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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 lieroism 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 aera 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 favor. able 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 won der 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 aera. 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 ap. pear 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 .ight of the burning oak; the wind listed 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; 8 country wholly uncultivated, thinly inhabited, and re cently peopled. The grass of the rock, the flower of the heath, the thistle with its beard, are the chief orna ". ments 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 s its such an age ; nor any greater diversity introduced t
into characters, than the events of that period would naturally display. Valor and bodily strength are the admired qualities. Contentions arise, as is usual amon savage nations, from the slightest causes. To be .# fronted at a tournament, or to be omitted in the invita. tion to a feast, kindles a war. Women are often carried away by force; and the whole tribe, as in the Ho. meric times, rise to avenge the wrong The heroes
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show refinement of sentiment indeed on several occa.
the consequences of more profound reflection, and lon. ger 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 commu. tity, 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 Ussian. 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 sup. posed to have enjoyed in as great, if not in a greater degree, a thousand years before. To suppose that twc or three hundred years ago, when we well know the Highlands to have been in a state of gross ignorance