Page images

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 darkhaired 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 É. 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 mall; 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 pas. sionate apostrophe to his mother Clatho, are admirable efforts of poetical art, in order to interest us in Fillan' 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 his 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 from 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 2 What then shall become of thy fame, son of white-bosomed Clatho? Turn not thine eyes 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, he withdraws from the sight of the engage. ment, 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! list 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 sup. presses all the circumstances of the combat with Cathinor; and only shows us the dying hero. We see him

animated to the end with the same martial and ardent
spirit; bleathing his last in bitter regret for being so
early cut off from the field of glory. “Ossian, lay
ine in that hollow rock. Raise no stone above me
lest one should ask about my fame. I am fallen in th:
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 fini"
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
The judgment and art discovered in conducting
works of such length as Fingal and Temora, distin.
guish them from the other poems in this collection.
The smaller pieces, however, contain par, icular beau.
ties, 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 pres, uted
to us; one spirit of poetry reigns; the masterly head
of Ossian appears throughout ; the same rapid al...i
animated style; the same strong coloring of imagina.
tion, and the same glowing sensibility of heart. Be-
sides 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

sarne 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 pa thetic which reigns in Ossian's poetry. On each of these poems there might be room for separate observations, with regard to the conduct and dispositions of the incidents, as well as to the beauty of the descriptions and sentiments. Carthon is a regu lar 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 judgment 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 hearing it, and the invocation of the ghosts of their fathers, to receive the heroes fall. ing in a distant land, are introduced with great beauty of imagination to increase the solemnity, and to diver. sify 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 fas as chivalry was an ideal system, existing only in ro.

« PreviousContinue »