they are nevertheleſs diverſified in a ſenſible and ſtriking manner. Foldath, for inſtance, the general of Cathmor, exhibits the perfect picture of a ſavage chieftain; bold and daring, but preſumptuous, cruel, and overbearing. He is diſtinguiſhed, on his firſt appearance, as the friend of the tyrant Cairbar, “His ſtride is haughty; his red eye rolls in wrath.” In his perſon and whole deportment he is contraſted with the mild and wiſe Hidalla, another leader of the ſame army, on whoſe humanity and gentleneſs he looks with great contempt. He profeſſedly delights in ſtrife and blood. He inſults over the fallen. He is imperious in his counſels, and factious when they are not followed. He is unrelenting in all his ſchemes of revenge, even to the length of denying the funeral ſong to the dead; which, from the injury thereby done to their ghoſts, was in thoſe days conſidered as the greateſt barbarity. Fierce to the laſt, he comforts himſelf in his dying moments with thinking that his ghoſt ſhall often leave its blaſt to rejoice over the graves of thoſe he had ſlain. Yet Oſſian, ever prone to the pathetic, has contrived to throw into his account of the death, even of this man, ſome tender circumſtances, by the moving deſcription of his daughter Dardulena, the laſt of his race.

The character of Foldath tends much to exalt that of Cathmor, the chief commander, which is diſtinguiſhed by the moſt humane virtues. He all fraud and cruelty, is famous for his hoſpitality to ſtrangers; open to every generous ſentiment, and to every ſoft and compaſſionate feeling. he is ſo amiable as to divide the reader's attachment between him and the hero of the poem; though our author has artfully managed it ſo as to make Cathmor himſelf indirectly acknowledge Fingal's ſuperiority, and to appear ſomewhat apprehenſive of the event, after the death of Fillan, which he knew would call forth Fingal in all his might. It is very remarkable, that although Oſſian has introduced into his poems three complete heroes, Cuthullin, Cathmor, and Fingal, he has, however, ſenſibly diſtinguiſhed each of their characters; Cuthullin is particularly honorable; Cathmor particularly amiable; Fingal wiſe and great, retaining an aſcendant peculiar to himſelf in whatever light he is viewed.

But the favorite figure in Temora, and the one moſt highly finiſhed, is Fillan. His character is of that ſort for which Oſſian ſhows a particular fondneſs; an eager, fervent, young warrior, fired with all the impatient enthuſiaſm for military glory peculiar to that time of life. He had ſketched this in the deſcription of his own ſon Oſcar; but as he has extended it more fully in Fillan, and as the character is ſo conſonant to the epic ſtrain, though, as far as I remember, not placed in ſuch a conſpicuous light by any other epic poet, it may be worth while to attend a little to Oſſian's management of it in this inſtance.

Fillan was the youngeſt of all the ſons of Fingal younger, it is plain, than his nephew Oſcar, by whoſe fame and great deeds in war we may naturally ſuppoſe his ambition to have been highly ſtimulated. Withal, as lie is younger, he is deſcribed as more raſh and fiery. His firſt appearance is ſoon after Oſcar's death, when he was employed to watch the motions of the foe by night. In a converſation with his brother Oſſian, on that occaſion, we learn that it was not long ſince he began to lift the ſpear. “Few are the marks of my ſword in battle; but my ſoul is fire.” He is with ſome difficulty reſtrained by Oſſian from going to attack the enemy; and complains to him, that his father had never allowed him any opportunity of ſignalizing his valor. “The king hath not remarked my ſword; I go forth with the crowd; I return without my fame.” Soon after, when Fingal, according to cuſtom, was to appoint one of his chiefs to command the army, and each was ſtanding forth, and putting in his claim to this honor, Fillan is preſented in the following moſt pictureſque and natural attitude: “On his ſpear ſtood the Son of Clatho, in the wandering of his locks. Thrice he raiſed his eyes to Fingal; his voice thrice failed him as he ſpoke. Fillan could not boaſt of battles; at once he ſtrode away. Bent over a diſtant ſtream he ſtood; the tear hung in his eye. He ſtruck, at times, the thiſtle's head with his inverted ſpear.” No leſs natural and beautiful is the deſcription of Fingal's paternal emotion on this occaſion. “Nor is he unſeen of Fingal. Sidelong he beheld his ſon. He beheld him with burſting joy. He hid the big tear with his locks, and turned amidſt his crowded ſoul.” The command, for that day, being given to Gaul, Fillan ruſhes amidſt the thickeſt of the foe, ſaves Gaul's life, who is wounded by a random arrow, and diſtinguiſhes himſelf ſo in battle, that “the days of old return on Fingal's mind, as he beholds the renown of his ſon. As the ſun rejoices from the cloud, over the tree his beams have raiſed, whilſt it ſhakes its lonely head on the heath, ſo joyful is the king over Fillan.” Sedate, however, and wiſe, he mixes the praiſe which he beſtows on him with ſome reprehenſion of his raſhneſs. “My ſon, I ſaw thy deeds, and my ſoul was glad. Thou art brave, ſon of Clatho, but headlong in the ſtrife. So did not Fingal advance, though he never feared a foe. Let thy people be a ridge behind thee; they are thy ſtrength in the field. Then ſhalt thou be long renowned, and behold the tombs of thy fathers.”

On the next day, the, greateſt and the laſt of Fillan's life, the charge is committed to him of leading on the hoſt to battle. Fingal's ſpeech to his troops on this occaſion is full of noble ſentiment; and, where he recommends his ſon to their care, extremely touching. “A young beam is before you: few are his ſteps to war. They are few, but he is valiant; defend my dark-haired ſon. Bring him back with joy; hereafter he may ſtand alone. His form is like his fathers; his ſoul is a flame of their fire.” When the battle begins, the poet puts forth his ſtrength to deſcribe the exploits of the young hero; who, at laſt encountering and killing with his own hand Foldath, the oppoſite general, attains the pinnacle of glory. In what follows, when the fate of Fillan is drawn near, Oſſian, if anywhere, excels himſelf. Foldath being ſlain, and a general rout begun, there was no reſource left to the enemy but in the great Cathmore himſelf, who in this extremity deſcends from the hill, where, according to the cuſtom of thoſe princes, he ſurveyed the battle. Obſerve how this critical event is wrought up by the poet. “Wide-ſpreading over echoing Lubar, the flight of Bolga is rolled along. Fillan hung forward on their ſteps, and ſtrewed the heath with dead. Fingal rejoiced over his ſon.—Blue-ſhielded Cathmor roſe.—Son of Alpin, bring the harp! Give Fillan's praiſe to the wind: raiſe high his praiſe in my hall, while yet he ſhines in war. Leave, blue-eyed Clatho! leave thy hall; behold that early beam of thine! The hoſt is withered in its courſe. No farther look—it is dark—light trembling from the harp, ſtrike, virgins! ſtrike the ſound.” The ſudden interruption and ſuſpenſe of the narration on Cathmor's riſing from his hill, the abrupt burſting into the praiſe of Fillan, and the paſſionate apoſtrophe to his mother Clatho, are admirable efforts of poetical art, in order to intereſt us in Fillan's danger; and the whole is heightened by the immediate following ſimile, one of the moſt magnificent and ſublime that is to be met with in any poet, and which, if it had been found in Homer, would have been the frequent ſubject of admiration to critics: “Fillan is like a ſpirit of heaven, that deſcends from the ſkirt of big blaſt. The troubled ocean feels his ſteps as he ſtrides from wave to wave. His path kindles behind him; iſlands ſhake their heads on the heaving ſeas.”

But the poet's art is not yet exhauſted. The fall of this noble young, warrior, or, in Oſſian's ſtyle, the extinction of this beam of heaven, could not be rendered too intereſting and affecting. Our attention is naturally drawn towards Fingal. He beholds front his hill the riſing of Cathmor, and the danger of his ſon. But what ſhall he do? “Shall Fingal riſe to his aid, and take the ſword of Luno? What then ſhall become of thy fame, ſon of white-boſomed Clatho? Turn not thine eves from Fingal, daughter of Iniſtore! I ſhall not quench thy early beam. No cloud of mine ſhall riſe, my ſon, upon thy ſoul of fire.” Struggling between concern for the fame, and fear for the ſafety of his ſon, be withdraws from the ſight of the engagement, and deſpatches Oſſian in haſte to the field, with this affectionate and delicate injunction: “Father of Oſcar!” addreſſing him by a title which on this occaſion has the higheſt propriety: “Father of Oſcar! lift the ſpear, defend the young in arms. But conceal thy ſteps from Fillan's eyes. He muſt not know that I doubt his ſteel.” Oſſian arrived too late. But unwilling to deſcribe Fillan vanquiſhed, the poet ſuppreſſes all the circumſtances of the combat with Cathmor; and only ſhows us the dying hero. We ſee him animated to the end with the ſame martial and ardent ſpirit; breathing his laſt in bitter regret for-being ſo early cut off from the field of glory. “Oſſian, lay me in that hollow rock. Raiſe no ſtone above me, leſt one ſhould aſk about my fame. I am fallen in the firſt of my fields; fallen without renown. Let thy voice alone ſend joy to my flying ſoul. Why ſhould the bard know where dwells the early-fallen Fillan?” He who, after tracing the circumſtances of this ſtory, ſhall deny that our bard is poſſeſſed of high ſentiment and high art, muſt be ſtrangely prejudiced indeed. Let him read the ſtory of Pallas in Virgil, which is of a ſimilar kind; and after all the praiſe he may juſtly beſtow on the elegant and finiſhed deſcription of that amiable author, let him ſay which of the two poets unfolds moſt of the human ſoul. I waive inſiſting on any more of the particulars in Temora; as my aim is rather to lead the reader into the genius and ſpirit of Oſſian's poetry, than to dwell on all his beauties.

The judgment and art diſcovered in conducting works of ſuch length as Fingal and Temora, diſtinguiſh them from the other poems in this collection. The ſmaller pieces, however, contain particular beauties, no leſs eminent. They are hiſtorical poems, generally of the elegiac kind; and plainly diſcover themſelves to be the work of the ſame author. One conſiſtent face of manners is everywhere preſented to us; one ſpirit of poetry reigns; the maſterly hand of Oſſian appears throughout; the ſame rapid and animated ſtyle; the ſame ſtrong coloring of imagination, and the ſame glowing ſenſibility of heart. Beſides the unity which belongs to the compoſitions of one man, there is moreover a certain unity of ſubject, which very happily connects all theſe poems. They form the poetical hiſtory of the age, of Fingal, The ſame race of heroes whom we had met with in the greater poems, Cuthullin, Oſcar, Connar, and Gaul, return again upon the ſtage; and Fingal himſelf is always the principal figure, preſented on every occaſion, with equal magnificence, nay, riſing upon us to the laſt. The circumſtances of Oſſian's old age and blindneſs, his ſurviving all his friends, and his relating their great exploits to Malvina, the ſpouſe or miſtreſs of his beloved ſon Oſcar, furniſh the fineſt poetical ſituations that fancy could deviſe for that tender pathetic which reigns in Oſſian's poetry.

On each of theſe poems there might be room for ſeparate obſervations, with regard to he conduct and diſpoſitions of the incidents, as well as to the beauty of the deſcriptions and ſentiments. Carthon is a regular and highly finiſhed piece. The main ſtory is very properly introduced by Cleſſamore's relation of the adventure of his youth; and this introduction is finely heightened by Fingal's ſong of mourning over Moina; in which Oſſian, ever fond of doing honor to his father, has contrived to diſtinguiſh him for being an eminent poet, as well as warrior. Fingal's ſong upon this occaſion, when “his thouſand bards leaned forwards from their ſeats, to hear the voice of the king,” is inferior to no paſſage in the whole book; and with great judgement put in his mouth, as the ſeriouſneſs, no leſs than the ſublimity of the ſtrain, is peculiarly ſuited to the hero's character. In Darthula are aſſembled almoſt all the tender images that can touch the heart of man, friendſhip, love, the affections of parents, ſons, and brothers, the diſtreſs of the aged, and the unavailing bravery of the young. The beautiful addreſs to the moon, with which the poem opens, and the tranſition from thence to the ſubject, moſt happily prepare the mind for that train of affecting events that is to follow. The ſtory is regular, dramatic, intereſting to the laſt. He who can read it without emotion may congratulate himſelf, if he pleaſes, upon being completely armed againſt ſympathetic ſorrow. As Fingal had no occaſion of appearing in the action of this poem, Oſſian makes a very artful tranſition from his narration, to what was paſſing in the halls of Selma. The ſound heard there on the ſtrings of his harp, the concern which Fingal ſhows on bearing it, and the invocation of the ghoſts of their fathers, to receive the heroes falling in a diſtant land, are introduced with great beauty of imagination to increaſe the ſolemnity, and to diverſify the ſcenery of the poem.

Carric-thura is full of the moſt ſublime dignity; and has this advantage, of being more cheerful in the ſubject, and more happy in the cataſtrophe, than moſt of the other poems: though tempered at the ſame time with epiſodes in that ſtrain of tender melancholy which ſeems to have been the great delight of Oſſian and the bards of his age. Lathmon is peculiarly diſtinguiſhed by high generoſity of ſentiment. This is carried ſo far, particularly in the refuſal of Gaul, on one ſide, to take the advantage of a ſleeping foe; and of Lathmon, on the other, to overpower by numbers the two young warriors as to recall into one's mind the manners of chivalry; ſome reſemblance to which may perhaps be ſuggeſted by other incidents in this collection of poems. Chivalry, however, took riſe in an age and country too remote from thoſe of Oſſian, to admit the ſuſpicion that the one could have borrowed any thing from the other. So far as chivalry had any real exiſtence, the ſame military enthuſiaſm which gave birth to it in the feudal times, might, in the days of Oſſian, that is, in the infancy of a riſing ſtate, through the operation of the ſame cauſe, very naturally produce effects of the ſame kind on the minds and manners of men. So far as chivalry was an ideal ſyſtem, exiſting only in romance, it will not be thought ſurpriſing, when we reflect on the account before given of the Celtic bards, that this imaginary refinement of heroic manners ſhould be found among, them, as much, at leaſt, as among the Troubadors, or ſtrolling Provençal bards, in the 10th or 11th century; whoſe ſongs, it is ſaid, firſt gave riſe to thoſe romantic ideas of heroiſm, which for ſo long a time enchanted Europe. Oſſian's heroes have all the gallantry and generoſity of thoſe fabulous knights, without their extravagance; and his love ſcenes have native tenderneſs, without any mixture of thoſe forced and unnatural conceits which abound in the old romances. The adventures related by our poet which reſemble the moſt thoſe of romance, concern women who follow their lovers to war diſguiſed in the armor of men; and theſe are ſo managed as to produce, in the diſcovery, ſeveral of the moſt intereſting ſituations; one beautiful inſtance of which may be ſeen in Carric-thura, and another in Calthon and Colmal.

Oithona preſents a ſituation of a different nature. In the abſence of her lover Gaul, ſhe had been carried off and raviſhed by Dunrommath. Gaul diſcovers the place where ſhe is kept concealed, and comes to revenge her. The meeting of the two lovers, the ſentiments and the behavior of Oithona on that occaſion, are deſcribed with ſuch tender and exquiſite propriety, as does the greateſt honor both to the heart and to the delicacy of our author; and would have been admired in any poet of the moſt refined age. The conduct of Cruma muſt ſtrike every reader as remarkably judicious and beautiful. We are to be prepared for the death of Malvina, which is related in the ſucceeding poem. She is therefore introduced in perſon; “ſhe has heard a voice in her dream; She feels the fluttering of her ſoul:” and in a moſt moving lamentation addreſſed to her beloved Oſcar, ſhe ſings her own death-ſong. Nothing could be calculated with more art to ſooth and comfort her than the ſtory which Oſſian relates. In the young and brave Fovargormo, another Oſcar is introduced: his praiſes are ſung; and the happineſs is ſet before her of thoſe who die in their youth “when their renown is around them; before the feeble behold them in the hall, and ſmile at their trembling hands.”

But nowhere does Oſſian's genius appear to greater advantage, than in Berrathon, which is reckoned the concluſion of his ſongs, 'The laſt ſound of the voice of Cona.'

Qualis olor noto poſiturus littore vitam,

Ingemit, et mœſtis mulcens concentibus auras

Præſago quæritur venientia funera cantu.

The whole train of ideas is admirably ſuited to the ſubject. Every thing is full of that inviſible world, into which the aged bard believes himſelf now ready to enter. The airy ball of Fingal preſents itſelf to his view; “he ſees the cloud that ſhall receive his ghoſt; he beholds the miſt that ſhall form his robe when he appears on his hill;” and all the natural objects around him ſeem to carry the preſages of death. “The thiſtle ſhakes its beard to the wind. The flower hangs its heavy head; it ſeems to any, I am covered with the drops of heaven; the time of my departure is near, and the blaſt that ſhall ſcatter my leaves.” Malvina's death is hinted to him in the moſt delicate manner by the ſon of Alpin. His lamentation over her, her apotheoſis, or aſcent to the habitation of heroes, and the introduction to the ſtory which follows from the mention which Oſſian ſuppoſes the father of Malvina to make of him in the ball of Fingal, are all in the higheſt ſpirit of poetry. “And doſt thou remember Oſſian, O Toſcar, ſon of Conloch? The battles of our youth were many; our ſwords went together to the field.” Nothing could be more proper than to end his ſongs with recording an exploit of the father of that Malvina, of whom his heart was now ſo full; and who, from firſt to laſt, had been ſuch a favorite object throughout all his poems.

The ſcene of moſt of Oſſian's poems is laid in Scotland, or in the coaſt of Ireland, oppoſite to the territories of Fingal. When the ſcene is in Ireland, we perceive no change of manners from thoſe of Oſſian's native country. For as Ireland was undoubtedly peopled with Celtic tribes, the language, cuſtoms, and religion of both nations were the ſame. They had been ſeparated from one another by migration, only a few generations, as it ſhould ſeem, before our poet's age; and they ſtill maintained a cloſe and frequent intercourſe. But when the poet relates the expeditions of any of his heroes to the Scandinavian coaſt, or to the iſlands of Orkney, which were then part of the Scandinavian territory, as he does in Carric-thura, Sul-malla of Lumon, and Cathloda, the caſe is quite altered. Thoſe countries were inhabited by nations of the Teutonic deſcent, who, in their manners and religious rites, differed widely from the Celtæ; and it is curious and remarkable, to find this difference clearly pointed out in the poems of Oſſian. His deſcriptions bear the native marks of one who was preſent in the expeditions which he relates, and who deſcribes what he had ſeen with his own eyes. No ſooner are we carried to Lochlin, or the iſlands of Iniſtore, than we perceive we are in a foreign region. New objects begin to appear. We meet everywhere with the ſtones and circles of Loda, that is, Odin, the great Scandinavian deity. We meet with the divinations and enchantments for which it is well known thoſe northern nations were early famous. “There, mixed with the murmur of waters, roſe the voice of aged men, who called the forms of night to aid them in their war;” whilſt the Caledonian chiefs, who aſſiſted them, are deſcribed as ſtanding at a diſtance, heedleſs of their rites. That ferocity of manners which diſtinguiſhed thoſe nations, alſo becomes conſpicuous. In the combats of their chiefs there is a peculiar ſavageneſs; even their women are bloody and fierce. The ſpirit. and the very ideas of Regner Lodbrog, that northern ſcalder, whom I formerly quoted, occur to us again. “The hawks,” Oſſian makes one of the Scandinavian chiefs ſay, “ruſh from all their winds; they are wont to trace my courſe. We rejoiced three days above the dead, and called the hawks of heaven, They came from all their winds, to feaſt on the foes of Annir.”

Diſmiſſing now the ſeparate conſideration of any of our author's works, I proceed to make ſome obſervations on his manner of writing, under the general heads of Deſcription, Imagery, and Sentiment.

A poet of original genius is always diſtinguiſhed by his talent for deſcription. A ſecond-rate writer diſcerns nothing new or peculiar in the object he means to deſcribe. His conceptions of it are vague and looſe; his expreſſions feeble; and of courſe the object is preſented to us indiſtinctly, and as through a cloud. But a true poet makes us imagine that we ſee it before our eyes; he catches the diſtinguiſhing features; he gives it the colors of life and reality; he places it in ſuch a light that a painter could copy after him. This happy talent is chiefly owing to a lively imagination, which firſt receives a ſtrong impreſſion of the object; and then, by a proper ſelection of capital pictureſque circumſtances employed in deſcribing it, tranſmits that impreſſion in its full force to the imaginations of others. That Oſſian poſſeſſes this deſcriptive power in a high degree, we have a clear proof, from the effect which his deſcriptions produce upon the imaginations of thoſe who read him with any degree of attention, or taſte. Few poets are more intereſting. We contract an intimate acquaintance with his principal heroes. The characters, the manners, the face of the country, become familiar; we even think we could draw the figure of his ghoſt. In a word, whilſt reading him we are tranſported as into a new region, and dwell among his objects as if they were all real.

It were eaſy to point out ſeveral inſtances of exquiſite painting in the works of our author. Such, for inſtance, is the ſcenery with which Temora opens, and the attitude in which Cairbar is there preſented to us; the deſcription of the young prince Cormac, in the ſame book; and the ruins of Balclutha, in Cartho. “I have ſeen the walls of Balclutha, but they were deſolate. The fire had reſounded in the balls: and the voice of the people is heard no more. The ſtream of Clutha was removed from its place by the fall of the walls. The thiſtle ſhook there its lonely head; the moſs whiſtled to the wind. The fox looked out from the windows; the rank graſs of the wall waved round his head. Deſolate is the dwelling of Moina; ſilence is in the houſe of her fathers.” Nothing alſo can be more natural and lively than the manner in which Carthon afterward deſcribes how the conflagration of his city affected him when a child: “Have I not ſeen the fallen Balclutha? And ſhall I feaſt with Comhal's ſon? Comhal! who threw his fire in the midſt of my father's hall! 1 was young, and knew not the cauſe why the virgins wept. The columns of ſmoke pleaſed mine eye, when they aroſe above my walls: I often looked back with gladneſs, when my friends fled above the hill. But when the years of my youth came on, I beheld the moſs of my fallen walls. My ſigh aroſe with the morning; and my tears deſcended with night. Shall I not fight, I ſaid to my ſoul, againſt the children of my foes? And I will fight, O bard! I feel the ſtrength of my ſoul.” In the ſame poem, the aſſembling of the chiefs round Fingal, who had been warned of ſome impending danger by the appearance of a prodigy, is deſcribed with ſo many pictureſque circumſtances, that one imagines himſelf preſent in the aſſembly. “The king alone beheld the terrible ſight, and he foreſaw the death of his people. He came in ſilence to his hall, and took his father's ſpear: the mail rattled on his breaſt. The heroes roſe around. They looked in ſilence on each other, marking the eyes of Fingal. They ſaw the battle in his face. A thouſand ſhields are placed at once on their arms; and they drew a thouſand ſwords. The hall of Selma brightened around. The clang of arms aſcends. The gray dogs howl in their place. No word is among the mighty chiefs. Each marked the eyes of the king; and half aſſumed his ſpear.”

It has been objected to Oſſian, that his deſcriptions of military actions are imperfect, and much leſs diverſified by the circumſtances than thoſe of Homer. This is in ſome meaſure true. The amazing fertility of Homer's invention, is nowhere ſo much diſplayed as in the incidents of his battles, and in the little hiſtory pieces he gives of the perſons ſlain. Nor, indeed, with regard to the talent of deſcription, can too much be ſaid in praiſe of Homer. Every thing is alive in his writings. The colors with which he paints are thoſe of nature. But Oſſian's genius was of a different kind from Homer's. It led him to hurry towards grand objects, rather than to amuſe himſelf with particulars of leſs importance. He could dwell on the death of a favorite hero; but that of a private man ſeldom ſtopped his rapid courſe. Homer's genius was more comprehenſive than Oſſian's. It included a wider circle of objects; and could work up any incident into deſcription. Oſſian's was more limited; but the region within which it chiefly exerted itſelf was the higheſt of all, the region of the pathetic and the ſublime.

We muſt not imagine, however, that Oſſian's battles conſiſt only of general indiſtinct deſcription. Such beautiful incidents are ſometimes introduced, and the circumſtances of the perſons ſlain ſo much diverſified, as ſhow that be could have embelliſhed his military ſcenes with an abundant variety of particulars, if his genius had led him to dwell upon them. “One man is ſtretched in the duſt of his native land; he fell, where often he had ſpread the feaſt, and often raiſed the voice of the harp.” The maid of Iniſtore is introduced in a moving apoſtrophe, as weeping for another; and a third, “as rolled in the duſt he lifted his faint eyes to the king,” is remembered and mourned by Fingal as the friend of Agandecca. The blood pouring from the wound of one who was ſlain by night, is heard “hiſſing on the half-extinguiſhed oak,” which had been kindled for giving light. Another climbing up a tree to eſcape from his foe, is pierced by his ſpear from behind; ſhrieking, panting he fell; whilſt moſs and withered branches purſue his fall, and ſtrew the blue arms of Gaul. Never was a finer picture drawn of the ardor of two youthful warriors than the following: “I ſaw Gaul in his armor, and my ſoul was mixed with his; for the fire of the battle was in his eyes, lie looked to the foe with joy. We ſpoke the words of friendſhip in ſecret; and the lightning of our ſwords poured together. We drew them behind the wood, and tried the ſtrength of our arms on the empty air.`

Oſſian is always conciſe in his deſcriptions, which adds much to their beauty and force. For it is a great miſtake to imagine, that a crowd of particulars, or a very fall and extended ſtyle, is of advantage to deſcription. On the contrary, ſuch a diffuſe manner for the moſt part weakens it. Any one redundant circumſtance is a nuiſance. It encumbers and loads the fancy, and renders the main image indiſtinct. “Obſtat,” as Quintilian ſays with regard to ſtyle, “quicquid non adjuvat.” To be conciſe in deſcription, is one thing: and to be general, is another. No deſcription that reſts in generals can poſſibly be good; it can convey no lively idea; for it is of particulars only that we have a diſtinct conception. But, at the ſame time, no ſtrong imagination dwells long upon any one particular; or heaps together a maſs of trivial ones. By the happy choice of ſome one, or of a few that are the moſt ſtriking, it preſents the image more complete, ſhows us more at one glance than a feeble imagination is able to do, by turning its object round and round into a variety of lights. Tacitus is of all proſe writers the moſt conciſe. He has even a degree of abruptneſs reſembling our author: yet no writer is more eminent for lively deſcription. When Fingal, after having conquered the haughty Swaran, propoſes to diſmiſs him with honor: “Raiſe to-morrow thy white ſails to the wind, thou brother of Agandecca!” he conveys, by thus addreſſing his enemy, a ſtronger impreſſion of the emotions then paſſing within his mind, than if whole paragraphs had been ſpent in deſcribing the conflict between reſentment againſt Swaran and the tender remembrance of his ancient love. No amplification is needed to give us the moſt full idea of a hardy veteran, after the few following words: “His ſhield is marked with the ſtrokes of battle; his red eye deſpiſes danger.” When Oſcar left alone, was ſurrounded by foes, “he ſtood,” it is ſaid, “growing in his place, like the flood of the narrow vale;” a happy repreſentation of one, who, by daring intrepidity in the midſt of danger, ſeems to increaſe in his appearance, and becomes more formidable every moment, like the ſudden riſing of the torrent hemmed in by the valley. And a whole crowd of ideas, concerning the circumſtances of domeſtic ſorrow, occaſioned by a young warrior's firſt going forth to battle, is poured upon the mind by theſe words: “Calmar leaned on his father's ſpear; that ſpear which he brought from Lara's hall, when the ſoul of his mother was ſad.”

The conciſeneſs of Oſſian's deſcriptions is the more proper, on account of his ſubjects. Deſcriptions of gay and ſmiling ſcenes may, without any diſadvantage, be amplified and prolonged. Force is not the predominant quality expected in theſe. The deſcription may be weakened by being diffuſe, yet, notwithſtanding, may be beautiful ſtill; whereas, with reſpect to grand, ſolemn, and pathetic ſubjects, which are Oſſian's chief field, the caſe is very different. In theſe, energy is above all things required. The imagination muſt be ſeized at once, or not at all; and is far more deeply impreſſed by one ſtrong and ardent image, than by the anxious minuteneſs of labored illuſtration.

But Oſſian's genius, though chiefly turned towards the ſublime and pathetic, was not confined to it. In ſubjects alſo of grace and delicacy, he diſcovers the hand of a maſter. Take for an example the following elegant deſcription of Agandecca, wherein the tenderneſs of Tibullus ſeems united with the majeſty of Virgil. “The daughter of the ſnow overheard, and left the hall of her ſecret ſigh. She came in all her beauty; like the moon from the cloud of the eaſt. Lovelineſs was around her as light. Her ſteps were like the muſic of ſongs. She ſaw the youth and loved him. He was the ſtolen ſigh of her ſoul. Her blue eyes rolled on him in ſecret; and ſhe bleſt the chief of Morven.” Several other inſtances might be produced of the feelings of love and friendſhip, painted by our author with a moſt natural and happy delicacy.

The ſimplicity of Oſſian's manner adds great beauty to his deſcriptions, and indeed to his whole poetry. We meet with no affected ornaments; no forced refinement; no marks either in ſtyle or thought of a ſtudied endeavor to ſhine or ſparkle. Oſſian appears everywhere to be prompted by his feelings; and to ſpeak from the abundance of his heart. I remember no more than one inſtance of what may be called a quaint thought in this whole collection of his works. It is in the firſt book of Fingal, where, from the tombs of two lovers, two lonely yews are mentioned to have ſprung, “whoſe branches wiſhed to meet on high.” This ſympathy of the trees with the lovers, may be reckoned to border on an Italian conceit; and it is ſomewhat curious to find this ſingle inſtance of that ſort of wit in our Celtic poetry.

“The joy of grief” is one of Oſſian's remarkable expreſſions, ſeveral times repeated. If any one ſhall think that it needs to be juſtified by a precedent, he may find it twice uſed by Homer: in the Iliad, when Achilles is viſited by the ghoſt of Patroclus; and in the Odyſſey, when Ulyſſes meets his mother in the ſhades. On both theſe occaſions, the heroes, melted with tenderneſs, lament their not having it in their power to throw their arms round the ghoſt, “that we might,” ſay they, “in mutual embrace, enjoy the delight of grief. “

Κρυεροιο τοταρπωμεσθα γοαιο.

But, in truth, the expreſſion ſtands in need of no defence from authority; for it is a natural and juſt expreſſion; and conveys a clear idea of that gratification which a virtuous heart often feels in the indulgence of a tender melancholy. Oſſian makes a very proper diſtinction between this gratification and the deſtructive effect of overpowering grief. “There is a joy in grief when peace dwells in the breaſts of the ſad. But ſorrow waſtes the mournful, O daughter of Toſcar, and their days are few.” To “give the joy of grief,” generally. ſignifies, to raiſe the ſtrain of ſoft and grave muſic; and finely characterizes the taſte of Oſſian's age and country. In thoſe days, when the ſongs of bards were the great delight of heroes, the tragic muſe was hold in chief honor: gallant actions and virtuous ſufferings, were the choſen theme; preferably to that light and trifling ſtrain, of poetry and muſic, which promotes light and trifling manners, and ſerves to emaſculate the mind. “Strike the harp in my hall,” ſaid the great Fingal, in the midſt of youth and victory; “ſtrike the harp in my hall, and let Fingal hear the ſong. Pleaſant is the joy of grief! It is like the ſhower O of ſpring, when it ſoftens the branch of the oak; and the young leaf lifts its green head. Sing on, O bards! To-morrow we lift the ſail.”

Perſonal epithets have been much uſed by all the poets of the moſt ancient ages; and when well choſen, not general and unmeaning, they contribute not a little to render the ſtyle deſcriptive and animated. Beſides epithets founded on bodily diſtinctions, akin to many of Homer's, we find in Oſſian ſeveral which are remarkably beautiful and poetical. Such as Oſcar of the future fights, Fingal of the mildeſt look, Carril of other times, the mildly bluſhing Evir-allin: Bragela, the lonely ſun-beam of Dunſcaich; a Culdee, the ſon of the ſecret cell.

But of all the ornaments employed in deſcriptive poetry, compariſons or ſimiles are the moſt ſplendid. Theſe chiefly form what is called the imagery of a poem; and as they abound go much in the works of Oſſian, and are commonly among the favorite paſſages of all poets, it may be expected that I ſhould be ſomewhat particular in my remarks upon them.

A poetical ſimile always ſuppoſes two objects brought together, between which there is ſome near relation or connection in the fancy. What that relation ought to be, cannot be preciſely defined. For various, almoſt numberleſs, are the analogies formed among objects, by a ſprightly imagination. The relation of actual ſimilitude, or likeneſs of appearance, is far from being the only foundation of poetical compariſon. Sometimes a reſemblance in the effect produced by two objects, is made the connecting principle: ſometimes a reſemblance in one diſtinguiſhing property or circumſtance. Very often two objects are brought together in a ſimile, though they reſemble one another, ſtrictly ſpeaking, in nothing, only becauſe they raiſe in the mind a train of ſimilar, and what may be called concordant, ideas; ſo that the remembrance of the one, when recalled, ſerves to quicken and heighten the impreſſion made by the other. Thus, to give an inſtance from our poet, the pleaſure with which an old man looks back on the exploits of his youth, has certainly no direct reſemblance to the beauty of a fine evening; further than that both agree in producing a certain calm, placid joy. Yet Oſſian has founded upon this, one of the moſt beautiful compariſons that is to be met with in any poet. “Wilt thou not liſten, ſon of the rock, to the ſong of Oſſian? My ſoul is full of other times; the joy of my youth returns. Thus the ſun appears in the weſt, after the ſteps of his brightneſs have moved behind a ſtorm. The green hills lift their dewy heads. The blue ſtreams rejoice in the vale. The aged hero comes forth on his ſtaff; and his gray hair glitters in the beam.” Never was there a finer group of objects. It raiſes a ſtrong conception of the old man's joy and elation of heart, by diſplaying a ſcene which produces in every ſpectator a correſponding train of pleaſing emotions; the declining ſun looking forth in his brightneſs after a ſtorm; the cheerful face of all nature; and the ſtill life finely animated by the circumſtance of the aged hero, with his ſtaff and his gray locks: a circumſtance both extremely pictureſque, in itſelf, and peculiarly ſuited to the main object of the compariſon. Such analogies and aſſociations of ideas as theſe, are highly pleaſing to the fancy. They give opportunity for introducing many a fine poetical picture. They diverſify the ſcene; they aggrandize the ſubject; they keep the imagination awake and ſprightly. For as the judgment is principally exerciſed in diſtinguiſhing objects, and remarking the differences among thoſe which ſeem alike, ſo the higheſt amuſement of the imagination is to trace likeneſſes and agreements among thoſe which ſeem different.

The principal rules which reſpect poetical compariſons are, that they be introduced on proper occaſions, when the mind is diſpoſed to reliſh them; and not in the midſt of ſome ſevere and agitating paſſion, which cannot admit this play of fancy; that they be founded on a reſemblance neither. too near and obvious, ſo as to give little amuſement to the imagination in tracing it, nor too faint and remote, ſo as to he apprehended with difficulty; that they ſerve either to illuſtrate the principal object, and to render the conception of it more clear and diſtinct; or, at leaſt, to heighten and embelliſh it, by a ſuitable aſſociation of images.

Every country has a ſcenery peculiar to itſelf; and the imagery of a good poet will exhibit it. For as he copies after nature, his alluſions will of courſe be taken from thoſe objects which he ſees around him, and which have often ſtruck his fancy. For this reaſon, In order to judge of the propriety of poetical imagery, we ought to be in ſome meaſure acquainted with the natural hiſtory of the country where the ſcene of the poem is laid. The introduction of foreign images betrays a poet, copying not from nature, but from other writers. Hence ſo many lions, and tigers, and eagles, and ſerpents, which we meet, with in the ſimiles of modern poets; as if theſe animals had acquired ſome right to a place in poetical compariſons for ever, becauſe employed by ancient authors. They employed them with propriety, as objects generally known in their, country, but they are abſurdly uſed for illuſtration by us, who know them only at ſecond hand, or by deſcription. To moſt readers of modern poetry, it were more to the purpoſe to deſcribe lions or tigers by ſimiles taken from men, than to compare men to lions. Oſſian is very correct in this particular. His imagery is, without exception, copied from that face of nature which be ſaw before his eyes; and by conſequence may be expected to be lively. We meet with no Grecian or Italian ſcenery; but with the miſts and clouds, and ſtorms, of a northern mountainous region.

No poet abounds more in ſimiles than Oſſian. There are in this collection as many, at leaſt, as in the whole Iliad and Odyſſey of Homer. I am indeed inclined to think, that the works of both poets are too much crowded with them. Similes are ſparkling ornaments; and, like all things that ſparkle, are apt to dazzle and tire us by their luſtre. But if Oſſian's ſimiles be too frequent, they have this advantage, of being commonly ſhorter than Homer's; they interrupt his narration leſs; he juſt glances aſide to ſome reſembling, object, and inſtantly returns to his former track. Homer's ſimiles include a wider range of objects; but, in return, Oſſian's, are, without exception, taken from objects of dignity, which cannot be ſaid for all thoſe which Homer employs. The ſun, the moon, and the ſtars, clouds and meteors, lightning and thunder, ſeas and whales, rivers, torrents, winds, ice, rain, ſnow, dews, miſt, fire and ſmoke, trees and foreſts, heath and graſs and flowers, rocks and mountains, muſic and ſongs, light and darkneſs, ſpirits and ghoſts; theſe form the circle within which Oſſian's compariſons generally run. Some, not many, are taken from birds and beaſts: as eagles, ſea-fowl, the horſe, the deer, and the mountain bee; and a very few from ſuch operations of art as were then known. Homer has diverſified his imagery, by many more alluſions to the animal world; to lions, bulls, goats, herds of cattle, ſerpents, inſects; and to various occupations of rural and paſtoral life. Oſſian's defect in this article, is plainly owing to the deſert, uncultivated ſtate of his country, which ſuggeſted to him few images beyond natural inanimate objects, in their rudeſt form. The birds and animals of the country were probably not numerous; and his acquaintance with them was ſlender, as they were little ſubjected to the uſes of man.

The great objection made to Oſſian's imagery, is its uniformity, and the too frequent repetition of the ſame compariſon. In a work ſo thick-ſown with ſimiles one could not but expect to find images of the ſame kind ſometimes ſuggeſted to the poet by reſembling objects; eſpecially to a poet like Oſſian, who wrote from the immediate impulſe of poetical enthuſiaſm, and without much preparation of ſtudy or labor. Fertile as Homer's imagination is acknowledged to be, who does not know how often his lions, and bulls, and flocks of ſheep, recur with little or no variation; nay, ſometimes, in the very ſame words? The objection made to Oſſian is, however, founded, in a great meaſure, upon a miſtake. It has been ſuppoſed by inattentive readers, that wherever the moon, the cloud, or the thunder, returns in a ſimile, it is the ſame ſimile, and the ſame moon, or cloud, or thunder, which they had met with a few pages before. Whereas very often the ſimiles are widely different. The object, from whence they are taken, is indeed in ſubſtance the ſame; but the image is new; for the appearance of the object is changed; it is preſented to the fancy in another attitude: and clothed with new circumſtances, to make it ſuit the different illuſtration for which it is employed. In this lies Oſſian's great art; in ſo happily varying the form of the few natural appearances with which he was acquainted, as to make them correſpond to a great many different objects.

Let us take for one inſtance the moon, which is very frequently introduced in his compariſons; as in northern climates, where the nights are long, the moon is a greater object of attention than in the climate of Homer; and let us view how much our poet has diverſified its appearance. The ſhield of it warrior is like “the darkened moon when it moves a dun circle through the heavens.” The face of a ghoſt, wan and ale, is like “the beam of the ſetting moon.” And a different appearance of a ghoſt, thin and indiſtinct, is like “the new moon ſeen through the gathered miſt, when the ſky pours down its flaky ſnow, and the world is ſilent and dark;” or, in a different form ſtill, is like “the watery beam of the moon, when it ruſhes from between two clouds, and the midnight ſhower is on the field.” A very oppoſite uſe is made of the moon in the deſcription of Agandecca: “She came in all her beauty, like the moon from the cloud of the eaſt.” Hope ſucceeded by diſappointment, is “joy riſing on her face and ſorrow returning again, like a thin cloud on the moon.” But when Swaran, after his defeat, is cheered by Fingal's generoſity, “his face brightened like the full moon of heaven, when the clouds vaniſh away, and leave her calm and broad in the midſt of the ſky.” Venvela is “bright as the moon when it trembles o'er the weſtern wave;” but the ſoul of the guilty Uthal is “dark as the troubled face of the moon, when it foretells the ſtorm.” And by a very fanciful and uncommon alluſion, it is ſaid of Cormac, who was to die in his early years, “Nor long ſhalt thou lift the ſpear, mildly-ſhining beam of youth! Death ſtands dim behind thee, like the darkened half of the moon behind its growing light.”

Another inſtance of the ſame nature may be taken from miſt, which, as being a very familiar appearance in the country of Oſſian, he applies to a variety of purpoſes, and purſues through a great many forms. Sometimes, which one would hardly expect, he employs it to heighten the appearance of a beautiful object. The hair of Morna is “like the miſt of Cromla, when it curls on the rock, and ſhines to the beam of the weſt.” “The ſong comes with its muſic to melt and pleaſe the ear. It is like ſoft miſt, that riſing from the lake pours on the ſilent vale. The green flowers are filled with dew. The ſun returns in its ſtrength, and, the miſt is gone.” But, for the moſt part, miſt is employed as a ſimilitude of ſome diſagreeable or terrible object. “The ſoul of Nathos was ſad, like the ſun in the day of miſt, when his face is watery and dim.”—“The darkneſs of old age comes like the miſt of the deſert.” The face of a ghoſt is “pale as the miſt of Cromla.”—“The gloom of battle is rolled along as miſt that is poured on the valley, when ſtorms invade the ſilent ſunſhine of heaven.” Fame, ſuddenly departing, is likened to “miſt that flies away before the ruſtling wind of the vale.” A ghoſt, ſlowly vaniſhing, to “miſt that melts by degrees on the ſunny hill.” Cairbar, after his treacherous aſſaſſination of Oſcar, is compared to a peſtilential fog. “I love a foe like Cathmor,” ſays Fingal, “his ſoul is great; his arm is ſtrong; his battles are full of fame. But the little ſoul is like a vapor that hovers round the marſhy lake. It never riſes on the green hill, leſt the winds meet it there. Its dwelling is in the cave; and it ſends forth the dart of death.” This is a ſimile highly finiſhed. But there is another which is ſtill more ſtriking, founded alſo on miſt, in the fourth book of Temora. Two factious chiefs are contending: Cathmor, the king, interpoſes, rebukes, and ſilences them. The poet intends to give us the higheſt idea of Cathmor's ſuperiority; and moſt effectually accompliſhes his intention by the following happy image. “They ſunk from the king on either ſide, like two columns of morning miſt, when the ſun riſes between them on his glittering rocks. Dark is their rolling on either ſide; each towards its reedy pool.” Theſe inſtances may ſufficiently ſhow with what richneſs of imagination Oſſian's compariſons abound, and, at the ſame time, with what propriety of judgment they are employed. If his field was narrow, it muſt be admitted to have been as well cultivated as its extent would allow.

As it is uſual to judge of poets from a compariſon of their ſimiles more than of other paſſages, it will, perhaps, be agreeable to the reader, to ſee how Homer and Oſſian have conducted ſome images of the ſame kind. This might be ſhown in many inſtances. For as the great objects of nature are common to the poets of all nations, and make the general ſtorehouſe of all imagery, the groundwork of their compariſons muſt, of courſe, be Frequently the ſame. I ſhall ſelect only a few of the moſt conſiderable from both poets. Mr. Pope's tranſlation of Homer can be of no uſe to us here. The parallel is altogether unfair between proſe and the impoſing harmony of flowing numbers. It is only by viewing Homer in the ſimplicity of a proſe tranſlation, that we can form any compariſon between the two bards.

The ſhock of two encountering armies, the noiſe and the tumult of battle, afford one of the moſt grand and awful ſubjects of deſcription; on which all epic poets have exerted their ſtrength. Let us firſt hear Homer. The following deſcription is a favorite one, for we find it twice repeated in the ſame words 2). “When now the conflicting hoſts joined in the field of battle, then were mutually oppoſed ſhields, and ſwords, and the ſtrength of armed men. The boſſy bucklers were daſhed againſt each other. The univerſal tumult roſe. There were mingled the triumphant ſhouts and the dying groans of the victors and the vanquiſhed. The earth ſtreamed with blood. As when winter torrents, ruſhing from the mountains, pour into a narrow valley their violent waters. They iſſue from a thouſand ſprings, and mix in the hollowed channel. The diſtant ſhepherd hears on the mountain their roar from afar. Such was the terror and the ſhout of the engaging armies.” In another paſſage, the poet, much in the manner of Oſſian, heaps ſimile on ſimile, to expreſs the vaſtneſs of the idea with which his imagination ſeems to labor. “With a mighty ſhout the hoſts engage. Not ſo loud roars the wave of ocean, when driven againſt the ſhore by the whole force of the boiſterous north; not ſo loud in the woods of the mountain, the noiſe of the flame, when riſing in its fury to conſume the foreſt; not ſo loud the wind among the lofty oaks, when the wrath of the worm rages; as was the clamor of the Greeks and Trojans, when, roaring terrible, they ruſhed againſt each other.” 3) To theſe deſcriptions and ſimiles, we may oppoſe the following from Oſſian, and leave the reader to judge between them. He will find images of the ſame kind employed; commonly leſs extended; but thrown forth with a glowing rapidity which characterizes our poet. “As autumn's dark ſtorms pour from two echoing hills, towards each other approached the heroes. As two dark ſtreams from high rocks meet and mix, and roar on the plains; loud, rough, and dark in battle, meet Lochlin and Iniſfail. Chief mixed his ſtrokes with chief, and man with man. Steel clanging, ſounded on ſteel. Helmets are cleft on high; blood burſts and ſmokes around.—As the troubled noiſe of the ocean, when roll the waves on high; as the laſt peal of the thunder of heaven; ſuch is the noiſe of battle.” “As roll a thouſand waves to the rock, ſo Swaran's beſt came on; as meets a rock a thouſand waves, ſo Iniſfail met Swaran. Death raiſes all his voices around, and mixes with the ſound of ſhields.—The field echoes from wing to wing, as a hundred hammers that riſe by turns on the red ſon of the furnace.”—“As a hundred winds on Morven; as the ſtreams of a hundred hills; as clouds fly ſucceſſive over heaven or as the dark ocean aſſaults the ſhore of the deſert ſo roaring, ſo vaſt, ſo terrible, the armies mixed on Lena's echoing heath.” In ſeveral of theſe images there is a remarkable ſimilarity to Homer's: but what follows is ſuperior to any compariſon that Homer uſes on this ſubject. “The groan of the people ſpread over the hills; it was like the thunder of night, when the cloud burſts on Cona, and a thouſand ghoſts ſhriek at once on the hollow wind.” Never was an image of, more awful ſublimity employed to heighten the terror of battle.

Both poets compare the appearance of an army approaching, to the gathering of dark clouds. “As when a ſhepherd,” ſays Homer, “beholds from the rock a cloud borne along the ſea by the weſtern wind; black as pitch it appears from afar ſailing over the ocean, and carrying the dreadful ſtorm. He ſhrinks at the ſight, and drives his flock into the cave: ſuch, under the Ajaces, moved on the dark, the thickened phalanx to the war.” 4) —“They came,” ſays Oſſian, “over the deſert like ſtormy clouds, when the winds roll them over the heath; their edges are tinged with lightning; and the echoing groves foreſee the ſtorm.” The edges of the clouds tinged with lightning, is a ſublime idea: but the ſhepherd and his flock render Homer's ſimile more pictureſque. This is frequently the difference between the two poets. Oſſian gives no more than the main image, ſtrong and full: Homer adds circumſtances and appendages, which amuſe the fancy by enlivening the ſcenery.

Homer compares the regular appearance of an army, to “clouds that are ſettled on the mountain-top, in the day of calmneſs, when the ſtrength of the north wind ſleeps.” 5)

Oſſian, with full as much propriety, compares the appearance of a diſordered army, to “the mountain cloud, when the. blaſt hath entered its womb, and ſcatters the curling gloom on every ſide.” Oſſian's clouds aſſume a great many forms, and, as we might expect from his climate, are a fertile ſource of imagery to him. “The warriors followed their chiefs like the gathering of the rainy clouds behind the red meteors of heaven.” An army retreating without coming to action, is likened to “clouds, that having long threatened rain, retire ſlowly behind the hills.” The picture of Oithona, after ſhe had determined to die, is lively and delicate. “Her ſoul was reſolved, and the tear was dried from her wildly-looking eye. A troubled joy roſe on her mind, like the red path of the lightning on a ſtormy cloud.” The image alſo of the gloomy Cairbar, meditating, in ſilence, the aſſaſſination of Oſcar, until the moment came when his deſigns were ripe for execution, is extremely noble and complete in all its parts. “Cairbar heard their words in ſilence, like the cloud of a ſhower; it ſtands dark on Cromla till the lightning burſts its ſide. The valley gleams with red light; the ſpirits of the ſtorm rejoice. So ſtood the ſilent king of Temora; at length his words are heard.”

Homer's compariſon of Achilles to the Dog-Star, is very ſublime. “Priam beheld him ruſhing along the plain, ſhining in his armor, like the ſtar of autumn bright are its beams, diſtinguiſhed amidſt the multitude of ſtars in the dark hour of night. It riſes in its ſplendor; but its ſplendor is fatal; betokening to miſerable men the deſtroying heat.” 6) The firſt appearance of Fingal is, in like manner, compared by Oſſian to a ſtar or meteor. “Fingal, tall in his ſhip, ſtretched his bright lance before him. Terrible was the gleam of his ſteel; it was like the green meteor of death, ſetting in the heath of Malmor, when the traveller is alone, and the broad moon is darkened in heaven.” The hero's appearance in Homer is more magnificent; in Oſſian, more terrible.

A tree cut down, or overthrown by a ſtorm, is a ſimilitude frequent among poets for deſcribing the fall of a warrior in battle. Homer employs it often. But the moſt beautiful, by far, of his compariſons, founded on this object, indeed one of the moſt beautiful in the whole Iliad, is that on the death of Euphorbus. “As the young and verdant olive, which a man hath reared with care in a lonely field, where the ſprings of water bubble around it; it is fair and flouriſhing; it is fanned by the breath of all the winds, and loaded with white bloſſoms; when the ſudden blaſt of a whirlwind deſcending, roots it out from its bed, and ſtretches it on the duſt.” 7) To this, elegant as it is, we may oppoſe the following ſimile of Oſſian's, relating to the death of the three ſons of Uſnoth. “They fell, like three young oaks which ſtood alone on the hill. The traveller ſaw the lovely trees, and wondered how they grew ſo lonely. The blaſt of the deſert came by night, and laid their green heads low. Next day he returned; but they were withered, and the heath was bare.” Malvina's alluſion to the ſame object, in her lamentation over Oſcar, is ſo exquiſitely tender, that I cannot forbear giving it a place alſo. “I was a lovely tree in thy preſence, Oſcar! with all my branches round me. But thy death came, like a blaſt from the deſert, and laid my green head low. The ſpring returned with its ſhowers; but no leaf of mine aroſe.” Several of Oſſian's ſimiles, taken from trees, are remarkably beautiful, and diverſified with well-choſen circumſtances ſuch as that upon the death of Ryno and Orla: They have fallen like the oak of the deſert; when it lies acroſs a ſtream, and withers in the wind of the mountains.” Or that which Oſſian applies to himſelf: “I, like an ancient oak in Morven, moulder alone in my place; the blaſt hath lopped my branches away; and I tremble at the winds of the north.”

As Homer exalts his heroes by comparing them to gods, Oſſian makes the ſame uſe of compariſons taken from ſpirits and ghoſts. “Swaran roared in battle, like the ſhrill ſpirit of a ſtorm, that ſits dim on the clouds of Gormal, and enjoys the death of the mariner.” His people gathered round Erragon, “like ſtorms around the ghoſt of night, when he calls them from the top of Morven, and prepares to pour them on the land of the ſtranger.”—“They fell before my ſon like groves in the deſert, when an angry ghoſt ruſhes through night, and takes their green heads in his hand.” In ſuch images, Oſſian appears in his ſtrength; for very ſeldom have ſupernatural beings been painted with ſo much ſublimity, and ſuch force of imagination, as by this poet. Even Homer, great as he is, muſt yield to him in ſimiles formed upon theſe. Take, for inſtance, the following, which is the moſt remarkable of this kind in the Iliad. “Meriones followed Idomeneus to battle, like Mars, the deſtroyer of men, when lie ruſhes to war. Terror, his beloved ſon, ſtrong and fierce, attends him; who fills with diſmay the moſt valiant hero. They come from Thrace armed againſt the Ephyrians and Phlegyans; nor do they regard the prayers of either, but diſpoſe of ſucceſs at their will.” 8) The idea here is undoubtedly noble, but obſerve what a figure Oſſian ſets before the aſtoniſhed imagination, and with what ſublimely terrible circumſtances he has heightened it. “He ruſhed, in the ſound of his arms, like the dreadful ſpirit of Loda, when he comes in the roar of a thouſand ſtorms, and ſcatters battles from his eyes. He ſits on a cloud over Lochlin's ſeas. His mighty hand is on his ſword. The wind lifts his flaming locks. So terrible was Cuthullin in the day of his fame.”

Homer's compariſons relate chiefly to martial ſubjects, to the appearances and motions of armies, the engagement and death of heroes, and the various incidents of war. In Oſſian, we find a greater variety of other ſubjects, illuſtrated by ſimiles, particularly the ſongs of bards, the beauty of women, the different circumſtances of old age, ſorrow, and private diſtreſs; which give occaſion to much beautiful imagery. What, for inſtance, can be more delicate and moving, than the following ſimile of Oithona's, in her lamentation over the diſhonor ſhe had ſuffered “Chief of Strumon.” replied the ſighing maid, why didſt thou come over the dark blue wave to Nuath's mournful daughter? Why did not I paſs away in ſecret, like the flower of the rock, that lifts its fair head unſeen, and ſtrews its withered leaves on the blaſt?” The muſic of bards, a favorite object with Oſſian, is illuſtrated by a variety of the moſt beautiful appearances that are to be found in nature. It is compared to the calm ſhower of ſpring; to the dews of the morning on the hill of roes; to the face of the blue and ſtill lake. Two ſimiles on this ſubject I ſhall quote, becauſe they would do honor to any of the moſt celebrated claſſics. The one is: “Sit thou on the heath, O bard! and let us hear thy voice; it is pleaſant as the gale of the ſpring that ſighs on the hunter's ear, when he awakens from dreams of joy, and has heard the muſic of the ſpirits of the hill.” The other contains a ſhort but exquiſitely tender image, accompanied with the fineſt poetical painting. “The muſic of Carril was like the memory of joys that are paſt, pleaſant, and mournful to the ſoul. The ghoſts of departed bards heard it from Slimora's ſide. Soft ſounds ſpread along the wood; and the ſilent valleys of night rejoice.” What a figure would ſuch imagery and ſuch ſcenery have made, had they been preſented to us adorned with the ſweetneſs and harmony of the Virgilian numbers!

I have choſen all along to compare Oſſian with Homer, rather than Virgil, for an obvious reaſon. There is a much nearer correſpondence between the times and manners of the two former poets. Both wrote in an early period of ſociety; both are originals; both are diſtinguiſhed by ſimplicity, ſublimity, and fire. The correct elegances of Virgil, his artful imitation of Homer, the Roman ſtatelineſs which he everywhere maintains, admit no parallel with the abrupt boldneſs and enthuſiaſtic warmth of the Celtic bard. In one article, indeed, there is a reſemblance. Virgil is more tender than Homer, and thereby agrees more with Oſſian; with this difference, that the feelings of the one are more gentle and poliſhed—thoſe of the other more ſtrong: the tenderneſs of Virgil ſoftenſ—that of Oſſian diſſolves and overcomes the heart.

A reſemblance may be ſometimes obſerved between Oſſian's Compariſons and thoſe employed by the ſacred writers. They abound much in this figure, and they uſe it with the utmoſt propriety. The imagery of Scripture exhibits a ſoil and climate altogether different from thoſe of Oſſian: a warmer country, a more ſmiling face of nature, the arts of agriculture and of rural life much farther advanced. The wine-preſs and the threſhing-floor are often preſented to us; the cedar and the palm-tree, the fragrance of perfumes the voice of the turtle, and the beds of lilies. The ſimiles are, like Oſſian's, generally ſhort, touching on one point of reſemblance, rather than ſpread out into little epiſodes. In the following example may be perceived what inexpreſſible grandeur poetry receives from the intervention of the Deity. “The nations ſhall ruſh like the ruſhing of many waters; but God ſhall rebuke them, and they ſhall fly far off, and ſhall be chaſed as the chaff of the “mountains before the wind, and like the down of the thiſtle before the whirlwind.” 9) Beſides formal compariſons, the poetry of Oſſian is embelliſhed with many beautiful metaphors; ſuch as that remarkably fine one applied to Deugala: “She was covered with the light of beauty; but her heart was the houſe of pride.” This mode of expreſſion, which ſuppreſſes the mark of compariſon, and ſubſtitutes a figured deſcription in room of the object deſcribed, is a great enlivener of ſtyle. It denotes that glow and rapidity of fancy, which, without pauſing to form a regular ſimile, paints the object at one ſtroke. “Thou art to me the beam of the caſt, riſing in a land unknown.”—“In peace, thou art the gale of ſpring; In war, the mountain ſtorm.”—“Pleaſant be thy reſt, O lovely beam! ſoon haſt thou ſet on our hills! The ſteps of thy departure were ſtately, like the moon on the blue trembling wave. But thou haſt left us in darkneſs, firſt of the maids of Lutha!—Soon haſt thou ſet, Malvina! but thou riſeſt, like the beam of the eaſt, among the ſpirits of thy friends, where they ſit in their ſtormy halls, the chambers of the thunder.” This is correct, and finely ſupported. But in the following inſtance, the metaphor, though very beautiful at the beginning, becomes imperfect before it cloſes, by being improperly mixed with the literal ſenſe. “Trathal went forth with the ſtream of his people: but they met a rock; Fingal ſtood unmoved; broken, they rolled back from his ſide. Nor did they roll in ſafety; the Spear of the king purſued their flight.”

The hyperbole is a figure which we might expect to find often employed by Oſſian; as the undiſciplined imagination of early ages generally prompts exaggeration, and carries its objects to exceſs; whereas longer experience, and farther progreſs in the arts of life, chaſten men's ideas and expreſſions. Yet Oſſian's hyperboles appear not, to me, either ſo frequent or ſo harſh as might at firſt have been looked for; an advantage owing, no doubt, to the more cultivated ſtate in which, as was before ſhown, poetry ſubſiſted among the ancient Celtæ, than among moſt other barbarous nations. One of the moſt exaggerated deſcriptions in the whole work, is what meets us at the beginning of Fingal, where the ſcout makes his report to Cuthullin of the landing of the foe. But this is ſo far from deſerving cenſure, that it merits praiſe, as being on that occaſion natural and proper. The ſcout arrives, trembling and full of fears; and it is well known that no paſſion diſpoſes men to hyperbolize more than terror. It both annihilates themſelves in their own apprehenſion, and magnifies every object which they view through the medium of a troubled imagination. Hence all thoſe indiſtinct images of formidable greatneſs, the natural marks of a diſturbed and confuſed mind, which occur in Moran's deſcription of Swaran's appearance, and in his relation of the conference which they held together; not unlike the report which the affrighted Jewiſh ſpies made to their leader, of the land of Canaan. “The land through which we have gone to ſearch it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we ſaw in it are men of a great ſtature: and there ſaw we giants, the ſons of Anak, which come of the giants; and we were in our own ſight as graſſhoppers, and ſo we were in their ſight.” 10)

With regard to perſonifications, I formerly obſerved that Oſſian was ſparing, and I accounted for his being ſo. Allegorical perſonages he has none; and their abſence is not to be regretted. For the intermixture of thoſe ſhadowy beings, which have not the ſupport even of mythological or legendary belief, with human actors, ſeldom produces a good effect. The fiction becomes too viſible and fantaſtic; and overthrows that impreſſion of reality, which the probable recital of human actions is calculated to make upon the mind. In the ſerious and pathetic ſcenes of Oſſian, eſpecially, allegorical characters would have been as much out of place as in tragedy; ſerving only unſeaſonably to uſe the fancy, whilſt they ſtopped the current and weakened the force of paſſion.

With apoſtrophes, or addreſſes to perſons abſent or dead, which have been in, all ages the language of paſſion, our poet abounds; and they are among his higheſt beauties. Witneſs the apoſtrophe, in the firſt book of Fingal, to the maid of Iniſtore, whoſe lover had fallen in battle; and that inimitably fine one of Cuthullin to Bragela, at the concluſion of the ſame book. He commands his harp to be ſtruck in her praiſe; and the mention of Bragela's name immediately ſuggeſting to him a crowd of tender ideaſ—“Doſt thou raiſe thy fair face from the rocks,” he exclaims, “to find the ſails of Cuthullin? The ſea is rolling far diſtant, and its white foam ſhall deceive thee for my ſails.” And now his imagination being wrought up to conceive her as, at that moment, really in this ſituation, he becomes afraid of the harm ſhe may receive from the inclemency of the night; and with an enthuſiaſm happy and affecting, though beyond the cautious ſtrain of modern poetry, “Retire,” he proceeds, “retire, for it is night, my love, and the dark winds ſigh in thy hair. Retire to the hall of my feaſts, and think of the times that are paſt: for I will not return until the ſtorm of war has ceaſed. O, Connal! ſpeak of wars and arms, and ſend her from my mind; for lovely with her raven hair is the white-boſomed daughter of Sorglan.” This breathes all the native ſpirit of paſſion and tenderneſs.

The addreſſes to the ſun, to the moon, and to the evening ſtar, muſt draw the attention of every reader of taſte, as among the moſt ſplendid ornaments of this collection. The beauties of each are too great and too obvious to need any particular comment. In one paſſage only of the addreſs to the moon, there appears ſome obſcurity. “Whither doſt thou retire from thy courſe when the darkneſs of they countenance grows? Haſt thou thy hall like Oſſian? Dwelleſt thou in the ſhadow of grief? Have thy ſiſters fallen from heaven? Are they who rejoiced with thee, at night, no more? Yes, they have fallen, fair light! and thou doſt often retire to mourn.” We may be at a loſs to comprehend, at firſt view, the ground of thoſe ſpeculations of Oſſian concerning the moon: but when all the circumſtances are attended to, they will appear to flow naturally from the preſent ſituation of his mind. A mind under the domination of any ſtrong paſſion, tinctures with its own diſpoſition every object which it beholds. The old bard, with his heart bleeding for the loſs of all his friends, is meditating on the different phaſes of the moon. Her waning and darkneſs preſent to his melancholy imagination the image of ſorrow; and preſently the idea ariſes, and is indulged, that like himſelf, ſhe retires to mourn over the loſs of other moons, or of ſtars, whom he calls her ſiſters, and fancies to have once rejoiced with her at night, now fallen from heaven. Darkneſs ſuggeſted the idea of mourning, and mourning ſuggeſted nothing ſo naturally to Oſſian as the death of beloved friends. An inſtance preciſely ſimilar, of this influence of paſſion, may be ſeen in a paſſage, which has always been admired, of Shakſpeare's King Lear. The old man, on the point of diſtraction through the inhumanity of his daughters, ſees Edgar appear, diſguiſed as a beggar and a madman.

Lear. Didſt thou give all to thy daughters? And art thou come to this?

Couldſt thou leave nothing? Didſt thou give them all?

Kent. He hath no daughters, ſir.

Lear. Death, traitor! nothing could have ſubdued nature

To ſuch a lowneſs, but his unkind daughters.

The apoſtrophe to the winds, in the opening of Dar-thula, is in the higheſt ſpirit of poetry. “But the winds deceive me, O Dar-thula! and deny the woody Etha to thy ſails. Theſe are not the mountains, Nathos, nor is that roar of thy climbing waves. The halls of Cairbar are near, and the towers of the foe lift their heads. Where have ye been, ye ſouthern winds! when the ſons of thy love were deceived? But ye have been ſporting on plains, and purſuing the thiſtle's beard. O that ye had been ruſtling in the ſails of Nathos, till the hills of Etha roſe! till they roſe in the clouds, and ſaw their coming chief.” This paſſage is remarkable for the reſemblance it bears to an expoſtulation with the wood nymphs, on their abſence at a critical time; which, as a favorite poetical idea, Virgil has copied from Theocritus, and Milton has very happily imitated from both.

Where were ye, nymphs! when the remorſeleſs deep

Cloſed o'er the head of your lov'd Lycidas?

For neither were ye playing on the ſteep

Where your old bards, the famous Druids, he!

Nor on the ſhaggy top of Mona, high,

Nor yet where Deva ſpreads her wizard ſtream.— Lycid.

Having now treated fully of Oſſian's talents, with reſpect to deſcription and imagery, it only remains to make ſome obſervations on his ſentiments. No ſentiments can be beautiful without being proper; that is, ſuited to the character and ſituation of thoſe who utter them. In this reſpect Oſſian is as correct as moſt writers. His characters, as above deſcribed, are, in general, well ſupported; which could not have been the caſe, had the ſentiments been unnatural or out of place. A variety of perſonages, of different ages, ſexes, and conditions, are introduced into his poems; and they ſpeak and act with a propriety of ſentiment and behavior which it is ſurpriſing to find in ſo rude an age. Let the poem of Dar-thula, throughout, be taken as an example.

But it is not enough that ſentiments be natural and proper. In order to acquire any high degree of poetical merit, they muſt alſo be ſublime and pathetic.

The ſublime is not confined to ſentiment alone. It belongs to deſcription alſo; and whether in deſcription or in ſentiment, imports ſuch ideas preſented to the mind, as raiſe it to an uncommon degree of elevation, and fill it with admiration and aſtoniſhment. This is the higheſt effect either of eloquence or poetry; and, to produce this effect, requires a genius glowing with the ſtrongeſt and warmeſt conception of ſome object, awful, great, or magnificent. That this character of genius belongs to Oſſian, may, I think, ſufficiently appear from many of the paſſages I have already had occaſion to quote. To produce more inſtances were ſuperfluous. If the engagement of Fingal with the ſpirit of Loda, in Carric-thura; if the encounters of the armies, in Fingal; if the addreſs to the ſun, in Carthon; if the ſimiles founded upon ghoſts and ſpirits of the night, all formerly mentioned, be not admitted as examples, and illuſtrious ones too, of the true poetical ſublime, I confeſs myſelf entirely ignorant of this quality in writing.

All the circumſtances, indeed, of Oſſian's compoſition, are favorable to the ſublime, more perhaps than to any other ſpecies of beauty. Accuracy and correct. neſs, artfully connected narration, exact method and proportion. of parts, we may look for in poliſhed times. The gay and the beautiful will appear to more advantage in the midſt of ſmiling ſcenery and pleaſurable themes; but, amidſt the rude ſcenes of nature, amidſt rocks and torrents, and whirlwinds and battles, dwells the ſublime. It is the thunder and the lightning of genius. It is the offſpring of nature, not of art. It is negligent of all the leſſer graces, and perfectly conſiſtent with a certain noble diſorder. It aſſociates naturally with that grave and ſolemn ſpirit which diſtinguiſhes our author. For the ſublime is an awful and ſerious emotion; and is heightened by all the Images of trouble, and terror, and darkneſs.

Ipſe pater, media nimborum in nocte, coruſcâ

Fulmina molitur dextra; quo maxima motu

Terra tremit; fugere feræ; et mortalia corda

Per gentes, humilis ſtravit pavor; ille, flagranti

Aut Atho, aut Rhodopen, aut alta Ceraunia telo


Virg. Georg. i.

Simplicity and conciſeneſs are never-failing characteriſtics of the ſtyle of a ſublime writer. He reſts on the majeſty of his ſentiments, not on the pomp of his expreſſions. The main ſecret of being ſublime is to ſay great things in few, and in plain words: for every ſuperfluous decoration degrades a ſublime idea. The mind riſes and ſwells, when a lofty deſcription or ſentiment is preſented to it in its native form. But no ſooner does the poet attempt to ſpread out this ſentiment, or deſcription, and to deck it round and round with glittering ornaments, than the mind begins to fall from its high elevation; the tranſport is over; the beautiful may remain, but the ſublime is gone. Hence the conciſe and ſimple ſtyle of Oſſian gives great advantage to his ſublime conceptions, and aſſiſts them in ſeizing the imagination with full power.

Sublimity, as belonging to ſentiment, coincides, in a great meaſure, with magnanimity, heroiſm, and generoſity of ſentiment. Whatever diſcovers human nature in its greateſt elevation; whatever beſpeaks a high effort of ſoul, or ſhows a mind ſuperior to pleaſures, to dangers, and to death, forms what may be called the moral of ſentimental ſublime. For this Oſſian is eminently diſtinguiſhed. No poet maintains a higher tone of virtuous and noble ſentiment throughout all his works. Particularly in all the ſentiments of Fingal there is a grandeur and loftineſs, proper to ſwell the mind with the higheſt ideas of human perfection. Wherever he appears, we behold the hero. The objects which he purſues are always truly great: to bend the proud; to protect the injured; to defend his friends; to overcome his enemies by generoſity more than by force. A portion of the ſame ſpirit actuates all the other heroes. Valor reigns; but it is a generous valor, void of cruelty, animated by honor, not by hatred. We behold no debaſing paſſions among Fingal's warriors; no ſpirit of avarice or of inſult; but a perpetual contention for fame; a deſire of being diſtinguiſhed and remembered for gallant actions; a love of juſtice; and a zealous attachment to their friends and their country. Such is the ſtrain of ſentiment in the works of Oſſian.

But the ſublimity of moral ſentiments, if they wanted the ſoftening of the tender, would be in hazard of giving a hard and ſtiff air to poetry. It is not enough to admire. Admiration is a cold feeling, in compariſon of that deep intereſt which the heart takes in tender and pathetic ſcenes; where, by a myſterious attachment to the objects of compaſſion, we are pleaſed and delighted, even whilſt we mourn. With ſcenes of this kind Oſſian abounds; and his high merit in theſe is inconteſtible. He may be blamed for drawing tears too often from our eyes; but that he has the power of commanding them, I believe no man, who as the leaſt ſenſibility, will queſtion. The general character of his poetry is the heroic mixed with the elegiac ſtrain; admiration tempered with pity. Ever fond of giving, as he expreſſes it, “the joy of grief,” it is viſible that, on all moving ſubjects, he delights to exert his genius; and, accordingly, never were there finer pathetic ſituations than what his works preſent. His great art in managing them lies in giving vent to the ſimple and natural emotions of the heart. We meet with no exaggerated declamation; no ſubtile refinements on ſorrow; no ſubſtitution of deſcription in place of paſſion. Oſſian felt ſtrongly himſelf; and the heart, when uttering its native language, never fails, by powerful ſympathy, to affect the heart. A great variety of examples might be produced. We need only open the book to find them everywhere. What, for inſtance, can be more moving than the lamentations of Oithona, after her miſfortune? Gaul, the ſon of Morni, her lover, ignorant of what ſhe had ſuffered, comes to her reſcue. Their meeting is tender in the higheſt degree. He propoſes to engage her foe, in ſingle combat, and gives her in charge what ſhe is to do if he himſelf ſhall fall. “And ſhall the daughter of Nuath live?” ſhe replied, with a burſting ſigh. “Shall I live in Tromathon, and the ſon of Morni low? My heart is not of that rock; nor my ſoul careleſs as that ſea, which lifts its blue waves to every wind, and rolls beneath the ſtorm. The blaſt, which ſhall lay thee low, ſhall ſpread the branches of Oithona, on earth. We ſhall wither together, ſon of car-borne Morni! The narrow houſe is pleaſant to me, and the gray ſtone of the dead; for never more will I leave my rocks, ſea-ſurrounded Tromathon!—Chief of Strumon! why comeſt thou over the waves to Nuath's mournful daughter? Why did I not paſs away in ſecret, like the flower of the rocks that lifts its fair head unſeen, and ſtrews its withered leaves on the blaſt? Why didſt thou come, O Gaul I to bear my departing ſigh?—O, had I dwelt at Duvranna, in the bright beam of my fame! Then had my years come on with joy: and the virgins would bleſs my ſteps. But I fall in youth, ſon of Morni! and my father ſhall bluſh in his hall!”

Oithona mourns like a woman: in Cuthullin's expreſſions of grief after his defeat, we behold the ſentiments of a hero—generous, but deſponding. The ſituation is remarkably fine. Cuthullin, rouſed from his cave by the noiſe of battle, ſees Fingal victorious in the field. He is deſcribed as kindling at the ſight. “His hand is on the ſword of his fathers; his red-rolling eyes on the foe. He thrice attempted to ruſh to battle; and thrice did Connal ſtop him;” ſuggeſting that Fingal was routing the foe; and that he ought not, by the ſhow of ſuperfluous aid, to deprive the king of any part of the honor of a victory, which was owing to him alone. Cuthullin yields to this generous ſentiment; but we ſee it ſtinging him to the heart with the ſenſe of his own diſgrace. “Then, Carril, go,” replied the chief, “and greet the king of Morven. When Lochlin fails away like a ſtream after rain, and the noiſe of the battle is over, then be thy voice ſweet in his ear, to praiſe the king of ſwords. Give him the ſword of Caithbat; for Cuthullin is worthy no more to lift the arms of his fathers. But, O ye ghoſts of the lonely Cromla! ye ſouls of chiefs that are no more! be ye the companions of Cuthullin, and talk to him in the cave of his ſorrow. For never more ſhall I be renowned among the mighty in the land. I am like a beam that has ſhone: like a miſt that has fled away; when the blaſt of the morning came, and brightened the ſhaggy ſide of the hill. Connal! talk of arms no more: departed is my fame. My ſighs ſhall be on Cromla's wind; till my footſteps ceaſe to be ſeen. And thou, white-boſomed Bragela! mourn over the fall of my fame: for vanquiſhed, I will never return to thee, thou ſunbeam of Dunſcaich!”

—Æſtuat ingens

Uno in corde pudor, luctuſque, et conſcia virtus.

Beſides ſuch extended pathetic ſcenes, Oſſian frequently pierces the heart by a ſingle unexpected ſtroke. When Oſcar fell in battle, “No father mourned his ſon ſlain in youth; no brother, his brother of love; they fell without tears, for the chief of the people was low.” In the admirable interview of Hector with Andromache, in the ſixth Iliad, the circumſtance of the child in his nurſe's arms, has often been remarked as adding much to the tenderneſs of the ſcene. In the following paſſage, relating to the death of Cuthullin, we find a circumſtance that muſt ſtrike the imagination with ſtill greater force. “And is the ſon of Semo fallen?” ſaid Carril, with a ſigh. “Mournful are Tura's walls, and ſorrow dwells at Dunſcaich. Thy ſpouſe is left alone in her youth; the ſon of thy love is alone. He ſhall come to Bragela, and aſk her why ſhe weeps? He ſhall lift his eyes to the wall, and ſee his father's ſword. Whoſe ſword is that? he will ſay; and the ſoul of his mother is ſad.” Soon after Fingal had ſhown all the grief of a father's heart for Ryno, one of his ſons, fallen in battle, he is calling, after his accuſtomed manner, his ſons to the chaſe. “Call,” ſays he, “Fillan and Ryno.—But he is not here.—My ſon reſts on the bed of death.” This unexpected ſtart of anguiſh is worthy of the higheſt tragic poet.

If ſhe come in, ſhe'll ſure ſpeak to I wife—

My wife!—my wife!—What wife!—I have no wife—

Oh, inſupportable! Oh, heavy hour!—


The contrivance of the incident in both poets is ſimilar: but the circumſtances are varied with judgment. Othello dwells upon the name of wife, when it had fallen from him, with the confuſion and horror of one tortured with guilt. Fingal, with the dignity of a hero, corrects himſelf, and ſuppreſſes his riſing grief. The contraſt which Oſſian frequently makes between his preſent and his former ſtate, diffuſes over his whole poetry a ſolemn pathetic air, which cannot fail to make impreſſion on every heart. The concluſion of the ſongs of Selma is particularly calculated for this purpoſe. Nothing can be more poetical and tender, or can leave upon the mind a ſtronger and more affecting idea of the venerable and aged bard. “Such were the words of the bards in the days of the ſong; when the king heard the muſic of harps, and the tales of other times. The chiefs gathered from all their hills, and heard the lovely ſound. They praiſed the voice of Cona 11), the firſt among a thouſand bards. But age is now on my tongue, and my ſoul has failed. I hear, ſometimes, the ghoſts of bards, and learn their pleaſant ſong. But memory fails on my mind; I hear the call of years. They ſay, as they paſs along, Why does Oſſian ſing? Soon ſhall he lie in the narrow houſe, and no bard ſhall raiſe his fame. Roll on, ye dark-brown years! for ye bring no joy in your courſe. Let the tomb open to Oſſian, for his ſtrength has failed. The ſons of the ſong are gone to reſt. My voice remains, like a blaſt, that roars lonely on the ſea-rur-rounded rock, after the winds are laid. The dark moſs whiſtles there, and the diſtant mariner ſees the waving trees.”

Upon the whole, if to feel ſtrongly, and to deſcribe naturally, be the two chief ingredients in poetical genius, Oſſian muſt, after fair examination, be held to poſſeſs that genius in a high degree. The queſtion is not, whether a few improprieties may be pointed out in his works?-whether this or that paſſage might not have been worked up with more art and ſkill, by ſome writer of happier times? A thouſand ſuch cold and frivolous criticiſms are altogether indeciſive as to his genuine merit. But has he the ſpirit, the fire the inſpiration of a poet? Does he utter the voice of nature? Does he elevate by his ſentiments? Does lie intereſt by his deſcription? Does be paint to the heart as well as to the fancy? Does he make his readers glow, and tremble, and weep? Theſe are the great characteriſtics of true poetry. Where theſe are found, he muſt be a minute critic, indeed, who can dwell, upon ſlight defects. A few beauties of this high kind tranſcend whole volumes of faultleſs mediocrity. Uncouth and abrupt Oſſian may ſometimes appear, by reaſon of his conciſeneſs; but he is ſublime, he is pathetic, in an eminent degree. If he has not the extenſive knowledge, the regular dignity of narration, the fulneſs and accuracy of deſcription, which we find in Homer and Virgil, yet in ſtrength of imagination, in grandeur of ſentiment, in native majeſty of paſſion, he is fully their equal. If he flows not always like a clear ſtream, yet he breaks forth often like a torrent of fire. Of art, too, he is far from being deſtitute; and his imagination is remarkable for delicacy as well as ſtrength. Seldom or never is he either trifling or tedious; and if he be thought too melancholy, yet he is always moral. Though his merit were in other reſpects much leſs than it is, this alone ought to entitle him to high regard, that his writings are remarkably favorable to virtue. They awake the tendereſt ſympathies, and inſpire the moſt generous emotions. No reader can riſe from him without being warmed with the ſentiments of humanity, virtue, and honor.

Though unacquainted with the original language, there is no one but muſt judge the tranſlation to deſerve the higheſt praiſe, on account of its beauty and elegance. Of its faithfulneſs and accuracy, I have been aſſured by perſons ſkilled in the Gaelic tongue, who from their youth were acquainted with many of theſe poems of Oſſian. To tranſfuſe ſuch ſpirited and fervid ideas from one language into another; to tranſlate literally, and yet with ſuch a glow of poetry; to keep alive ſo much paſſion, and ſupport ſo much dignity throughout; is one of the moſt difficult works of genius, and proves the tranſlator to have been animated with no ſmall portion of Oſſian's ſpirit.

The meaſured proſe which he has employed, poſſeſſes conſiderable advantages above any ſort of verſification he could have choſen. While it pleaſes and fills the ear with a variety of harmonious cadences, being, at the ſame time, freer from conſtraint in the choice and arrangement of words, it allows the ſpirit of the original to be exhibited, with more juſtneſs, force, and ſimplicity. Elegant, however, and maſterly, as Mr. Macpherſon's tranſlation is, we muſt never forget, whilſt we read it, that we are putting the merit of the original to a ſevere teſt. For we are examining a poet ſtripped of his native dreſs; diveſted of the harmony of his own numbers. We know how much grace and energy the works of the Greek and Latin poets receive from the charm of verſification in their original languages. If then, deſtitute of this advantage, exhibited in a literal verſion, Oſſian ſtill has power to pleaſe as a poet; and not to pleaſe only, but often to command, to tranſport, to melt the heart; we may very ſafely infer that his productions are the off-ſpring of a true and uncommon genius; and we may proudly aſſign him a place among thoſe whoſe works are to laſt for ages.





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Iliad IV, 46 and Iliad VIII, 60. 


Iliad XIV, 393. 


Iliad IV, 275. 


Iliad V, 522. 


Iliad XXII, 26. 


Iliad XVII, 58. 


Iliad XIII, 298. 


Isaiah XVII, 13. 


Numbers XIII 32,38. 


Ossian himself is poetically called the voice of Cona.