Page images
PDF

Offian, in one of his many lamentations on the death of his beloved fon Oscar, mentions among his great aĉtions, a battle which he fought against Caros, king of ships, on the banks of the winding Carun (*). It is more than probable, that the Caros mentioned here, is the fame with the noted ufurper Caraufius, who assumed the purple in the year 287, and feizing on Britain, defeated the emperor Maximian Herculius, in feveral naval engagements, which gives propriety to his being called, in Offian’s poems, the King of Ships. The winding Carum is that finall river retaining still the name of Carron, and runs in the neighbonrhood of Agricola's wall, which Caraufius repaired to obstruất the incurfions of the Galedonians. Several other paffages in the poems allude to the wars of the Romans ; but the two juft mentioned clearly ; and this account agrees exactly with the Irish histories, which place the death of Fingal, the fon of Comhal, in the year 283, and that of Oscar änd'

their own celebrated Cairbre, in the year 269.

Sonne people may innagine, that the allufions to the Roman history might have been industriously inferted into the poems, to give then the appearance of antiquity, This fraud must then have been committed at leaft * three

[ocr errors]

three ages ago, as the paffages, in which the allufions are made, are alluded to often in the compositions of those times. Every one knows, what -a cloud of ignorance and barbarifin overspread the north of Europe three hundred years ago. The minds of men, addisted to fuperftition, contrasted a narrowness that destroyed genius. Accordingly we find the compositions of those times trivial and puerile to the laft degree. But let it be allowed, that, amidft all the untoward circumstances of the age, a genius might arife, it is not easy to determine, what could induce him to give the honour of his comipofițions to an age fo remote. : We find no fact, that he has advanced, to favour any defigns which could be entertained by any man who lived in the fifteenth century. But

should we fuppofe, a poet, through humour, or for rea

fons which cannot be feen at this diftance of time, .

would afcribe his own compositions to Offian, it is next to impoffible, that he could impofe upon his countrymen, when all of them were fo well acquainted with

the traditional poems of their anceitors.

The strongest objestion to the authenticity of the poems now given to the public under the name of Of. fian, is the improbability of their being handed down by

by tradition through fo many centuries. Ages of barbarifim, fome will fay, could not produce poems abeunding with the disinterefted and generous feutiments too confpicuous in the compofitions of Offian; and could these ages produce them, it is impoffible but they muft be loft, or altogether corrupted in a long fucceffion of

barbarous generations.

These objestions naturally fuggett themfelves to men unacquainted with the ancient state of the northern parts of Britain. "The bards, who were an inferior order of the Druids, did not share their bad fortune. They were spared by the vistorious king, as it was through their means only he could hope for immortality to his fame. They attended him in the camp, and contributed to establish his power by their fongs, His, great astions were magnified, and the populace, whò had no ability tO examineins his charaster narrowly, were dazzled with his fame in the rhimes of the bards. In the mean time , men assumed fentiments, that are rarely to be met with in an age of barbarifm. The bards who were originally the difciples of the Druids , had their minds · opened, and their ideas enlarged, by being initiated in the learning of that celebrated order. They could forın a perfest hero in their own minds, and afcribe that cha( b ) |- raćłer

[ocr errors]

raster to their prinçe. The inferior chiefs made this

ideal charaćter the Inodel of their condu&t, and by i de

grees brought their minds to that generous spirit, which s

breathes in all the poetry of the times. The prince,

flattered by his bards, and rivalled by his own heroes,

who imitated his charaster as described in the eulogies of his poets, endeavoured to excel his people in merit, as he was above then, in station. This einulation CO11* 2 tinuing, forined at last the general charaster of the nation, happily compounded of what is noble in barbarity,

and virtuous and generous in a polished people.

when virtue in peace, and bravery in war are the charasteristics of a nation, their astions become interefting, and their fame worthy of immortality. A ge11B TOLIS pirit is warined with noble aćtions , , and becomes ambitious of perpetuating them. This is the true foirce of that divine inspiration, to which the poets of all ages pretended. When they found their themes inadequate to the warinth of their imaginations, they varnished them over with fables , fupplied by their own fancy, or furnished by abfurd traditions. Thefe fables , however ridiculous, had their abertors ; posterity either implicitly believed them, or through a vanity, natural to mankind, pretended that they did. They lov. ed

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ed to place the founders of their families in the days of fable, when poetry, without the fear of contradistion, could give what charasters fhe pleased of her heroes. It is to this vaility that we owe the prefervation of what remains of the works of Ostian." His poetical merit madè his heroes famous in a country, where heroifin was much esteelhed and admired. The posterity of these heroes, or those who pretended to be defcended from theni, heard with pleasure the euloginins of their ancestors; bards were employed to repeat the poems, and to record the corínexion of their patrons with chiefs fò renowned. Every chief in process of time had a bard in his family; and the office 'became at laft hereditary. By the succes. fion of thefe bards, the poems concerning 'the 'ancestors of the family were handed down from generation to ge: neration; they were repeated to the whole clah on folemn occafions, and always alluded to in the new conipofitions of the bards. This custom came down near te eur own times; and after the bards were discontinued, a great number in a clan retained by memory, or coinmitted to writing, their compofitions ; and founded the antiquity of their families on the authority of their poems.

The ufe of letters was ilot kiiown in the north of

Europe, till long after the institution of the bards: the - (b) 2 - re

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »