« PreviousContinue »
Your joys are weak, and like the dreams of our rest, or the light-winged thought, that flies across the soul. Shall Cathmor soon be low ? Darkly laid in his narrow house? Where no morning comes, with her halfopened eyes? Away, thou shade! to fight is mine ! All further thought away! I rush forth, on eagle's wings, to seize my beam of fame. In the lonely vale of streams, abides the narrow * soul. Years roll on, seasons return, but he is still unknown. In a blast comes cloudy death, and lays his grey head low. His ghost is folded in the vapour of the fenny field. Its course is never on hills, nor mossy vales of wind. So shall not Cathmor depart. No boy in the field was he, who only marks the bed of roes, upon the echo
* An indolent and unwarlike life was held in extreme contempt. Whatever a philosopher may say, in praise of quiet and retirement, I am far from thinking, but they weaken and debase the human mind. When the faculties of the soul are not exerted, they lose their vigour, and low and circumscribed notions take the place of noble and enlarged ideas. Action, on the contrary, and the vicissitudes of fortune which attend it, call forth, by turns, all the powers of the mind, and, by exercising, strengthen them. Hence it is, that in great and opulent states, when property and indolence are secured to individuals, we seldom meet with that strength of mind, which is so common in a nation, not far advanced in civilization. It is a curious, but just observation; that great kingdoms seldom produce great characters, which must be altogether attributed to that indolence and dissipation, which are the inseparable companions of too much property and security. Rome, it is certain, had more real great men within it, when its power was confined within the narrow bounds of Latium, than when its dominion extended over all the known world; and one petty state of the Saxon heptarchy had, perhaps, as much genuine spirit in it, as the two British kingdoms united. As a state, we are much more powerful than our ancestors, but we would lose by comparing individuals with them.
ing hills. My issuing forth was with kings. My joy in dreadful plains : where broken hosts are rolled away, like seas before the wind.”
So spoke the king of Alnecma, brightening in his rising soul. Valour, like a pleasant flame, is gleaming within his breast. Stately is his stride on the heath! The beam of east is poured around. He saw his grey host on the field, wide-spreading their ridges in light. He rejoiced, like a spirit of heaven, whose steps come forth on the seas, when he beholds them peaceful round, and all the winds are laid. But soon he awakes the waves, and rolls them large to some echoing shore.
On the rushy bank of a stream, slept the daughter of Inis-huna. The helmet had fallen from her head. Her dreams were in the lands of her fathers. There morning is on the field. Grey streams leap down from the rocks. The breezes, in shadowy waves, fly over the rushy fields. There is the sound that prepares for the chace. There the moving of warriors from the hall. But tall above the rest is seen the hero of streamy Atha. He bends his eye of love on Sulmalla, from his stately steps. She turns, with pride, her face away, and careless bends the bow.
Such were the dreams of the maid, when Cathmor of Atha came. He saw her fair face before him, in the midst of her wandering locks. He knew the maid of Lumon. What should Cathmor do? His sighs arise. His tears come down. But straight he
turns away. “ This is no time, king of Atha, to awake thy secret soul. The battle is rolled before thee, like a troubled stream.”
He struck that warning boss,* wherein dwelt the voice of war. Erin rose around him, like the sound of eagle-wing. Sul-malla started from sleep, in her disordered locks. She seized the helmet from earth. She trembled in her place. “Why should they know in Erin of the daughter of Inis-huna?” She remembered the race of kings. The pride of her soul arose! Her steps are behind a rock, by the blue-winding + stream of a vale: where dwelt the dark-brown hind ere yet the war arose. Thither came the voice of Cathmor, at times, to Sul-malla’s ear. Her soul is darkly sad. She pours her words on wind.
“ The dreams of Inis-huna departed. They are dispersed from my soul. I hear not the chace in my land. I am concealed in the skirt of war. I look forth from my cloud. No beam appears to light my path. I behold my warrior low; for the broadshielded king is near, he that overcomes in danger, Fingal from Selma of spears ! Spirit of departed Conmor! are thy steps on the bosom of winds ? Comest
* In order to understand this passage, it is necessary to look to the description of Cathmor's shield in the seventh book. This shield had seven principal bosses, the sound of each of which, when struck with a spear, conveyed a particular order from the king to his tribes. The sound of one of them, as here, was the signal for the army to assemble.
of 'This was not the valley of Lona to which Sul-malla afterwards retired.
thou, at times, to other lands, father of sad Sulmalla? Thou dost come! I have heard thy voice at night; while yet I rose on the wave to Erin of the streams. The ghost of fathers, they say,* call away the souls of their race, while they behold them lonely in the midst of woe. Call me, my father, away! When Cathmor is low on earth. Then shall Sulmalla be lonely in the midst of woe !"
* Con-mor, the father of Sul-malla, was killed in that war, from which Cathmor delivered Inis-huna. Lormar his son succeeded Conmor. It was the opinion of the times, when a person was reduced to a pitch of misery, which could admit of no alleviation, that the ghosts of his ancestors called his soul away. This supernatural kind of death was called the voice of the dead; and is believed by the superstitious vulgar to this day.
There is no people in the world, perhaps, who give more universal credit to apparitions, and the visits of the ghosts of the deceased to their friends, than the ancient Scots. This is to be attributed as much, at least, to the situation of the country they possess, as to that credulous disposition which distinguishes an unenlightened people. As their business was feeding of cattle, in dark and extensive deserts, so their journeys lay over wide and unfrequented heaths, where, often, they were obliged to sleep in the open air, amidst the whistling of winds, and roar of water-falls. The gloominess of the scenes around ther was apt to beget that melancholy disposition of mind, which most readily receives impressions of the extraordinary and supernatural kind. Falling asleep in this gloomy mond, and their dreams being disturbed by the noise of the elements around, it is no matter of wonder, that they thought they heard the voice of the dead. This voice of the dead, however, was, perhaps, no more than a shriller whistle of the winds in an old tree, or in the chinks of a neighbouring rock. It is to this cause I ascribe those many and improbable tales of ghosts, which we meet with in the Highlands : for, in other respects, we do not find that the inhabitants are more credulous than their neigh, bours.
the arrangement of both armies on either side of the river
Book Fifth Thou dweller between the shields, that hang, on high, in Ossian's hall! Descend from thy place, O harp, and let me hear thy voice ! Son of Alpin, strike the string. Thou must awake the soul of the bard. The murmur of Lora's * stream has rolled the tale
* Lora is often mentioned; it was a small and rapid stream in the neighbourhood of Selma. There is no vestige of this name now remaining ; though it appears from a very old song, which the translator has seen, that one of the small rivers un the north-west coast was called Lora some centuries ago.